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How to color hair: a step-by-step guide


Do you know the 7 Steps of Hair Coloring?

There are 7 crucial steps in hair coloring which professionals use.

These steps make an enormous difference to the quality of your final hair color result.

We will go through these in this blog.

Step 1: First, Do your color analysis

Correct color analysis is the most important part of the entire coloring process. 

This is where you take a look at each part of the hair and determine its health, previous coloring history and most importantly, how many levels it needs to be lifted (or darkened) by.

Note that hair very often has sections with different levels and different color-states (such as in the picture above).

When there are different sections, each section will need to be analysed separately to determine how much that part needs to be lifted by. 

Doing a Color Analysis will help you identify how much you need to lift different areas of the hair by.

Color Analysis

This client has a very dark regrowth but blonde ends. A color analysis will enable you to arrive at a good decision of what you need to do.

Hair with a very dark regrowth

Step 2: Determine the lift that you will be requiring at each section of the hair

Read off the target hair color level from the current level and make a note of how many levels you are going to need to lift each level by.

Use the charts below to help you. The first chart shows levels of natural hair. Most probably if you have a section (eg the regrowth) that is natural hair you are going to need to use this chart for that.

Use this chart to identify what level your client's hair is at (regrowth hair or natural hair)

Hair Color Levels

The second chart shows the levels for pre-lightened or previously colored hair. Most likely for the mid-lengths and the ends you are going to be using this.

Use this chart to identify the level for hair that has already been lightened, bleached or colored in the past.

Hair - Lightening Levels

Step 3: Use the following rules to determine the products that you will be requiring at each stage.

The rules for hair color, bleach and developer choice are as follows:

  • Up to 2 levels lift: use the target color or toner plus 20 Vol developer 
  • 2-3 levels lift: use the target color or toner plus 30 Vol developer
  • More than 3 levels lift: use bleach first. Then color or tone (Double process coloring)

The rules for grey hair coverage are as follows:

  • For up to 20% grey hair, just use your target color with 20 Vol developer for up to 3 levels lift.
  • For salt and pepper hair, it is a good idea to use 30 Vol. This will allow you to lift the base more and allow grey hair to blend in more naturally.
  • For more than 20% grey hair, add in the same percent of the equivalent base shade as the percent of your grey hair
  • For example, if your client has 40% grey hair at the root area, add in 40% of the equivalent base shade to your target shade.
  • Say for example, that your target shade was 7A (ash blonde). You would add in 40% of 7N to 60% of your 7A. Then add in the developer in a 1:1 ratio for overall color quantity to developer.

When you get salt-and-pepper hair like our model below, lifting the base with higher volume developer is often a good idea. 

Grey Hair

Step 4: How to apply and work with bleach 

Lift hair to one continuous light level 10 like in the picture below. If you do this, you will get great results when toning.

Lift to level 10

Make your mix 1 part bleach to 2 parts developer. This will give you a gravy-like mixture.

Use 20 Vol for up to 3 levels lift and for the root area.

Use 30 Vol for higher lift.

Never use anything higher than 30 Vol.

Use Brilliant Blondexx Bleach with Bond Protect where possible. You will get better protection and good lift at the same time.

Work fast with bleach because bleach will keep processing while it is wet.

For full head bleaching start at the back (where the hair is the thickest) and work your way around, segmenting finely so as not to mixx any areas.

For regrowth or partial bleaching start on those parts which need the most lift. That way you give those parts the most processing time (and the most lift).

Make sure that you are very generous with product when applying the bleach. Saturate the hair as much as possible - a slightly gravy-like mixture will help you achieve that.

Check the bleach mixture on the hair after fifteen minutes by peeling back some of the mixture.

Be aware that you need to get the hair to as close to very very pale yellow in most cases.

Generally speaking, hair will look lighter than it is while it is wet and processing. Do not under-bleach. That is the no 1 mistake that inexperienced stylists make.

Step 5: How to Choose your Color or Toner

If the hair has no previous color on it and has been suitably pre-lightened, you can just go ahead and apply your chosen color using 20 Vol developer.

If you are looking to go darker or toning down, once again you can just go ahead and apply your chosen color using either 10 or 20 Vol developer.

If however, you are looking to change reflect from very warm (orange, red, copper) to very cold (ash), or if the hair has color build-up from previous applications then you will need to pre-lighten first to get rid of the previous color.

Finally, if you are looking to tone hair ultra blonde (platinum blonde, ash blonde, violet blonde) then please use the chart below to make your toner choice.

Use this toner choice guide

Toner Choice

Step 6: How to Apply Color or Toner

When using Ugly Duckling colors and toners, make your mix 1+1 with regular colors and liquid toners (Blondify).

For Ugly Duckling cream toners and for high lift colors, make your mix 1+2. 

This is what an Ugly Duckling color plus developer mix should look like: smooth, rich & creamy.

Mix proportions

Brush the hair through thoroughly first.

Then make a nice, smooth paste. Segment finely and start applying, starting from the back.

The first application should be done with a brush.

Do a second application using fingers, wearing gloves.

Try and rub the hair color into your client's hair as much as possible.

Leave in hair for between 15 to 30 minutes.

For Ugly Duckling toners, which are very fast acting, you need to rinse as soon as you have achieved the correct color result to avoid over-processing.

Step 7: How to Finish the Color & Bleach Application for Maximum Vibrancy, Shine & Hair Health

You should take a strand in your fingers and examine carefully to see how ready it is exactly.

When the color is ready, let a few drops of water fall on the hair and rub some more.

Then some more water (say half a glassful) and rub some more again.

This process is called "emulsification" and makes all the difference in the final color result.

Then let the water flow. Not too hot. As close to cold as your client can bear it would be good.

Hot water kills delicate color reflects, especially blues and greys.

Once rinsed, apply an acidic hair care product. This closes the hair cuticle really well and is what will help you produce a really fantastic hair condition which your client will remember.

All Ugly Duckling hair care products are acidic. The masks are more acidic than the shampoos. So if you can do use mask as well as shampoo.

That's it! Follow these 7 steps and you will be sure to produce fantastic color results every time!

The final result after bleaching and toning, Hair by Elona Taki.

Hair toned

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.