When it comes to hair color, almost all of us can talk of mishaps or bathroom experiments but not all of us can talk about "why" things happen the way that they do. It's easy to get confused or intimidated by the many options and horror stories out there. Here is some info that will, hopefully, help you with decisions past and future.
I'm going to break down some info on the types of hair color out there and ways that hair color is influenced or affected by different factors.
Types of hair color:
Temporary hair color is something that you use one time. Often they’re in the form of chalks and sprays like the ones you see pop up around Halloween. These coat the hair and shampoo out and have no staying power. The molecules of temporary hair color tend to be large so they cannot enter into the hair. In fact, there’s no developer to open the cuticle to process with.
These are perfect to try fun colors with while having zero commitment to it.
Semi permanent haircolor is what is most often seen as fashion colors. Manic Panic and others like Pravana can give bright tones like purple or green. The trick to that bright result is that the semi-permanent color is put over pre-lightened hair. Blue manic panic won’t look like the canister when put over dark brown hair. This is high-maintenance hair color.
The pre-lightening does 2 things to help with this. 1) lightens the hair to a level that shows the overlay color; and, 2) opens the cuticle (because of the developer) so that the molecules of the color can be “grabbed” with a bit more efficiency.
Because it begins to shampoo out in just a few shampoos, you’ll often hear of folks with this having to constantly refresh or they mix some of the color in with their conditioner to keep the constant color application. Fashion color clients also will forego shampooing their hair for days at a time to try to keep it vibrant.
Demi-permanent hair color lasts 4 - 6 weeks.
It’s often seen as “grey blending” or referred to as a gloss or a toner.
Demi-permanent haircolor uses a low-volume developer to open the cuticle slightly. There’s little to no ammonia in it (some box colors will say “no ammonia” - it’s Demi) and will blend up to 50% of grey hair. This is a great option for men wanting to blend grey hair as opposed to the idea of metallic salts - which I touch on in a moment. This is also great for adding shine or refreshing a faded color like reds.
These are often seen as “Just for men” or other dyes that progressively darken the hair. These use metallic salts that react with the oxygen in the environment and the keratin in your own hair’s building blocks.
I don’t recommend using these - ever.
There are ingredients in many options out there that are banned in other countries because of their link to cancer. Another reason? Because the hair grows darker the more it’s exposed to the oxygen, it can often get too dark. Also, they are often reapplied and it layers (color doesn’t lift color) making it even darker. Have you ever seen a gent have grey roots, salt-and-pepper mids and black ends? This is that layering.
What often happens, then, is the client will see a hairdresser or get bleach, themselves, to lighten that back up. The chemical reaction of the lightener on the metallic salts causes the hair to melt off.
Permanent Hair Color
Permanent hair color is the big daddy of hair color. It lasts 4 - 6 weeks and, as your hair grows out, it causes you to retouch your new growth. The natural hair color is permanently altered through the process. This is the most desired process for grey coverage.
Different types of developer are mixed with the color to make the results happen as desired. The most common developer is 20 volume and also what is most found in box color.
The developer raises the cuticle to allow for us to pull color out or shove color into the cortex (inner part) of the hair. The color molecules swell and lodge into the innermost part of the hair and we then close the cuticle back up in the shampoo / conditioning process to seal the color in.
You can lighten virgin hair with permanent color (no bleach), up to 4 levels, based on the developer that you use.
Color, however, cannot lift previous color. If you get one box and it doesn’t get you as light as you want, a second box won’t do any good.
Also called “enlightener” or “bleach”, progressive lightener removes natural or artificial pigment molecules from the hair. This is used when maximum lift is desired.
Progressive lightener will keep working as long as the lightener and activator are still applied as directed. Whereas color will stop after the desired developer’s time is up, lightener will keep going lighter. That is why you can go too light or can even over-process the hair without knowledge on how it works.
Laws of Color:
Primary and secondary
Red, Yellow and Blue are the three primary colors and the building blocks of hair color. Depending on your natural color, these primary colors are found in different forms or ways.
Watch my video on “pulling red” for more info on this.
Depending on the desired result, we have to think about these colors and how they lie in the hair during the lightening or coloring process - how they contribute to the result, etc. These color molecules determine the process and end result. This is also behind the reason why you’re desire to go blonde, then right back to deep brown, eventually becomes “muddy” or “swampy” in tone after some shampoos.
The understanding of color theory will also show how we neutralize undesired tones and how that violet shampoo keeps your blonde or grey from becoming too yellow.
Things that effect the look of the color
Hair Texture / type
Hair texture can change how we see the color. You can have two people with the same color - one with straight hair next to someone with curly hair - and the curly hair looks darker. Why is that? Textured / curly hair absorbs more light so we will see it as darker or deeper than someone with straight hair that reflects light. Conversely, that straight hair can look lighter.
If you’ve ever thought the box would deliver one result but you feel it shows lighter or darker, your texture could be a part of the why that is happening. Often those with curly hair will straighten their hair and feel it looks lighter and vice versa. Straight, smooth hair reflects light.
The texture of the hair also makes a difference on how it takes color or to the lightening process. Fine hair will get hot and pull quick where coarse, thick hair can be hard to lift.
Have you ever been at the salon and love your color but get home and it looks different? Maybe you step outside and it’s great again? The lighting can often fool our eyes.
Here are some examples:
Smokey silver girls - blue is intensified under fluorescent lighting. If you’re silver or platinum, this light may make you feel it’s a bit green. Under warmer (incandescent) light, you’ll often feel it’s more gray than a beautiful silver / blue.
My redheads will seem more brown under fluorescent lighting but more intense under incandescent. If you are a golden tone - like my golden blondes - fluorescent light will make you feel it’s more ash because the gold color gets neutralized. You may feel it’s not as bright. Under a warmer incandescent light, however, that tone will feel more intensified and much like fresh color.
If you are someone with ash tones in their hair (ash blondes, for example), fluorescent light will seem more drab or than they really are or take on a green-like tone. Under incandescent or “hot” light, the bluish tones will be neutralized and often take on a red or gold tone depending on the intensity of the light.
Sometimes this results in you going to your hairstylist saying that the hair isn't what you wanted when, in fact, it's lighting and texture playing tricks on your eyes.
Don’t color your hair when you’re going through an emotional time. It’s a quick way to regret - and time in a stylist’s chair for a color correction.