• Ken Main -Ellen Conlin Hair and Beauty

HAIR COLOUR! What is it all about?

A definitive guide to Hair Colour

Ever wonder what it would be like to live life as a blonde, a brunette or a redhead?

Or to look in the mirror and see what used to be your natural hair colour – without the grey?

If so, take heart. You're in good company. Colour is still one of the fastest-growing and most exciting services offered in today's professional hair salons. It has a following as diverse as teenagers aiming to shock with deep blue locks to adults looking to recapture the sun-kissed highlights of youth, or simply erase a few years by covering unwelcome grey.

When it comes to self-expression, the times are, indeed, good. Gone are the days when colour was considered a hush-hush service – remember the popular advertising slogan, only her hairdresser knows for sure? Colour, you see, has come charging out of the closet. Today, young and old, male and female are wearing it like a badge of honour.

But how does one successfully enter this age-defying, fashionable world and emerge with truly delightful results?

The secret, unsurprisingly, is knowledge – knowing the possibilities, limitations, maintenance and pitfalls. Only then can one make the best choices and live happily ever after in the wonderful world of colour! That is the reason we use hairdressers for the best quality hair colour and not off the shelf box hair colour that inevitably leads to you requiring an expensive corrective colour.

So Many Choices

Simply calling the salon and booking an appointment for "colour" won't get you very far. There are as many types of colour services as there are salons listed in the local directory.

So, let's start with a few insights to the world of colour!

What are your options?

What can you get done?

What are the restrictions?

Can the salon do what I want?

Are they capable of doing what I want?

Most people are unaware of the options available to them, that's why the consultation process is so important and will give you the client an indication of how capable and what options can be carried on you!

We have listed below the common forms of colour techniques:

Single Process Colour

The most basic and commonly referred to colour service is called a single-process or one-process colour. It's a type of colour – permanent, semi-permanent or colour refresh that's applied to the entire head to create a new base colour.

When women say they're having their hair coloured – as opposed to highlighted – it usually means they're getting a single-process colour.

Choosing the right type of single-process colour, however, is necessary to achieving the desired results.

Permanent Colour

Permanent colour is the only type of colour capable of covering grey one hundred percent. The other types of colour can only partially cover grey, creating what seems to be a translucent stain on those areas.

But this staining effect isn't necessarily a bad thing. Many women who have only a scattering of grey like the look that a non-permanent colour provides. The slightly stained strands can actually look like highlights!

Permanent colour has another advantage. It's the only colour that contains ammonia – or an ammonia derivative – which is a necessary ingredient (along with hydrogen peroxide) in the lightening of natural hair colour (as high as four levels, in some cases).

The ammonia works by softening the hair so that the cuticle swells, allowing the colour to penetrate and deposit into the hair shaft, as opposed to only temporarily colouring the cuticle, or outer layer of the hair.

Of course, the downside of permanent hair colour, is that it's just what its name implies – permanent. And, since permanent colour cannot lighten permanent colour (only natural colour up to four levels), it's necessary to use a special colour remover if the hair is to return to a lighter shade.

Hair Today Gone Tomorrow

Non-permanent colours, on the other hand – such as semi- and colour refresh – have traditionally been valued for their no-ammonia and, in the case of semi-permanent colours, no-peroxide, content, which makes them gentler on the hair. In addition, semi-permanents are true, non-committal colours, since they wash out of the hair after a number of shampoos.

Despite the traditional non-ammonia status of semi-permanent and refresh colours, some colour manufacturers have introduced such products with small amounts of ammonia or ammonia derivatives to produce longer-lasting results. Unlike permanent colours, however, such products are unable to lighten the hair or cover grey one hundred percent.

Those concerned with ammonia or other additives, should consult their colourist or contact the product manufacturer before using a non-permanent product.

Up, Up and Away!

Sometimes going lighter takes a little more than a traditional single-process permanent colour can accomplish. In such cases, stylists often turn to one of two procedures – a high-lift colour or a double-process service.

A high-lift colour is one that lifts up to four levels of natural colour, while simultaneously depositing colour. It differs from a traditional single-process permanent colour in that it contains a higher ammonia content, which allows it to consistently reach that level of lift (unlike a traditional single-process permanent colour, which cannot always reach that mark).

A double-process is necessary to exceed four levels of lift. In this procedure, a colour lightener is used to remove natural colour from the hair, and then a toner is applied for colour. This is the procedure necessary for turning someone with black hair into a platinum blonde!

Highlight and Lowlights

Highlights do exactly what their name implies – they mimic those beautiful, light strands of hair that some people were born with and others enjoy after a few hours – or days – in the sun.

They can be added to any natural or artificial base colour, but are especially popular when paired with dirty blonde or mousy brown hair, because of their ability to transform those base colours into palettes that are completely dazzling and alluring.

Lowlights are exactly like highlights, with one tiny exception: Instead of removing colour to create lighter strands that highlight the hair, the stylist uses colour to create darker strands that low-light, or add warmth to, the hair.

Lowlights are especially popular at summer's end, when they're used to counteract the over-bleaching caused by sun exposure and to return hair to a warmer shade in time for the fall. Likewise, they are also used to return hair that's been over-bleached by chemical services to a healthier-looking, more natural shade.

They're also a wonderful choice for someone who wants to turn back the hands of time by putting a little more pepper back into their salt and pepper locks!

To increase the multi-dimensional effects of highlights and lowlights, stylists can use varying strengths of colour lighteners – or different colours – on alternating foils during the procedures.

Every Which Way

Highlights and lowlights can be created in a number of ways.

The most popular way is via foils (or highlighting paper). In this method, the stylist selects strands of hair, places them on a piece of foil, uses a colour brush to cover them with a hair lightener or colour, depending on the desired effect, and then folds the bottom edge of the foil up to the top to sandwich in the hair.

The traditional technique by which a stylist chooses the strands of hair to be treated is called weaving. Stylists choose a section of hair and then, using a metal-ended tail comb, weave out intermittent pieces, which are then placed on the foil for lightening or colouring. A small, fine weave can be used to create a very subtle, natural effect, while a larger weave can be used to create a more funky, chunkier effect.

Sometimes a stylist will use a technique called slicing to choose the strands of hair to be processed. Slicing is the simple selection of hair – by weaving – for processing. For example, a stylist who wants to add a few chunky highlights to frame the face is using slicing when selecting a section of hair for processing.

Balyage, which means to sweep in French, is a free-form painting technique that has become more popular in the last few years. Instead of weaving or slicing and enlisting the use of foils, the stylist uses a colour brush or a special dispensing tool to paint the hair with a lightener or colour.

This process is suitable for the creation of more scattered highlights or lowlights and to painting the outer sheath – as opposed to the underside – of the hair.

Some stylists use foils to highlight the hair and balyage to add a few lowlights for greater dimension.

Caps – which are rubber headpieces covered with tiny holes – are used mostly for adding highlights or lowlights to very short hair. This technique is a cheap way of achieving an all over highlighted effect. The stylists place the cap (traditionally made of latex and rubber, but also available in foam and plastic) on the client's head and then, using a crochet hook, pulls hair through the tiny holes. The exposed hair is then covered with a lightener or colour to produce the desired effect. This is the process that you are left with a tell-tale imprint around your forehead.

This method can be the ideal solution for colouring shorter hair.

Everything in It’s Place

There are several ways to describe the amount and placement of foil highlights and lowlights in the hair – notably full-head, half-head, partial-head and framing.

A full-head is obviously the most extensive of the choices, creating an all-over effect of highlighted hair. A half-head usually refers to an area that reaches from the front and front-sides of the hair to the imaginary line where the ears end. Although the term partial-head can refer to anything less than a full-head, it's usually considered a somewhat open-ended term that refers to no specific area, but is less than a half-head. Framing – a type of partial-head – refers to the placement of foils around the face to add brightness.


Once highlighted hair has processed, it's time to remove any highlighting aids (such as foils or a cap), shampoo the lightener out of the hair and apply a toner. A toner, which can be a permanent, semi-permanent or demi-permanent colour, does just what its name implies: It lends a tone to the newly lightened strands of hair.

The nice thing about many non-permanent toners is that they gradually wash out of the hair, which allows for greater flexibility when it comes to changing to a different tone.

Keeping the Look

Colour maintenance – the frequency with which one will be at the salon to maintain a chosen colour – should be carefully considered when choosing a colour service.

Permanent colours usually require a touch-up every four-to-six weeks, as new hair appears from the scalp. The greater the difference in colour between the newly appearing hair and the permanent colour, the more noticeable the roots. A brunette who decides to go blond should be prepared for an aggressive maintenance schedule – possibly every three weeks – as even the slightest hair growth will create a line of demarcation.

Semi-permanent colour is much more forgiving, gradually washing out of the hair after about 10-to-12 shampoos for the longer-lasting colours and 4-to-6 shampoos for the traditional colours. But while semi-permanent colour won't leave a line of demarcation – or roots – it does lose a little of its vibrancy with each shampoo.

There are several ways to maintain a full-head of highlights or lowlights. Under one schedule, a full-head is followed by one or two return visits to the salon at four-to-six-week intervals to touch-up the re-growth at the crown, and then a return visit for a full-head.

Under another schedule, a full-head is followed by a half-head about three months later, then a full-head three months after that, and so on.

Getting Rid of Colour

Colour removal refers to the removal of permanent colour from the hair – a necessary procedure any time someone with artificial colour wants a lighter shade, or has a build-up of colour in their hair.

Colour build-up is usually the result of botched, at home colour sessions or using poor quality stylists that visit you at home and use cheap products. For example, it's not unusual for at-home "colourists" to put permanent colour over their entire head each time they colour their hair. What they fail to realise is that they're creating a colour build-up by re-colouring parts of their hair over and over again with each application. What may have once looked good, eventually looks like a series of colour bands throughout the hair.

A professional stylist, on the other hand, will approach a touch-up by putting permanent colour on the new growth – or virgin hair – only. Towards the end of the processing time, some stylists will then run the permanent colour through the rest of the hair to re-fresh the colour, while others will use a semi-permanent colour to re-fresh the previously coloured areas - giving shine and depth.

When properly used, colour removal is one of the most effective tools to corrective colour, which is, by definition, the undoing of previous colour services.

Those tempted to use a permanent colour to make their lighter locks darker should remember that lighter colours can be made darker, but darker permanent colours cannot be made lighter – without first removing colour. When torn between two permanent colours, it's always best to choose the lighter of the two, as it leaves the option of going darker with a simple colour application.

Getting Your Fill

Sometimes it's necessary to fill the hair in order to achieve a particular colour, address issues of porosity, or return the hair to a state of vibrancy. In this procedure, stylists basically add missing colour pigments that exist at the level of the target colour.

Someone who wants to tint back (or make their hair more than two levels darker than their existing colour), will first need to fill their hair with the colour pigments that exist at that target level.

Likewise, someone whose hair is very porous (perhaps due to over-bleaching), will most likely need their hair filled, as will someone whose hair has become dull and void of vibrancy and richness at the ends.

What's Your Level?

Levels are professional colourist lingo for describing hair colour. For example, in the level system, which is used by many major colour manufacturers – especially those from Europe – Levels 1-through-5 usually represent hair that's black to medium/light brown; and Levels 6-through-12 usually represent hair colour that's light brown to extra light blonde.

Of course, not every colour manufacturer that uses a level system follows the same guidelines. Some, for example, define those same colours within the context of Levels 2-through -10, and while one manufacturer may call a Level 6 a light brown, another may call it a dark blonde.

Trickier Than It Looks

Practising colour is far trickier than it looks! After all, there's good reason why so many non-colourists haven't a clue as to why their at - home efforts produced hair that's (gasp!) pink, green, or some other unwanted dodgy colour!

At the basic root of (but alas, not all!) such problems is the fact that most novices have no understanding of what's commonly called the Law of Colour and the Colour Wheel. This law – which is well known to those with an art background – defines the composition of colours and how they interact with one another.

For example, there are primary, secondary and tertiary colours, with primary colours being yellow, red and blue; secondary being orange, violet and green (created by combining two primary colours); and tertiary being such colours as blue-violet and yellow-orange (created by mixing primary colours with their neighbouring secondary colours).

Of course, it gets far trickier after that. Skilled stylists recognise that all hair colour is tertiary, but contains dominating primary or secondary colours – an important distinction when it comes to turning that green hair into a beautiful and desired shade!

If you're considering a major colour change, it definitely pays to have it done first by a professional. Once you've got the colour you like, do not buy a home colour, as you will undoubtedly make a mess of it and have to pay a lot of money to get it fixed the way you want it.

Like fashion, hair colour trends come and go. With the new advances in hair colour and the many ways of adding or altering colour now, why stay with the colour you've always had?

Experiment, play, try something new from time to time.

Ask your stylist what's the latest and greatest.

Don't be a square when it comes to your hair!

Have some fun and let a little colour go to your head.


For all your colour requirements call The Colour Masters

0141 339 8223

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