Understanding hair color is very important for you to understand the “whys” of why your hair does what it does when your hair is tinted. Educating yourself will help you know what to expect when you do certain shades according to your natural hair color and tone.
Color, as we see it, is actually the reflection of light off of the colored pigments in the hair shaft. It’s sort of like the color prisms, it fractures light into distinctive colors we can see. This is what happens with hair color except that you’re adding or subtracting colors to change from one color to another or to change the undertones. A shade of color is made up of different combinations of reflections off the pigments. That’s why hair color, both natural and tinted, looks different under indoor lights and in natural sunlight.
One aspect of hair color are the levels. Color levels are the degrees of lightness or darkness of a color seen by the eye. Hair color has been assigned an international level system. This system refers to numbers from 1 to 10, with 10 being the lightest and 1 being the darkest, black itself. Black reflects very little light and the lightest shades of blonde reflect the greatest amount of light. This resembles the pieces of clothing we wear. If we wear a black shirt in the summer we might feel a bit hotter than normal because dark colors absorb light and, the lighter colors like white reflect light. Just as the levels, each level also has an underlying pigment. Each pigment level goes according to each hair color level from red being the darkest (1) to yellow being the lightest (10).
A hair strand has many layers that shape and protect it. The cuticle layer of the hair, being one of these layers, is the outmost layer of the hair and the first line of defense against all forms of damages. It is a hard, shingle-like layer of overlapping dead cells. Once the cuticle layer has been altered– and as I like to explain– it acts like a sticker. Have you ever removed a sticker from a hard surface? Once you do, it is hard or nearly impossible to adhere the sticker back down to the surface. The cuticle layer sort of, acts the same way. When color is applied to the hair, the un-natural hair color molecule enters the cuticle layer and removes the natural color molecule, the underlying pigment remains behind. Once the cuticle layer has been altered, this is what allows the color to fade over time and those red, orange or yellow hues are the reflection of your underlying pigment beginning to show through as the hair color fades.
Hair is mainly keratin, the same protein found in skin and fingernails. The natural color of hair depends on the ratio and quantities of two other proteins, eumelanin and phaeomelanin. Eumelanin is responsible for brown to black hair shades while phaeomelanin is responsible for golden blond, ginger, and red colors. The absence of either type of melanin produces white/gray hair.
We have all once been there; in the grocery store aisle standing in front of shelf after shelf of all these hair color boxes…all different brands, all different colors. Some are highlighting kits, semi, demi … what do we do?? Some of our biggest hair color disasters start at home due to lack of understanding color. As a colorist, I do not recommend my clients to use “box” color as these can be damaging to the hair. My senior hairdressing teachers warned me about the woes of using box colors as they are metallic dyes.
To this cardinal rule I have remained faithfully loyal to through all the years of my hairdressing career.
In my attempt to explain the composition of “box” tint, I will describe it as microscopic particles of metal (glitter like), as part of their ingredients. In some sense, these are used to give the hair reflective tones so the hair seems shiny but in reality it is not. Once the color is applied, these particles enter the hair shaft and lodge themselves inside the cuticle layer of the hair. Though these colors may fade these metal particles remain. Hair that has been colored with box colors are almost always easy noticeable or recognizable. The hair texture normally seems to look and feel dry and brittle, and when wet the hair feels very rough. Though I do not recommend the use of box color, ultimately, it is a personal choice to use them.