Byline: Julie Naughton

NEW YORK — Talk about finding the silver lining in aging.
L’Oreal, which already offers consumers numerous options for covering unwanted gray hair, is offering something new — a color line designed to enhance shades of gray.
Gray Chic Translucent Color Tone, a new eight-stockkeeping-unit collection that launches this summer, is targeted at women with gray hair who do not currently use hair color.
“For years, the hair color market has been focused on covering gray. Gray Chic celebrates it,” said Carol J. Hamilton, deputy general manager of L’Oreal. “The purest expression of beauty is really being yourself — that’s the way we feel women really feel today. That is the new beauty code.
“We created Gray Chic for women who love their gray and want to celebrate it,” Hamilton added. “Of course, we are the leader in hair color for women who would rather cover their gray. It’s all about individuality and expressing your beauty the way you want to. Also, we’re addressing a segment that has been overlooked by nearly everyone.”
If the numbers are any indication, it’s a market well worth exploring. According to Hamilton, there are 40 million women over 50 in the U.S., and half of them do not currently color their hair. “That’s a huge market with unlimited opportunity,” she pointed out.
While L’Oreal isn’t the first in the mass market to address the challenges of maintaining gray hair — Advanced Research Labs, for instance, launched a shampoo and styling line called Silver Brights in 1998, and in limited distribution, Clairol markets Silk & Silver, a color formula designed to enhance gray that lasts six shampoos — Hamilton maintains that Gray Chic is the first mass-market line to offer a long-lasting translucent technology. “This is a proprietary formula that lasts 28 shampoos,” she pointed out.
Gray Chic includes seven translucent shades, all of which give a hint of color. “Gray hair still shows through,” Hamilton said. “This product simply enhances its beauty. Depending on the shade, it can add a bit of extra sparkle, remove yellow tones or add brightness.”
Sheer Crystal, the lightest formula, erases yellow tones; Sheer Silver adds a translucent silvery tone and also reduces yellow tones, and Sheer Pearl adds a touch of iridescence. Sheer Star is designed especially for African-American women with gray hair, whose hair tends to be drier and more damaged, and this sku includes an extra dose of conditioner. Sheer Cream creates a natural-looking sheer beige tone; Sheer Sand gives a blond translucency with slight gold highlights, and Sheer Ivory adds a warm ivory tone with golden shimmer.
The shades feature a proprietary technology that is similar in lasting power to a semipermanent shade. Also, all are ammonia-free. “That’s important, because gray hair can be very fragile,” said Hamilton. All shades are safe for use with permed and relaxed hair.
An eighth product, Gray Chic Bodifying Mist, is a leave-in conditioner designed for use between color treatments.
The hair colors retail for $8.99 per box; a 4-oz. bottle of Bodifying Mist retails for $5.99.
Gray Chic will begin shipping in June and will be on-counter in approximately 25,000 food, drug and mass-market doors in July.
According to Hamilton, the line was in development for five years. Olivier Ceccarelli, assistant vice president of marketing for L’Oreal hair color, explains why: “Our history has traditionally been to find formulas to cover the gray,” he said. “When we conceptualized this line, we gave our research and development staffs a whole new challenge: to find a translucent formula that would allow us to add hints of color to gray hair, while allowing the gray itself to show through. It’s a new generation of colorant that is specific to us.”
Hamilton wouldn’t comment on projected first-year sales figures but said that the line’s potential was enormous. “It won’t cannibalize any of our existing business; in fact, we believe that it will introduce new consumers to our products,” she said. “We believe it will capture 5 percent or more of the total hair color market.”
While Hamilton wouldn’t talk exact numbers, Information Resources Inc. put the total hair color market at more than $1.3 billion for the year ended Jan. 30, 2000.
Advertising plans for Gray Chic have not yet been finalized, although they will likely include both print and television placements.
Hamilton declined to comment on the projected first-year advertising spend.