A classic hair colour formula gets retooled to use our own natural tones as its cue – and takes on grey, too.

“Does she or doesn’t she? Only her hairdresser knows for sure.” Hair colour has come a long way since this 1956 Clairol slogan broke open the “don’t ask, don’t tell” secrecy around hair colour with ads that cannily showed a flaxen-haired mother and child to illustrate that even “nice” married women could colour their hair. By the 1970s, one-third of American women were using hair colour and, in this decade, 85 per cent of Canadian women said they’ve changed their hair colour at least once.

A group of us are at Coty’s research labs deep in New Jersey, discussing the ways that home hair colour can go wrong. It can leave your hair feeling like straw or darken your face-framing baby hairs so much that you resemble a Lego figurine. And then there’s “shoe polish hair,” says Jeff Miller, senior director, Clairol Retail Hair Color R&D (owned by Coty), describing the impenetrable mono-colour that results from repeatedly covering hair with ever-darker shades to smother unruly greys.

Healthy, conditioned hair is critical to successful colour. “Your hair cuticle is translucent, so you see the pigment inside,” says Miller. “Healthy hair absorbs colour better for natural-looking transparency. But when hair is damaged,
colour can’t penetrate and sits on the surface, looking flat.”

So when Clairol wanted to reformulate bathroom cabinet staple Nice’n Easy, the first shampoo-in hair colour dating back to 1965, protecting hair during the process was paramount.

A result is a cream formula with conditioners and oils that protect hair throughout the colouring process. Newly added chelants (ingredients that remove heavy metals) further protect hair because even trace copper in your water can damage protein in the hair and alter colour. And Nice’n Easy is the first home hair colour containing ME+, a new dye molecule that reduces the already small risk of an allergic reaction (it’s already available in Wella
salon hair colour).

And for those with medium-toned hair who are finding themself inching toward “shoe polish” territory, Miller offers a compelling case for lightening up. “People believe ‘I need to go darker to cover everything,’” he says. “As you get older and have more grey, if you go darker, your lighter roots show up more quickly.

“If you’re a natural medium brown and go light blond, three weeks later when new hair grows in, you won’t have to colour yet.” And that is lower-maintenance hair colour we can definitely get behind.

A version of this article appeared in the March 2018 issue of Zoomer magazine with the headline, “Cover Up,” p. 18.