What Is a Hair Gloss? Experts Break Down This Popular, Low-Commitment Approach to Dye

Those with either virgin or processed hair can benefit from this salon add-on.

woman with shiny black hair surrounded by leaves
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If you are new to the world of hair dye but want to venture in cautiously, consider a hair gloss. Unlike a single process or a set of foils, this low-commitment pigment enhances more than it covers; it's best suited for those who want to bring out the very best of their natural color sans a conventional root job. Ahead, several experts share the benefits of hair glosses and note what sets them apart from their just-as-popular counterpart, glazes.

Hair glosses are temporary and toe the line between a treatment and pigment.

Jodana Geary, an education master at Kevin Murphy and the brand's offshoot COLOR.ME, explains that a hair gloss is a low-commitment approach to color; it can improve, soften, or refine natural or already-colored hair. As for how these treatments work? The temporary pigment expands inside a strand's cuticle layer and gradually washes away over time. The result is a subtle sheen sans the damage (a gloss won't alter the hair's internal structure). This is arguably what sets a gloss apart from a process: Unlike the latter, the former can actually benefit your hair health—dye stains your hair, while a gloss revitalizes the color you already have. "We also call it a 'toner,' because it works on your hair's color tone," adds Giovanni Di Geus, the master celebrity hairstylist at Bulgari Hotel Dubai. You have a variety of options to choose from: Go clear to add a glossy sheen sans a color switch-up; try an ash, pearl, or soft violet reflect to refine the warm tones of your signature blonde; or select a chocolate reflect to add richness to your brunette strands.

As for how long the resulting enviable sheen lasts? Justi Embree, celebrity hairstylist and owner of Embree Theory Hair, says that glosses are divided into two types: semi-permanent and demi-permanent. While some believe that semi-permanent iterations have greater staying power than demi-permanent ones, "both varieties, in my experience, will last roughly the same amount of time," says Embree. "If you wash your hair once or twice a week, you should be able to go four to six weeks without needing a touch-up. You'll get more bang for your buck if you shampoo your hair less frequently."

They have so many benefits, but it's important to manage your expectations.

Anybody and everybody can use a hair gloss, so long as they suit your expectations—which is why it's important to know what this pigment can't do. "Do not put a light pink over dark brown hair and expect to emerge with a pink tint. Glosses will not lighten your hair," says Kasper Heemskerk, the International Education Manager for Balmain Hair Couture. Depending on your starting point, however, they can be a fun way to experiment with color. Their biggest benefit? They act as tone adjustors and strand strengtheners. "The hair can be darkened somewhat or given a tone, such as red, gold, or ash," he adds. "Above all, it illuminates the hair while reconstructing it from the inside out." Another major pro to glosses is their result window—you'll be able to see the change in your hair in as little as 10 to 20 minutes, Geary adds, which is why adding one onto your weekly blowout or regular hair cut is a quick, effective boost.

There are a few cons.

Yes, a gloss will deliver healthier, more manageable strands and can even reduce frizz for those with damaged or porous hair, but proper application is key: When incorrectly administered, a gloss may also stain your ends, permanently altering the hair color there. Another con? Unfortunately, a gloss is not the best choice for covering gray (you need conventional dye to do that), but they can be used to make silver strands more vibrant, note our experts.

A gloss is not a glaze—here's the difference.

A glaze is the only hair color option that might be safer than a gloss. The key distinction between these seemingly similar terms? Glosses are produced with low ammonia developers, while glazes are processed with heat, explains Embree. "Both glazes and glosses are good choices for individuals with coiled, coarse, or damaged hair, because they reduce flyaways and frizz," she says. And while both provide a vibrant sheen and gentle color grade, glazes have shorter lifespans, notes Heemskerk, which comes down to the delivery method; glossing, he adds, is the way to go for longevity.

You can attempt both glosses and glazes at home, but a salon treatment is preferable.

You can use these straightforward formulas at home, but Di Geus recommends turning to a professional hairstylist. "We know how to apply the product properly, and we'll top it off with a spectacular blow-dry that will undoubtedly make a difference," he says. Heemskerk agrees, noting that an experienced colorist can mix up a bespoke gloss that properly complements your skin tone. And according to Embree, leaving this treatment to the pros might actually spare your wallet—a well-intentioned touch-up can quickly turn into a $500 color correction. "Perfect blonde baby-lights can be converted into Cruella de Vil's famous look in just one processing session if the formula is too dark," she explains, adding that the wrong formula can even drown out existing dye jobs or make hair overly warm or cool.

If you're adamant about attempting an at-home solution, Embree says to stick with a less-permanent glaze—not a gloss. Heemskerk urges further caution: Select a ready-to-use formula, like a pigmented mousse or color-depositing conditioner for a seamless result. Look for a nourishing deep conditioner available in your shade.

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