A beauty consultant and former hairdresser by profession, Jayne has been helping men and women improve their appearance for almost 20 years.
All you need to know about dyeing facial hair, whether a mustache, sideburns, or a full beard, no matter how gray you are or how hard to manage the problem seems. Find out which products and colors create the most natural looking results, how to touch up color between treatments, and how to avoid dryness and irritations.
A white beard or mustache could make you look distinguished if you're old enough for that kind of image, but if your facial hair is still in the process of graying, it probably looks scruffy. The most logical thing to do is shave, but if facing a lifetime of barefacedness is too much to bear, you'll have to dye.
For Facial Hair With Less Than 20 Percent Gray
If your facial hair is less than 20 percent gray, you can dye it with a semi-permanent colorant like Just for Men beard and mustache dye. These come in a variety of natural looking colors, are designed especially for male facial hair, and take only five minutes to work.
But such products aren't only for men who are graying. They're also suitable to even out color if a beard or mustache is a scruffy hotchpotch of light and dark, or to tone down a strong red pigment.
Dyeing can also make a beard or mustache appear thicker and more luxuriant.
How to Choose the Right Color
For Dark Hair
Because results are always a tad darker than predicted, you should choose a shade lighter than your original beard or mustache color. If your natural color is dark brown, for example, go for medium brown. It'll be dark enough to cover grays, but won’t touch darker hairs. If you choose a shade as dark as your darkest beard hairs, you’ll end up with an unnatural looking, uniformal color, and everyone will notice you’ve dyed.
For Black Hair
This also applies if your hair is naturally black. Hair that is dyed black always looks artificial, so choose dark brown.
For Blond Hair
If you're dark blond or lighter, choose a shade close to your natural color. If you're light brown, go for dark blond.
If you can't decide between two shades while choosing a color, opt for the lightest. If you find it's too light, you can always use a darker one next time. Semi-permanent dyes can’t lighten hair, so there’s no risk involved.
Consider your age, too. The older you are, the less saturated your hair color is likely to be, even if you’re not gray.
The Patch Test
As a precaution, always do a patch test before coloring hair.
Mix a small portion of the coloring product and deposit it on your inner elbow. Wait 15 minutes, then rinse.
If you experience any kind of redness, swelling, or other irritation over the next 48 hours, DO NOT, under any circumstances, carry out the color treatment.
How to Apply Dye to Your Beard or Mustache
You should mix the product according to the manufacturer's specific instructions, which usually means mixing the contents of two tubes in equal portions. The white substance is developer, the darker one is the actual color, which in its present state never resembles the shade you want to dye your hair to.
Don't wash your face before the treatment.
Using the supplied applicator brush, apply the product to the facial hair you want to dye, taking care not to get any on your skin.
The longer you leave the dye on, the darker the finished result will be, so you have to work quickly. Start where your facial hair is stronger and coarser. If you’re dying a full beard, apply first to the chin, then the mustache, then the cheeks, and lastly the neck, working outwardly from the center.
If the color turns out too dark or saturated, you can usually fade semi-permanent dyes with a clarifying shampoo, but this must be done immediately after application.
Remove stains from your skin with rubbing alcohol and a cotton pad. Alternatively, aftershave or cologne work just as well.
How Often Should You Dye Facial Hair?
Semi-permanent dyes gradually fade, so reapply as soon as your grays start to shimmer through. According to manufacturers' claims, it takes four weeks until that happens, but it’s always less.
Using a Permanent Coloring Product for More Than 20 Percent Gray
If you find that coloring products like Just for Men fade very soon after applying or hardly take at all, it means you're more than 20 percent gray.
Gray beard hair is coarse and resistant to chemicals, so you’ll need to soften it in order that the dye can penetrate the hair shaft. You’ll also need a permanent colorant for long lasting results.
How to Soften Beard Hair Before Dyeing
Softening or pre-treating a beard or mustache before dyeing is very easy.
Using a brush, apply 20 volume cream developer lotion to your unwashed beard or mustache and leave on for ten minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water and towel dry.
Now you are ready to dye.
You can buy developer lotion from a beauty supplier or order it online.
Choosing the Right Color
Choose a color two shades lighter than your original beard color—permanent dyes turn out darker on facial hair than on the hair of the head, for which they’re intended.
The best brands for natural looking nuances are Poly Color or Clairol Perfect 10.
You’ll find that you have more color choice than with products like Just for Men, but don’t choose shades with fashion-inspired names like "warm cognac" or "glowing ruby". You need plain colors like light brown, dark brown, dark blond etc. Ash tones always look very natural. If your beard is reddish, try hazelnut brown rather than chestnut brown, which might turn out too red.
Never choose products labeled "high-lift," which have a lightening effect, since results will be unpredictable.
Mixing the Product
Mix to a ratio of 1-to-1 as you did the semi-permanent dye. Unlike Just for Men and similar products, the developer might be in a large applicator bottle, but the color itself is always in a tube and labeled with its shade number.
Mix the developer and color in a glass or plastic bowl using a Q-tip or an applicator brush. Never let the dye come into contact with metal.
Applying the Product
Apply with a brush exactly as you did the semi-permanent product, working quickly from stronger to softer hair for a natural effect. If you haven’t got a proper applicator brush, use a toothbrush.
Don’t leave the dye on for the length of time stipulated in the instruction leaflet, which is usually 20 to 40 minutes.
Permanent dyes are developed for the hair of the head, which has a slightly different structure to facial hair. As a rule, it takes ten minutes for a permanent product to develop on beard hair, but check the color once every two or three minutes after the first five minutes. Do this with a Q-tip—just wipe away a little of the dye and if the hair still isn’t dark enough, cover it up again.
Rinse thoroughly and shampoo when your beard or mustache has reached the desired color. As with semi-permanent dye, you can use rubbing alcohol, aftershave, or cologne to get rid of stains on the skin.
Apart from shaving, there’s nothing you can do if you find you've used a shade too dark, so be very careful when choosing color.
When Should You Reapply Permanent Dye
Permanent dye grows out.
When you notice gray or white regrowth on the upper contours of your beard or mustache, just apply a little dye with a brush or Q-tip to touch it up. Carry out a complete color treatment when grays begin to sprout on the main body of your beard or mustache.
The longer your beard hair is, the longer you’ll be able to go without a full treatment.
Alternatively, you can touch up re-growth with mascara or a tinted eyebrow gel. It’s kind to skin and hair, and looks totally natural—but only if you're able to find a matching shade. Color choice is usually limited.
Using the supplied spiral brush, just dab the product onto your regrowth. Don't literally brush it on, or it will look unnatural.
By the way, originally called mascaro, mascara was developed in the nineteenth century by Eugene Rimmel to hide gray mustache hairs, and not to darken women's eyelashes!
Progressive Dye for Facial Hair
You can’t use Grecian Formula on beards and mustaches, but Just for Men has developed a similar progressive dye designed especially for facial hair called Touch of Gray Mustache and Beard. Like Grecian Formula, it reacts to oxygen rather than using ammonia and peroxide, and it allows you to darken your facial hair gradually in order that you can control how much gray is covered.
But it has its drawbacks: it only comes in two colors—light to medium brown and dark brown to black; it can’t be used on previously color treated hair, which means you’ll have to shave or grow out the old color, or wait for it to fade depending on what you’ve been using; and it’s difficult to judge the final color result—if it goes wrong, you won’t be able to wash it out, nor dye over it.
Unless you're naturally very dark, it's a good idea to use the lighter shade, then move on to the darker one if it turns out too light.
Minimizing Dryness and Irritations
Whether you use a semi-permanent or permanent product, dyeing takes its toll on skin and hair.
It’s best if you dye your facial hair in the evening when you're not going anywhere. That way you’ll have time to moisturize and condition, which minimizes the possibility of dryness and irritations. Just massage coconut or almond oil into your beard or mustache after dyeing and leave overnight.
Natural Beard Dyes
If your skin is too sensitive for chemical coloring products, or you've developed an allergic reaction, you could try a natural henna product like WolfsHead Beardye or Harvest Moon.
The trouble is, they're only effective if your facial hair is less than 10 or 20 percent gray. In this case, they work by taking the coolness off white and gray hairs, making them less obvious. If your facial hair is more than 20 percent gray, you can expect your beard or mustache to turn noticeably yellow instead of the color you'd hoped for.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2014 Jayne Lancer
Jeff Jacobs on June 05, 2019:
Very informative. Thank you.
Frank camp on July 02, 2018:
How do I partial gray beard to gray bear, I am grey headed
Jayne Lancer (author) from West London, UK on April 12, 2015:
I think it's also one of those things people tend not to talk about, Poetryman6969.
poetryman6969 on April 08, 2015:
I suppose that I had heard of dying facial hair but I never took the concept seriously. An interesting article.
Jayne Lancer (author) from West London, UK on December 07, 2014:
If it were the hair on your head, Wozboz, I'd advise you to dye it darker or bleach it and then dye it to the desired color, but I'd do neither of those things on facial hair. If it turns out too dark, it will look unnatural, and bleaching would probably damage your skin, although there are bleaches formulated for facial hair. Nevertheless, it would be practically impossible to keep up with new growth. I think the best thing to try is playing down the red with an ash-toned dye, but please make sure the shade you choose isn't darker than your present color.
I'd like to add, though, that I love men with red beards and mustaches, even if the hair on the head isn't red!
Wozboz on November 26, 2014:
Interesting read. How would you go about dying a ginger beard to match dark blonde hair? I don't have grey, just don't like ginger! It's a mix of ginger and chestnut, but my hair is dark blond. Have messed about with semi permanent dyes, failed, and after reading your article I might have a go at a permanent dye
Jayne Lancer (author) from West London, UK on May 24, 2014:
Absolutely. There are many ways to cover the grays in a mustache or beard. Eyebrow dye and tinted mustache wax are another two I didn't mention.
Sundeep Kataria on May 23, 2014:
Very informative. I never thought that there could be so many combinations and options available for dyeing facial hair.