Help My Hair Is Orange!

What is the most common challenge hair colorists face? Is it hair that went too dark? Hair that went too light? Hair that fried and fell off in the shampoo bowl? Nope.

While all of these things are hair tragedies none are as common as those dreaded orange, yellow and brassy gold tones that come up again and again when what you wanted was creamy blond, whitish silver or very soft golden highlights. What is the frekkin deal? You brought in the pictures. You explained to your stylist that the last person turned your hair orange. You were very clear. But as you’re driving home, checking things closely in the rear view mirror… there they are… those nasty brassy tones.

Why does this keep happening? Are all these stylists dumb? Are they poor listeners? Do they just have bad eye sight or are you the crazy one? Well in truth its a little bit of all of the above but it’s mainly about managing the chemistry that underlies all hair coloring processes.

I’m not going to bore you with the science but here’s the basic deal… If you have no previous color on your hair, getting those tones you want is no big deal IF you have a natural light brown (or lighter) hair color. If your hair is darker though or if it’s been previously colored it’s not so simple. Color can only lighten color a few levels. In the hair world everything is on a scale of 1-10 with black being a 1 and toe head blond being a 10. If a clients hair has to lift (hairstylist talk for lighten) more than 4 levels the stylist is going to have to use bleach and peroxide to break through the underlying pigment. The whole process takes time, heat and just the right strength of developer (the peroxide that is mixed with the bleach). If someone has black hair and wants a pretty light blond the hair needs to be lifted through dark brown, brown, light brown, red, orange, gold, dark blond, blond, light blond to bleach blond. Few people have black hair. Many however have dark brown (think Hispanic or Indian) or brown. With dark brunettes trying to go blond, the process tends to stall out in the orange, gold and dark blond levels requiring another dose of color to reach the lighter tones. Even once the desired level is reached those undertones tend to stick around. If those tones aren’t dealt with, it’s never going to look like the picture.

It’s just chemistry. Chemistry you don’t know anything about when you walk in with that picture of the icy blond haired celebrity. The sad, secret truth is most hair colorists don’t know much about it either so they wing it. They say “Yeah we can do that”, they throw the color or bleach on and then huddle in the back room and pray. So what is the solution here? Well as with many things in life the solution is time and money.

Time because to get this kind of color right it takes time… a lot of time… sometimes several processes over 3-5 hours (at least initially). Our stylists will often start with a restructuring product call Oliplex. This builds strength into damaged hair preparing it for the layers of lightening and toning that may be required to get the desired result. Next a bleach lightener will be applied usually with foils. Once the hair has reached the desired level the bleach is rinsed and a series of toners will be applied to cancel out the last bits of brassiness. Clients leave with hair that feels silky, shiny and healthy. The perfect shade of creamy blond, bright platinum or cool silver white. This whole process takes a stylist who’s at the top of their game. A stylist who’s made all the mistakes, who’s taken the classes, who’s taken the time to understand the chemistry, who know’s the toners and who is absolutely, completely, 100% committed to getting the desired result… whatever it takes. These people are not cheap. This process is not cheap. Like everything in life the best costs more. Period. That’s where the money comes in. The silver lining is that once you get your hair fixed, follow up appointments are rarely as lengthy or expensive. Keeping up good color is a lot easier than fixing disasters.

So if your hair is orange (or brassy gold or whatever) or is feeling trashed and blotchy think about why that is. Are you seeing an experienced stylist? Are they taking their time? Are you being cheap when you should really splurge a little to get it right? I always say… “Your hair is the hat you wear every day so it better look good.” Corrective color is a tricky business. In my quarter century in the biz I’ve known very few colorists who really get it. I work with two of them now and let me tell you… the results speak for themselves. Great hair is worth the price. If you’re sensitive to gold and brassy tones, make sure you ask your stylist if they do a lot of this kind of thing. If they don’t, move on. You’ll be glad you did.

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