The best way to explain the nuances between glosses and glazes can be summed up in two words: potato, potahto. The differences are minuscule but important, and it's why considering expert advice to pick the proper hair treatment is key.
Knowing the difference between a gloss and a glaze and understanding what's best for you can help you avoid turning a $30 color treatment into a $300 color correction. Ahead, read on for everything you need to know about both color services.
Meet the Expert
- Jonathan Colombini is a celebrity hairstylist and colorist and the creative director of style and color for L'Oréal Paris.
- Tiffany Richards is a master colorist at Louise O'Conner Salon in New York City.
- Rodger Azadganian is a hair stylist, salon owner, and founder of äz Craft Luxury Haircare.
What Is Hair Gloss?
"Gloss is another word for toner," Richards explains. "While all glosses contribute to making the hair shiny, they have different purposes and uses. Some can add more of a tone (such as gold or ash), while others may delete or minimize a tone. There are also clear glosses for the sole purpose of shine and healthy appearance."
Some glosses can refresh faded ends of a single-process dye job, gently darken color, or even camouflage gray when applied as a single process itself (though this only works when the gray is not too resistant or concentrated throughout the hair Richards says).
Intent aside, all glosses tend to have a small amount of ammonia, allowing them to deposit tone into the hair cuticle. Regardless of tonal and depth changes, Azadganian says glossing services leave hair shiny and moisturized while helping maintain the integrity of the hair.
What Is Hair Glaze?
Glazes sit outside the hair cuticle, coating the outer layer of strands. As a result, they tend to offer minimal tonal changes but excel in adding shine and conditioning the hair, Azadganian says. For this reason, Richards tends to refer to glazes as stains rather than toners—they add a temporary hue or tint to the hair rather than affecting the color at a deeper level.
That's not to say that glazes can't transform hair color; it depends on the dosage, how sheer or pigmented they are, and how they're applied. On the other side of the spectrum, glazes can be sheered out and mixed in with your everyday conditioner, making them great at maintaining a specific tone within highlights from home. For example, a gold glaze is perfect at-home if you prefer a gold shade that seems to fade over time.
How Do They Differ?
In many cases, glosses and glazes can achieve similar results—especially in contributing shine and improving hair's overall look and health. That being said, there are a few key differences:
- Timing: Glosses take time to process and tend to last four to six weeks. Meanwhile, glazes process for less time and fade within one to two weeks.
- Color: According to Azadganian, glosses have a wider range of options to change the overall color of the hair. Alternatively, glazes may have minimal to no toning effects but offer great shine, condition, and frizz control.
- Penetration: Glosses tend to feature a small amount of ammonia, which allows them to deposit color directly within the hair cuticle. Hair glazes are typically ammonia-free and, as a result, cannot penetrate through the cuticle.
- Usage: Azadganian and Richards note that glosses are professional-grade treatments and should be relegated mainly to in-salon use. At the same time, all three experts agree glazes are perfectly safe to use at home. As a result, glazes tend to be easier to find in-store, outside of a salon setting. That's not to say you can't use a gloss at home, and our experts even have some recommendations (see below), but they suggest consulting with a colorist first.
Picking the Right One for You
As a general rule of thumb: glazes are better for a quick color pick-me-up and removing minor frizz; glosses are more of a long-term fix for lackluster color. "While both options are great for at-home use, they have the potential to transform your hair color completely," Richards warns. "If you've had professional highlights, I wouldn't suggest using either—especially glosses—without guidance from your colorist."
Colombini suggests the L'Oréal Paris One Step In-Shower Le Color Gloss ($16) for those brave enough to attempt an at-home gloss, which comes in 16 different shades. Richards is a fan of the Kristen Ess Signature Hair Gloss ($15)—with a wide color range and less-pigmented formula, it simplifies the at-home process and gives users a safety net against overbearing tones and unpredictable, unintended tints.
Regarding glazes, Azadganian suggests a cocktail of the äz Craft Luxury Hair Care's Remedy Restorative Masque ($45) and the Elixir Nourishing Oil ($47). Apply on clean, damp hair in the shower and let sit for five to 10 minutes before gently rinsing. Meanwhile, when clients ask for an at-home glaze, Richards says her mind automatically goes to the brand Overtone—though the products are technically branded as hair masks, Richards says they do the job of a glaze. Plus, they come in a wide range of chocolate brunettes, golden blondes, copper reds, and everything in between, including fashion colors. For those hesitant, the daily conditioners ($18) are a bit sheerer than the coloring conditioners ($32).
The Final Takeaway
Whether you're in the salon or looking for at-home use, all experts agree: Talk to your colorist—they'll pinpoint the best solution for your needs and recommend specific products based on your hair type and goals.