I tried using the for-men-only coloring kits that you can pick up in any grocery, drug, or discount store. They worked quickly as advertised, and the color looked great for the first day. By day three it was obvious the color was fading. This meant I was spending seven to eight dollars a week for color that lasted only a few days. And I wasn’t ready to shave off the beard for sentimental reasons.
When I expressed my concerns about my graying facial hair to my hair stylist, she recommended I use the hair coloring products the professionals use. I thought about it, asked her a lot of questions, and finally went with her suggestions. Along the way I’ve had some successes and some failures, but am comfortable with the whole process now. So I’m here to share my experiences with you if you’re considering this as a possibility.
Facial Hair Is Different
The first thing I learned was that facial hair is different from the hair on the top of your head. It’s coarser and doesn’t hold color as well (which would explain why the products I was trying didn’t seem to work very well). Gray hair is especially hard to color, so with gray facial hair I was getting a double whammy! I was warned that regular hair color, whether out of a kit or from a beauty supply shop, wouldn’t work as well on my beard as it would on my hair. For that reason, I was going to have to “tweak" the instructions that came with the products I would be purchasing. My hair stylist gave some excellent recommendations, which I’ll pass on in the following sections.
Getting the Right Products
First I needed to find the right color and the right developing solution (developer). I was told that I’d get better coverage by finding a product that was specially designed to cover gray hair. In addition to getting the color, I needed to purchase the appropriate developer for the type of color I’d chosen. Developer contains hydrogen peroxide, which helps the hair retain the color. Developer is manufactured with differing levels of hydrogen peroxide “volume", starting at 10 and increasing in increments of 10. The higher the volume, the lighter the final color. Because I was choosing a lighter blond color, I didn’t need to lighten the color any further, so I chose a developer with a volume of 10.
Getting the Right Tools
I kept my beard trimmed short, so it was doubtful I’d need to use the entire tube of color I’d purchased. I had kept one of the mixing trays from my earlier attempts at coloring my beard, along with the mixing tool and the applicator brush. I did purchase a pair of gloves to protect my skin while applying the color. Because my color came in a tube, I just squeezed into the tray what I thought would be enough to cover my entire beard (half a tube at the time) and added the developer in the right proportions (in my case, it was equal amounts of color and developer). I mixed them together with the mixing tool and applied the color with the applicator brush. (Warning: Do this in a well-ventilated area. The odor of the coloring mixture is VERY strong!) I used the brush to make sure the coloring solution got all the way down to the roots, and worked on the gray areas first, so they’d have more time to take the color. (As for “leftovers" – you can’t save the coloring solution you’ve already mixed for next time. If you have anything left over, you need to throw it out.)
Timing Is Everything
Now that the color was in my beard, I had to time how long it needed to remain in my beard before washing it out. The instructions said to leave it in 25 minutes for a first-time coloring treatment. (Yes, this is much longer than the five-minute solution offered by the men-only product, but the color was going to last much longer as well!) My hair stylist said I might need to leave the color in a little longer than what the instructions recommended (see “Facial Hair is Different" section above for reasons why). So I chose to go an extra ten minutes. After that, it was a matter of hopping into the shower and washing the coloring mixture out of my beard (no shampoo or soap needed). When coloring your hair, the instructions recommend using a conditioner in the hair afterwards however, I skipped that step, also on recommendation.
And the Results Are In!
What I ended up with was a color that was much more uniform and natural-looking than what I’d experienced with the men-only products I’d tried before. I also found that this color lasted a good week, instead of only a few days. And it wasn’t because the color was washing out or fading, but because new gray was growing in from the roots. Overall, I was much more pleased with the results from this process than I was with the other products I’d used.
Don’t Be Afraid of Change
Over time, I’ve played with colors, ratios of color to developer, time left on, and other factors. I’ll share with you what I’ve found works best for me.
Since I’ve started coloring my facial hair, I’ve graduated from full beard to moustache and goatee. The amount of coloring mixture I require for each application has been reduced as a result. I usually trim my facial hair once every one to two weeks, and go through my coloring routine immediately after my trim. The tube of color I use can last me for up to eight applications. I have found the 50/50 mix of color with developer gives me the best overall coverage. I’ve gradually increased the time I leave the color in to a full hour. I might be able to reduce that time by going with a stronger developing solution, but right now I’m pleased with the natural-looking color I get with my current combination of color and developer. Oh, and I dumped the gloves – I found I didn’t need them because I’m using the applicator brush to put the color in my hair.
Obviously, you’ll need to do your own tinkering to find out what combination gives you the most satisfying results.
Pros and Cons
The two biggest positives to coloring my facial hair with this method are increased color coverage and reduced cost. If I don’t trim my facial hair for two weeks, it’s only in the last day or so that I really start noticing the gray showing up (from the roots). So my moustache and goatee are retaining color much more effectively. The cost per treatment has decreased as well. I would use a one-time men-only treatment at a cost of about $7-$8 per application, and would have to do that once a week. The tube of color I prefer runs about $5 and gives me up to eight treatments. A 16-ounce bottle of developer runs around $4, and I’ll exhaust that bottle after about seven or eight tubes of color. Even if I do a coloring treatment once a week…well, do the math yourself. Keep in mind that I keep my facial hair short, about half an inch long at most. But even with longer facial hair, the overall cost per coloring is still going to be much cheaper. The cost drops even more when you buy color and developer when the beauty supply store runs a sale, which happens frequently.
The biggest negatives? The time factor and the smell. Setting aside an hour and fifteen minutes to apply the color and let it sit in my beard can be frustrating, but I usually wear a shirt I don’t mind “dribbling" on and work on my computer or read. It’s not like the time is unproductive. The smell was more daunting at first, but now I’m used to it and it doesn’t bother me at all.
It took a little bit of experimentation, but I found a combination that gave me very satisfying results and was relatively inexpensive. And once you have the process down, it’s practically a no-brainer to mix, color, wait, and wash. It’s a vanity thing, sure. And we have our pride to consider. But why should women be the only ones allowed to cover their gray and look years younger? If you’re keeping your facial hair, this is an option worth considering!
Additional sources for this article include HowStuffWorks.com and Salonweb.com .