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Today, I want to discuss a commonly misconceived idea about lifting hair color. I frequently hear people ask questions like why their hair is still brown after putting a blonde color over it, or why their hair color gets darker each time they color it. Well, I can explain in precisely four words: color won’t lift color. Like, ever.
This is how it works…
I’m going to use an analogy that will make more sense to most people. Think about what it’s like to color on paper with markers. This is a good way for you to understand the golden rule of lifting hair color since most people are familiar with how markers work….
Okay, next, I’d like to introduce you to Clarice. She has naturally blonde hair, and it has never been colored. She also has no lower body or arms.
Clarice decided one day that she wanted to color her hair dark brown (I covered the blonde hair with a brown marker).
She really liked her new look, as you can tell by her huge smile. And assuming she could walk, I’m sure she would have received a ton of compliments. However, she decided a week later that brown hair was not her thing, and wanted her blonde hair back. She had one of her friends pick up some golden blonde hair color to match her natural color from Walmart. Her friend, then, applied the color to Clarice’s hair and let it sit for 45 minutes, exactly like the directions told her to do (for the analogy, I colored over the brown hair with a yellow marker).
So after washing out the color, her hair looks like this:
What went wrong?
The Golden Rule of Lifting Hair Color:
You can’t use a dark color and then put a lighter color on top of it, and expect it to result in the lighter color. Basically, all you are doing is packing more color molecules in the hair shaft with other dark color molecules. The result is darker hair.
Okay, let me further explain it.
Your hair is made of three parts: the medulla and the cortex (which are the inner parts of the hair shaft), and the cuticle (the scale-like protective covering). Melanin (color pigment) molecules are located in the cortex.
The ammonia in hair color lifts up the scales of the cuticle, allowing the color pigments to get up in the cortex. In permanent color, the molecules are meant to last forever. In other words, they’re packed in like sardines.
Why Color Won’t Lift Color:
So back to the example I used with Clarice. When she first colored her hair brown, the hair dye packed a ton of brown color molecules into her hair shaft. She probably lost a few molecules when she washed her hair, but they were still pretty intact. When her friend applied the blonde color to her hair, a few blonde color molecules packed into the spaces where the few brown molecules washed out. Her hair was still brown because the color molecules stayed in her hair. Color is not meant to lift color out of hair; it’s just meant to deposit pigment.
But I’m sure you are wondering to yourself right now, “yeah, but how do people go from dark hair to blonde hair?” The answer is that they either had virgin hair to begin with or it was previously lightened or stripped.
Virgin hair is code for hair that has never been colored. It could be that the person has never used color in their life, or that all of the previous color has grown out. In either case, the hair that you see has no artificial color molecules in it. Outgrowth is virgin hair. If you apply color to your hair with outgrowth, it can leave you with hot roots.
Color can lift virgin hair, but it’s usually not so dramatic. The reason is that most color lines will only lift the hair a few levels lighter than the natural color. High-lift blondes are used to go more than a few levels lighter, but still as aren’t effective as bleach. But high-lift blondes won’t even work on previously colored hair, or they could be unpredictable. They could even turn your hair green in that case.
How To Go From Dark To Light:
Have no fear. You can still lift the dark color out of your hair. Just be aware that it might take multiple processes. I always recommend having a professional take your hair lighter, as I’ve seen people mess their hair up too many times. Be realistic about your expectations and remember that patience is a virtue.
The next option is to bleach your hair. I know that the thought of bleach freaks most people out. However, bleaching your hair shouldn’t do too much damage if done correctly. If Clarice had bleached her hair to the level of blonde she wanted, and then applied the color she wanted to her hair, it would have been much better.
Using the marker analogy, pretend that I used nail polish remover (which, according to the interwebs, removes marker from paper) first, and then colored the blonde over that spot, it probably would have been more blonde.
The final option is to strip the color out of her hair. Stripping the color removes the packed molecules, revealing her natural color (to an extent). Depending on how dark it is, how many times it has been colored, etc., it could take multiple processes to remove all of the color.
Read more about it here:
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What do you think about the golden rule of lifting hair color? Does it make sense why color won’t lift color? Do you still have questions? I’d love to read your feedback in the comments section below…
With an extensive knowledge of hair color science and over 12 years as a licensed cosmetologist working in the hair industry, Hollee feels the need to share her passion for beauty with the world. She specializes in hair color science, hairstyles, hair hacks, hair knowledge, and how things work in the hair industry. She enjoys sharing her expertise and helping people achieve their personal hair goals.