Val Answers Your Top Haircare Questions
A: If you're not completely gray, try highlights and lowlights; the color is painted on gray strands (to camouflage them), so the dye doesn't sit on your scalp during the coloring process. Or you could, instead, apply demipermanent color to your gray 10 minutes before you apply it to the rest of your hair, says Jason Backe, Clairol's color director (demipermanent lasts longer than semi-). The extra time will allow the gray to pick up more pigment. Backe says using an ammonia-free product that contains antioxidants will prevent your hair from being damaged from the added exposure to the dye. (He, of course, recommends Clairol's Natural Instincts, $9, a demipermanent formula that should last through 28 shampoos.)
Bottom line: Your best bet is to have a professional blend away your gray with highlights and lowlights; if you color at home, you may have to use a demipermanent or semipermanent formula more often than you'd use a permanent one.
Q. Not everyone wants to dye her gray hair, you know. I love mine, but it's turning a little yellow. How can I bring out the silvery tones?
A: I love gray hair, too. (On you. Not me.) Gray or white hair, which contains little or no pigment, sometimes yellows because it picks up pigments from the environment; for example, if you use a yellowish shampoo or conditioner, rather than a clear one, a trace of the color might be deposited on your hair. Chlorine and other chemical residues in water, sunlight, and even oils from the scalp can also give gray or white hair a yellowish cast, says Kingsley. So if your water is very chlorinated, install a filter in your shower; wear a hat when you're in the sun; and be sure to wash your hair regularly. Try products made specifically for gray hair, says Joel Warren, master colorist at the Warren-Tricomi Salons in New York City. Just don't use them more than once a week, because—no kidding—they could make your hair look bluish.
Keep in mind: Adding a few silvery highlights can mean the difference between dull and dramatic.
Q: I've always battled my widow's peak. What kind of hairstyle is best to cover it?
A: Lucky you! Ever since I can remember, I've wanted a widow's peak; I think it adds character to a face. But I know that trying to hide it can limit your style options. Your two best bets are heavy bangs and a far side part, says Lisa Chiccine, a New York City hairstylist. Start by applying a styling gel (like Fekkai Coiff Extra Control Styling Gel, $24, or Suave Professionals Extra Hold Gel, $4) to your hair postshampoo, when it's still wet. For bangs, be sure to use the nozzle on your dryer and blow-dry with the setting on hot and high. Use a medium round brush (preferably one with nylon and boar bristles, which will help make your bangs straight and shiny) to dry the bangs from roots to ends. For a far side part, do the same with the styling gel and the dryer settings, but use a paddle brush, which should make it easier to dry your hair in the direction you want it to go.
Bottom line: A good styling gel and a hot blow-dryer will keep your widow's peak under wraps.
Q: I have a distinct cowlick on each temple; what's the best hairstyle for me?
A: Before I tell you about hairstyles, wouldn't you like to know how cowlicks develop? As your brain grows and your skull enlarges in the womb, the hair follicles on your scalp are stretched this way and that, causing some of them to develop in little whorls. In fact, in infants, distinct hair growth patterns can reveal various neurological and other kinds of conditions (I'm just guessing here, but I think one of them might be called Prone to Bad Hair Days). The resourceful New York City stylist Lisa Chiccine says that long hair will work better for you, since length creates weight. (The shorter your hair, the more your cowlicks will get their own way.) If bangs are your thing, keep them heavy and cut either inside or outside the cowlicks (depending on how close they are to your hairline). If you don't want bangs, part your hair in the middle, away from both cowlicks. Always blow-dry the cowlick opposite the direction in which it grows; then on high heat, blow it straight down, holding the hair taut.
Keep in mind: A styling product that offers lots of hold, like a gel, will also help tame the unruly hair on your temples. Try René Furterer Vegetal Sculpting Gel ($23).