How to Hide Greys When You're Allergic to Hair Dye - My Experience With Goldwell Elumen

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If you've been following my blog for a while, you'll probably know that I'm allergic to hair dye, or more specifically, to PPD, the active ingredient in hair dye. I don't want to waffle on and on about the ins and outs of hair dye allergy in this post (although if you're interested in that, I waffled on and on about it here!) Instead, I want to share a recent experience with you - one that could be helpful to anyone who's looking to disguise grey hairs, especially if you happen to be allergic to dye, like me.

Goldwell Elumen Review 1

The fact that I couldn't dye my hair was never really an issue for me until I started to develop greys. I wasn't interested in going all the colours of the rainbow, but when the greys came along, I wanted them gone quick sharp. Remember that L'Oreal advert where Julianna Margulies says, "I will ALWAYS be too young to be grey"? Yep, that. I'm sure plenty of people can relate!

So what do you do when you have grey hairs but can't colour over them? Well, as a matter of fact, for anyone with greys, it's always going to be more effective to get highlights rather than trying to dye them. As a hairdresser once explained to me, grey hairs are funny little buggers, completely different in texture to pigmented hair, and even strong, permanent dyes have a tendency to wash out of them within just a few weeks. Of course you can keep re-dyeing them if you want to, but it's high maintenance.


Highlights, on the other hand, create depth and dimension within the hair, and as soon as you get that mix of shades, the greys just seem to blend away. With nothing to wash out of them, you're basically sorted until the roots grow through. You can lighten hair with bleach - a completely different chemical process to dyeing and one which I am happily not allergic to. So for a good few years now, I've used bleach only highlights to disguise my grey hairs.

At first, this was fine, but there were always a few little niggles at the back of my mind. For one thing, most people who have highlights don't have them with just bleach, and there are very good reasons for that. Bleach will lift your natural colour, but not usually to a shade you want to be. With "normal" non-allergic clients, hairdressers use toners or dyes over the top of bleach to achieve the desired shade, and some won't even want to touch your hair if they have to work with bleach alone. I was very fortunate that I found a talented and experienced colourist who would, and that bleach - at least in his expert hands - seemed to lift my hair to quite a nice shade without the help of toners or other colourants. However, not having any sort of choice over your own hair colour is still not ideal.

The second problem, which is potentially a lot worse, is what happens if things start getting a bit too blond? Most people can just add some lowlights or even dye the whole lot back to their natural colour, but if you have a PPD allergy, you can't do this. My first colourist, Shane, understood this issue, and was always careful to give me just enough highlights to disguise my greys. This is what my hair used to look like when he was in charge of my colour, and I was always very happy with it.

Goldwell Elumen Review 3

Then Shane left. Left the salon, left town, left the bloody country. Walked out of my life and abandoned me to deal with my hair issues on my own.

Damn you Shane!

My next colourist, unfortunately, was not in the same league. She freaked out about not being able to use toners on me, and decided that the only way to keep my hair from being brassy (a common complaint when you lift with bleach alone) was to make it as light as possible. She did this by leaving the bleach on a lot longer than Shane had done, and was also not very careful about only doing my roots. I, stupidly perhaps, did nothing to stop her, and I ended up looking like this.

Goldwell Elumen Review 4

Now I'm aware that a lot of people might actually prefer this colour. It's cooler toned than what I had before, which is always infinitely more fashionable. I, however, hated it. I felt it looked harsh on me, and I really missed my warm, caramel tones. It was also a lot more damaging to my hair, impossible to manage, and the worst thing was it got blonder and more damaged with every appointment, because she just wasn't careful enough with where she was putting the bleach. Also, just look at those roots!

I was now in my nightmare situation, with hair that was too light, and unable to do anything about it. 

But then, I heard about Goldwell Elumen. (Just to be clear, I heard about it from my own research and paid for my appointment with my own money - this is not a sponsored post.) Elumen is a kind of dye that colours hair physically instead of chemically (don't ask me how this works, but it does! If you're interested, you can read all about Goldwell Elumen and the science behind it here.) Because it uses different technology, there's no nasty active PPD contained within it, and as a patch test confirmed, I'm not allergic to it! Yay!


Goldwell Elumen Review 6

Image Source

Goldwell Elumen is usually used to create rainbow colours, so if you're into mermaid/unicorn hair, it's well worth checking out. However, they also have a range of regular shades, including warm honey blondes. I found a salon near me that worked with it, and explained my situation to my new colourist, Lauren. She chose two shades - one to act as a low light to break up the excessive lightness throughout my hair, and the other slightly lighter to use as a toner on the rest. The finished result looked like this, and I couldn't be happier with it.


While Goldwell Elumen is apparently not the best at covering greys, it holds on to bleached hair beautifully, so it's perfect for me to use as a toner. A completely unexpected bonus is that my hair is also a lot softer and shinier after using this, and it seems to be lasting really well too.

I'm definitely going to keep on using Goldwell Elumen, and would recommend that anyone who's allergic to PPD or is just looking for a gentler hair colourant gives it a try.

Do you colour your hair? What's your preferred brand?

Kate x
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22 comments

  1. Despite not greying (just yet) this was such an interesting read! I've never tried dying my hair but I have super sensitive skin so I expect my skin will flare with it too! Your hair is looking gorgeous... who needs Shane?! haha!

    Style Sunrise☀

    :)
    x

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    1. Aw thanks Karen - there is life after Shane! Glad you found it interesting and who knows, it might prove useful one day too! x

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  2. I am not devoted to one brand, but I started Olaplex about a year ago and it has made a big difference in keeping my hair healthy despite the bleach.

    Linda, Libra, Loca: Beauty, Baby and Backpacking

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    1. I keep hearing good things about Olaplex - I really must look into it! x

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  3. This was so interesting to read. Your hair definitely looks much better in last picture.
    Nina
    Nina's Style Blog

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  4. You look amazing! So glad you found a product you can get on with! Woohoo!
    Angie
    www.chocolateandlipstick.com

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  5. I think your hair looks great but it must be so difficult to manage without being able to use dye <3

    Gisforgingers xx

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    1. Thank you! I'm used to it, but I must admit I do get envious when I see people browsing the hair colour aisle in Boots - I can't use any of that! x

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  6. I remember you writing about this issue before Kate, I could never find anyone else who would relate to my issue! I'm severely allergic to PPD, too and can't color my hair anymore. My dermatologist suggested I try dyes from health foods stores that are PPD-free, but I'm so paranoid. It's strange because I didn't always have the allergy, I just developed it after years of going to the hair salon. I can also relate to the struggle of finding a good hair stylist who really understands how to deal with my allergy. My current one who cuts my hair is the best one I've ever had, but she has yet to color my hair, as I don't think she knows too much about dealing with such severe allergy.

    Thank you SO much for this post, I just looked them up and they have a salon about 4 miles from my house! I don't really miss coloring my hair but I'm craving going a little darker so it's so nice to know that it's possible without me choking and my entire head and eyes swelling haha! Thank you so much for sharing your experience!!

    Paula
    Thirteen Thoughts

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    1. Paula I'm so happy if this was helpful to you! I didn't start out allergic either - my allergy developed quite quickly, but the very first time I used a dye it was fine. I've tried a couple of dyes from health food stores. The semi permanent was fine, but more of a colour wash than anything else and rinsed out super quickly. I was allergic to the permanent one - it didn't contain PPD, but a different chemical that is very similar.

      Let me know how you get on if you do try the Elumen - really hope it works well for you! x

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  7. I have started getting a few grey hairs recently and have found myself having to dye it more often. Thankfully my hairdresser is really good at looking after the condition of my hair too as I know from experience how quickly it can deteriorate! Your hair looks lovely and the colour is perfect :) I'm glad you have found a brand and a hairdresser that works well for you x

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    1. Good hairdressers are worth their weight in gold! Thank you so much! x

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  8. This was a great read. Although I don't have that allergy I still find the article quite interesting as I have a few annoying little greys too. I'm glad you found something that you are able to use. Your hair looks great btw!

    Face to Curls | http://facetocurls.com

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    1. Thanks Ann-Marie, glad you found it interesting! x

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  9. Thank you thank you you..i found this after googling for the last 8 weeks pretty much. Have acquired a dye allergy (contact irritant dermatitis only so far) at 40..lucky me...just patch tested original mineral that has tds but no good still reacted. My stylist who is amazing and very understanding has recommended foiling going lighter ( im a level 5 i think with ombre lower down) . I have probably 60-70% greys through my top part and not as much ever where else but is very noticable on my dark hair. Foiling and toning with elumen once i patch test and all is ok is my only real next option. This is freaking me out as ive never been blonde but she does try to convince me they have more fun ha ha....really is a very annoying thing to become allergic to !!!!!

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    1. It certainly is, and I'm so glad if this post was useful to you! I'm allergic to TDS too - apparently something like 80% of people who are allergic to PPD are also allergic to TDS, so they offer it as a PPD free option but it's not helpful to the vast majority of people who need one. I couldn't be happier with the results using Elumen so I really hope it works out for you too. x

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  10. Would you happen to know the colors your hairdresser used to achieve your final look? It is stunning.

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    1. I don't I'm afraid, but I will ask her next time I get my hair done, and report back, hopefully within the next couple of weeks! x

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