The Ultimate Guide to Hair Color

Madonna with bright copper colored hair

Guide to Hair Color

A Celebration of Hair Color . . . The Ultimate Guide to Hair Color

Nothing can lift your looks and your spirit like a new hair color! A sassy new hair color changes the way you look at yourself. There are many, many ways to add coloring to your hair so this handy guide to hair color can help avoid the many pitfalls:

Hair colors can add spice and enhance many hair styles. It’s fun and rewarding when a much-anticipated color change comes out dazzling, but it is also completely devastating when it works out wrong.

Good color treatment can add shine, drama and fun to your hair style. It can make some hair types easier to style. Although the majority of women color their hair to cover gray hair, not all women who color their hair are gray. Many women try a  color change for the fun of having a new look, and the pizzazz it can add to your hair style.

If you decide to add a new color, it would be wise to first educate yourself. Taking the time to learn about hair colors can save you tears and disastrous results. (Read some of the hair color horror stories) Remember, if your hair is in damaged condition before a hair color treatment, it may very well become worse afterward. Make sure you have your hair condition in the best possible shape before adding any chemical treatment. For the best results, stay within two shades of your natural hair color.


Semi-permanent hair color

Want a gentle boost of color with no “roots”? Semi-permanent hair color is an easy way to create a change and is gentle on your hair. Also called glazing, color stains or washes, these products can boost hair shine and texture by coating the hair with a non-peroxide hair color. The semi-permanent hair color gradually washes out naturally in about 4-6 weeks. Semi-permanent hair color can only darken the hair and it will only cover gray hair temporarily. These rinses can help tame frizzy hair and actually may make the hair appear healthier. I strongly recommend that you use semi-permanent color, as long as it can produce the results you want, before going on to permanent hair dye. It is by far the most gentle on your hair, and a low risk way to “try out” a new look. An added benefit: there’s no monthly maintenance with touch ups.

Guide to Hair Color

Permanent hair color

Permanent hair color breaks down the hair cuticle and deposits pigment into the hair shaft. Unlike semi-permanent hair color, permanent hair color can be used to lighten your hair. It accomplishes this by bleaching hair and depositing color in a one-step process. Permanent hair color is more effective for covering gray hair. Although the hair color will fade over time, it can’t be washed out or removed to get back to your natural hair color. Permanent hair color can be damaging to hair, and long-term use can result in permanent, irreversible harm to your hair. Long-term damage that results from the use of permanent hair color can be minimized by being extra careful with your daily hair care regimen.

Hair high lights, streaking, weaving and foiling

Hair high lights can be added to the hair by any of the above methods. Any hair can be high lighted and the hair is usually given more depth and texture by this process. You can add lighter, brighter strands of hair overall or just create a few high lights in specific areas. This is a great process for the timid or first time blondes. I should also mention “hair lowlights” here. The same basic processes are used in both hair color treatments. However, instead of lightening the hair, creating lowlights involves adding darker shades of blonde high lights or warmer brown hair color high lights. Hair high lights have come a long way in recent years and a talented hair colorist can weave two or three different natural looking high lights and lowlights into your hair, creating beautiful effects.

Hair bleaching

Hair bleaching had a big resurgence in popularity after Marilyn Monroe became a cultural icon. Her iconic image has been copied by celebrities, musicians and women from all walks of life. Hair bleaching is almost always a two-step process. First, the hair is bleached to remove the natural pigment and then a hair toner is applied to achieve the desired result. This double process is quite rough on the hair and very damaging. It is also a time-consuming process. Expect to spend at least an hour in the hair salon every 2-3 weeks for hair color touch-ups. On brown hair colors, in addition to being hard on the hair, it is particularly difficult to keep up this look. If your skin tone is olive or dark, it will look very unnatural.

After the process, the hair is so fragile that extreme care needs to be taken with hair styling. Use protective creams and be very careful when blow drying, curling with a curling iron or using a straightener. Keeping the length short is probably the best way to go, as you can cut off damaged or split ends often. When the hair is shorter, the damage is also less noticeable.

Guide to Hair Color

Hair color at home or in the hair salon?

You will get consistently better results leaving hair coloring to a professional hair colorist. A good hairdresser will be able to pick out the hair colors that work best with your skin tone, so the result will be natural looking. A professional is also experienced in the correct application and timing for hair colors, bleach and high lights. Application and timing can be tricky and is influenced by the natural hair shade, type of hair color and the condition of your hair.

Your hair’s porosity will determine how long hair dye should be left on. Even touching up roots can be tricky. Almost all hair will benefit by using a clarifying shampoo before you add hair color. A professional hair colorist can navigate all these issues at once to produce natural and beautiful results. I realize some of you just don’t have the time or money to spend at a hair salon and will decide to do home hair color. If you do decide to do home hair color by using a store-bought hair color product, remember that the actual hair color shade you will achieve will vary from the picture on the box. I would recommend following the directions exactly, and taking the time to do a strand test to determine if you will get the result you expect before any damage is done. The instructions that come with the hair color will have a section describing how to do a strand test.

Guide to Hair Color

The perfect Guide to hair color for you

Whatever type of hair color you opt for, choosing the proper range of shades—warm or cool—is the key to a great look. Determining whether you are warm or cool in terms of coloring must be the first consideration in choosing a hair color. The right hair color shade will brighten up your hair style . . . and your life. A shade in the wrong range will be totally and completely wrong.

What is the most basic principle of hair color theory applied to hair? It’s choosing between warm and cool shades and with the dizzying variety of color for hair available, choosing can sometimes be confusing. The best way to make pleasing hair color choices is to determine whether your natural coloring of hair, eye and skin tones is in the warm or cool range of colors. Answer these questions, or better yet, have your best friend give you her opinion, since her opinion is likely to be more accurate:

My eyes are:

  • Deep brown or black-brown (Cool)
  • Golden brown (Warm)
  • Gray blue or dark blue (Cool)
  • Green, green-blue or turquoise (Warm)
  • Hazel with gold or brown flecks (Warm)
  • Hazel with white, gray or blue flecks (Cool)

My skin is:

  • Very dark brown (Cool)
  • Brown with pink undertone (Warm)
  • Brown with golden undertone (Warm)
  • True olive (most Asians and Latinos) (Cool)
  • Medium with no color in cheeks (Cool)
  • Medium with faint pink cheeks (Cool)
  • Medium with golden undertones (Cool)
  • Pale with no color in cheeks (Cool)
  • Pale with pink undertones (Cool)
  • Pale with peach or gold undertones (Warm)
  • Freckled (Warm)
  • Ruddy (Warm)
  • Brown or bronze when I tan (Cool)
  • Golden brown, when I tan (Warm)

My hair color is:

  • Blue black (Cool)
  • Deepest coffee brown (Cool)
  • Medium ash brown (Cool)
  • Deep brown with gold or red high lights (Warm)
  • Medium golden brown (Cool)
  • Red (Warm)
  • Strawberry blond (Warm)
  • Dishwater blond (Cool)
  • Golden blond (Cool)
  • Salt and pepper (Cool)
  • White (Cool)
  • Gray with a yellow cast (Warm)

What were your answers

Did you check mostly cools? If so, your natural tones are in the cool spectrum. Mostly warms? Then you’re naturally “warm.”

Naturally cool people should avoid gold, yellow, red and bronze tones, which have a tendency to make you look sallow and drawn. The best hair color shades, depending on your skin tone, are shiny raven-wing blacks, cool ash brown hair colors, and cool blondes in shades ranging from mink to platinum and icy white. You’re fortunate to be able to wear many exciting “unnatural” colors . . . for lipstick try reds, burgundies, and orchids, for a more daring look.

Naturally warm people should avoid blue, violet, white and jet-black hair, which will seem to “wash out” your natural hair color. Depending on your skin tone and your preference, you’ll find that deep chocolate, rich golden brown hair colors, auburn, warm gold, red high lights, and golden blond shades enhance your “sunny” look. Hair weaving and hair high lighting are great ways to add warm tones to your hair color and natural-looking corals, oranges and reds look dazzling on you!

Guide to Hair Color

Covering grey hair

Make sure you don’t look incongruent. What do I mean? We age as a unit. If your hair color (or any other feature, for that matter) is out of sync with the overall aging process, it may look unnatural. When our eyes see a 60-year-old woman with jet black hair, our sensory acuity will begin screaming “what’s wrong with this picture.”

Think of the “comb-over guy.” You know the guy who is nearly bald, but lets a few strands grow to three feet long and then plasters them over the bald spot. Believe it or not, he goes to the mirror each morning and says, “This works . . . look how young and virile I look.” Don’t be the female version of the comb-over guy!

Guide to Hair Color

The bottom line on hair color

Go slowly with full head hair color changes, and certainly get lots of advice and consultation with a professional hair colorist before you start. Never, ever, make this decision by yourself. It will almost always be a mistake. This is the time to call on your best friend for advice and counsel.

Fixing a hair color mistake

No single area of the hair styling business brought me more heartache than to see the horrible results that occurred from attempts to correct hair coloring mistakes. Never, ever, try to fix or adjust hair color by yourself . . . this is the time for a professional hair colorist. Even as a hairdresser with over 25 years of experience, I always passed these clients on to a professional hair colorist. I knew that all I would likely do was make matters worse.

The earlier you get the professional hair colorist involved in the correction process, the better chance they will have of getting your hair color back to normal, with little cost or hassle. The more you attempt to correct it on your own, the less likely the hair colorist can help. In this situation, even if the hair colorist can do it, you can bet it will be expensive. It will also cause irreversible damage to your hair.

To find a professional colorist, just call any hair salon and ask for a referral. Believe me, you are not alone. The best hair salons get several of these type calls a month. When its time for the appointment with the professional hair colorist, bring everything you can to the appointment, most importantly the product containers and documentation of the hair color product you used. It will help the professional hair colorist greatly if they know what chemical brew went into your hair color attempts. Fess up and be honest, even if you are embarrassed. Tell the hair colorist exactly what steps you took (and every product you used in your hair), even if they were really, really dumb.