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Hair Color Basics

Updated on May 4, 2011
Dying your hair isn’t that difficult, however, getting the actual color you want can be.  So I will try to explain a little about what color to pick to get the results you want.  

A first timer picking a color from the row of boxes at the drug store will often pick the box with the girl on the front that has the color of hair he or she wants.  Unfortunately, the average person does not likely have the same original color as the model on the box and the color is going to turn out differently.  So how do you pick?  Well, I’ll try to tell you the basics of hair color and the rest is up to you.

  Do you remember the color wheel from school?  Or maybe from an art class?  Essentially we have 3 primary colors and by mixing these colors you can get whatever other color you like.  The primaries are red, blue and yellow.  Now take a look at your hair, what colors do you think are in your hair?  
For example, light blonds contain yellow pigments and not much else.  Gold blonds have yellow and a touch of red, ash blonds yellow, maybe a tiny bit of red and some blue.  The darker the hair the more pigmentation the hair has, but it’s still going to be a mix of the primary colors that give it it’s color.  This is how you get the blue blacks and cherry blacks, both are black, but it’s the dominant primary color that gives it the respective shine.
If we were to take someone with naturally black hair and lighten it with bleach we would be able to see the color go through typical stages and actually see the underlying colors of the hair.  When lightening black hair it will go to a deep red, light red, dark orange, light orange and then to a banana yellow.  Lightening or bleaching the hair will remove the blue from the hair first (the largest color molecule) and then the red and then the yellow.
So, if you want to get a certain color you have to consider what the colors are in your natural hair.  For example, if you are a light brunette and you want to be an ash blond you can pick up the ash blond color, but your likely going to turn out as a warm or gold blond (a light brunette has red in it and the box color may or may not be able to remove it).  In the salon I am able to adjust the color mix and strength of the peroxide to adjust for this, a box color comes as is.
Going darker is easier than lightening your hair.  The color is simply added to what you already have and it’s more likely that you will get something close to the picture on the box.  However, be very careful if you’ve bleached your hair and your trying to add color to it again.  Remember how lightening your hair the blue pigments are removed first?  Well, when adding color to your hair the blue is again first, followed by the reds and yellows.  So, if you have bleached blond hair and your adding a neutral (natural looking color) brunette to it, the hair is first going to grab the blue pigment from the dye and if there is any room left then it adds the red and yellow, resulting in green hair (yellow + blue = green).
Adding color to a natural blond should not be a problem unless the blond is extremely light. If there is any worry about the hair going green simply stick to the reds and warm brunettes.
As a stylist I haven’t used a box color in years so I can’t recommend any brands or give any more specific help.  If your at all unsure I highly suggest getting your hair colored by a professional.  Many times I’ve had to do color corrections from a botched home dye job and correction services cost far more than a regular color service.


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