Everything You Want To Know About Men's Hair Color
Hair color can feel like an act of self-care, even for men. Evidence: NPD Group found at-home hair color sales surged by 82 percent in the first quarter of 2020, as people turned to DIY pampering as a pick-me-up during COVID-19 lockdowns. Although we don’t know the exact number of the sales that went specifically to men, we can assume everyone got in on the action.
It was perfect timing, really, with custom color services like Madison Reed Mr. and Colorsmith by the makers of eSalon coming to the rescue with better, more individualized men’s color formulas than had previously been available. But, in reality, hairstylists were observing a shift even before stay-at-home orders suddenly gave people more time to play with their look. Here, we explore the ins and outs of men’s hair color with a little help from some of the industry’s leading experts.
The Rise of Men’s Hair Color
It should come as no surprise that many mens’ interest in hair color is a result of wanting to turn salt and pepper hair back to just pepper, but that doesn’t tell the whole story. “Men used to be more about discreet grey blending, but now we are seeing them be more experimental with platinum and vivid fashion colors,” says celebrity hair colorist George Papanikolas. Credit for that goes to style chameleons like singers Justin Bieber and Maluma.
If you’re a dude looking to get in on the hue-changing action, there are a few things that hold true across the board:
- Plan Ahead: Make sure you have a sulfate-free, color-safe shampoo ready to go in your shower (we like Matrix Total Results Color Obsessed), as making the switch will help preserve the delicate color molecules and reduce fading and oxidizing.
- Embrace a Day-Old ‘Do: Going with a not-so-squeaky-clean scalp can help head off irritation since dry skin is generally crankier and more sensitive to dye formulas.
- Touch Up Wisely: As your hair grows out, be careful when it comes time to color your roots. Overlapping the new and old dye jobs can lead to a darker result than you were hoping for.
From there, it’s all about perfecting the results you want and how you want to get there. Whether you’re ready to head to the salon or give at-home color a try, we’ve got you covered.
If You’re Heading to the Salon
The major perk of going to a professional is that it takes a lot of the stress and guesswork out of the equation — a hair colorist will know the right formula and how to apply it to get your desired outcome. Celebrity hair colorist and salon owner Rita Hazan insists the only thing that’s on you (besides knowing what you want) is picking the right person. As with most things in life, referrals are great. Ask your friends or your hairstylist for recommendations, but, if you’re walking in blind, feel free to ask plenty of questions before booking your appointment. “You’ve got to ensure the colorist has expertise with men’s color,” Hazan insists.
One part of the process that might surprise you: How long a professional service can take. Since colorists custom-blend formulas and generally take a lot of time and care to apply and rinse, the minutes add up. For a professional beard coloring, Xavier Cruz, president of the men’s grooming boutique Barba, says to budget 60 minutes or more. “Typically, I tell clients to allow one hour from start to finish,” he explains, “If they are looking to do something completely different — like lightening or avant-garde — it’s a lot of fun but could require a few hours.”
If you’re feeling shy about your color appointment, don’t be. Hazan says there are tons of men doing the exact same thing all over the place. “Do not feel embarrassed or insecure,” she shares.
How to Choose a DIY Hue
If you’d prefer to eschew the salon in favor of an at-home hue, we suggest doing your research and weighing your options before diving into the process. For those looking to go bold with a rainbow color, heavily pigmented formulas (like the ones from oVertone) will get you there — just be aware that they only show up on lighter strands. If your hair is dark, you probably want to go to a professional colorist who can take you platinum first.
For folks looking for a more natural result, there are a few things to keep in mind. First, Hazan says you should pick a product specifically made for men. “They are formulated to be more muted or matte, without any warmth,” she says (translation: you’re less likely to end up looking brassy). You’ll also want to match your natural color, even if you’re tempted to go a few shades off your usual hue. “If you go too dark, it will be inky, black, and very difficult to change,” Papanikolas warns. “If you go too light, then it can be orange and brassy.”
Hazan’s fool-proof tip: “Pick one shade lighter [than your natural tone] because at-home color tends to be darker.” If it ends up being a smidge too light, you can always go darker later.
Selecting a Formula
Once you know what color you're after, it’s time to choose a formula. There are three distinct options:
- Temporary Hair Color: For those who want a quick fix or are hesitant to jump right in, there are temporary powders, sprays, and paint-on products that simply hide gray or regrowth until your next shampoo. Try: Oribe Airbrush Root Touch-Up Spray and R+Co Bright Shadows Root Touch-Up Spray.
- Semi-Permanent Hair Color: Also known as demi-permanent, these formulas can last anywhere from one to six weeks (depending on the product). The plus with these is you don’t have to stay on top of roots — they will lighten as your hair grows — but you’re less likely to get total gray coverage. Try: Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel and Clairol Natural Instincts Semi-Color Hair Dye Kit for Men.
- Permanent Hair Color: In the permanent space, there are both ready-made options (like Just For Men Shampoo-in Hair Color) and more personalized solutions (Madison Reed Mr., Colorsmith, and L’Oreal Color & Co). The trio provides custom-blended kits via mail, which can help take the anxiety out of getting your perfect hue and generally nailing the whole thing.
Depending on your needs and desired look, any of these formulas can provide great results. Even if you opt for a permanent option, be sure to keep a temporary spray or root powder on hand. They will help extend the time between coloring sessions.
At-Home Hair Color Steps
Here’s your general guide to coloring at-home:
- Do a Patch Test: This means testing out the formula on a small area of hair first to make sure you don’t have an adverse reaction. It also gives you a chance to gauge if the hue you’ve picked is what you had in mind.
- Apply: When in doubt, follow the directions on the box — they will provide details on mixing the solution, how to spread over your hair (with gloved hands, of course), and the length of time to leave it on. Make sure you take your time and apply from all directions to prevent blotchy results. You can also put a bit of petroleum jelly around your hairline to protect the skin from staining.
- Set a Timer: Hair coloring is a messy process (even for pros)! Clean up while you wait for your results, making sure to get any dye off the surfaces of your bathroom and wiping any drips from your skin that will leave a stain.
- Rinse: Once your timer is up, it’s time to rinse… and rinse well.
A Word About Beards
When it comes to beards, we recommend reading our full dos and don’ts of the caring for facial hair — it’s always a good place to start. Like the hair on your head, don’t wash your beard before coloring. You want to keep your protective natural oils in place as a shield against the dye. If you’re at all nervous about the process of coloring your beard at home, heading to a professional groomer who offers facial hair coloring is always an option.
For the DIYer’s out there, here’s what to know: Regular ol’ hair color is perfectly safe and effective, but there are beard-specific products that may be easier to apply. Regardless, Cruz has a warning about ultra-fast (read: five to 10-minute) formulas: “I tend to tell clients to stay away, as they require a higher developer and/or the use of ammonia,” he says. “This will damage beards by drying them out and cause irritation to the skin beneath their beard.”
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