It can be a somewhat nerve-racking proposition. Assuming you're looking for permanent color, you are about to have your hair and scalp covered in chemicals that look and smell like they belong in Dr. Frankenstein's lab. And everybody has that friend with the horror story about the time they came out of the salon looking like Snooky got in a fight with a paint can.
That's why we thought we'd try and make the situation a little less daunting by explaining the basic process of hair coloring with relatable analogies so you can confidently walk into your salon and get your hair colored just the way you want it.
Let's start with the chemicals: Every colorist uses their own special blend but permanent hair color is generally made up of a cream, gel or liquid base; an alkaline agent (usually ammonia); and a developer/oxidant. These chemicals penetrate the strands of your hair and then react in the center of each strand, called the cortex. The reaction is called oxidation and it reduces or lightens the hair's natural pigment, and then forms new color molecules. The new molecules are too big to escape from the cortex, so they remain trapped, forming your new hair color.
So, basically, if you imagine each strand of your hair to be a house than you can think of the hair color as a moving company and an interior designer rolled into one. The movers come in and take out all of your old stuff: they haul out that futon you've had since college, the junk you've hung up that used to be cool but now just covers up holes in the walls, etc. Then the designer comes in and replaces all your old stuff with new, better stuff. Stuff that people love looking at, stuff that turns heads. Pretty simple right? Not really that scary, right?
Okay, now let's move on to color itself: The best place to start would be, of course, with the primary colors. red, blue and yellow are the fundamental elements of all color. By combining them, you create secondary colors. For example, blue and yellow combine to create green. And when you combine a primary color with a secondary color, you get a tertiary color such as blue-green. But knowledge of fancy words like tertiary is useless if you don't understand how the colors work together.
(Image credit: www.colorguides.net)
You can separate colors into two categories: warm and cool. Your blues, violets and greens are cool and your yellows, reds and oranges are warm. In general, warm colors complement cool ones, and vice versa. And unless you're trying to make a very bold statement, you're probably looking to combine complimentary colors when having your hair dyed. Choosing the right color is very important.
That's why it helps to think of your colorist as a Hollywood casting director with a huge budget and unlimited resources. They have a role to cast: your hair. And they need to find the perfect actor to fill that role: the color. Remember that this a professional person: they know not to cast Vin Diesel as the nervous, soft spoken accountant. They'll find the right actor for the right role. They have all the colors under the sun to work with and they'll find the right one for you. They'll cast the delightfully disheveled Charlie Day as the nervous accountant and give Vin Diesel the role of guy who beats people up and mumbles semi-coherent one liners. And the movie will be a huge hit-and your hair will look fantastic.
Well, we hope our dubious analogies help to ease any apprehensions you may have had. Happy coloring!