The internet and social media are chock full of hair ideas like never before. It seems like every hair colour possible is out there. I would have to say that the average hairstylist/colourist today seems far more skilled than the average one 10 years ago. So why are clients still left mystified, frustrated, and confused by the process needed to achieve the colour they’re after? Are we failing to communicate the technical side of hair colour to our guests effectively or is it just a matter of time before it becomes more commonly understood?
It’s probably a bit of both. It used to be that the client really didn’t need to know much about how hair colour works because most services were done in one step. A colour would be decided upon or how light highlights should be and so on. Only the odd time would a colour corrective service, which takes more time and is more technical, be done. Clients could be forgiven for thinking that colouring hair is just like painting a wall. Of course any hair colourist knows it isn’t anything like painting a wall! So why is it important for our guests to understand this and why now when it wasn’t so important before?
One reason can be summed up in a word: bleach. Bleach used to be used mainly just for highlights. Some hair colourists didn’t even like to use the word bleach in fear of scaring the client so they used words like “de-colourizer” or “lightener”. Quite recently however a huge improvement in its technology has occurred and it has opened a window onto a new hair colour world. Many clients are still in the dark as to why bleach would even be needed to achieve the colour they want and hairstylists struggle to explain it to them. Bleach is used much more frequently and not just because it is less damaging. These days the accuracy of the tone of the finished colour is paramount and here’s the thing: permanent color is most accurate in tone at around the same level of light and dark as what you are applying it on. So if your desired colour is a lot lighter, the best way to get it perfect is to lighten the hair first to the required level, then apply a colour to tone it. Sure, natural hair can be lightened with permanent colour but the lighter you go the less control you have of the undertones. You may get the hair to the desired level but the tone will be way off.
Splitting the colour service into two processes; the lightening then the toning, is the best and most common way contemporary hair colourists achieve their amazing results. Often it is the only way to even come close to matching the colour in the pictures our clients show us. Of course the way it is applied is important too, whether it is foiled in or hand painted (balayage).
Most hair colourists I’ve encountered are perfectionists, and try to hit the target result with extreme accuracy. Even as they are going to the dispensary to prepare for the service they have gone over the steps in their mind many times:
Strength of bleach
Placement of foils
Toner or toners to use
They have integrity too so if they don’t get it quite right they own up to it and are willing to work on it until they succeed. Sometimes though, and this is really important; the possibility of achieving the desired result is impeded by previous colouring. Hair that is previously coloured is much harder to lighten and in some cases impossible to lighten enough! If your hair is previously coloured be prepared for some “hair-splaining” by your stylist. The visit will be longer and more expensive because of the need to bleach twice or you may have to be willing to compromise on a darker version of the colour you want. In my experience most of the time when a client leaves unhappy previous colour is what has thrown a wrench in the possibility of her desired colour, not the ability of the hair colourist. The end result is what the colourist predicted but the client may have not expected.
I hope I have explained reasonably well why our guests need more information about how colours really work because most services are much more complicated and technical these days. I haven’t even touched on toners really and why they cannot be 100% permanent. If our guests truly understand the technical aspects of their service because we have done the ultimate colour consultation they will leave our salons happier and not frustrated.
By Renn VanDyck
Élan Hair Studio