Letters From Your Hairdresser

What You've Been Told About Hair Color Is Wrong

I know what you’re expecting this post to be: me railing against box color and listing out why it’s so bad for you. Well… the older I get, the more I learn that explaining “why” something is the way it is makes for much better understanding. That when you are by yourself in Ulta at 8:30pm and you’re wondering just how bad that box of Loreal could be for you, you won’t just remember that some writer on HelloGiggles said it was bad once. You’ll remember color theory and application and you will know exactly why it makes sense to wait that week for your hairdresser to get you into her salon. So…. shall we get started?

Myth #1: Lying To Your Hairdresser About Your Past With Color Is Okay

I had the most horrifying experience with a color about 6 months out of beauty school. I had a guest who wanted a gorgeous cherry-cola red color all over. She was just a couple shades lighter than where she wanted to go and had told me that she had no color on her hair except some brown near her ends that she’d done a few years ago. I thought it would be just a simple, standard color deposit. An hour later, when her long hair was a reverse ombre (much before ombre was cool) with her roots the exact color we were going for and the rest of her hair was a harsh black with absolutely no red, I had no idea what happened. She was hysterical and I was confused, so I called my manager over. Huge lesson learned as a stylist to PRY any previous color applications out of a guest. My manager could look at her hair right away and tell that her hair had been colored from a box several times with the last time being about 2 months ago based on the amount of color that turned black. My manager reasoned that my guest’s hair had been colored out of a box so many times over and over that she had absolutely no porosity to her hair, so it just soaked up the color I put on and grabbed really dark where there had been over-processed color. And her roots were so perfect because I had formulated for uncolored hair, which her roots were. It was a complete disaster and my manager wouldn’t give her a full refund back because it was largely her fault for not answering honestly when I asked about previous colors. It was only after she tried to blame me and my manager called her out that she fessed up to regular box coloring. Of course I fixed it, but a lot of time and unnecessary stress could have been saved if she would have just been honest when I asked her the first time.

Bottom line, I’m not going to judge you. I used box color for many years through high school and college when I couldn’t afford going to a hairdresser. I get it. But lying about it only messes both of us up, so it’s just not worth it. Trust me when I say that I need to know everything about your color history.. it’s not because I’m going to lecture you on using bad color. It’s truly because it affects how this color application turns out and I like to know what I’m working with to make you look the best you can!

Myth #2: Color From a Box Can Give Me Beyoncé’s Locks

I know she’s really, really convincing in the commercials, but guys, it’s just not true. The Queen herself does not put a box color on her hair… it would be orange if she did.

Every level of hair has an undertone. True black has a blue undertone, the darkest brown has an undertone of mahogany or red-violet, medium brown has a red undertone, light brown has an orange-red undertone, medium blonde has an orange undertone, light blonde has a yellow undertone, and platinum blonde hair has a pale yellow, almost white undertone. As you lighten hair (whether through permanent color or bleach), you will go through the natural undertones depending on where you want your color to be. If I put bleach on a woman’s natural dark brown hair and she wants to be a medium blonde, I have to watch that hair go through the stages of undertones until I get to the level I need. So I have to let that bleach sit on and take her hair through red, red-orange, and orange, which I can literally see as it processes. When I check someone’s foils while they are processing, I’m literally looking to see what stage their hair is at and since every person’s hair pulls more or less of that specific tone, I’m also checking to see how pigmented my complementary color I’m toning with has to be. And then, once I get to that level of undertone I want, I have to put a demi-permanent color on top of it and let that balance out the natural undertone of the hair. So, for our example client who will end up with a very orange undertone, I have to use a blue demi-permanent color to tone out the orange, but still leave her at a level 8, which is a pretty medium blonde a la Jennifer Aniston.

There is a very complicated process to lightening hair and it really can’t be done well with a box color. Beyonce’s hair is a beautiful blonde color, but in order for her to get that color, we’d have to go through the same steps as I listed out above. That kind of care, attention, and knowledge can only come from a real, certified, professional hairdresser who can formulate for exactly what you have on your head since every single person’s color history, hair texture, and desired result is different.

Myth #3: My Hairdresser Will Take Care Of It

I love to dialogue with my guests and I feel that the more information and knowledge they have, the better off we both will be. If you ask my guests why I’m using a particular foil pattern for their highlight or why they have to do a “fill” before going back to dark for the fall season, they can tell you. It’s a personal thing for all hairdressers and each person’s level of comfort is different, but I spill all my secrets because I’ve found that the more my guests know, the more they see that I know I’m doing and that makes all of us more comfortable.

Because of this, I want to give you a mini lesson on color theory. Your hairdresser won’t always take care of you. And when she let’s you walk out with bright orange, brassy highlights, I want you to be able to ask her if she tried a blue pigmented toner to cancel out the orange.

First things first: learn your complementary colors. Blue cancels out orange, violet cancels out yellow, and green cancels out red. If a guest complains to me that she hates her color because it always pulls so red, I know there are two things I can do. I can recognize that her natural level is a dark brown which will pull red (from what we learned in the previous myth), so I know where the problem is coming from and why she’s had it her whole life. And I also know that because green takes out red, when I go to give her an all over color, I will use a green-based color and it will pull a beautiful neutral tone. On other guests, it would look murky, but on her, it looks completely neutral because I know she pulls so red. And when she moves across the country two years later, she can tell her new hairdresser that her hair pulls so red that I used a green based color on her and it looked gorgeous. He can then learn from my experience with her hair and she never has to wear a too-warm tone ever again.

To move on from our earlier conversation on undertones and how lightening the hair needs to be done properly in light of that, it’s also important to consider how to go darker properly. For example, in beauty school, I dyed my hair platinum blonde. I went through all the phases of undertones and watched as my educator took me to such a light blonde over the course of three different highlights. I finally understood color! Or so I thought… a couple months into my platinum, I was already bored and over the maintenance and ready to go back to brown. So I did. I put a neutral brown right on top of my platinum and what was I left with? Muddy, murky, mouse-y brown. I looked like I’d just stuck my hair into a sink full of dirty water. I knew all about how to go lighter with my hair and how important undertones were, but I forgot to apply the same logic to going back down through the levels. I’d essentially bleached out all of my pigment and just put color with a red undertone on top without considering that I also needed to add back in orange and yellow. Ladies, this is called a “filler” and it’s essential to ask for it when your hairdresser is taking you back to brown. All it really consists of is “filling” your hair with the undertones you’ll be missing when you go back to your desired level. It’s just a demi-permanent color that sits on your hair to fill in those pigments and gets rinsed out before applying the desired color. In most salons, we call this a “double process”.

More quick tips to chat with your hairdresser about?

The fact that red color has the largest molecules, so it fades very quickly. It looks beautiful and vibrant on the first few days after you are at the salon because it’s clinging on to the cuticle for dear life. But those molecules will leave your hair strand quickly because a lot of them never fully penetrated the cortex. Such a love/hate relationship we all have with red.

Ever wondered why you see ladies sitting under the dryers in the salon with foils in their hair? It’s because in order for your highlights to lift faster, they need heat. And if your body heat isn’t enough to heat up your scalp, a lot of hairdressers will use the heat from a dryer to speed up the process. This can be quite harmful, though because if left unattended, you can actually over-process your hair and cause damage or breakage. So just be sure that if your hairdresser puts you in a dryer for your color, she can explain to you why.

Alright, Gigglers? What do you think? What hair color myths have you believed?