Advice for Hair Colour Newbies 1 comment

This is poached from a reply I wrote on the Hairmaven forum. I thought it’d make a good blog post! Also, be sure to check out the Hairmaven forum if you haven’t already!

If you’re new or feeling overwhelmed by hair colour, here are some things I’ve learned over the last two years:

#1. If someone wants something that they can’t have, tell them no.

#2. Practice

#3. Use mannequins or friends to experiment with stuff you don’t get to do on real people when you can

#4. Read the tube before you squeeze it into your bowl. Their might be a tube of 1n in that level 9 golden blond box!

#5. See #1.


Seriously, as a newb to the industry and someone who like you, felt far more comfortable with a pair of shears in my hand rather than a colour brush, I’ve gotten myself into more trouble by saying “Ok, sure.” when people ask for something their hair just isn’t going to respond well to. I’ve learned to tell people no the hard way.

Bread and butter colouring really isn’t that hard, so don’t worry too much about it – Worry will only get in the way of learning.

Don’t be afraid of change – that’s another big thing I’m still overcoming. It’s scary drastically changing someone’s hair color, and possibly in a way that you think doesn’t look good. But if you’re communicating well, and it’s what they want, just go for it. You’ll get used to it over time and you’ll stop being scared of colors that are really really dark, or really really light.

Covering grey is easy. Most lines have specific grey coverage colors, and in most cases it’s fine to mix in some reds or golds or what have you’s into those colors to tint them. Things can vary, you can use 20 vol or 30 vol, there’s double pigmented and stuff for specific % of grey, but in practice you’re rarely going to need to do anything different than just picking a grey coverage color and mixing in another color to change the hue if necessary. Easy peasy! You’ll vary it more later, but if you’re apprehensive, it’s just fine to do this.

Lightening hair is easy as long as you get in tune with your own timing – other people, for instance, might start with 20 vol and work up to 40 vol doing a head of foils. I start with 10 and work up to 30, because I’m slower than the  more experienced stylists, so by the time I’ve finished applying, my 10 vol has sat on the client’s head longer than the other stylists’ 20 vol has been sitting, and both reach the right level.

Get your choice of lightener and developer matched to your own speed and work style and don’t try to copy what other people do.

Blondes and toners are another thing that are needlessly complex and daunting at first – don’t worry about all the nitpicky details. Be careful with ash toners, if left on too long and put on hair too brassy, they can go greenish. (Although some people like that…blech)

Blondes aren’t about being perfectly unison throughout the length of the hair though – just work on developing an eye for picking toners based on the lightened hair. There might be cases where you’ll change the client’s toner a bit this week, or next week, etc.

Toners aren’t a recipe that you figure out and then lock down, they’re compensating for what the lightened hair looks like – it’s just basic colour wheel stuff.

Bleach is what you’re going to use most of the time. You may learn to love hi lift colors, or those weirdo super-fast-processing things, but you absolutely do not need to use them. All they do is do the same thing bleach does, either in less time or with some sort of added novelty.

And any time you’re going darker, don’t stress yourself out – a monkey can do it! Pick the general tone you want to achieve (that the client wants, I should say), and start by mixing it with a natural for the first little while if you’re nervous. A lot of nice looking colours in the swatchbook can come out surprisingly intense if you put them straight onto hair, lightened or not. Reds especially, since they’re often extra potent to compensate for how much they fade. Mixing a bit of natural in is kind of like training wheels – it will keep you tethered to safety, so if you mess up, it won’t be that bad or even that obvious. It’ll keep the surprises to a minimum and you can start modifying your color formulas once you get more familiar with coloring.

If you’re filling bleached out hair before going darker, you usually want to fill with a brassy color to replace the underlying color that used to be there. If they want to be a nice dark brown, sometimes copper or reddish gold is the in-between step. There’s a million different ways to fill but if you don’t know what to do specifically with your color line, you can always just apply a demi. There are better ways to fill (color + water, permenant, demi, different lines have different pros and cons), but in a pinch it’ll work with most any color line.

When in doubt, read the color book. It’ll have all the general info about mixing ratios, usually it’ll have a color wheel, etc.

Make sure you’re getting a good and accurate idea of what their hair colour is like when they come in! Take a swatchbook out with you until you can tell just by looking. Don’t just look at the roots, check the colour at the roots, ends, middle, look for signs of old color, old highlights. How much regrowth? If you’re lightening, the regrowth is going to bleach crazy fast compared to any hair with permenant color on it. (Which there are many solutions for, a lot of the time I just have a bowl of weak bleach and strong bleach, and paint the weak stuff on the regrowth and the strong stuff on the rest so I don’t have to open up foils later.)

Check her natural color at the roots on the top of her head and in the back. It can vary quite a lot!

Don’t worry about what you should be doing with all this information if it seems like a lot of things to keep in your head at first – you’ll figure it all out yourself really quick.

Oh, and lastly, the solution to just about any problem is usually something simple.

Yes, you could do a shampoo cocktail and fill with this and foil that out and do this to the regrowth, and it would take 5 hours and maybe work… But there’s probably also a way to get to the same result in less steps, with less things that are difficult and cumbersome.

Most of the time. There’s still situations that will call for some MacGyver hair coloring, with a cocktail and a toothpick and engine grease on her roots and a bit of a playing card. But 99% of the time you can solve any hair colour problem without complicated techniques.

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