Color Q and A

Q: Should I avoid shampooing for a few days before getting highlights or color?

A: No. The hair should be clean with little or no styling aides, such as hairspray, gel or mousse, in it. Years ago colorists asked clients to avoid shampooing for a few days because color products were so harsh that "dirty" or oily hair provided a protective barrier. At The Best Little Hair Salon in Rye, we use very gentle, but effective, color products, designed to color—not harm—the hair.

Q: What is a "line of demarcation"?

A: A "line of demarcation" is a term often used by colorists. It refers to the visible line separating colored hair from non-colored hair that appears as the hair grows and the colored hair is pushed farther from the scalp and "new," non-colored hair appears.

Q: How often will I need to get color?

A: There are two main reasons why color must be applied regularly: Hair grows and hair color fades. As hair grows, recently colored hair is pushed farther away from the scalp as the "new," non-colored hair appears. Eventually, this "new" hair becomes so noticeable that it must be colored to match the rest of the (previously colored) hair. In addition, hair color "oxidizes" or fades over time, leaving behind a weathered version of its once vibrant self and requiring a new application of color.

Additional factors that affect the frequency in which a person needs color include the rate at which an individual's hair grows, the degree of difference between the two colors (i.e., a brunette who chooses a much lighter base color will notice the difference more quickly) and personal preference.

Here are a few rule-of-thumb maintenance schedules:

  • Base Colors: Every four weeks, although some people notice enough roots to re-color every three weeks and other people feel comfortable re-coloring every five weeks. In addition, semi-permanent colors provide more leeway, as they gradually shampoo out of the hair, thus avoiding a line of demarcation.
  • Highlights: Every three months. Most people start with a "full-head" of highlights, followed by a "half-head" of highlights three months later, then another "full-head" three months after that, followed by another "half-head" three months later. This creates a schedule of two full-heads a year and two half-heads a year.
  • There are exceptions. Short hair usually requires that highlights always be full heads; and some styles (long or short) require only accent highlights every three months.

    Q: What does "virgin hair" mean?

    A: The term "virgin hair" usually refers to hair that has never been colored, but in a broader sense encompasses hair that has never been chemically treated in any way, including by perm or straightening. This is an important distinction, because a hair's "chemical history" has an impact on how the hair responds to color and other chemical services, and must be taken into account by the hair professional.

    Q: What does the saying, "Color doesn't lift color" mean?

    A: This is a saying often used by colorists. Simply put, it means that artificial colors do not lift artificial colors. In other words, once a color is applied to the hair, another color applied on top of that color is unable to "lift" that color.

    For example, if a natural blonde applies medium brown to her hair and then decides to return to blonde, simply applying a blonde color on top of the brown color will not produce blonde. The blonde color is unable to "lift" the brown color.. In this case, the brown color would have to be "removed" by a color professional to a color level equal to or lighter than the blonde. Only then could the blonde color can be successfully applied.

    If, however, a natural brunette with "virgin" hair decides she wants to change her hair to a color a few shades lighter, it is possible to apply color to this never-before-colored hair and achieve those results.

    Q: I'm a brunette, but my colorist says my hair "pulls red." What does this mean?

    A: Everyone's natural hair color has what colorists refer to as "underlying color pigments." These pigments are usually hidden, but are exposed once peroxide, a common ingredient in color, is applied. Sometimes these color pigments create problems.

    For example, some colors, such as dark browns, have underlying color pigments in the reddish-orange family. When a brunette decides to go lighter, these reddish-orange color pigments become exposed and can create unwanted red in the hair. Thus, the comment, "Your natural color pulls red." For those not fond of reddish hues, the color professional uses advanced color knowledge to create a formula designed to counteract or "cancel" this unwanted color.

    Q: Can I "touch up" my color with a retail product if I can't get to the salon?

    A: We never recommend this, and actually warn against it, for many reasons. First and foremost, color is a science best left to trained professionals. The outcome of every applied color is influenced by the existing color on a person's hair, as well as that person's hair history and underlying color pigments. Color professionals have spent countless hours in training and have on-the-floor experience that allows them to accurately assess color situations. Many "drug store" color products are also of a questionable quality and may dry out and damage the hair. As a final reason, color disasters can be very expensive to undo. Corrective color is among the most costly and time-consuming services offered by color professionals. In the end, some things are best left to the experts!