Everything You Ever Wanted To Know About Hair Color
Whether you have a signature hue or switch up your shade to match your mood, your hair color can be a fun way to express yourself and feel confident with your look. But, it can also be confusing if you don’t know your demi-permanent from your semi-permanent, or frustrating if you can’t figure out why your hair color is constantly fading.
When it comes to hair color, many people don’t know the basics of hair color care. Whether you dye your hair or rock your natural locks, understanding the fundamentals of your color, as well as how to deal with fading, dullness, brassiness, roots, and dryness are all key to ensure that you make every day a great hair color day. Lucky for you, we know some incredibly talented people.
We asked celebrity colorist (and dpHUE co-founder) Justin Anderson and dpHUE Education Lead Jocelyn Smith for their expert advice on how to get your shiniest, healthiest hue. From the difference between demi- and semi-permanent color to what causes fading (and how to revive your shine), here’s everything you need to know, plus their picks for the best hair color care products.
What Is Hair Color?
When we talk about hair color, there are two different types of color we are referencing: Natural and artificial. Hair Color is the term that many people use to describe the application of artificial color to your hair, however all hair has color. To put our science hats on for a moment, your natural color is determined by what’s called melanin—a type of pigment that is located in the cortex, the thickest layer of your hair that is located underneath the outer cuticle.
There are two types of melanin that hair has: Eumelanin, which is what gives black and brown color to hair and Pheomelanin, which is the melanin found in red hair. Pheomelanin is also present in very dark hair, brunettes, and some blonde hair. Hair Color can be one or a mix of these two types of melanin and is what determines whether you are a natural blonde, brunette, or redhead. And, when your hair begins to go gray, that’s because the cortex is producing less melanin—less pigment means a more transparent color, hence the silver or white hue the strand will then become.
What Are The Different Types Of Hair Color?
For those that choose to dye their hair, there are many options to choose from, each with a range of benefits. Choosing the right one for you means keeping in mind factors like what your natural base is, how often you plan on touching it up, if you are coloring your hair at home or at the salon, and what condition your hair is in prior to your color service. The main types of hair color are:
Temporary: Because these pigment molecules are large, they cannot penetrate the hair cuticle (read: surface) and therefore only make physical changes to your hair shaft, not chemical ones. There are also no activating chemicals in temporary hair colors, so they do not make any chemical changes to the hair. For this reason, temporary hair color usually lasts for a couple shampoos. This type of hair color is also great for neutralizing unwanted yellow, orange, or brassy tones in the hair.
Semi-permanent: A smaller pigment molecule than temporary, but still too large to penetrate deep into the cortex, semi-permanent hair color can last for several shampoos (depending on the porosity of your hair — porosity is your hair’s ability to absorb liquid. Low porosity means it is difficult for chemicals to penetrate and requires longer processing time. High porosity means hair is overprocessed and takes color quickly, but fades fast. To test your porosity, take a piece of hair that has shed and drop it into water. If it floats, hair is considered low porosity. If it floats and then eventually sinks, it is average porosity. If it sinks immediately, it has high porosity). Because semi-permanent color consists of smaller molecules, it also means they are small enough to diffuse out of the hair with each shampoo, so the color will fade with every wash. This gives this hair color a lifespan of about six to eight shampoos. However, the more you use semi-permanent hair color, the more it will build up on the hair cuticle and increase its vibrancy.
Demi-permanent: Similar to semi-permanent hair color, except that the pigment molecule is slightly smaller and it uses a chemical activator that lets it penetrate into the hair shaft, which allows it to last longer and create a wider variety of changes to the hair. With demi-permanent color, you can cover unpigmented hair, refresh faded permanent color, deposit tonal changes without lifting your base color, do reverse highlighting, and even attempt some corrective coloring. It’s typically applied to the middle of your hair shaft in order to avoid a build-up effect on your permanent root color and it uses a lower level of activator (peroxide), which can be less damaging on fragile hair.
Permanent: Like the name suggests, permanent hair color penetrates the hair shaft and into the cortex where melanin is located and remains there until new hair growth occurs. It works by using a combination of ammonia (or an ammonia substitute) that raises the cuticle of the hair fiber, allowing the color to make its way into the hair shaft. The color itself is made up of tint and a peroxide developer, which becomes alkaline and diffuses through the hair fiber where it breaks up your hair’s melanin and replaces it with a new color.
Lightening: Also known as bleaching, this is a form of permanent hair color that strips away your natural melanin. Lighteners are chemical compounds that lighten the hair by decolorizing the pigment in the cortex. By mixing hydrogen peroxide into the formula, it begins to release oxygen in the cortex in a process that is known as oxidation.
What Affects Your Hair Color?
The type of hair you have will also determine how your hair color looks. Someone with thick, curly hair might have the same combination of melanin as someone with fine, straight hair, however their color will look very different because of the structure and density of those hair types.
- In fine hair, melanin granules are grouped more tightly, so hair takes color faster and can look darker.
- Medium-textured hair has an average response to hair color.
- Coarse hair has a larger diameter and can take longer to process.
- Gray hair lacks natural melanin and can be harder to color because it can be resistant to chemical services. Those who are gray or starting to go gray need to consider their percentage of grays prior to choosing a color, as it will impact their results. Typically colorists recommend a shade lighter than your naturally darkest color tone as an ideal hue as it will be the easiest if you are going gray.
Caring For Color-Treated Hair
Switching up your hair color is a fun way to freshen up your look, but remember that beautiful color starts with healthy hair – the same way makeup looks better on beautiful, healthy skin. The chemicals involved with dying your hair by their nature damage the hair cuticle—your cuticle exists to keep outside particles from penetrating into the shaft. Chemicals like ammonia work to raise the hair cuticle by adjusting its pH, allowing the dyes and lighteners to get into the cortex through the lifted cuticle. So after any color service, you will need to add products into your routine that help smooth and seal the cuticle back down and restore the hair’s pH to avoid any further damage. Our ACV collection nourishes and balances your hair and scalp pH with artisanal-crafted Apple Cider Vinegar that cleanses without stripping away moisture, sealing the hair cuticle and adding shine.
Heat styling, pollutants, UV rays, hard water, and styling product build-up can all contribute to damaging the hair cuticle over time, as well as fading color. In addition to protecting hair, you’ll also want to include reconditioning treatments into your routine both prior and after chemical color processes—or for those hair types that are exposed to damaging elements on the regular and need a little extra TLC to stay shiny, soft, and vibrant.
Another little known cause of color fade and damage is coloring your hair too often. The closer together you schedule your chemical color treatments, the greater porosity in the hair shaft and more diffusion of your hair’s natural pigment. This will lead to brassier color and faster fading with every color service. The next time your color starts to look dull or faded—reach for our award-winning Gloss+ instead. The semi-permanent hair color and deep conditioner hybrid will boost your hue and add an out-of-this-world shine without using harsh ammonia or peroxide that damages the cuticle. Your color is enhanced and hair is softer, illuminated, and moisturized with just one treatment.
With dpHUE, we let you do hue with a range of hair color care products that take care of your color at every stage, for every type and every shade of color.