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Home Blog 21 frequently asked questions about Hair Color - Answered!

21 frequently asked questions about Hair Color - Answered!


1. What are the different types of Hair Color out there?

Permanent hair color.

This is often referred to as oxidative dye technology.

  • Hair color (typically in a cream tube) is mixed with developer.
  • When the resultant mix is applied onto the hair shaft it opens the hair cuticle and penetrates into the hair cortex.
  • The mix lightens out and replaces the natural melanin in the hair cortex with new, artificial color pigments.
  • Rinsing after coloration allows the hair shaft to close once more, returning it to its natural position.
  • Good permanent colors (such as Ugly Duckling's range of over 90 colors) offer a great balance between vibrancy, grey coverage and the best lift.
  • They are also fairly easy to remove with bleach when you need to change the color.

Ugly Duckling's Permanent Hair Color Range: a combination of color vibrancy, lift and grey coverage.

Permanent Hair Color

Demi-permanent hair color

  • The coloring process of a demi-permanent hair color is similar to permanent hair color.
  • The only difference is that the ammonia inside the hair color is replaced by another ingredient - typically ethanolomine.
  • Demis generally have less lifting power than permanent and also less color vibrancy. They may also last a little less long.
  • Demi-permanent technology is commonly used for tone down grey coverage applications, where lift and vibrancy is less of an issue.

Semi-permanent hair color

  • Semis work like paint: they coat the outside of the hair shaft.
  • Contrary to what some people think, semis can be rather stubborn & difficult to remove.
  • Semis are typically great for vibrant fashion color results.
  • But you can't use them for blonding, for toning or for grey hair coverage.
  • Also, be aware that removing them with bleach in order to go for another color can be quite tricky.

Semi-permanent hair colors are very pretty - but they can be difficult to remove!

Semi-permanent hair color

Hair by Elona Taki

2. Is ammonia-free hair color better?

  • Ammonia is actually a very safe chemical product and is widely used in all types of personal care applications.
  • Both ammonia based and ammonia-free hair colors are therefore equally good for the hair.

3. Can my client develop allergies to hair color?

  • Yes, some women occasionally do develop allergies. 
  • A skin sensitivity test should be done before any color application.
  • If the person is unfortunate enough to be allergic to hair color you must avoid using color on her.
  • Fortunately, only a very few people are allergic in this manner.

4. How does the international hair color level system work?

The first number you see in a hair color refers to the level (see below). Levels go from 1 (meaning black) all the way to level 10 (extra light blonde).

International Hair Color Levels

The second two letters or numbers refer to the reflects that a hair color has - see below


  • "N" means natural. This is base color.
  • "NN" means extra coverage. 
  • "A" or .1 means "ash"
  • "V" or .2 means "violet".
  • "G" or .3 means "gold".
  • "C" or ".4 means "copper".
  • "Rv" or .5 means "red-violet". (in other words, mahogany)
  • "R" or .6 means "red".
  • "Br" or .7 means "brown".

5. What is the best way of achieving lift on my client's hair?

  • When applying color on a client's hair, use 20 Vol for 1-2 degrees of lift, 30 Vol for 2-3 degrees of lift, and 40 Vol for 3 degrees of lift and more.
  • However, you need to be aware that almost no colors can lift more than 3 levels from the client's current hair color.
  • If more than 3 levels of lift are required, you would need to use either High-Lift color (with 30 Vol) or Bleach (with either 20 or 30 Vol developer).
  • We will get into these points later in this question-and-answer.

Elona Taki achieves this stunning blonde result: bleach first, then tone with Ugly Duckling's intense pearl blonde 100V

Intense Pearl Blonde

Hair by Elona Taki

6. How should you use High-Lift Color? 

  • The mix with Ugly Duckling high lift color is 1 part product to 2 parts developer.
  • Use with 30 Vol in order to get a lift of 4-5 levels.

7. How should I use bleach?

  • Always use a good quality bleach (eg Ugly Duckling bleaches) which has the good balance of lifting power and protection.
  • In particular, be aware of using bleaches which require you to bump up the developer volume to 40 Vol.
  • These will damage the hair.
  • With Ugly Duckling bleaches, use 20 Vol for near root applications and moderate lift (1-3 level). Use 30 Vol for the lengths when you need to lift up to 7 or 8 levels.
  • The mix is 1 part product to 2 parts developer. Aim to really saturate the hair. Smother it with product, otherwise you will not get good results.
  • Rinse after 30 minutes, or when you achieve the result you are looking for.
  • Do not under-bleach...this is the most common mistake that new stylists make.
  • For all those stunning blonde and fashion results, you need to take the hair nicely to very pale yellow level 10 before you do anything else.

When bleaching, always check during processing. Peel back and make sure that the color is a true level 10, not level 9.

In this picture, for example, it is still yellow and needs to process further.

lifting and processing with Ugly Duckling's bleach

Hair by Ashley Betancourt

8. What about hair toner? When should I use a hair toner?

  • Hair toners, or glosses. add an extra reflect.
  • They are typically quick and easy to use. They are excellent products to use on faded highlights or on bleached hair.
  • As a salon professional, you will generally be expected to do 2-process blonding.
  • In other words, bleaching followed by toning. So you will need to be good at toning
  • Ugly Duckling has cream based toners which are some of the fastest acting in the market.
  • Use with 10 or 20 Vol developer. Use the "intense" toners if there is still a lot of yellow left in the hair, and you need to achieve a little more lift.
  • Use the regular toners when the hair is already very very well pre-lightened.

Stunning blonde result after using Ugly Duckling's pearl blonde toner 10V

Pearl Blonde Toner

Hair by Elona Taki

9. Is hair color best applied on wet hair or dry?

  • It is better to apply color, bleach or toner is on dry, dirty (that is to say, unwashed) hair.
  • The natural hair oil in the hair protects the scalp. 
  • However, this is not always possible.
  • If, for example, you are doing a double-process color just make sure that the first application is on dry hair unwashed hair. 
  • For the second application, make sure that the hair is as dry as it can be. Squeeze out the excess waterand then towel dry.

10. What's the best way of covering grey hair?

  • If your client has less than 20% grey hair, just use the target hair color of your choice with 20 Vol or 30 Vol developer.
  • If your client has more than 20% grey hair, mix in some of the base color (ending in "N") or extra coverage color (ending in "NN").
  • The amount of base you mix in should be the same as the percentage of grey hair.
  • In other words, for 40% grey hair, use 40% base, for 70% grey hair, use 70% base.
  • If you want an extra strong coverage result, leave the hair color to process for 10 extra minutes.
  • Then emulsify and rinse.

Salt & Pepper Hair Can be Hard to Cover

11. Can I cover my grey without coloring the rest of my client's hair?

  • If your client's grey hair is showing only at the root area, of course you should do a root touch-up on that part.
  • But it is a good idea to follow up for the last 10 minutes of processing time by making a little extra mix and running it through the lengths.
  • This will produce a more finished, glossy and consistent result.

12. Is is true that you should only use 20 Vol developer when covering grey?

  • It depends on how dark her hair is.
  • If your client's hair is dark blonde or blonde, then 20 Vol is absolutely correct.
  • But if her hair is very dark (for example, level 3 dark brown), then there is a huge gap between that and the white hair.
  • It would be better in this case to use 30 Vol. That way you can lift up the natural base to bring it closer to the white hair.
  • In general, if you take dark hair lighter at the same time as covering grey (say to a level 6 dark blonde) you will be achieving a more flawless grey hair coverage.

13. How can I lighten hair without damaging it?

  • If hair is in good condition you can bleach it using a good quality bleach and then condition afterwards & you should get a good result that way.
  • If you want to avoid using bleach, you can use a high-lift with 30 Vol developer.
  • The above are essentially your only choices.
  • Using unnatural strength developer repeatedly (40 Vol, for example) is a bad idea and will only compromise your client's hair.

Ugly Duckling's Bond Protect Bleach combines lift with protection: lifts by up to 7 levels with 20 or 30 Vol developer.

Brilliant Blondexx

14. How can you color highlighted hair?

  • If you are trying to tone hair, then as long as the highlighted hair has been correctly highlighted (in other words, it is pale yellow and above), then you can tone it using any of Ugly Duckling toners.
  • If it still needs to be lifted some more (for example, if it is yellow-orange), then use Ugly Duckling's intense toners, as they do have extra lift.
  • Otherwise, use Ugly Duckling's regular toners.

15. How can you lighten already colored hair?

  • Color on top of color typically does not work very well, especially if the color was recent.
  • This is especially so if the color used was a very vibrant one.
  • Also, if your client has a warm color on her hair then if she wants to get a cold result, once again color on color will not work very well.
  • It would be better to first do a bleaching first before recoloring.

16. Why am I getting hot roots when I color?

  • Hair near the scalp gets heat from the head and lifts very fast.
  • When doing a full head color, and especially when trying to go lighter, it is best to color the lengths first. And then return to the roots later.

17. How do I succeed with an ombre or smudge root color?

  • First make sure that the lengths have been correctly lightened. 
  • Then choose your smudge root color carefully.
  • It could be a violet or purple grey fashion smudge root.
  • Or it could be a dark ash blonde or ash brown color.
  • Apply on that area first.
  • Then apply your blonde color or toner on the lengths.
  • Ugly Duckling colors don't run into one another or stain. So they typically work very well for smudge root color operations.
  • When rinsing, let the tepid water run through the hair until all the colorants have run out.
  • Only then should you rub. Otherwise you do risk staining!

Smudge Root with level 6.1 on the root area and 9.1 on the lengths. 

Smudge Root

18. How can I get my client's hair less yellow and more ashy?

  • Apply the principles of the Color Wheel.
  • Use green based or ash based colors when you are working at level 5 or 6 (eg Ugly Duckling 5AA, ash grey additive)
  • Use blue based colors when you are at level 6-7 and the hair is yellow-orange (eg Ugly Duckling blue based ashes 6.1b)
  • If you want to go seriously blonde, then you must prelighten to level 9/10.
  • Then either tone with Ugly Duckling's pearl and silver blonde toners or color with one of Ugly Duckling's blue and violet based blonde colors.
  • Use the intense pearl blonde and silver blonde toners if you really want to push the hair even whiter.
  • Use the regular pearl and silver blonde toners if you want a regular but still very light ash blonde color.

Ugly Duckling's Blue Based Ash Blondes produce stunning ashy blonde effects with zero yellow. This one is 10.1b Extra Light Color Ash Blonde

Blue Based Ash Blonde

19. My client's hair pulls orange. What should I do to get it blonde?

  • There is no such thing as hair that pulls orange. 
  • There is, however, such a thing as a stylist who does not lighten enough!
  • Don't be that stylist. Lift the hair properly using a good quality bleach and all your orange issues will go away.

There is no such thing as hair that "pulls" orange. But there are stylists who don't lift enough using a quality bleach.

Orange hair

20. My client's hair pulls red. What should I do to get it blonde?

  • Once again, hair is red for one reason and one reason only: it has not been lifted enough.
  • Use a good quality bleach and apply really really well, saturating the hair fully.
  • Use 30 Vol if the hair is very thick and resistant to lifting (although not on the root area).
  • The hair will lift: it will go to orange, then yellow-orange, then yellow, then pale yellow.
  • Now you are ready to tone.

21. What's the best way of looking after colored hair or bleached hair?

  • Always use acidic hair care products. These products close the cuticle and return the hair cuticle to its natural position.
  • You would be surprised how many professional hair care products are not acidic!
  • All Ugly Duckling hair care products are acid based.

About the author

Sally has been a hair colorist and trainer for many years in both the US & Europe. She currently does hair color training for Ugly Duckling. She also helps develop new & awesome products for the brand.

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