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The Fabulous Greys: Coloring Gray Hair - Part 8

 *Post originally written by Olivia J on The Unknown Beauty Blog. If you see this post on another site, it has been stolen!*


Grey or Gray hair, which ever way you spell it, lacks the primary pigments.  For those of you who have it, you may have noticed how different and hard it can be to color it.  Don’t fear though, this post will help you get through the coloring journey.

Gray & Grey Hair


Grey hair is really hair that lacks the saturation of primary pigment colors blue (B), Red (R), and Yellow (Y).  Think of grey hair as a black and white photograph; you have gradations of black to grey to white.  Not only does it lack color, the texture is also different.  It is much more coarse and thicker in diameter, making hair color much harder to penetrate.  Remember, brands only say 100% grey coverage but they never say 100% color penetration.

Check out: How Gray Hair is Colored

Coloring the Greys

  1. First and foremost, determine your natural hair level.  Even with the grey hair, you need to know this because the level will determine the rest.  
  2. Second, determine the percentage of grey hair you have — 20%, 30%, 50%, 100%?  
  3. Third, choose the end result level.  Remember, the most you can lighten hair up to is 4 levels (40 volume), beyond that is double processing (bleach)!  For this purpose, let’s stick to single processing.  
  4. Fourth, what is the end result in the tone? Warm (red, copper, gold), Neutral, Cool (beige, blue) 
  5. Fifth, you might need two different tubes of hair color for your end result!

Hair Color Levels


Now, pick the level of hair color in the “N” series.  The "N" (neutral) contains all the primary pigments which will put the missing colors back into your hair to make it brown (neutral).  If you buy your haircolor at a drugstore, pick the color that just says Dark Brown, Medium Brown, Blonde, etc.  The ones that just name the color.  You just need to decode the hair color box. (Some may even have the “NN” series to emphasize “this color can cover grey”.)

The Importance of N Series Hair Color


Let’s say you are a 40% grey at a Level 6 but want to go up to a Level 9.  You are going from a Light Brown (red/orange) level to a Light Blonde (yellow) level.  You are going up 3 levels and need a 40 volume.

Coloring Gray


You need to address the grey hair first.

Pay Attention to the Grays


40% grey to a level 9 needs a Level 9 “N” hair color.  This means you will need to use about 40% of the “N” hair color to cover your greys.  The rest of the 60% is the hair color at the same Level 9 of the end result.  A mix of hair color is usually 2 oz.  Therefore:

Return the Pigments



  • You need just under  1 oz. of the Level 9 "N".
  • For the rest to fill 2 oz of Level 9 hair color, use the end result tone hair color

For the end result, do you want:

  • Cool tone of beige (BV or BGr)
  • Warm (Y)
  • Neutral (just use 2 oz of the "N" color) - the resulting warmth (N)

Note: Hair color is usually a concoction of 1:1 ratio of hair color and peroxide.  Some brands do a 1:2 .

The Equation of Hair Color for the Grays


The end result will give you a blonde with yellow pigments.  Add yellow (Y or G for gold) for more of a golden blonde.  Add a blue violet (be careful with this since the blue can turn the hair green--blue + yellow) for a beige blonde (cool tone).  If you like the end result of just the neutral (N), stick with the neutral only.

Another example would be staying at the same level but changing the tone of your hair color.

Let's go from a Level 6 with 75% grey to a Level 6 Cool toned light brown. Since we are staying at the same level, choose a 20 volume peroxide. Next, you need a Level 6 "N" color and since you are about 75% grey, you will need about 1 1/2 oz of it.  The rest of the 1/2 oz. is for the Level 6 Light Ash Brown.

Staying at the Same Level but Different Color

The Gray Equation


Notice red/orange will neutralize blue and vice versa.  You will end up with a slightly warm light brown so this is where the extra tube of blue will be added.  You have seen those tube of colors of Blue, Red, Yellow (gold).  Those are added just to equalize color or enhance in some cases.

In this case adding about a 1/4 oz of blue would cool down the brown.  If your hair color concoction results in 2 1/4 oz, just mix 2 1/4 oz of 20 volume developer.

These are a few examples of grey hair coloring.  Just remember, grey hair always needs the "N" series to start off with.  The end result would be the second color you choose for the tone.

Going Darker

Going darker is much simpler.  The only suggestion made is to maybe go a level lighter than the actual dark level you want to be.  If you have been used to the initial color of grey for a long time, going darker can look too dark.  One level lighter will not only ease up on your eyes but also be more gentle for your skin tone.

Resistant Grey Hair

Sometimes, grey hair is so resistant that haircolor will not penetrate.  Pre-softening helps.  Apply 20 volume alone on the hair.  Allow it to soak in for about 20 minutes.   Without washing it out, continue with the usual method of haircolor - color and peroxide.

Or you can use your haircolor (if and only if 20 volume is used) cover the hair with a plastic cap and sit under a dryer or heat lamp for the allotted time.  This will help the resistant greys grab the color.

Hope this post helps you understand the fabulous greys.

Next post, bleach!

*Disclosure: I don’t claim to be some great hair guru.  I just like to explain difficult beauty stuff.



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