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It’s a Gray Area, Part II

by Roberta McReynolds

(Part One of It's a Gray Area)

I explored Aisle 9 of the local convenience store armed with my scribbled notes from the Clairol web site. The shelves were stocked from the floor to far above my head and almost out of reach entirely. Various brands competed for attention using young models with gorgeous locks of flowing hair in that authentic studio ‘natural’ look.

Each brand offered several categories of beauty-in-a-box, depending on the customer’s needs and desires. I paused to marvel at the reasoning behind brewing one type promising shinier, stronger hair over another that tried to seduce with the claim to grant longer lasting color. If they have discovered the technology for brilliant shine, strength, and durability, why wouldn’t they combine it into one super-product and corner the market?

One section of the aisle was devoted to ending the ‘brassiness’ problem. I didn’t even know what brassiness was before walking into the store. Now I stood the risk of losing sleep over the fear my hair might look like an alloy of copper and zinc.

I was quickly becoming overwhelmed, so I moved onward to the Clairol section and located the Natural Instincts semi-permanent selections. I read the side panel of every box recommended for light and medium brown hair, and still wasn’t sure which tint was the best match. I double-checked the pictures of the final results, but my years of employment in the printing industry taught me that one pressman having a bad day following a confrontation with the production manager (that would be me) can produce thousands of boxes featuring misleading color examples. The thought of bad karma returning in this manner was promptly shoved to the back of my mind.

Half an hour later I reached the conclusion that Clairol’s advice appeared fairly accurate. I kept coming back to the computer’s recommended color. Besides, the model on the package looked thrilled to be a Pecan #18, so I decided to go for it, too.

There was only one cash register open. My box of hair dye was scanned for a price by somebody’s grandson; he couldn’t have been out of his teens yet. Worse yet, instead of making eye contact as he announced the total, he glanced at my hairline. Now was that really necessary?

I fought the temptation to inform him that his curiosity had thrust him into perilous territory. He certainly could use a lesson on discretion. Fortunately for him, and the poor souls standing in line behind me, I didn’t trust myself to conduct a class in etiquette and remain a good example at the same time.

I scuttled out of the store reminiscent of a crab clutching a morsel of food defensively in its claws while hurrying to disappear out of sight. The comparison suited my current mood, complete with the image of me gripping my bag and receipt. (Note to self: Explore option of having Natural Instincts shipped to home address, preferably in a plain brown wrapper.)

The box was opened and I began reading the instructions as soon as I got home. My hair shouldn’t be freshly washed or have any other hair product on it. A 48-hour skin test in case of an allergic reaction was required, as well as a hair strand test to time how long to leave the dye on my hair to achieve the desired results. Well, at this point, I desired to be free of chemically induced blisters and have my mane stay rooted to my scalp. I hoped that wasn’t asking too much.

I removed one bottle of "Color-Enhancing Colorant" and another filled with "Gentle Activating Creme." Instantly I felt a pang of fear at the color in the bottle of dye. It didn’t look like Pecan #18 to me. It looked exactly like the color my best friend described as ‘orangutan orange’ when referring to the hair color of a woman we sighted in a bookstore. That was decades ago, however, and now the prospect didn’t strike me as being quite that funny anymore.

Proceeding with the strand test seemed harmless enough, before deciding on whether to return Pecan #18 to the store with an explanation that there had been a terrible mistake at the factory. I snipped strands of white and two shades of brown hair, carefully taping the cut ends so they wouldn’t get lost. A few drops of each solution were mixed in a disposable cup and the free ends of my hair were dipped into the concoction. The timer was set for 10-minutes, giving me plenty of time to ponder the return policy on an open box of hair color.

The good news was that the glowing orange dye apparently oxidizes after mixing it with the other solution. Instead of looking like nuclear waste, it turned into an acceptable, friendly-looking brown.

When the time expired I lifted the strands for examination. This is when it dawned on me that if you are old enough to want to cover gray hair, your eyes are also too old to see the color of a single strand of hair. I stuck the hair back in the cup and re-set the timer for another 5-minute soak. My eyesight didn’t improve while waiting, in case I’ve mislead anyone by this action.

The entire 20-minute limit was used up before I thought I could discern a hint of color on the white strand. Any changes that occurred on the brown hairs were impossible for me to see.

Page Two>>

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