GRAY MATTERS What are aging men to do? Die their hair, of course


Baby boomers may be noticing a difference these days when they look in the mirror.

Gray hair.

And although a touch of gray at a man's temples has long been considered a mark of distinction by many, an increasing number of men are experimenting with coloring their hair.

It stands to reason, say beauty experts. As men pay increasing attention to what they eat, what they wear and how often they work out, the idea of men pampering themselves and enhancing their looks is gaining acceptance. "Here in the United States we have the John Wayne factor -- where men shouldn't worry about their looks," says Ann York, grooming director for Combe, maker of Grecian Formula and Just for Men. "But we're overcoming that."

As the bulk of the Me Generation hits middle-age, odds are that more and more men will give hair dye a try. "Baby boomers are fast becoming the gray generation," says Susan Layne, special projects coordinator at Matrix Essentials, makers of Moderations, a semipermanent hair color used in salons. "But they are becoming more and more open to new color suggestions, especially men."

So -- Paul Newman look alikes aside -- if the appearance of gray locks discourages you, why not do something nice for yourself this Father's Day? Go on, wash that gray right out of your hair.

After all, you'll be in good company: Ted Danson, Robert Wagner, Michael Landon, Dick Clark and Ronald Reagan, among others, enhance their natural hair color.

Indeed, if truth be told, almost 17 million American men colored their hair in salons in 1990, according to American Salon Magazine. And that number is expected to increase to nearly 21 million in 1991 -- a 20 percent increase.

In addition, retail sales of men's home hair color products have grown steadily over the past few years. (And about one-third of the men who color their hair secretly use their wives' or girlfriends' hair coloring products, according to research by Clairol.)

With statistics like these, it's no wonder that a number of companies have jumped on the retail bandwagon with new products that make getting hair to die for easier.

Both Combe and Clairol make gradual hair color and semipermanent colors; and Revlon makes a temporary hair color called New Age, that, while not specifically created for men, covers the gray and acts as a refresher for permanent or semipermanent wash-in hair colorings.

And the as-natural-as-possible approach to going darker is very important despite the greater acceptance of men who care about how they look, says Patrick Hagen, owner of Patrick's Hair Design in Mount Washington. "Men are more embarrassed than women if their hair coloring is evident. It takes talent to color a man's hair so that it's natural and unnoticeable."

But not to worry, he adds. While having your hair colored in a salon is more expensive than home coloring, hairdressers are armed with a battery of hair care techniques designed to make the transition from gray to darker unobtrusive.

"We can use reverse frosting, where strands of hair are darkened rather than lightened, for a permanent color, or we can use a shampoo cap for a semipermanent color that gradually washes out in four to six weeks," says Denver hair stylist Rudy Vidal, president of Hair International, a barber and beauty organization. "If a man isn't sure what color he wants, we offer a temporary rinse he can wash out the next day."

Men who want to color their hair at home also have a number of choices that are convenient, easy and fast. In addition to lower cost, an advantage of home hair coloring is that it fits your daily routine: Usually it can be combed onto hair or shampooed in and rinsed out a few minutes later.

Grecian Formula 16, a gradual color restorer for home use, is credited with beginning the evolution in men's hair coloring some 30 years ago. Grecian originally started as a woman's product, but when it didn't catch on, Ivan Combe, president of Combe, created a masculine image for the product and successfully directed it toward men.

Gradual hair color works by re-filling the hair shaft with a pigment, rather than by dyeing your hair. Your hair color is determined by the amount of a pigment called melanin that exists in your hair. The more melanin, the darker your hair. As you grow older, the cells that produce melanin stop making it and your hair gradually turns gray.

Shampoo-in colors usually provide a semipermanent hair color. The color fades away in four to six weeks, so if you don't like the color, you can try again. Also, roots are less noticeable with semipermanent colors because they tend to blend with your hair color.

If you mess up your home hair coloring, be sure to tell your hairdresser exactly what you did, says Mr. Vidal of Hair International. Then he can correct the color without causing any further problems.

But before you dive in, experts suggest, evaluate your hair color and situation. For men, gray hair can add an air of distinction and experience, and may be an asset rather than a detriment.

"One rare exception [to the hair coloring scenario] is the young executive who asked for a few gray streaks," says Mr. Hagen of Patrick's Hair Design. "He was in charge of a company and supervised men older than himself -- the gray gave him a little more authority."

The distinguished executive look aside, says Dan Garvey, consulting director of education for Supercuts, a national chain of hair salons, those first gray hairs can give one a jolt. Let's face it, he says, "Most people aren't going to go gray naturally and gracefully."

And, Mr. Garvey points out, sometimes hair may turn to an unattractive shade. Naturally gray hair is dryer and coarser and tends to "stain." For instance, smoke may cast a yellow hue and minerals in the water may cause green or orange hues. Even hair products such as a blue-colored styling gel can change the color.

So even if you like a bit of gray in your hair, you may want to color it to maintain a silver or white color, he says.

Whether you color at home or in a salon, use temporary or permanent color, or cover all or some of your gray, the most important thing is that you feel comfortable with your new look. And, that the next time you look in the mirror, you like what you see.

Hair hints

* Evaluate your looks, ask your family and friends. Maybe gray hair fits you to a T.

* Start out with a color about four levels lighter than your natural color if your hair is mostly gray. As you grow older, your skin tone changes, and your original color now may be too dark.

* Read the directions! "Most people never read the directions," says Rudy Vidal, president of Hair International. "Then they need help to correct their mistakes."

* Remember that beards, mustaches, sideburns and temples may resist color. Apply color to these areas first so it has more time to work.

* Avoid color build-up on hair ends by touching up roots first. Apply color to roots, wait, then comb through the rest of your hair.

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