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All about hair colors

Hair coloring is not a new idea. It has been there since centuries. In ancient Greece people used to lighten their hair color to identify honor or redden it to identify courage. Romans created hair dyes to darken their hair.

In modern age hair coloring initially became popular to cover the grays to get to the natural hair colors. But now hair colors are applied to get almost the whole color range. From less than 10 percent Americans using hair colors in early 1950s now it is almost 75% of American women applying hair colors for one reason or the other.

It’s not only women having fun with color even men increasingly use colors to either cover the grays or even completely change the look. Home color sales targeting men have increased by 50% in last 5 years itself. Popularity of hair coloring can be judged from the availability of coloring products in the market today. Number of hair color products available in the market is mind boggling. From professional salon treatments to home coloring products, the options available for hair coloring are many.

With all these available products and available coloring techniques there are a lot of questions that arise in the mind of anybody who is a new starter into the hair coloring world. Typical most common questions asked by newbies are:

  • Should I use Salon or home coloring product?
  • What color should I use?
  • What will be the end result on my hair?
  • What should I do if I make a mess with home coloring adventure?

We will discuss the answer to all these questions but first let’s start with understanding the most basic that is the hair itself.

What Is Hair?

Hair at its most basic form is a biomaterial that is generally found in the skin. Hair is produced in hair follicles deep in the skin. Follicles produce two types of hair thin hair and the dense hair found on the head. Linked to beauty and perceived attractiveness, hair is an important topic to many people. Hair is the only body structure that is renewable without scarring. All the follicles in human body develop during the developing of fetus itself. By week 22 there are 5 million follicles present out of which 1 million are in the head, this number doesn’t increase during lifetime. Human hair is formed by rapid divisions of cells at the base of the follicle. As the cells are pushed upward from the follicle's base, they harden and undergo pigmentation.

The cortex part of the hair is where the melanin is stored. The melanin is what gives the hair its pigment. The various different colors are achieved by the number and mixture of these granules. There are two kinds of melanin found in the hair: eumelanin (the most common and responsible for hair shades from brown to black) and phaeomelanin. To get darker hair Eumelanin must dominate, while to get red hair it is required that pheonmelanin be most prevalent. Human hair comes in four main shades; black, brunette, blonde and red. Blonde hair is actually produced by having very little pigment. (responsible for yellowish-blond, ginger and red colors). Absence of pigment produces white/gray hair. Before any permanent color can be deposited into the hair shaft, the cuticle, or outer layer, must be opened. The insoluble formula then reacts with the cortex to deposit or remove the color.

Hair Color Ingredients

Herbal and natural dyes were the popular hair coloring means until early 20th century. Chemical dyes were unsafe and hair coloring being not that popular were not commercially viable. A French chemist Eugene Schuller created the first safe commercial hair coloring in 1909. He invented a hair color based on a chemical that was safe to use. He founded his company named the French Harmless Hair Dye Company. Soon its name was changed to L'Oreal. L'Oreal is now one of the hair product giants.

In modern hair color products there are two main chemical ingredients:

  • Hydrogen peroxide (also called the developer) -- Developer helps initiate the process of color-formation. Also it helps in making the color last longer. But Developer removes sulfur from hair. This result in hardening of hair and hair lose weight as well. Hence it is important to maintain the level of developer to 30% volume or less.
  • Ammonia - Ammonia acts as a catalyst when the permanent hair color comes together with the peroxide. It tends to separate the cuticle and let hair color penetrate the cortex.

Hair Coloring Products

Not so long ago there was a time when hair color smelt like rotten egg. These days hair colors have nicer smell and applying them is not that hard as well. Most color can be applied easily. Some hair color products recommend applying color to wet hair, others to dry hair. Hair colors can be worked into a shampoo-like lather, left to process and then rinsed and conditioned.

Drawbacks are that hair coloring can damage your hair particularly if you don't know what you're doing. Here are basic descriptions of the three major hair coloring product available in the market:

  • semi-permanent color Semi-permanent colors work without changing your natural hair color dramatically. These colors don't interact with your natural pigments. The effect of this color goes away after few shampoos leaving the hair as it was before treatment. Semi-permanent colors generally last for 6 to 12 shampoos. It covers up to 50 percent gray and enhances your natural color without leaving roots. It doesn’t contain any ammonia or peroxide hence doesn’t lighten your hair.
  • demi-permanent color - Demi-permanent color lasts longer. It can last up to 24 to 26 shampoos. This color penetrates the cuticle and enters the cortex. Demi-permanent color also do not contain ammonia hence the natural pigment isn’t lightened. It also blends and covers gray.
  • permanent color - In this color, both ammonia and peroxide are used. Color penetrates all the way into the cortex. These colors lighten the hair’s natural pigment to form a new base and then add a new permanent color. The end result is a combination of your natural hair pigment and the new shade you chose. That means the color may appear different on you than on someone else using the same color. That's why the "strand test" is so important. This should be your choice if you need significant color change for example to go from black to blond. Although it will be wise if you use salon service for drastic color changes.

Other products can help you add highlights or streaks to your hair. These are available in varying strengths. Some are for adding highlights to natural, uncolored hair while others are made for adding highlights to already-colored hair. Bleaching and toning can achieve drastic color changes. But these are not for the faint hearted to try at home.


janice auburn

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