Everything you need to know about covering grey hair and root growth at home

hair salon
A group of women in a hair salon in Brazil in 1960 Credit: Archive Photos

In the grand scheme, not being able to get to the hair salon for those colour appointments isn’t the end of the world.

Except… What to do about those roots? Now hairdressers, barbers and beauty salons are on the list of businesses that need to shut up shop in the UK’s fight against the coronavirus, it has become a lively topic of virtual conversation.

“Three and a half weeks away from knowing everyone’s natural hair colour” is one popular meme. Actually, that was last weekend, so now it’s three weeks to be precise.

“Why is everyone getting worked up?” asked my 27-year-old daughter. It’s all very well for those with long, shiny, uncoloured locks. But for anyone who depends on regular salon visits to keep their grooming standards and morale up, as well as the social interaction, we’re at a crossroads. Bad hair days are bad for a reason – because hair, as Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s character says in Fleabag, “is everything… we wish it wasn’t. But it is.” Those shiny long-maned daughters know this too. Just try suggesting they cut it short.

Saved by the box: Lisa Armstrong put Josh Wood’s video consultation and kits to the test Credit: Lisa Armstrong

“Perhaps this is the moment to let Mother Nature take her course, and give up the battle against grey/dark roots,” I suggest half-heartedly on one WhatsApp group. “No,” was the general response.

So at-home colour it is. For those of us who are a bit cack-handed or chastened by past DIY traumas that left us with maroon or patchy manes, or who don’t like to embark on any venture without the correct qualifications (in this case a degree in chemistry), this is intimidating.

My henna attempts made my hair go green once. Still scarred. Fortunately, the world of home colour has moved on since 1989. A raven-haired colleague on the fashion desk swears by Josh Wood’s colour kits. She goes for a session at his salon twice a year and saves money the rest of the year by using the DIY packs.

Marilyn Monroe and Jane Russell in Gentlemen Prefer Blondes Credit: Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

A browse on his website throws up the following: permanent colour, shade shots, root smudgers, root markers, blending brushes and tinted dry shampoos… Argggh! Where to start?

Luckily, from this Friday, we can book free 15-minute video consultations with Wood or one of his team to guide us through.

I tested out the service this week and it was a life-enhancing, helpful quarter of an hour out of the schedule of Zoom/Google Hangout meetings, not least because an actual expert telling me exactly what colour my hair currently is, what colour I need (6.0), and where, precisely, I should apply it, is a vast improvement on my vague guesswork.

Josh Wood Credit: Josh Wood Colour

Equally importantly, it will equip thousands of us with the confidence to take control of a small but key component in our sense of wellbeing.

Wood’s advice is practical and realistic. He points out that while it’s perfectly possible to do a decent job of maintaining root colour at home, there’s no point being precious. He suggests concentrating on your parting and the hair line around your face – “what the pros call the T-line, which is all that anyone on those conference calls will see, and just as importantly, what you see when you look in the mirror.

“Section the hair so that you do it evenly, and only apply colour to the regrowth.”

Monique Chevalier Knowlton in Glamour magazine in 1962 Credit: Milton Greene

If the rest of your colour is in good order, you can apply a conditioning mask while you have colour on the roots, washing everything out after around 30 minutes (some of his permanent kits come with masks), otherwise he recommends Redken’s Mega Mask, or Philip Kingsley’s Elasticizer.

To amp up the colour of the rest of your hair, brush the remaining formula through to the ends for the final 10 minutes only, to avoid build-up.

That’s it. Or almost. It might get messy, warns Wood (old towels only). If you live with someone, they could be helpful for the back bits. If not, don’t worry.

Hairstylist Vidal Sassoon Credit: Shutterstock

Around week three, when colour or tone may have faded, you could pop on a warming or cooling colour conditioner to achieve what Wood so eloquently describes as “that salon buzz”. “Match the colour gloss to the lightest part of your hair,” he says.

As for DIY highlights or balayage – it’s probably too complicated. On the plus side, improving the hair health makes colour look better, so keep up with the conditioning and a healthy diet. That goes for those with lovely grey or silvery manes, who can keep their hair shiny and bright with blue or violet-hued shampoos (but only once or twice a month to prevent hair taking on a mauve tinge). Grey hairs tend to be drier than non-grey, so intense hair masks such as those mentioned are helpful, as is a good blow-dry (there are some excellent tutorials on YouTube; my favourite is Dominique Sachse, who posts easy-to-follow step-by-step videos for achieving accessible, grown-up hairdos).

Salons of Britain, we miss you, but will do our best until we get to see you again.