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Does ammonia-free hair color cover gray?

Going gray can be a frustrating experience, especially if you’re not ready to fully embrace the silver strands. While some choose to flaunt their grays as a chic hair trend, others look for ways to cover up gray hairs through coloring. When it comes to selecting a hair dye, ammonia-free formulas have grown in popularity due to being less irritating than traditional ammonia-based dyes. But can these gentler hair colors effectively cover your grays?

What is Ammonia in Hair Color?

Ammonia is a compound added to most permanent and demi-permanent hair dyes. It works to open up and swell the hair cuticles, allowing the color pigments to penetrate deeper into the hair shaft for longer-lasting coverage. Ammonia also helps to lift your natural pigment so grays can be covered more easily. However, this ingredient has gained a reputation for being quite harsh on hair. Prolonged and repeated use of ammonia-based hair color can cause dryness, brittleness, and increased porosity over time.

Benefits of Ammonia-Free Hair Color

In contrast to traditional ammonia-containing dyes, ammonia-free hair coloring aims to cover grays effectively while still maintaining the health of your hair. Some key advantages include:

  • Less hair damage: Without ammonia, the cuticle remains closed and undamaged from the coloring process.
  • Less irritation: Ammonia can cause stinging of the eyes, scalp irritation, and unpleasant odors. Going ammonia-free reduces these side effects.
  • Better texture: Hair maintains softness and smoothness instead of becoming brittle.
  • Reduced fading: The cuticle being closed helps the color last longer with less fading.
  • Safer for pregnant women: Ammonia fumes are avoided, making it safer for those who are pregnant.

How Well Does It Cover Gray?

Now that you know the benefits of using ammonia-free hair dye, you may be wondering if it can effectively cover those persistent grays. The performance will depend on the specific formula, your hair type, porosity and density of grays.

Semi-permanent vs Demi-permanent

Semi-permanent, ammonia-free hair color only coats the outside of hair strands, so it cannot lighten or cover grays completely. These dyes work best for blending in grays by adding tone and shine.

Demi-permanent ammonia-free hair color contains small developer molecules that help the dye partially penetrate the hair shaft. This allows better gray coverage while still being less damaging than permanent dye. Demi-permanent dyes last 4-12 shampoos.

Porosity and Texture

Those with porous and/or damaged hair will likely find ammonia-free formulas cover their grays adequately. The cuticles are already partially open, allowing the dye to seep into the strands better. Coarse and curly hair types that are more porous also retain color well.

If your hair is not porous or damaged, the ammonia-free dye may struggle to penetrate the intact cuticle layer. Those with fine, straight hair may have difficulty getting full gray coverage without ammonia to first open up the cuticle.

Percentage of Grays

The higher your ratio of gray hairs, the more challenging it will be for ammonia-free dye to cover every last one. If you only have sparse or minimal grays coming in, the color should be able to provide sufficient coverage. However, for those with 50% or more gray hair, an ammonia-containing formula may be the most effective option.

Tips for Maximizing Gray Coverage

While ammonia-free color may not always cover every last gray, there are tips to maximize the coverage you can achieve:

  • Opt for demi-permanent vs semi-permanent dye: The longer-lasting demi-permanent formula will better grab onto grays.
  • Pick a shade slightly darker than your natural color: Going darker makes grays blend in better.
  • Use 10 volume developer: This low level developer assists dye penetration while minimizing lift so grays don’t get lighter.
  • Apply to clean, dry hair: Any dirt, oil or conditioner can create a barrier preventing the dye from grabbing the hair.
  • Process for the full time: Don’t skimp on processing time for optimal coverage.
  • Use a weekly glossing treatment: Adds shine and helps seal the cuticle to lengthen the time between coloring.

Best Ammonia-Free Hair Colors for Covering Gray

When shopping for an ammonia-free hair dye that effectively covers grays, look for demi-permanent formulations. Here are some top-rated options:

Brand Product Key Features
Madison Reed Radiant Hair Color Kit – Gel-cream formula with botanical oils
– Lasts up to 12 washes
– 57 mixable shades
Overtone Coloring Conditioner – Deposits pigment without peroxide
– Formulated for brown and black hair
– 15 colors to choose from
Clairol Natural Instincts – Free of ammonia & peroxide
– Lasts up to 28 shampoos
– Available in over 20 shades
L’Oreal Paris Excellence Creme – No ammonia or peroxide
– Multi-tonal for natural look
– Up to 50% gray coverage

Professional In-Salon Treatments

If you find you’re having no luck covering grays at home, consider visiting a salon. Many offer specialized gray blending and coverage treatments such as:

  • Semi-permanent glaze or toner: Deposits sheer color without lift
  • Highlift tint: Lightens and tones hair for gray blending
  • Lowlights: Darker shades painted through grays areas
  • Highlighting: Strategic lightening to minimize contrast with grays

A professional can tailor the formula and application to effectively conceal your grays with ammonia-free options. Be sure to have a consultation ahead of time to discuss your concerns and hair goals.

Alternatives If Coverage Fails

What if you’ve tried all the tricks but the ammonia-free hair color still isn’t fully covering every gray? Here are some options if you still wish to conceal the grays:

  • Try a demi-permanent with low ammonia: Reducing the ammonia content can help minimize damage while getting better gray coverage.
  • Use permanent hair color: This will provide the most complete gray coverage, but should be done sparingly to prevent excessive damage.
  • Look into highlights/balayage: Strategically lightening areas around the face can help blend away grays so they’re less noticeable.
  • Embrace the gray: Let your natural silver locks shine through by avoiding color altogether. Emphasize with shimmery styling products.

The Bottom Line

Ammonia-free hair color has its limitations when it comes to completely covering gray hair, especially as grays become more prominent. However, demi-permanent dyes can still effectively conceal grays for many, especially when combined with the right techniques and products. It may take some trial and error to find the right formula and application method that conceal grays while maintaining healthy hair.

If ammonia-free dye alone doesn’t cut it for your needs, you still have options. Speak to a hair stylist about professionally blended color that looks natural or incorporate strategically placed highlights and lowlights. And if you do decide to go back to ammonia-containing hair color, be sure to deeply condition and treat your hair to counteract the damage. Your grays don’t have to be a source of frustration; work with them to find a solution that makes you look and feel your best!