Banishing Bad Hair Days since 1997!™

Coloring Curly Hair Gray?


JulieWhite_250h Curly Haired Julie White as Antoinette in Nurse Jackie (Season 6, Episode 1) - Photo: David M. Russell/SHOWTIME

Dear Karen

Here is my question: I am 34 and recently starting coloring my naturally curly hair because of my ever increasing silver and grays!

I can’t have silver/gray hair at 34!

I love my natural color (medium brown), but the first time I colored it I hated that it looked flat and blah with no shine.  It just didn't feel like me at all.

Even more upsetting, my natural curls which I love, seemed to loosen and get limpy.  My hair just didn’t work at all with my normal styling regimen. It was frustrating.

Two weeks later I tried to address coloring again.  I went to a beauty school near my house.  The girl there told me I needed highlights to get some depth and less flat color.  She put a ton of foils in my hair which lightened my hair quite a bit.

The result?  Now my once perfect ringlets are kinky, fizzy and drab. My hair feels crunchy and sticky.  When I look at my hair in the mirror it makes me very upset.  Gone are my bouncy ringlets.  Now I have these really weird floppy frizzy curls.

I am frantic at this point.  What should I do?  Should I see a curl expert?  Would a  deep conditioning treatment help? Do I have to decide whether I want beautiful ringlets or yucky gray hair?   In addition to the frizz, fuzz and yucky flat color, I have major roots with gray popping out.  I can’t decide what to do next.  Please help me!

JulieWhite-2_250h Curly Haired Julie White as Antoinette in Nurse Jackie (Season 6) - Photo: David M. Russell/SHOWTIME

Thank you so much!



Dear Regan,

Coloring naturally curly hair can  be challenging, especially for newbies.  Dealing with gray hair is another challenge all by itself.

Combine those two challenges and you have your work cut out for you.

The current prevailing wisdom with professional hair colorists who are dealing with gray hair is to select a base color very close or slightly lighter to the natural tone of the hair and then adding very subtle highlights and/or low lights for dimension.

JulieWhite-3_250h Curly Haired Julie White as Antoinette in Nurse Jackie (Season 6) - Photo: David M. Russell/SHOWTIME

Some colorists will color hair in layers with lighter colors near the top and alternating colors at the bottom to create a beautiful flow.

A lot of naturally textured hair has a tendency to look flat or solid when colored with all-over color.

Since naturally curly hair is more fragile and easily damaged it's likely your hair is currently over-processed from having it colored and then highlighted in a short period of time.

Many curl experts addressing the advance of unwanted silver and/or gray strands might suggest weaving in subtle highlights and low lights to play up texture and movement of ringlets while minimizing the grays.

The strategic placement of very subtle highlights (keyword is subtle) and low lights minimizes the impact to natural texture patterns while avoiding the appearance of unwanted block colors.

Subtle Highlights And Lowlights

While highlights and low lights can add a wonderful dimension to ringlets while hiding gray, if the color used is too harsh, it can leave strands dry and dehydrated which results in frizz, fuzz and wimpy ringlets. When naturally curly hair is dehydrated, it has more of a tendency to droop and lose it's oomph.

Great Lengths Naturally Curly Red Hair Great Lengths Naturally Curly Red Hair

When possible, ask your professional colorist to use a more gentle high-lift color which is not as damaging as hard core bleach can be.

I personally love Matrix SoColor for gentle highlights and low lights on naturally textured hair.

Matrix has a whole range of wonderful hues from brunettes which can add beautiful color without the damage some hair color lines cause.

Addressing The Current Chemical Damage

Before taking any additional hair color journeys, for the moment it would be wise to address the current over-processing and damage from previous color treatments.

Either look into salon or at-home deep conditioning treatments which can restore the natural moisture balance to your hair.

While you're working on getting your hair back in shape, whenever possible avoid the use of hot styling tools (blow dryers, irons, hot rollers) and let your hair air dry.  If you must dry your hair, sit under a hood style dryer set to the lowest possible heat and speeds.

If Roots Are Driving You Crazy

AnnaDeavereSmith6_250h Anna Deavere Smith as Gloria Akalitus and Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton in Nurse Jackie (Season 6) - Photo: David M. Russell/SHOWTIME

If the roots are driving you crazy, ask your professional hair colorist to touch up just the roots with a demi-perm color which closely matches your base color.

A good demi-perm is Redken Shades EQ which is not normally damaging to most hair types and textures.

Temporary Root Touch-Ups

If that doesn't seem like an option, you can use temporary root touch up products or option for adding some hand painting on just the roots for a tone on tone effect.

After your next full head color treatment, ask your colorist about finishing off the coloring process with a colored clear gloss which will seal in the color along with moisture and will soften the cuticle, making hair shinier and less frizzy.

Choosing Between Beautiful Ringlets And Gray Strands?

Do you have to choose between your beautiful ringlets and going gray?  No.  With a carefully conceived hair color plan, preferably applied by a professional, you can have beautiful texture without obvious grays.

Anna Deavere Smith-10_250h Anna Deavere Smith as Gloria Akalitus and Edie Falco as Jackie Peyton in Nurse Jackie (Season 6, Episode 603) Photo: Giovanni Rufino/SHOWTIME

Of course the most simple you keep your hair color regime, the easier the maintenance.   Also, after coloring your hair, remember to take very special care of it using hydrating shampoos, conditioners and deep treatments.

You may even wish to experiment with water or conditioner only cleansing or diluted shampoo treatments.  This will extend the life of your hair color and minimize the drying effect of washing.

Protect Colored Hair From UV Rays

It's also important to protect colored curls from the sun and the drying impact it can have. UV rays can bleach out natural hair color and cause accelerated drying and damage to chemically colored strands.

Protect colored hair when outdoors  with hats or special products promoting sun protection.

Although your hair may seem hopeless at this point, with proper repair and selection of more gentle hair coloring options in the future you can again enjoy those bouncy shiny ringlets while banishing gray.

Best wishes,


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