Dear Scott:  I am an older woman and have been coloring my hair for years.  During the last year or so I have noticed that my hair has become more resistant and the color I was using – 8N medium blond – would not take especially on the crown and the temple area. 

I decided to have my hair colored by a professional.  He started with medium blond.  The color turned very gold, so now he is using light ash and extra light ash.  I love the color; however, he is having the same problem.  Should we try another brand of color?  Is there a point where my hair being so resistant that I should resign myself to letting it grow out? Have you experienced this situation, and do you have any suggestions?

Answer: When I was 18 years old, I was a clothing salesman. In my spare time I would cut the guys' and girls' hair that worked at the store in the backroom. They started bringing in their friends. They were all paying me money to do it. That was when I decided to make a career out of it.

My family talked me into going to barber school when they heard the news, claiming that only girly boys did women's hair. The focus at barber college was strictly on cutting the hair. They didn't teach manicures, color, how to do permanent waves and all of the other things that beauty school spends time on, so it was an excellent educational experience in the art of haircutting.

When I actually started working as a barber was when I realized that if I ever wanted to make any money in the business, I needed to do something else. Women spend money on their hair so I went back to beauty school even though everyone thought it was weird.

After finishing beauty school, I realized that the curriculum was spread thin. Even though I easily passed the examination required for licensing, I didn't get the kind of training that I felt was necessary to do a perfect professional job of hair coloring. I didn't want to guess if something was going to work or not.

I started by picking up pieces of hair from off the floor of the salon and conducted experiments in the backroom. There were little pieces of hair labeled and pasted on boards all over the place. It became a crazy obsession. I must have looked like a mad scientist, experimenting on them constantly, trying different formulations and comparing the results of each product.

I attended every hair coloring seminar that I could find up and down the East Coast. I went to every trade show available, paid colorists for private classes who specialized in techniques that I wanted to learn and attended promotional education seminars of every popular professional hair color company.

It took years of this extra education, but I don't have any problems coloring hair. Hair does have its limitations, though, as you have inquired. But what is happening with your color can easily be explained. There is absolutely no reason for your white hair to win this battle. I will do my best to explain what is happening with your color.

The current color system using numbers like 8n is flawed. If you were to use the color 8n from 10 different manufacturers on the same head of hair, you will get 10 different results.

Every color company is different from one another. The intensity of the base color and the way the product processes will give completely different results on the same head of hair. This is why new colorists sometimes have trouble finding their way.

Much like an artist mixes paint for a canvas, I formulate color using a color wheel as a guide. It usually takes three to four different pigment bases mixed together for ultimate results.

Hair has a natural color pigment that is utilized during the color process. Gray hair has pigmentation, too, that is altered during the color process. Permanent color requires peroxide, or some other developer, to raise the cuticle layer of the hair shaft for the deposit of new pigmentation.

The color that is deposited, combined with the altered natural pigment, is what decides the finished result. A good product will then seal the cuticle shut after processing to prevent fading, add shine and visually improve the quality of the hair.

White hair lacks the natural pigmentation that assists in the coloring process. The white hair will still accept the color deposit, though. It may need to be treated separately, using one of a variety of methods depending on your hairs specific needs.

It is possible that a stain can be used to simplify the process or, as you suggested, a different brand.

Changes in elemental conditions will alter the structure of the hair from time to time influencing the results of hair color. I reevaluate formulations with every visit to ensure consistency.

Your hair is as individual as you are. As a colorist, I could still achieve excellent hair color results if I was unable to speak or hear. You have done an excellent job of describing your hair color problem, but I am blind without seeing your hair. Hopefully this information will help, but I can't tell you exactly what your hair needs without the use of my eyes.

Scott Terwilliger is an Aiken salon owner and Master Colorist. He can be reached at 803-979-2126 or for questions or comments.