6 hair color rules from a stylist to the stars

Nanci has been in the hair coloring business since the 70s, and she’s seen it all. Sometimes she wishes that she could redo all the people whose hair she screwed up along the way. But you’ve got to learn somewhere. “Coloring your hair is like driving a car. If you don’t think about it in advance, you’re going to hit a brick wall.”

There are so many people who use hair color at home, thinking that if they open up a box, mix it and throw it in their hair, they’re going to get the color on the box. When it doesn’t turn out that way, they are surprised. “People need to understand that color doesn’t really work that way. Color breaks down and separates the pigments, then takes the natural color out and then re-deposits a new pigment. If you don’t keep that in mind, you don’t think like a colorist, you may come out with a result that’s not so great.”

Rule 1: If you can afford it, get a professional coloring job.

You only have one opportunity to do hair color right and that’s on the first application. With a clean palate, you can create anything you want. If you messed that first application up, then it becomes a corrective hair color situation.

Also, if you get your hair done professionally, it’s safer to try a dramatic new look. Whether you want to go dark or light, a colorist can help you transition to that point. For example, you can try lowlights or highlights first, and if that isn’t dramatic enough for you, do the whole enchilada and go the whole way.

Rule 2: Make gradual color changes.

The biggest problem is not choosing the right color. For whatever reason, people always choose a color that’s too dark. When you’re choosing a color in a store, always choose the lighter color because you can gradually go darker, but once you go dark, you cannot go light. Color does not lighten color. There’s no way.

Rule 3: Stay within your color family.

My natural hair color is dark brown, level four. Basically there’s a level system, and the level system identifies everybody’s hair color. There are three families of color: black, brown and blonde. Within each category, there’s a light, medium and dark. Levels one, two and three make up the dark family; four, five and six make up the brown family; and seven through ten is the blonde family.

People will wake up one morning from a dream where they saw themselves blonde and so they have it in their mind that they can be blonde, but they really can’t. For example, if your natural color is dark brown, try light brown. Dark blonde probably won’t turn out right.

Rule 4: Only color what you need to.

Most hair colorists over-process the hair by pulling the color all the way through the ends and reapplying bleach to what’s already been lightened. Therefore, you’re not really getting a highlight/lowlight technique. You’re just getting an over processed color that’s all over and a huge line of demarcation, which is the line between natural color and applied color. Only go as far down the hair as you need to; don’t process hair that’s already been highlighted.

Rule 5: Color all the way to the scalp.

Always apply color as close to the scalp as possible or else you’ll be left with immediate roots. Highlights are supposed to be subtle and easy to grow out. Also, be sure to sandwich two foils together so you’re not processing hair that doesn’t need it.

Rule 6: If you’re not comfortable with your colorist, just leave.

If you’re a client in a chair getting a consultation by a stylist and she takes a phone call from her boyfriend while she’s smoking a cigarette outside, then that’s a red flag to run. It really is. If the stylist isn’t listening to you tell her what you want, that’s another cue – get up and leave. Don’t be embarrassed or worried about what they think of you. Just get up and walk out. Say, “Thank you, it’s not going to work out.”

People change their color according to their mood, that’s why there’s so much messed-up color walking around—because people change their moods a lot. If you feel inclined to color your hair, go ahead and do it. It can definitely help you come out of your shell. But do Nanci a favor and do it right.

For more advice, check out the following links.

Nanci Says
Visit Nanci’s hair color site for in-depth information on the hair coloring process, including tips on what will work for you.

Mom Hair: It’s Not What It Used to Be
Whether you’re 30 or 50, a mom or a careerwoman, About.com has the best hairstyle for your lifestyle.

What Color?
Everything you need to know about hair color. Here are 11 hairdressing tips only your stylist knows.