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When to use Permanent Color

There's been a significant DROP in the use of permanent color in our industry as more and more stylist choose to use demi permanent colors, semi permanent colors and deposit only colors.

While a lot to stylists are not likely to choose a permanent color, there is a time and space for permanent color and today, I want to talk about it.

I think the first problem is that a lot of use don't fully understand how hair color works and fall victim to marketing and sales strategies versus knowledge and education.

We have many assumptions and opinions and my goal is to drop some education into the mix. When you're grounded in understanding the whole picture, then you can make an informed and educated decision and not base your choices on opinions and assumptions.

Let's talk about what makes a permanent color permanent.

The permanent part of the color means that it will PERMANENTLY alter the hair.

It does NOT mean that the dye molecules will last in the hair permanently.

Dyes fade. It's inevitable. There is no color that will stay on the hair permanently..except for maybe SPLAT 🤦🏻‍♀️ If you know, you know.

So, permanent color will permanently alter the hair. What does that mean?

It means that the color that the hair was BEFORE the color service will permanently be altered and likely, once the dyes fade, will be LIGHTER and WARMER than the natural virgin hair.

Permanent color contains alkalinity, actually all oxidative color contains alkalinity.

Bottles and tubes of color NEED to be alkaline in order for the dye molecules to not degrade.

The alkalinity in permanent color allows the cuticle layer to soften swell + diffuse so that the developer can do its job lightening the melanin and make the hair color process happen.

The alkalizer that is typically used in permanent color is ammonia. If your permanent color is ammonia free, the alkalizer used is MEA.

Ammonia is the strongest alkali, and ammonia when mixed with developer will soften swell + diffuse the cuticle layers AND allow the most amount of lifting and lightening of the hair (depending on the strength of the developer, and HOW alkaline the product is)

For example: a high lift permanent color will give more lift than a level 6 permanent color. That's because a high lift color has more ammonia, or alkalizer in it versus a level 6 color.

So anytime you are dealing with a scenario where you need the cuticle layers to soften and swell, lighten the hair and deposit further into the cuticle, permanent color is your friend.

Let's talk about some real life scenarios where permanent color is necessary.

1- Gray coverage, especially on resistant hair.

When you can understand what happens to the hair when it begins to gray, it makes sense on why you would choose a permanent color for coverage. Gray hair, especially resistant gray hair has excess cuticle layers, and we need those cuticle layers to swell open so that we can get a good deposit of dyes. Alkalinity is what softens and swells the cuticle layers, so it makes sense that a permanent color that is alkaline is necessary for gray coverage.

2- Any time you want to lighten the natural hair

Demi permanent and deposit only colors use MEA and AMP as their alkalizers. These alkalizers don't have enough strength to allow developer to release the most amount of oxygen and create lift or undertone. If you are dealing with a client who wants their natural hair to be lighter, permanent color MUST be used to do so. A demi cannot lift and lighten ENOUGH (*unless in rare instances when the hair is very fine + very light)

3- Any time a client has very low porosity, or a very tight and compact cuticle.

Remember, when we are using any kind of OXIDATIVE dye wether it's permanent or demi permanent, the deposit happens BEYOND the cuticle layers and in + around the CORTEX. IF a client has very low porosity hair, that means that the hair is tightly compact and is very difficult for it to absorb water, let alone hair color. When those cuticle layers are so tightly compacted, even to deposit darker, you will need some form of alkalinity to swell the cuticle layers just enough to allow the hair color process to happen BEYOND the cuticle layers.

Now, let's talk about a couple of unconventional ways to use permanent hair color.

1- Base bumping. You do not need a special product that is designed for base bumping. All those are...are highly alkaline colors with low developers. You could achieve the same thing using a level 9 ash, or level 9 neutral with a 10 volume to bump the base and tone the highlights.

2- Longer lasting root melt. I know this may have your feathers ruffled but im here to tell you this, JUST BECAUSE YOU USE A DEMI TO ROOT MELT, it will STILL BAND when you lighten.

A level 5 dye load is a level 5 dye load. Both will demi and permanent color will have their challenges when lightening it out. Using permanent color with a 5 volume developer will allow this dye molecules to travel a little further into the hair and not wash out as quickly. The key when doing this is to stay ON LEVEL or 1 level darker with the clients hair in your formulation. If the natural level is a 6, you could use a 6 or a 7 for a longer lasting root melt. If you use a level 9, on a natural level 6 for a root melt, you open yourself up for the possibility of creating a base bump.

3- Using permanent color, or high lift color to SHIFT OUT old, faded color.

Permanent color is alkaline. Alkalinity allows the opportunity for lifting. If you have a client with very browned out ends, or someone who has overused purple shampoo to the point that their hair is darker and duller, permeant color and high lift colors are a GREAT option to shift out some old color. We all know that color doesn't lift color...but alkalinity in permeant color with a 10 or 20 volume developer CAN shift some things around + lighten your canvas just enough to brighten it up. We don't always have to use bleach.

4- Permanent color with low developer to tone global bleach outs.

Because permanent color has the ability to slightly lift, even with a low volume developer. If you ever do a full global bleach out and your lift is not perfectly even, a permeant color or high lift color with a low volume developer can even out your canvas while depositing the toner and help you create a beautiful, even + rich blonde. If you were to use a demi permanent liquid color, all of the bands will show through as the color fades.

Hope this was helpful for you!

Until next time,

Happy Hair Coloring!


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Wow this is so interesting! I'm currently a cosmetology student, I know that conditioner is alkaline, but why don't we put conditioner on the hair after shampooing bleach out, prior to the color service?

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