September 20, 2009

Hair Color Magic ...the Smoke & Mirrors We Use to Give The Illusion Of Magic

How exactly does the "Lift & Deposit" chemical reaction in permanent hair color work?

00200175333-001 A question was posed on the previous Post about this, which I felt warranted its own POST. Good question =(equals) Post is kind of how it works here in the Killer Strands Land of Hair Care.
All permanent hair coloring works the same. Which I would like you all to understand, especially in the ongoing debate of "Professional Hair Color versus 'Public' Hair Color" and the difference between them. Some of the licensed Hair Stylists want you to believe there is a huge difference in the products you can purchase at Sally's and the ones "we" licensed ... Board certified Professionals purchase. Now, available in the Killer Strands Store. 

Just so you know, as I was readying to launch the new Killer Strands store, the Publicity Release went out announcing that Wella would be soon selling their professional color to the public, the same way they do in every other country in the world.
They like you to believe that, you ...the public, don't have the talent or education to use Professional hair color, that it takes a year of schooling to be able to use it properly.000280472251
Well, you should know me by now... and I, of course, would like to blow the top off of that stupid theory. . . I would make a 'conservative' guess that 80 %-90% of all Cosmetology students are not even taught practical hair color education when they go to school ... you know what they teach them? How to pass the State Board Tests, in order to get your license. Which to me and to the Vidal Sassoon Academy's --> is TOTALLY ridiculous. State Board Tests are so antiquated, they test for your ability to perform finger waving 'speed' and roller setting swiftness as if that is how we all wear our hair on a daily basis. I am not kidding, it is completely and utterly ridiculous the testing they put you through to have a license here in the state of California, and am told California is the hardest 'Board' test in the union {and you wonder why the last cut/color you got was horrific}.

Vidal Sassoon where I attended, did not teach passing the state board Test (you were left to your own devices to figure that out) they taught Hair Color Theory ...Hair color application, Hair Color Formulation, Hair cutting theory & Hair cutting practice....there is a reason it is referred to as the "Harvard of Hair Schools" -- it truly deserves it. But...such a very small percentage of the millions of Hair Stylists out there have attended either of the 2 schools (1 in LA & 1 in London - period)- - it leaves the majority of Cosmetologists ; untrained and left to their own devices to learn on poor unsuspecting clients. Yes, that is where they learn - - - on YOU. When I finally figured that out, I was terrified for the 'client'. What the solution to this is - - - is finally surfacing, various Hair Color Companies are starting their own "specialty" Hair Academy's. I have heard Aveda, Paul Mitchell & now Redken are the first with sporadic academies popping up around the country. The smart companies are hiring 'ex' Sassoon-heads to build their schools around and to know "how" - "what" and "where" to do this successfully. No one will ever have the brilliance and finesse of a Sassoon Academy....until you have been engrossed in one - - you won't know what you are missing. It was one of the smarter moves I've ever truly has stayed ingrained in me for the

000380472182last 16 years.
Since viewing the problems of unqualified Stylists, from different angles, I try to remain semi - compassionate to all sides of the story -- but its hard. I'm so driven, that I will go to any lengths to get the proper training I need for a certain purpose, I don't understand why everyone can't be that way. Alas, it just is not always possible for everyone to have the fortunate situation I had, in growing up 30 miles from the 1 Vidal Sassoon Academy in America.
But, there are books, there are tapes, there are DVD's - Videos, U-TUBE - - there are always, some form of advanced hair education going on all over the country. . . ALWAYS. Use it, invest in yourself & your talent, it will pay you back, I promise...having a full book of clients is a wonderful thing.
level 8 blond 876
The difference between Professional Hair Color & "public" Hair Color (for lack of a better word) ......"quality" yep, that's it. Which is why when you get your hair done by a professional - - you wonder...." why, does it not look this good when I do it myself" ? ? Its the quality of pigments in that tube of color,the quality of ingredients that provide both SHINE & Vivid color, its the quality of Developer - that I even call "premium" Developer that is different. Remember there is no other time that the hair cuticle is open; allowing lipids, and conditioners of all types to get into the strand of hair, than with the Permanent Hair Color process. But, the actual "process of how" they both work ("professional" and "public" hair color) is exactly the same.
There is no reason on this planet that if you understand both the:
  • Level System of Hair Color and
  • Color Theory (related to Hair)
you cannot color your hair with professional hair color - at home - successfully. There is no secret, there is no trick, no talent we learn as Licensed hair Stylists that you don't have access to. I just want that to be CRYSTAL CLEAR to everyone, because it is not fair that the people at home are not allowed to have access to better quality hair color. So many of the stories I hear are " I have tried every hair stylist in my town and every single one has destroyed my hair" - I want to take back control of my own hair color and learn how to do it myself.
You know what my argument is when a licensed hair stylist starts to get in my face about this? I say: at least I teach the Level System and Color Theory - in going to Sally's they can buy anything without teaching them a thing, and 9 times out of 10 point them in the wrong direction. Hundreds of millions of women/men go to Sally's Beauty Supply every single week and they are mis-guided by uneducated, uncaring individuals that CAUSE most of the Color Correction cases we Colorists see on a weekly basis. Both, Sally's & Boxed Hair Color Kits are the 2 main "causes" of most Hair Color Disasters across the USA. Its an eye opening experience to have a hair Blog and Group such that I have, the privilege of owning these has opened my eyes to what is going on nationwide ... not just here in my little corner of the country. Once people started writing in to me from every state, I realized the problem was a whole Helluva lot bigger than I ever realized. Someone needs to help all these people have some decent education on how to properly care for their hairs health and their hair color.
Its not a matter of the education not being there, its a matter of the 'wall' put up between Hair Stylist and Hair Client. With the Stylist acting like they have some "other worldly" powers over hair, that they are keeping secret...and will disperse a little bit at a time, but only if you keep coming back to them as a good client should... I cannot say it loud enough: R-I-D-I-C-U-L-O-U-S .
Of course, I don't mean every Stylist...but just today on one of the most recent "comments" a new reader left, here is the Comment:

My hairstylist uses low "natural enzymes" in the place of developer, but she refuses to tell me anything more about it, or where to find it. Go figure... She also says that she uses color with low ammonia to color my hair.
My hair is super-soft and almost damage free and I was wondering if you know anything about these enzymes?

here is my answer:
anonymous, Nope, have no idea what she is referring to. I can honestly say out of 10,000 Heads of Hair I have worked on ... 95% of them had super-soft and damage-free hair.
Hair Color (done correctly) can be a wonderful thing and creates absolutely NO damage to hair. I have said over and over that the way hair color works in todays upper echelon is to:
>> strengthen
>> add body and the best trait of all:
>> it adds tons of shine
I don't believe she used any special "enzymes" to color your hair, I believe it is one more hair stylist perpetuating the unnecessary wall & shut down of communication that has gone up between hair stylist and client, that besides being absolutely ridiculous is just one more show of the paranoid insecurities that most hair stylists possess. You most likely have great hair to begin with...
& she enriches it with a top hair color.... that is not a tough task.
In my world that is the "norm", not the rarity that many of you think.
I have been working on a post trying to explain to people if a color "claims" it has no ammonia, then it uses a substitute ingredient that does the exact same thing as ammonia.
So why does that make it a better hair color to you?
When it still does the exact same thing?
All permanent hair color uses the exact SAME TECHNOLOGY....there is no NEW technology for COLORING HAIR.
When there is, I promise I will announce it here.

Now, the shine, the vividness, the pigment are all better with professional hair color. The technology is absolutely NO DIFFERENT. There is not one thing different we do as professional's. What we have is more experience on working on all types of - - you have experience with your own head of hair and maybe your sisters or best friends. But not on all types and textures of hair...which still doesn't make us an expert. I never feel like I have learned everything about hair color, nor will I ever. The best part about doing your own hair color is just that....its your own, you are experienced with all of its little traits, and flaws. I can ask hair color clients if their hair -- "takes" color well or not. 8 out 10 will know the answer to that question, which tells a colorist a LOT about your hair. That is the porosity of your hair and that little piece of information can save you from having a color disaster, if you are new to learning hair color.
Now the way permanent hair color works. Permanent hair color has 2 aspects:
  • lightening/lifting and
  • penetrating/depositing
Lightening comes from 2 key ingredients:
  • ammonia ( or other catalyst) : in the cream
  • hydrogen peroxide: in the developer
Ammonia is a critical ingredient in permanent hair color. Permanent Hair Color ALWAYS contains ammonia (or another catalyst that does the exact same thing) {remember this point}. The issue with 'ammonia' is the same issue as 'preservatives'... too much of it is unnecessarily damaging, but without ammonia, penetration, lightening and dye development would not occur. It, or something like it, is essential. Manufacturers of professional products strive to put just enough--- and not too much---ammonia-- in their permanent hair color.88970333
Now if a hair color says its "ammonia-free" then it will have an ammonia substitute. Therefore, if it has an ammonia substitute, which does the exact same thing, then all it is doing is tricking the consumer. Get it? Its still doing the exact same thing only with a different ingredient ( MEA; monoethanolamine is the one I know of, there are others).
Ammonia is an alkali: it swells the hair shaft, promoting penetration. It is also a catalyst and its primary purpose: to facilitate lightening by releasing oxygen, supplied by the developer, to OXIDIZE natural pigment. Ammonia, creates the necessary alkalinity for the development of permanent dyes; permanent haircoloring is always alkaline in pH.
Ammonia is not in the developer which so many people think, it is in the tube of hair color with the dyes. Lighter levels contain more ammonia than darker levels, in order to provide more lightening capability. Many of you have only dealt with 1 color range, but as a professional we deal with every range....clients range from level 1 to 12, which we may be dealing with in the same hour as clients come in all sizes and colors.
The higher the level , the more ammonia (lift) and the less pigment (deposit). The lower the level, the less lift and the greater the deposit. That's why a medium blond will cover gray better than a very light blond. It is also why a medium brown will not lift as many levels as a high-lift tint.
High-Lift colors contain the most ammonia, to have the most aggressive and extended lift cycles. That much ammonia in darker levels , however would be overkill. Ammonia is calibrated by levels in all professional products.
Another critical component of permanent hair coloring is hydrogen peroxide. The developers for permanent hair coloring products, (whether clear or cream) are hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen Peroxide is the oxidizer of permanent hair coloring, providing the oxygen for lightening of natural pigment, and for the development of artificial pigment. Permanent hair coloring is sometimes referred to as oxidative haircoloring. 

It is the hydrogen peroxide mixed with poorly formulated hair color in permanent hair coloring -- not the ammonia -- that causes oxidative hair damage and that ONLY happens when the Rules of the Level System are not followed. Otherwise you can have happy healthy hair - I promise you!

Top Colorists are aware of the damage created by excessively high developer volumes and use only that which is necessary.

0000580472182The chemical shorthand for hydrogen peroxide is H2 O2 meaning 2 hydrogen atoms and 2 oxygen atoms. Higher volumes of hydrogen peroxide provide more oxygen for more extended lightening. Higher volumes create more lift and less deposit; lower volumes create less lift and greater deposit. This is why better gray coverage is achieved with 20 Volume rather than 40 volume.
Some strength of hydrogen peroxide has to be used in order to develop the dyes of permanent haircoloring. Just to get the 'dyes' to color the hair, an oxidizer has to be present. ( and peroxide all by itself won't lighten the hair, either - sometimes an email comes in with someone trying this....and I want to needs to react with ammonia in order for efficient oxidation to occur.) peroxide,ammonia and the dyes all need each other to get the hair coloring to work properly and to its fullest.

When people start quoting these silly sayings like " no ammonia" or "low ammonia" hair color... I just quietly look at them and think......" you will be right back in to see me fix the mess you are going to make of your hair". Because they have no idea what "low ammonia" means ... I will ask them , " what does ammonia do to hair color ??? " Not one of them ever knows, in 16 years I have never once run into a 1 person that can answer that question. I just completely explained what ammonia does in the hair color process, just a few paragraphs up - the concept is difficult to understand I feel it took me a long time to really GET IT! 

 ? ? ? So if you don't know what ammonia does, why are you trying to eliminate it ? ? ? 

How do you know its bad? 

Personally if a hair color says anything about having "Low ammonia or No ammonia in it. . . I just turn and walk away, why? ? ? because I know how necessary it is for a perfect .... beautiful  ....head of hair color. 

In order for permanent hair color to work properly, it is a chemical reaction and ammonia is needed for the chemical reaction to take place properly. I have found that every single person that sits in my chair does not really care how it gets there . . . but what they want is a rich - - - gorgeous - - - vivid - - - - shiny - - - properly toned KNOCKOUT head of hair with Hair Color to match. As long as their hair is as healthy and as luxurious as I can possibly make it . . the ingredients I use to get it there are going to be the Top-of-the-Line for what I need to make that process take place. I doubt there is a person on the planet that wants orange or yellow hair, because their hair color says "no ammonia" on the box or tube. When hair reaches the proper color, the most beautiful wheat blond or the most yummy Matt (non-brassy) blond you have ever see then NO REPAIR has to take place - which adds to the processes the hair has to endure. Think about everything you are saying or thinking before pronouncing the big plans you may have for your hair. . .
Sit back and relax, I care for my clients hair as if it were my own or my childrens . . I now give all of that to you - - - as a gift.

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7 comments on "Hair Color Magic ...the Smoke & Mirrors We Use to Give The Illusion Of Magic"
  1. KC I wish you could have been there this weekend when I was at a salon who boasts featuring "Eufora" brand products and color, supposedly no-ammonia and aloe based ingredients. I asked the master stylist what difference does the low ammonia make and she insisted that it lends a hand in less damaging color and more luminous result. I mentioned I have used all sorts of crazy products and it always seemed to be the peroxide that I used incorrectly that was to blame, but not the ammonia or lack thereof, and she continued on her speech about the ammonia being terrible for the hair shaft. She also insisted I needed to use conditioner as well, despite the fact that she thought my hair was in great condition and looked healthy for how much bleaching I had put it through. funny you post this now...

  2. hi
    i have a question for shampoos. is laurl oil the same as soduim laurl sulfate?
    i'm not sure. thanks
    luv, shailee

  3. shailee,
    have no idea what laurl oil is, but I do know it "isn't" sodium lauryl sulfate.

  4. Hey there, I am hoping to get some clarification for going darker. A lot of your posts are very indepth on going lighter but I am hoping to go almost Amy Lee-ish.. I have somewhere between 8/9B (medium ash brownish) virgin hair, but it isn't a flat color, there is a lot of red and even blonde in there. I am also going almost completely white on top. =( Very thick hair, thick to medium thick density. I have tried using color charm from Sally's, love the color I found (Wella Color Charm liquid creme #5 WV Cinnamon) but my baby hairs around my face are totally resistant to color and manage to pick up only the red/copper undertones of the dye, not the dark itself. My hair is about half virgin and half old color. My understanding is to use the 10v developer with the darker color, but do you recommend a particular developer? The last one I used left my hair feeling like straw.
    I used to use henna in my hair for many many years, only I am eventually wanting to let my white hair grow naturally when I am completely white, I'm not into the whole salt and pepper thing. Have you worked with henna? What is your opinion on that?
    I'd really love to pick your brain, if your up to it, please email me at

    Thank you for your website.

  5. Hi KC,
    I had my hair colored the other day and the hairdresser decided to try all-over blond since my highlights had been needing a lot of upkeep anyway (and yes I know how you feel about highlights!) :) She used a new ammonia-free Redken lighteners - I think it must have been Blond Icing (and yes I know now how you feel about the whole ammonia thing too, but sadly I didn't then!)

    Anyway, my hair is looking kind of yellowy, especially in some parts eg the back and "sideburns". But I'm not sure that this is because she didn't leave it on long enough - the roots are particularly yellow at the back and she did the roots before she did the rest of the hair. My hair is really short so having yellowy roots looks pretty sad - I look like a teenager who's just done a bad dye job at home!

    However in some areas the color looks quite good - she put a toner on for 15 minutes so a lot of it is I guess a pretty nice beigey color - but I feel it's just looking very one-dimensional and as I say, yellow in parts. What do you think I should do? Whenever I look at the front i think "it needs some white slices through it" - but then at the back it's SO bleached looking that I don't know if that will work. It's qog that candy-floss kinds of look (though feels fine, not damaged). My main question is, if I went down that route, would my hair survive?

    Sorry this is lots of questions and I know it's hard when you can't see my hair :(

    Here's the product info off their site:
    Blonde Icing Conditioning Cream Lightener "ideal for clients who require up to 7 levels of lift and are unwilling to compromise the integrity of the hair."
    Thanks! Love your site.

  6. Helpful information, Thankyou. I'm looking forward to reading more. I must say though, the one good thing I've noticed about no ammonia is that I'm able to breathe comfortably and my eyes don't sting as they do with ammonia. Seems no amount of ventilation is enough if it's in there.

  7. do you have a salon where you do hair? I would love for you to do my color...I am 56 with med\dark brown hair, but the gray is awful....I started putting a demi on because I thought the dye was drying it out....for touch up....please help.


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