Did you know that 60% of the U.S. population over age 25 uses some type of hair color? For the first time in history it is now acceptable for men, women and children of almost every age to wear color in their hair. If you are considering trying hair color for the first time, or are just trying to find a new colorist, this article will help explain the facts about hair color.
First of all, let’s define some of the terms and catch phrases.
Level - the degree of light to dark on a scale of 1-10: 1=black; 10=lightest blonde; 6=lightest brown; 7=darkest blonde, 1=black. (see illustration)
Tone or Shade - the actual colors such as red, gold, ashe, platinum, auburn, etc. Be sure that your colorist clearly defines what these words mean as they are very subjective. This is where pictures help.
Permanent Hair Color - hair color that has the ability to lift (or lighten) your natural color, and can deposit tone (color). Hair color can not lighten hair color. It can only lighten natural color. Permanent color stays in your hair until it is chemically lightened or is cut out.
Semi-Permanent or Glosser - sheer, translucent color that stains the outer surface of the hair shaft. Usually creates a high shine. Lasts 2-6 weeks, depending on the application.
Bleach or Lightener - a solvent derived from ammonia that can lighten natural or artificial pigment. Modern lighteners, when used properly, are safe and cause minimal damage. If you are lightening your hair 5 or more shades bleach must be used.
Toner - a soft, pastel blonde hair color, either permanent or demi-permanent. Usually used immediately after a lightening service.
Double Process Blonde - first lightening the hair 5 or more shades, then applying a toner to create the blonde tone that is desired.
Demi-Permanent Hair Color - hair color that can only deposit tone (color). Demi-permanent color is like applying stain over wood. When the color is finished you can still see the variation in tones and levels of the natural hair coming through, just like the grain in wood. Usually lasts 2-4 months and gradually fades out.
Tint or Single Process - an all over color, either permanent or demi-permanent, usually meant to hide grey.
Color Correction - what happens the next day after you and a friend have a few glasses of wine and decide to play hairdresser; an expensive hangover.
Now, let’s answer some frequently asked questions about hair color.
Will having my hair colored too frequently cause damage?
Yes and no. All permanent hair color will cause a certain amount of damage. When done by a skilled professional (myself perhaps) the damage is so minimal you probably won’t notice it.
Why does my hair color fade?
Improper application, bad formulation and inadequate processing are some of the causes. It’s not an easy process and it takes skill. Sun, tanning beds, overly alkaline or acidic shampoos are also causes. Using a high quality shampoo and conditioner with anti-oxidants specifically designed to help prevent fading will help. Wella Color Preserve and Graham Webb are two of my favorites.
Can you get highlights or color if you have a permanent or straightener?
Yes, if your hair is still in good condition after your perm or relaxer. A good stylist will refuse to do the service if they determine that your hair is too damaged. It’s all about the skill of the person doing your hair. With the brand of permanents I use at, Iso by Helene Curtis, many times you can have your hair permed and colored on the same day. The rule of thumb is, “Perm first, color second”.
I have been coloring my own hair for a long time. What’s different when you do it?
A professional colorist will give you a lot more options of how you could look. There are so many cool ways to design hair color these days that you couldn’t possibly try them all. Having the objective opinion of a skilled stylist to help you decide what will work well with your look and lifestyle is invaluable.
As for the products, professional hair color is a totally different formulation from what is sold over the counter. I stock several dozen different shades and products give me the flexibility to custom formulate multiple shades for each client.
The most popular home hair color is derived from beef tallow (the same stuff the pioneers used to make candles from). Sometimes it turns out great and sometimes not so great. Not so great can be very expensive to fix. Because of the waxy consistency of home hair color , it can be very difficult to remove, even with professional products.
Beware of the home color products that claim to be temporary. If it can lighten your hair, it isn’t temporary.
Is it safe to have my hair colored while I’m pregnant? Is it safe period?
Ask your physician. Many don’t recommend it, however the studies done by the FDA point to some risk of bladder cancer from the darkest browns and black hair color. Those studies involved feeding the hair color to lab rats in the equivalent of a quart of color per day. How much, if any, color is absorbed through the skin and hair has never been studied. Any effect on the fetus has never been tested. Anecdotally, how many mothers in the 1950’s, 60’s and 70’s colored their hair during their pregnancies? Probably a lot and the instances of birth defects and bladder cancers don’t seem to remotely correlate.