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How Does Hair Color Work?


How does hair color work?

Oxidising hair color works by opening up the hair cuticle, lightening and re-coloring the natural melanin present in the the hair and then closing the cuticle once again.

This is the most common type of hair color technology. 

It involves mixing the hair color with developer which contains hydrogen peroxide.

This is the type of hair color which allows you to do most of the things we as colorists need to do:

Cover grey hair, lift and go blonde, do a wide variety of colors and also go darker in a variety of shades.

This is the type of hair color that most coloring professionals use.


Below are some examples of oxidising hair color in use. 

Cody Darnell

Ugly Duckling Intense Silver Blonde 100V. Hair by Cody Darnell

7.22 Intense Violet Blonde

7VV (7.22) Intense Violet Blonde. Hair by K&K Hair Salon


Ruby Red mixed with 7RR. Hair by K&K Hair Salon

How does oxidising hair color work?

Permanent Oxidiing Color

These are the stages that take place in oxidising hair color

Hair color mixed with developer creates a highly alkali mix. This mix opens up the hair cuticle, which allows the mix to penetrate into the hair cortex.

Once there, the mix will lighten the natural melanin present in the hair and re-color it.

After a certain amount of time (usually around 20-30 minutes), the mix stops activating.

It can be rinsed with water, at which point the hair cuticle is closed once more.

It is usually recommended after coloring to use an acid based professional shampoo and mask. 

Acid based products help close the cuticle even better, prevent split ends from occurring, and improve hair condition.

All Ugly Duckling hair products are acidic products and they have been designed to be used in this way.

How does hair bleach work?

Brilliant Blondexx

Brilliant Blondexx Bleach contains Bond Protect, and can be used for on-scalp as well as off-scalp applications

Hair bleach is what coloring professionals use when the hair needs significant lift.

Bleach removes the natural melanin from inside the hair cortex. 

No re-coloring takes place.

Depending on how long you leave in the bleach mixture, and which developer strength you used, it is possible to lift the hair's natural level from very dark (level 1) to very blonde (level 10).

If you are looking to lift hair by more than 3 levels, you must use bleach.

Why do we mix hair color and bleach with developer?

That's just the way all oxiding color technology works.

Without developer (hydrogen peroxide) you can't create the alkali mix which will penetrate inside the hair cortex and do its work.

How do you choose the right developer strength for your hair dye?

Here are the rules for developer choice when using color or toner:

For 1-2 levels lift, use 20 Vol. developer

For 2-3 levels lift, use 30 Vol. developer

For more than 3 levels lift, as we said earlier, you need to use either bleach or high lift color, and combine that with either 20 or 30 Vol. developer.

Is it better to use professional hair color?

Retail hair color, which generally come in kits, are suitable for simple grey hair color applications and also for basic tone down color operations.

And they are also a great way to get into color for those who are new to hair coloring.

But for anything more complicated, you will find that you get much more flexibility, and better results when using professional hair color.

A nicer, wider range of colors with better lifting ability and better vibrancy.

Also, when you work with professional colors you get to choose your developer strength according to the situation.

This is a significant advantage in many situations.

Using professional color, you can do detailed color correction, lift dark roots, equalize mid lengths with ends, do tone adjustment, achieve significant blonde lifting and much much more.

Do hair color and bleach damage the hair?

When good quality oxidising color products are correctly used, it is possible to actually improve the hair quality.

Ugly Duckling hair color, for example, contains Argan Oil. Some Ugly Duckling toners also contain Bond Protect.

All these go deep into the hair shaft and help make the hair thicker, plumper and healthier.

Bleaching is a more aggressive operation and can affect hair porosity and condition.

But even so, the use of quality bleaches rather than any old beauty store bleach can make a huge difference.

Above all, we advise you not to repeat-bleach the same hair again and again.

Better to lift once all the way to the right level.

Do it right rather than lift it again and again would be our motto.

What should you use after hair coloring and bleaching?

Brilliant Blondexx Mask

Brilliant Blondexx Mask - acid based hair care for strengthening and conditioning blonde hair

Ugly Duckling has several hair care ranges which are suitable for use after hair coloring and bleaching.

One is Brilliant Blondexx Shampoo and Mask. It comes with Bond Protect as well as Argan Oil built in.

It is an acid-based hair care range, so it will help close the hair cuticle and restore it to its natural condition.

It has a pleasant lemony fragrance, and is also sulfate-free.

We would suggest you use this after coloring and lifting hair blonde.

What should you use to tone hair after hair taking it blonde?

Purple Shampoo & Mask

Brilliant Blonde Purple Shampoo & Mask

Use Brilliant Blonde Purple Shampoo and Mask.

The purple pigments will help remove any residual yellow after bleaching and toning.

This range is also acid based, and so is suitable for use to close the hair cuticle after coloring.

It is also sulfate-free.

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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