This is a long blog, I apologize in advance. Corrective color is a big topic so let’s get to it.

Home Hair Color

Home hair color is something we ask about because if you want to change it later, it will be a big process. Though there appears to be a myriad of color choices, it is a marketing move to make you feel good about the box YOU choose. A colorist formulates color with a customized approach. There are a multitude of options and techniques in professional hair color. There is no human assessing your hair in home color. Most gray coverage home color has a lacquer like molecular composition that thickly coats the hair and contains metallic salts to help embed the color deeper in the hair shaft to ensure coverage.  It’s difficult to remove later. The only way to lift is with color prep and bleach. Strong professional bleach (lightener) contains ammonia, which can trigger a chemical reaction to metal and this process can literally melt the hair. This chemical reaction is called hydrolyzation.

Box color dries out hair overtime. When home color users come see us usually the hair is in poor condition from years of color build up. Either way, we know it will be a long process to get your hair healthy let alone blonde. Click the link below to see a video of a home hair color disaster. I feel so bad for this lady! You can hear the panic in her voice.

YouTube video of hair melting from home bleach

Chemistry and Color

memeFor a client who is used to DIY color it can be hard to explain that their hair is not as light as they think it is. We have noticed some users feel they understand color as well or better than we do. If you use color we don’t judge, just please don’t be this type. During the consultation sometimes this type of home color user will asked detailed color questions. A normal color consultation may take about 10-15 minutes. These type of users hi-jack the consult, and corrective consult is lengthy anyways. I’m sharing for everyone’s good. I want to help you help your hair.

Often new salon clients will call to book just a highlight not realizing they need corrective color. This is why we do consults on most new color guests.  Hair color is a combination of chemistry, biology and anatomy specific to hair. It is unrealistic to expect to replicate what can be done in a salon in your bathroom. So please be nice if you’re visiting for us to fix it 🙂

Colorist Challenges

We have seen where some feel they have gotten their hair “almost there” and just needs a little extra salon help. That is not the case because home hair color isn’t made like salon color at all. Another problem with box color is the hair sealer labeled “conditioner”  for after color use. It’s basically layering a petrolatum based wax coating on your hair that seals in low quality metallic color. Yikes! Petrolatum is a thick derivative of petroleum. It’s an ingredient often used in beauty products. Vaseline and baby oil are examples. I advise avoiding this ingredient in general, especially for hair. The tube in the box color is not a conditioner at all. It is an enemy. Though it smells good and makes your hair feel silky for a second, it’s an evil coating you want to avoid..



 Hair Banding

banding chart


With box hair color we often see a situation we refer to as “banding”. Especially on darker hair when the box color user is using a lighter shade than their natural color. Look closely at the chart and photos in this section. Banding is most commonly caused from color overlapping when someone is using home hair color and attempting to go lighter. Another situation that can cause this is if hair has experienced multiple color processes without the same technique or formula. This is sometimes seen in clients who visit multiple salons, so don’t try to lighten at home or salon hop! We recommend establishing a relationship with a stylist  for consistent color results and preferably in a Salon with the resources to maintain your color. We have a saying, “for consistent color results be consistent.” If a colorist develops a color plan for you, stay with that colorist for three visits, by then you will know if it’s a good fit. The colorist probably knows what they are talking about and they know it will need specialized attention and time to get realistic, SAFE results. As stylists, we want to create beautiful hair and we become uncomfortable when asked to aggressively bleach the hair in the name of blonde. We have no problem doing it but we will do it on our terms because we will never lighten in a way that will destroy your hair. A good colorist knows lightening is done over time. Though sometimes initial results are not as dramatic as you want, we improve the hair and lay down foundation work. Just like building a house, good color relies on a foundation.If you ever want to stop box color you’re going to have to start in a salon anyways. With continued regular visits any desired look can be achieved, so be patient and use the products they recommend. Sometimes I see the need  to have a “real talk” about the complexities of corrective color. I want to provide good customer service but I often need to be frank with this topic. I want to help people understand because there is a lot of misinformation online. If you have naturally dark hair and ESPECIALLY if have used box color- going light blonde is a process that cannot be done in one day. FACT. You cannot just get  “summer highlights” after multiple box color applications at home, not realistic. I chose to use the photos of a particular corrective color below as examples in this post. The color correction was done one of our colorist’s and it was done very well.

before and afterHair processes more quickly at the root because it is the warm area of the head. Salons use a term for a common color foul usually due to colorist inexperience, “hot roots”. This occurs when the newest hair at the root lightens too quickly because of body heat and the virgin (no exposure to previous color) hair at the top has an unnatural rust orange look.  The resistant cold area (no body heat) hair in the the middle doesn’t lift as fast and this causes the middle  “muddy” colored bands of darker inconsistent color. This banding eliminates the natural flow of hair color depth at the root to contrasting lighter hair. Basically the dark to light natural look that has been on trend for years. This is why techniques like balayage are used for popular looks like sombre and ombre. Even with all over platinum blonde we suggest color depth at the root with a technique called shadow root so hair color flows more naturally. Notice in the middle part of the hair in the picture above and you can easily see the darker band in the middle. We know prior to starting color this muddy band will not lighten as quickly as the top or bottom, which causes hair to lift unevenly. Colorists inwardly cringe when they see this. Explaining why it wont’ lift when other parts of hair are lighter can be yet another corrective challenge.  Here is an image of a client who had previous home color. We finally achieved light blonde on appointment number 3. Though her color is good, if you look closely in the middle you can see where the color is till slightly different. The power of dark color and banding.

Correcting Banding

We must use a very strong bleach in just that middle area with additives like Olaplex or F18 to protect hair. Then deepen the root with separate color to correct the hot roots. We must also use a separate gentler bleach on the ends with a medium strength bleach at the top for a gradual color flow. All of that is before any tone work is done at the shampoo bowl.  Then complete the service with the necessary deep conditioning treatments to close the cuticle for this type of advanced color work. How many bowls of product, color and lightener is that? * bowls is the average low side. It’s becoming more common, yet a very tricky color situation. The band must be the area of focus with corrective color. This is the part of the hair where strong blonde tones should start being bright but we can only tone to whatever level this area lightens to. Think about that. That means all the hair cannot be lighter than this VERY resistant area, which rarely lightens more than three levels in one session. Using a toner doesn’t make us less of a colorist because it’s always necessary for corrective color work. The lighter “hot root” area the client had achieved at home lead her to believe her hair is lighter than it actually is, but the band has to be corrected before future color sessions can be done. When toning hot orange and yellow tones we must use purples and blues which reflect darker to the human eye. Explaining this law of color when correcting s time consuming. There is no way to lift layers of artificial color AND lift the natural color underneath (and still have hair) unless it does over time. Yet many think that’s possible in a single three hour visit.


All Color Takes Time

Going Blonder

One of our corrective blondes.

A three hour visit is what we book for our regular salon client with medium length/thickness of hair, not mega color correction. Knowing this up front is important. As colorists we have to focus on the banded area so the first color session will yield the lowest amount of overall visible lightening. This is why it can be difficult to explain because this is why the client comes to us to start with: to get the results they cannot. Both colorists and salon visitors alike reading this can see why corrective color is a whole other ball game in the world of salon hair color. By the way, there were 8 bowls of color/bleach used on the corrective color shown and a total of 4 color processes in one 5 hour visit. It was required to obtain the natural caramel and wheat colored melted highlights the client asked for.


It’s an Expensive Service

Though it is an expensive first session with multiple color applications, this corrective blending has to happen for future   highlights. You build blonde over time but to do so you have to lay the ground work. We explain this but sometimes clients just want blonde and they want it now. During the consultation we say things like “it will probably take 2-3 visits to get THAT blonde but we will get it as blonde as possible today” or “we will get it as close to the picture as possible” because these are both true. Knowing that is a color goal and not a same day guarantee, will help previous home hair color users to keep expectations realistic. Again, it’s why we don’t like box color. It takes options away from us as colorists by inhibiting your hair from lightening and our ability to show you our true artistic skills. If you have only had occasional salon color or your hair is mostly its natural color, it’s easier to get blonde. Please don’t confuse these statements with we will get it platinum today because we won’t. We don’t tell people that this will not happen because VERY rarely sometimes it does.If the color is old or light enough, the hair may release color and lighten beyond our expectation. We call that a unicorn color because if you see that as a colorist, you want to grab the stylist next to you and share this mystical experience with her. In that moment something happened and you defied the law of color! I have only experienced this a few of times in 20 years of doing hair. It is one of those moments that makes you believe that you have arrived in your career as a color master. If this occurs it usually has more to do with a litany of biological factors rather than a reflection of the colorists skill. In fact it can mess with a less experienced colorist’s head. The next time you have the same situation you may expect the same result and when it doesn’t happen you get disappointed. Even when you use the strongest lightener you think “well great, now she’s going to be upset she’s not platinum!” I use the word platinum because we often hear “I don’t want to be platinum, I want it this color”. Then they show us a Pinterest picture on their phone of packed balayage highlights, with a mix of light blondes. Usually the pic is level 9 or 10 blonde and they are a dark brown natural level 2. Then I die a little inside because that is platinum, especially on darker hair!


The Color Level Facts :

The natural color scale goes from 1-10 and was determined by the natural colors that exist in human hair so cultural origin comes into play. Color level 1 is blackest inky black like the beautiful blue black color on East Indian or Japanese hair. Level 10 is a natural Swedish blonde which doesn’t really exist anymore except in the actual Netherlands. Technically platinum isn’t even a color because its colorless! Literally platinum hair has been stripped of color by bleach to give it that snowy look, thus preserving the health of hair is tricky. If we had to number it , it’s an 11 or 12 which isn’t even on the natural color scale. Usually only natural blondes (level 6 or higher) or maybe a medium level Anglo brunette (over time) can achieve it. Even this is getting hard because a North American born blonde is becoming obsolete. Of course the darker human hair color evolves the more light blonde shades are requested. A natural level 6 or higher makes up less than 20% of the current population.  That is why what we do is very specialized and why we have consultation scripts. Our color consults are a collection of questions based upon years of experiences and factual color data. Expect the first visit to last around 5 hours.

Corrective Color Specialists

Do you know how many regular clients I could see in that time? A double booking stylist/colorist can see 4-5 clients at an average ticket of $250 in that time. Honestly we would rather be doing our regulars who already love us than fixing botched hair! Because we LOVE hair so much (this is what we chose to do in life) we want all people to love their hair. This makes a corrective color specialist a truly a special type of salon personality. That is why it is expensive. Factor in that we are using a ton of color, conditioners, hair protectors, bleach, foils, other salon resources PLUS 1-2 assistants to help us work on you..finding that that level of attention is rare. When you do find it, it isn’t cheap.

Corrective Color Variables

If you’ve been coloring at home repeatedly for months you definitely need corrective work . We will often “rest” the hair after an intense lightening session, the same way how you would rest your muscles after an intense workout. Patience is key when deciding to embark on corrective color. Sometimes it takes two visits, sometimes it takes regular visits for six months. Going blonder can be compared to diet and exercise. You don’t see instant results when you start working out. You will see improvement each visit and like working towards a better body, good hair takes time. People with the best hair go to the salon regularly. They have consistent good looking hair because they are consistent people. They don’t salon hop seeing different stylists and they don’t home color. They stick to one colorist with a clear color plan. Going blonde can be a transforming experience that can change how you feel about yourself which can in turn change your life! Know the details up front and do your due diligence by being an informed salon visitor by reading the info we provide, so you can help us help you love your hair.
* The informative content of this blog is from experience in salon I felt both stylists and customers alike could learn from. We strive to make everyone happy with excellent customer service and we believe education is key for both the service provider and the salon customer.