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How do you open the cuticle of GREY hair?

What is hair cuticle?

The cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair shaft. It is a protective layer made up of overlapping scales that point towards the tip of the hair. The cuticle prevents damage from occurring to the inner structures of the hair. When the cuticle is intact and lying flat, it creates a smooth hair surface that reflects light and gives hair its healthy appearance.

When the cuticle is damaged, the scales lift up and create a rough surface. This makes the hair prone to snagging and breakage. It also prevents the hair from properly reflecting light, leading to a dull and lackluster appearance.

Why is it important to open the cuticle when coloring gray hair?

Opening the cuticle is an important step when coloring gray hair. Here’s why:

  • Allows dye penetration – Hair color cannot penetrate into the cortex properly if the cuticle is closed and intact. Opening the cuticle allows the hair dye molecules to be deposited inside the hair shaft for even and consistent color results.
  • Maximizes dye uptake – Keeping the cuticle open enables the gray hair to absorb the maximum amount of hair color. This helps provide rich, vivid and long-lasting color.
  • Avoids patchiness – With an opened cuticle, the dye is able to distribute evenly from root to tip. This prevents spotty or uneven coloring that can occur when the cuticle is closed.
  • Minimizes damage – Trying to force dye into hair with a tightly closed cuticle can cause damage and breakage. Opening the cuticle in a controlled manner allows the coloring process to occur gently.

In summary, opening the gray hair cuticle facilitates dye penetration and uptake while minimizing damage. This is key for achieving uniform, intense and lasting color results.

How to open the cuticle on gray hair

There are a few simple ways to open and prepare the cuticle when coloring resistant gray hair:

Use heat

One of the most effective ways to open the cuticle is by using heat. The heat causes the cuticle scales to temporarily lift and separate from the hair shaft.

Applying heat can be done in different ways:

  • Blow dry hair until it is 80% dry before applying color
  • Use a flat iron to heat hair strands before and during the coloring process
  • Sit under a hooded dryer to maintain warmth as the color processes

The ideal temperature range to open the cuticle is 180°F to 220°F. Use a heat protectant product first to minimize damage to hair.

Use an alkaline relaxer or pre-treatment

Alkaline relaxers and pre-treatments raise the pH of hair to open the cuticle. They wash off easily after performing their cuticle-opening function.

Look for professional products that contain amino acids or ammonia. Follow the instructions carefully so the alkaline agents only swell the cuticle instead of breaking disulfide bonds inside the hair.

Use surfactants

Surfactants are detergents that have the ability to temporarily lift cuticle scales. Ammonium lauryl sulfate and sodium laureth sulfate are examples of surfactants often found in hair coloring products.

The surfactants in the formula allow the cuticle to open enough so dyes can penetrate. Rinsing the surfactants off causes the cuticle to smooth down into place again.

Exfoliate the scalp

Doing a gentle scalp exfoliation before coloring gray hair can help remove buildup and product residue. This allows for a cleaner slate so the cuticle can lift better during the coloring process.

Use a scrub containing sea salt, lemon juice or apple cider vinegar no more than 1-2 times per week prior to coloring for light exfoliation. Massage it in gently using the pads of your fingers, not nails, to avoid scratching the scalp.

Professional treatments to open the cuticle

For best results when coloring resistant gray hair, enlist the help of professional salon treatments:

Olaplex No.0

This is an intensive bond-building treatment that repairs damage and refreshens the hair cuticle before coloring. Applying Olaplex No.0 prepares the hair to better accept and trap hair dye inside the cortex.

Colorful Cuticle Opener

This is a service offered at some salons that deeply opens the cuticle for staining resistant hair. It contains urea to swell the cuticle and allow deeper dye penetration.

Joico Cuticle Sealer

This cuticle sealer is applied after coloring to help smooth down the cuticle and seal in the hair dye. Using it helps increase color longevity and brightness.

Brazilian Blowout

The Brazilian Blowout softens and smoothes the hair cuticle using a proprietary blend of keratin and conditioning agents. Doing this treatment first can enhance the hair’s ability to absorb color.

After coloring gray hair

It’s important to close the cuticle once the coloring process is complete. This seals in the hair dye for maximum vibrancy and longevity.

Here are some ways to close the cuticle after dyeing gray hair:

  • Rinse with cool water – Rinsing away color with cool water causes cuticle scales to smooth down.
  • Apply conditioner – Conditioners contain cationic ingredients that neutralize charge on the hair and flatten the cuticle.
  • Use blue toning drops – Blue toners counteract brassiness and deposit color that helps close the cuticle.
  • Try a vinegar rinse – Rinsing with 1-2 Tbsp apple cider vinegar per 2 cups water flattens the cuticle.
  • Avoid shampooing often – Frequent shampooing can re-open the cuticle, so limit washing to 2-3 times per week.
  • Apply cuticle sealing serum – Serums with monoi oil, jojoba oil, or argan oil can help smooth down the cuticle.


Opening the cuticle is key when coloring resistant gray hair. Heat, alkaline relaxers, surfactants and scalp exfoliation allow the cuticle to lift so dyes can thoroughly penetrate. Professional salon treatments such as Olaplex, cuticle openers and Brazilian Blowout prep the cuticle for maximum color uptake. To seal in hair color afterwards, close the cuticle by rinsing with cool water, applying conditioner and using toning drops or vinegars. With some TLC for the cuticle, gray hair can look vibrantly colored and healthy.

Method How it Works
Heat Heat from blow drying, flat ironing or hooded dryers causes the cuticle to lift and separate.
Alkaline Relaxers Relaxers raise the pH which swells and opens the cuticle.
Surfactants Detergents like ammonium lauryl sulfate lift up the cuticle scales.
Scalp Exfoliation Gently removes buildup so cuticle can lift better during coloring.
After Coloring Method How it Closes Cuticle
Rinse with Cool Water Causes cuticle scales to lie flat and smooth.
Apply Conditioner Cationic ingredients neutralize charge and flatten cuticle.
Blue Toning Drops Deposits pigments that help close the cuticle.
Vinegar Rinse Flattens and smooths down the cuticle.
Limit Shampooing Prevents frequent cuticle re-opening from shampooing.
Cuticle Sealing Serums Oils smooth and seal the cuticle.