Or "just how progressive are you?"
I used to believe that men should age with dignity, not with dye. That is, until I realized I was the only 38-year-old guy I knew whose hair is almost entirely white. (My father went grey at about the same age, so I blame him for my bum genes.)
At first, the extra snow was a bit of a novelty. But about a month ago, I started to notice that kids were calling me "sir" and not "dude;" salespeople were showing me golf clothing rather than flaming dragon Hawaiian shirts; and my financial advisor was bugging me to buy into burial plots as a sound investment choice "for people our age." He's 54.
So I did it. I washed that grey right out of my hair.
Or, more precisely, I mixed dye intermediates and preformed dyes with a hydrogen peroxide solution, squeezed the glop onto my scalp, worked it into a dark brown lather, wa
ited five minutes, rinsed, shampooed, rinsed again, and towel dried the grey right out of my hair.
No Stranger to Dye
I'm no stranger to hair dye. In my university days, back in the ultraconservative dress-for-success Eighties, I was the only Ottawa U English Department student with a leopard-spotted Mohawk. It was one of many vivid styles that bemused my professors and horrified my parents: in turn, my hair was black, blue, orange, two-tone black and blond, and (result of one failed experiment) the most appalling shade of urine yellow anyone is ever likely to see.
Back then, I had to settle for women's home colouring formulas - damn nasty stuff in girly packages; smelled like freshly tarred highway. Today, thankfully, there is a glut of new men's products on the market, available in shades for just about every natural tone.
And most men's hair colour products don't stink like Los Angeles smog. They tend to apply easily and mess is minimal. Unless you're me, in which case you'll need a new wardrobe by the time you're done. But that's another story.
How Hair Dyes Work
Hair dyes, whether for men or women, are available as permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary colour products. Permanent hair dyes, the most popular choice among consumers, come in two categories: oxidation and progressive.
Oxidation hair dyes consist of 1) dye intermediates and preformed dyes in an ammoniacal solution that also contains soap, detergents, and conditioning agents; and 2) hydrogen peroxide in water or a cream lotion. The ammoniacal dye solution and hydrogen peroxide solution are mixed shortly before application. The applied mixture causes hair to swell, whereupon the dye intermediates and preformed dyes penetrate the hair shaft, chemically react with each other and the hydrogen peroxide, and dye the hair.
Progressive hair dyes contain lead acetate or, less commonly, bismuth citrate as the active ingredient. Progressive hair dyes gradually change the colour of hair by reacting with the sulphur of hair keratin, and also by oxidizing on the hair surface.
You should be aware that there is some question about the use of lead acetate in progressive dyes. Various researchers worry about the danger of lead contamination to users and their children, while professional colourists say lead-based dyes can cause scalp burns if oxidation dyes are later applied to treated hair.
As of this writing, lead acetate is approved in small concentrations (typically, 0.06 percent) for colouring hair on the scalp.
What Are Your Options?
Now that you know all there is to know about permanent hair colour, how does this affect your purchasing decision? Well, that really depends on how you feel about progressive dyes. Use this chart as a product selection guide.
After some serious Internet research, I settled on the well-known Just for Men brand from Combe Incorporated, the same folks who bring us Vagisil feminine itch cream.
Why Just for Men? I simply couldn't resist their web site. Here's actual marketing copy:
"You'll be amazed at how something as simple as getting rid of your gray hair can affect other aspects of your life. Take a look at how easy it is to turbo-charge your love life and boost your career once you look as good as you feel."
Any product that turbo-charges my love life is okay by me. So I picked up two boxes - one for my head and another for my goatee and moustache.
Just for Men is an oxidation hair dye that also contains hydrolyzed wheat protein, pro vitamin B-5, vitamin E, aloe vera extract, and chamomile extract. Its chemical ingredients won't do your scalp any favours, but the botanical extracts at least provide a certain suppleness to hair after treatment.
Combe promises a "thicker, healthier, natural look in just five minutes." Actually, the dye sits in your hair for five minutes - no more, no less - before you rinse it out. From start to finish, the treatment is more accurately clocked at 15 to 20 minutes. (Don't forget the patch test, which you must conduct at least 48 hours before application.)
The results are worth the wait. Just for Men returned my hair to its former dark brown glory - though the comb-in moustache and beard colour didn't produce the results I expected. On the whole, I'm happy to be rid of all that grey. My sons call me "dude" again, and I received a flaming Hawaiian shirt for my last birthday.
The jury's still out on whether my love life's been turbo-charged. I'm married, so it's hard to tell one way or the other.
By James Whittall, MenEssentials President
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