Hair Color Remover FAQ

This is the frequently asked questions I get about how color remover works, how to use color remover, whether it can be used after bleaching etc, all in one helpful place so you can find answers!

Rainbow eye make up from the front (goes with glow in the dark rainbow hair)

Can you get your natural hair colour back after bleaching it?
No, sorry. If you want a longer answer, this video I made explains why.

Does Color Remover Really Work?
Yes. It really does. If you want to know exactly HOW it works, so you know whether it will solve your particular hair dilemma, read my other article. Remember, NO color remover will work if you don’t use it properly! Always read the instructions and take care of allergies/safety. If you did a bad job dying your hair (rather than just being tired of your old color) you might not be the best person to be using color remover – do you have a friend/relative who could help you with it?

Can I bleach after using color remover?
Yes you can, although you should wait at least 2 weeks (preferably longer) because otherwise your hair might turn very dark, as there might be a few residual color molecules left in your hair from before you used the color remover, and if something else is applied to the hair, it can cause them to re-combine which will make your hair go dark. If you want to know more, check out my articles: How color Remover Works and How Bleaching Works.

Can I use color remover on hair extensions?
If they are 100% human hair then colour remover will work on them, but the main problem is that it can affect where they are attached. If you have the ones that stay in all the time, the colour remover won’t be able to get through the glue to remove the colour properly so you might end up with a patchy result, BUT the glue is where nobody sees it much so unless you’re getting a drastic color change it shouldn’t be very noticeable. It depends how you’ll feel knowing there’s some patchy colour under your hair. If it’s the clip in extensions made with human hair, then your problem is the attachment again, but for a slightly different reason. Just like bleach can oxidize the metal clips, the colour remover (depending on which one you use) can affect the area where the hair is attached to that base netting and clips at the top. I would be very careful with this unless your extensions were cheap. Personally I would just buy some new ones.

How long do I leave color remover?
It varies from brand to brand. There should be instructions with the color remover. Color remover should not be stored for future use (it won’t work) so if you don’t have instructions, you have a bit of a problem.

Which color remover works best?
There’s been a sudden explosion of new brands, but the only two I have used and would trust with the important job of stripping the colour from my hair are Color Oops and Color B4 (Color B4 only appears to come in Extra Strength in the US). In the UK, B4 comes in regular strength and EXTRA STRENGTH as well as the “fashion colours” version.  Remember you need to read the instructions carefully and use this correctly or it doesn’t work.  It’s not like hair dye at all!

I’ve left my color remover on for too long.
Rinse it. Keep rinsing it. I would extend the rinse times by about half an hour each (make sure your shower doesn’t overheat and that you have enough hot water to do this). This makes certain that all the colour gets out.  Otherwise you won’t get a result or you will get a weird result (see below).

My hair has gone orange / caramel / some other weird color!
Yep, this can happen.  That’s what’s left of your natural color under all that hair dye. See here for why. It’s not a problem with the color remover it’s a problem with the dyes you have used and how they affect your hair.

Can color remover get rid of semi-permanent color or crazy or bright colors?
No. See here for why. There is a special color remover that claims to deal with bright colors but I have not personally used it, the reviews of it are mixed and it’s not available in the US. See it here on UK Amazon.

Can color remover get rid of bleach?
No, it also doesn’t restore your natural hair color.   See here for why and more tips.

Is color remover safe to use on children?
No. Neither is permanent hair dye. So you shouldn’t need to use color remover. Because it only removes permanent hair dye. Which isn’t safe to use on children.

Is color remover safe to use on animals?
Oh my God no see my previous answer. I’d like to add some choice swear words but this site gets read by a general audience.

Can you use color remover more than once?
Yes. But don’t keep using it over and over again. Use it twice (unless the instructions on your box tell you not to) then wait at least a month before using it again. I don’t know why, it’s just what the manufacturer says.

This article contains affiliate links to Amazon.

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Got rid of my white hair (neat science video): SCIENCE! Friday

Today, I bring you… hair science!

No more white hair for me!
I had to dye my hair darker again because it’s time to renew my passport, and if you look different to your old photo, they make you get people to sign that they’ve known you for x amount of years.  I don’t want to have to do that, and because of our racist immigrant laws in this country, I have to produce my passport every time I go for a job interview, to prove I have the right to live and work in the UK.
Since I’m renewing it because of my name change, it seemed prudent to give them as little as possible to say “you’re not the same human being as the person on this passport, your name and face are different.”
Because of some weird trick of my face shape, I look totally different when I change my hair colour, so I have had to get rid of the silver hair.

I did a little tutorial of how I did it, and then today I’ve done this science video – for SCIENCE! Friday – explaining how hair dye, bleach and coloring all work on the hair and why it’s important to put the red back in with a permanent red dye.

I’ve done a full explanation of the science in a video, the gist of it is written in the rest of this article (but since I don’t script my videos, it’s slightly different in the wording, although the science is the same), there’s diagrams and everything!  I’ve explained it all in the most straightforward way possible, so if you love science as much as I do, and love hearing it in plain English, it’s a really interesting watch!

https://youtu.be/4d4G_z4Dvdc

If you like my youtube channel and find it relevant I’d love it if you could subscribe!

So how do you get rid of white, silver or platinum blonde hair?
Those of you who are astute will know that colour remover isn’t how to get rid of silver or white hair – it has, effectively, already had all the colour removed by the bleaching process, that’s why it’s so light.

To get rid of white or silver blonde hair, then, you need to put the colour back in. That’s what I explain in the wrecked your hair article – I haven’t actually wrecked my hair this time, but the process is the same (the results are much faster and better on hair that wasn’t wrecked).

So here’s what my hair looks like now:

My hair is this colour now.
My hair is this colour now.

As you can see, it’s not my best hair colour because it really doesn’t suit my skin tone (I need a bluer red and this is an orangey red), so I now (after it’s settled for a week) have two options:
I can either dye my hair a dark true-red red, or I can stick with the plan and go for brown.
Either will probably wash out in 2-4 weeks to a color I don’t like any more. So I’m thinking brown for the passport pictures, then let that wash out a bit, then true-red red.
I’ve never been a proper red before, I’ve only been ginger for years and years then dark brown for 6 months before I whitened it.  Oh and a bunch of temporary rainbow colours from time to time.

Since I’m basically artificially reconstructing the core of my hair, I need to stick with warm colours so blonde is off the menu for a while.

How does one artificially reconstruct their hair core, you ask?
The video I linked to above (which I made today) is a model showing what hair looks like when it’s been bleached. The loss of colour molecules is only part of the problem – the shaft now has holes burned in it where the chemical has gotten into the shaft to do its work and the colour molecules have departed (this is the same in any hair colourant – that’s why when you dye your hair dark brown or black loads of times, then use colour remover, instead of going to your natural colour, it turns a pale caramel type of colour).

When you add a new color to that, it packs the inside with color, but because of the holes in the hair shaft (which are irreparable) the color washes out easily. Not only that, but it’s designed to go on hair with color molecules in it (because normally you’d put it over your natural coloured hair), so it tends to be designed to simultaneously lighten the existing molecules and add some new pigment molecules, but there aren’t usually enough new pigment molecules to produce a realistic result on very bleached hair. And each time you use it, it burns more holes in the hair shaft.

In the process of artificially reconstructing the hair, then, you can do more damage if you’re gung ho about it which is why I’m going slowly, letting my hair recover each time (it doesn’t heal itself, but it does get its protective oils back over time, and they are way underestimated as to how useful they are) and gradually building up to the color I want.

Once it’s been done, it obviously can’t be bleached again past a certain point, because the bleach will keep blasting open the shaft which will eventually turn the hair to jelly, at which point you just have to cut it off. This has never happened to me.

Why am I so focussed on red, you ask?
It’s standard hairdressing knowledge that in order to move someone’s hair from blonde to brown, you have to put the red back in first. This has to be done with permanent colour (I’ll explain why below) and it has to be done because the blue molecules are smaller and have been mostly unaffected by the bleaching, they’re the last ones to get taken out (when hair is bleached, it goes through these stages: black> dark brown > caramel > weird orangey colour > weird bright yellow > pale yellow > white. If your hair’s not black, it picks up to the nearest stage on this sequence, eg if you’re a natural blonde, it will go weird bright yellow > pale yellow > white depending on when you wash it off).

To make your hair pigment, “nature” (or whatever) throws together a bunch of melanin (yes, vaguely something to do with melatonin) of different shades (it comes in 3 colours), and the combination of those 3 shades and the quantity of individual molecules are what produce your hair colour.

To restore the hair to a believable darker colour, then, you have to go through the other colours and replace those first. I could have replaced the yellow before the red, but most hair colourants to achieve blonde hair are either semi-permanent or have very aggressive developer (to get lighter results for darker hair), so doing that would blast holes in my hair shafts like there’s no tomorrow, and not really put much colour into it for the trouble, so I went for a yellowy-red instead of a true red, and that’s why I always go to ginger instead of bright red (ginger has the red and yellow molecules in it, bright red has very few yellow molecules) for the first thing I do to my hair after I’ve had it very light blonde for a while.
And that’s why, now, I can either let the red build up to restore my hair or I can make it brown to restore it. If I hadn’t bothered with the red, the brown dye would most likely give my hair a disgusting green tinge.
And that’s why I don’t say I can “repair” it (because nothing does that, hair is dead when it grows out of the scalp, you can’t “heal” a dead thing), I say “restore” or “fix” because I can make it look like it’s fine, but if you put my hair under a microscope it would probably look awful.

You mentioned semi permanent colours – I’ve been told they’re really good for my hair, why don’t you use those instead?
Semi permanent colours only affect the outside of the hair shaft. They don’t have the chemicals they need to penetrate the shaft and add colour to the inside. If you imagine my white hair is an empty drinking straw, the semi-permanent is like getting a felt pen and colouring the outside of that straw – it won’t make it more stable on the inside, and the hair is still left too fragile.
The permanent colours put the pigment inside the hair shaft – so they’re less “healthy” if you have perfect, undyed hair, but they’re more “healthy” if your hair has no pigment in the middle.

I cant visualise all this crap about molecules, can you explain it with some diagrams?
Yes!  Here’s a video I made, that explains it with diagrams and a whiteboard (in case you missed it above):

Wrecked your hair with bleach? Fix it!

Hair: How to fix hair that’s turned to chewing gum

Your hair was this colour, now it's stretchy and ruined?  I have the answer.
Your hair was this colour, now it’s stretchy and ruined? I have the answer.

You’ve washed the bleach off, you’ve conditioned, you’ve looked in the mirror. It might not even be a particularly light shade of blonde. Somehow, your hair has become super-stretchy and doesn’t flex back into shape again very well when you run your fingers through it.

This is NOT going to help if your hair is coming out in clumps. The only thing that’ll help there is a pair of scissors. Sorry, but you need to be honest with yourself about the current state of your hair before you do this.

If your hair is worrying you with its poor condition, but isn’t actually breaking apart yet, this tutorial is for you.

Firstly, I’ve got some bad news for you: You are probably not going to be able to stay completely blonde. At this stage, you have almost completely bleached the core out of your hair. It’s unstable, and isn’t going to withstand staying in this state for long. Think long and hard (but not for too long) about whether you need to follow this tutorial or whether a deep conditioning treatment will help.

Is this method for you?

1. When you last washed your hair, how many hours did it take to dry?

2. When your hair is wet, does it stretch then stay stretched after you let go of it, only returning to its shape gradually, if at all?

3. Have you bleached your hair in any of the following ways (or more than one of these):

a) Left the dye on for far too long?

b) Used a 40 vol peroxide with a bleach on light blonde hair?

c) Didn’t wash the bleach out properly before drying or straightening (flatironing)?

d) Bleached it too many times in a relatively short time period (more than 3 over 2 weeks, depending which products you used)?

e) Bleached it too many times over a longer time period (three times or more per month for more than three months)?

f) Used a product not intended for hair e.g. bleached with kitchen bleach, toilet bleach, household bleach etc even just once?

g) Used blonding/lightening spray on light blonde bleached hair?

If you answered yes to any of the statements in question 3, and your hair is taking more than 3 hours to dry after washing, and it’s stretching as described in question 2, you need this tutorial.

Disclaimer: I am not at your house assessing the state of your hair, nor do I know the state of your scalp. This is your judgement call, but if your hair is wrecked anyway, and your only other option is to cut it off, this might be a helpful last resort. Obviously, like with any dying process, this could make your hair worse, and you may have to do this several times over a period of months to get a colour to stick.

1. Get your hair dry, carefully.
If your hair isn’t dry right now, get your hairdryer and blow dry it on a low setting. Once your hair is dry it’s in a more stable condition. For now.

2. Put longer hair in a gentle plait, until you’re ready to work with it.

This method is used to protect hair extensions at night time, and is equally useful for your own hair when it’s damaged like this. It will help avoid that pesky tangling that constantly happens to over-bleached hair.

3. Decide how dark you can stand to go.

Look through the shades of hair dye that are available (don’t buy any yet), and decide on a level of darkness. The darker you go, the stronger your hair will be, but it will take longer to get it there.

4. Buy the reddest permanent dye you can find, that is not darker than the shade of brown you picked in step 3. If you are choosing between two shades of red, ignore the box and choose the darkest. This is because most of this red will wash out in a couple of weeks, tops. Don’t choose anything weird or unusual, this is not a good time to experiment. I used the auburn shades of Nice ‘N’ Easy when I did this. Don’t expect the colour to come out as strong as it does on the box, you will probably have to repeat this a few times.

5. Make sure you’ve waited at least a week since you last bleached/toned/coloured your blonde hair, and follow the instructions to apply your darker shade.  While you’re waiting to colour, treat your damaged hair like antique silk.

6. When you rinse, expect most of it to go down the drain. Your hair will come out a mousey colour, probably with patches that are redder than other bits. If this bothers you, now would be a good time to bring back the bandanna or crack out a hat or headscarf.

7. Use that conditioner that came with the dye. Leave it on for twice as long as it says, and at least 10 minutes.

8. Dry very carefully, don’t rub when you towel dry and don’t use the full heat from the hairdryer.

9. Repeat this process every 2-3 weeks (don’t do it any more regularly than this) until the colour sticks inside your hair.

10. Congratulations, you have just artificially re-created the core of your hair, using artificial pigment molecules. Your hair will be stronger now, although it won’t be the way it was before you dyed it. I found when I did this several years ago, that when I tried to bleach it a year later, it was still not in a suitable condition (luckily I did a test strand because I was NOT ready for that jelly that my strand test turned into), however, it did buy enough time for roots to grow through so I could at least sport a lovely bob 18 months after I wrecked my hair, without having to cut it all off before that time. Try to take better care of it, it’s still very fragile underneath.

When I wrecked my hair, it took about 6 months to get it to hold this colour.
When I wrecked my hair, it took about 6 months to get it to hold this colour.

How To Get Better Results From Color Remover: How Color Remover Works

This is an explanation as to how color remover works, because I’ve seen a lot of color remover reviews recently that lead me to believe people have unrealistic expectations of their color remover. I am going to get a bit technical in places, read around these bits if you just want color remover tips. I’ve also done a Hair Color Remover FAQ (which is science-free) for my most frequently answered questions. Last updated November 2016.

What is color remover?

Color remover is a product such as Color Oops that removes the dyed color from your hair.

How to make color remover more effective:
1. Don’t use dry shampoo or products between the last time you washed your hair and using color remover.
2. Don’t use “the coconut oil method” – that’s for bleaching, not color remover, and can interfere with the chemicals involved (but do look it up for bleaching, it sounds really good).
3. Do overestimate the rinse time, particularly if your water pressure is low or you have long/thick hair. It’s better to rinse for longer, it’ll make sure more of the unwanted color gets out of your hair.
4. Wait at least 2 weeks after using color remover before using any box dye, bleach, chemical perm or straightening – check the instructions to see if you need to wait even longer.

Here’s a list of things color remover doesn’t do:

1. Color remover doesn’t turn your hair back to your natural color.
2. Color remover doesn’t make your hair blond (read on, and see).
3. Color remover doesn’t remove cuticle staining.
4. Color remover doesn’t remove semi-permanent hair color.
5. Color remover doesn’t get rid of bleaching to restore your hair to a pre-bleached color or condition.

And here’s what it does do:

Color remover removes molecules of artificial pigment from your hair’s core.

That’s it. That’s all it does.

Let’s look at this in more depth:
First you need to understand how color works. The picture to this article shows the different ways hair is affected by different types of color. To dye hair semi-permanent, your natural color is not affected, because the color sits between the cuticle (on the very outside of the hair) and the shaft.

With permanent dye, a lot of people think that the dye just changes the color of their natural color molecules (the brown circles in picture 1). That’s not how it works – it’s a Find and Replace job.

What really happens with permanent dye is that you have to get rid of some of the molecules of natural color before any artificial color will fit inside the hair shaft. After the natural colors are removed, the artificial ones are forced inside to take their place. This is why permanent colors (even black) always contain the peroxide/ammonia combo (or something similar that works in the same way). If they can’t get rid of the pre-existing natural color molecules, the artificial ones can’t get inside to change the hair’s color because there would be nowhere for them to fit in the hair shaft.

how colouring works

In the diagrams 1, 2, and 3, color remover won’t work. It doesn’t work on natural hair – there’s no artificial color to remove – it won’t work on semi-permanent (more below) and it won’t work on bleach – again, there’s no artificial color to remove, because bleach is an absence of color.

Color remover will only work on the hair in pictures 4 and 5. It penetrates the hair shaft and “shrinks” the hair molecules – they don’t mean the atoms or bonds of the molecules get smaller (which is impossible due to forces), what they mean is that it gets the oxygen off the color molecules, making them small enough to fit back through the spaces that the developer has already made in the hair shaft when it was colored in the first place. This is why, when you use color remover, you have to rinse your hair for inordinate amounts of time. If the color molecules get left in the hair, they will recombine with the oxygen and make your hair look colored again.

If the color you’re trying to get rid of is “semi-permanent” such as in picture 2, the color remover won’t work because the way it sticks to your hair is different. Semi-permanent color doesn’t go inside the hair shaft so it can’t be removed by the specific action of color remover. It’s in a different place, attaches differently, and doesn’t use the same chemical color compounds. With semi-permanent color, you should theoretically be able to wash your hair enough until it comes out. By this, I mean you have to wash it then dry it fully then wash it again then dry it again etc until the color comes out – rinsing doesn’t seem to have such a good effect, I’m not sure why.

Before I used color remover, my hair was dyed this very dark brown color. Underneath the brown, some of the length was previously dyed with a red based colorant.
Before I used color remover, my hair was dyed this very dark brown color. Underneath the brown, some of the length was previously dyed with a red based colorant.

If your hair is cuticle stained, color remover will get rid of the stuff inside the hair shaft but it cannot affect the staining, which is on the outside of the hair shaft. To get rid of cuticle staining, you can either bleach it out (if it’s mild staining) or wait for it to grow then cut it off. There is a fine line between the bleach getting rid of the staining and the bleach turning the insides of your hair to jelly mush, so bear this in mind – you might just have to live with a reddish tinge for a while (I say reddish because strong red is the most common offender in the cuticle staining stakes, although any color can stain your cuticle).  To take my hair from the color in the picture above to the color in the photo below, I used Color Oops which I bought from Amazon (that link will take you there), but I’ve heard that the Scott Cornwall one works just as well, depending on what’s cheap where you live.  One of the great things about Color Oops is that you can use it more than once.

This was after I used color remover once on my hair. As you can see, some of it is still slightly red but mostly the color is an even shade.
This was after I used color remover once on my hair. As you can see, some of it is still slightly red but mostly the color is an even shade.

When you use color remover, the molecules I’ve drawn as red circles on my diagrams will leave the hair, but sometimes they don’t all leave; it depends how colored your hair is – there might not be enough molecules of color remover to attach to all the bazillions of molecules of color in your hair in cases such as picture 5 where there’s not a lot of original molecules left. In this case, you would need to do a second color remove after the recommended wait time (see the instructions).

You’ve probably also noticed that the more towards the right we go, the more the natural color becomes yellow rather than brown. Each time you color your hair, it affects the hair again in the same way, so your natural color may have been affected by the peroxide to make it a blonder base – this is often the case in colors to get a truer color result; think how many of them state they won’t work on hair that is naturally quite dark!

Why is this important? Because if the natural color was affected by the peroxide during the coloring process, and the color has masked the effect, then when you use color remover your hair might go to an orangey color or a mousey caramel color, or even a blond, depending how many times your hair has been colored since it grew out of your scalp, because it has no healing powers and permanent coloring causes a permanent change to your hair (surprising, given the name). If this happens, you can either:
a) Use a semi permanent color to mask that this has happened, and reapply whenever it starts to fade.

b) Wait at least two weeks (see the color remover’s instructions in case they vary) then put a new permanent color on your hair – this can be one that is the same color as your hair or a new color. Be aware if you are doing this that the color on the box is unlikely to be the color you end up with if your hair’s not a natural color to start with. Permanent box dyes are designed to affect natural, complete hair shafts, and there isn’t always enough artificial color to get a good first-time result on peroxide-changed hair, even though it was a box dye that caused that change to your hair in the first place.

After using the color remover, I waited three weeks just to make sure the color remover was totally gone from my hair, then used L'Oreal Feria Extreme Platinum to prelighten it to this lovely blonde color.
After using the color remover, I waited three weeks just to make sure the color remover was totally gone from my hair, then used L’Oreal Feria Extreme Platinum to prelighten it to this lovely blonde color.

c) Do nothing and see what happens. If you just want to get rid of yellow or orange tones in your hair, consider a “silver shampoo” or toner, which is not permanent and might leave your hair looking more natural. Use a blue-colored “silver” shampoo for hair that’s more orange than you’d like, and a purple-colored “silver” shampoo for hair that’s more yellow.

And that’s how color remover works and how to get the best from your color remover.

If you still have questions, check out my Hair Color Remover FAQ where I answer your questions about color remover.

[hair] Doctrine of Colours

Doctrine of Colours:  How to work out what colours will come out like when you add them to your hair.

In medieval times, when monks ran apothecaries, and medicine came from plants, and Brother Cadfael wasn’t a character played by Derek Jacobi (although he does a stunning job), there was something called the Doctrine of Signatures. This was basically the way new plants were given uses, in an absence of any other information about the plant. For example, liverwort is a plant that was used to heal the liver because it has liver-shaped bits (liver: a distinctive shape). Heartsease has heart shaped leaves, and this led people to believe it would help the heart. Culpeper, the famous herbalist, wrote about this in his book Culpeper’s Herbal (not light reading). More general shaped plants such as Common Plantain were seen as a cure all because they didn’t resemble any specific part of the body.

Taking this into the realm of haircare, I applied colour theory to come up with a doctrine of colours that can be used to decide whether to put a product on your hair. Products won’t automatically do these things if you use them, it’s more of a “if this product does anything at all to the colour of my hair, it will do this” kind of thing:

Purple: Will neutralize yellow, aka “brassy tones.” Many people try to use it to get rid of orange. It doesn’t work on orange.

Blue: Works on orange tones. Blue will neutralize orange so you can get a cool dark blonde shade. In order to do this, it might make your hair look browner, because that unnatural orange + blue will add up to light brown (also, this is how to get light brown hair – take it to orange then add the right amount of blue).

Green: Works on red tones. Green is unpopular as a hair product colourant but if it was more popular, you could use it to get rid of a bright red if you wanted to turn your hair brown again, or to get rid of a tomato stain, although it will keep the darkness of the red staining.

Yellow: Makes hair yellow. It’s a relatively large colour molecule so it stands out with minimal interference from outside products.

Orange: Makes hair orange. It’s also a large colour molecule compared to purple or blue. Will mostly wash out when added to light blonde hair, meaning you might need to repeat-colour it to make it stick better.

Red: Makes hair red. Use a permanent red or orange before trying to dye blonde hair back to brown it makes the brown stick for longer and the colour comes out better. Will mostly wash out when added to light blonde hair, leaving a reddish tinge, so repetition may be necessary.

White: Will not change hair tone.

Black: Avoid like the plague if you are blonde.

Grey: may add grey tones to your hair.

Are you wondering this: Why do half the colours just go the same colour and the other half go to a different colour?

It’s to do with the base colourings of hair. Inside the hair shaft, all the way up to pure white, there are colour molecules of red, orange and yellow, of varying proportions. The red orange and yellow molecules inside your hair are much larger, which is why it takes more effort to remove them than the blue, green and purple molecules. By the time you take your hair across to white or silver, there should really only be a bit of yellow left in any visible amount. You can’t get rid of every yellow molecule or your hair would be empty inside, like a drinking straw, which would be transparent and easily squashed (which it is to a fair extent at yellow, but it would be worse than already). At the point at which there are no colour molecules at all left inside the hair shaft, the hair turns to jelly and dissolves. You need to leave some slight amount of yellow tones in your hair.

Personally I prefer to take my longer layers of hair to a slightly brighter yellow than the internet recommends – I keep it at that day glo yellow, rather than leaving the dye on until very very pale yellow, then I rely on toning to do the rest. Toning yellow hair is the same no matter how much yellow is left – as long as the orange is all gone, it works fine. The colour result is just a shade of silver that’s slightly duller than it would have been if I left the bleach on for longer, but I feel confident that my hair is safer. I take the top (shorter layers) to palest yellow and it all blends together to give a natural result so I will continue to do this, because the top layers would naturally be brighter than the bottom layers as that’s where the sun would hit if I let my hair anywhere near it without a hat or scarf.

This is all super important because in order to get white or silver or platinum hair, you need to know what colours will do what to your hair, and what products to avoid (for example, never put red, yellow or orange coloured shampoos or products on hair that’s white, silver or platinum).

Silver hair - No I don't wear extensions!
My silver hair Dec 7th 2014; see how the longer layers are intentionally a darker silver than the shorter layers. 

What is “all natural,” and what are “chemicals?”

What is “all natural” and what are “chemicals?”

I am going to discuss what these two terms ought to mean, and what they really mean. Before anyone’s all like “how surprising,” this actually is surprising to a lot of people.  I have known about this issue for a very long time, because I was lucky enough to find out when I was a child, and have since grown my understanding, but some people aren’t afforded that luxury.  Don’t be sending me or other people hate for bringing this out into the open – it’s about time people stopped being too afraid of looking dumb to ask real questions about science, which means arrogant people have to stop looking down on those individuals who don’t have the same educational background, and create a learning environment.

I am very disillusioned with the ingredients industries (cosmetics, food and pharmaceutical industries) because a long time ago, they created two nonsensical phrases that they can put on more expensive products and get you to buy them, believing you’re doing the right thing for the environment, the animals, and of course, your body. Unfortunately, some very unethical companies have really cashed in on this, and are drowning out the genuine well-intentioned companies with products derived from plants they’ve grown and harvested themselves.

Those companies are real, I will say that from the beginning. I have nothing but love for products made from olive oil, coconut anything, and any of my favourite herbs.  Whether they’re “natural” or “chemical free” is neither here nor there.

Since the terms “all natural” and “no chemicals” are effectively undefinable, they are being put on the packaging for all sorts of crap you’d never want to own in a million years, let alone justify the price tag.

Lets start with chemicals.

A few years ago, a governor tried to bring a bill to the Senate in America to ban the use of dihydrogen monoxide. Her list of the dangers of this terrible chemical was huge – it was known to be deadly in small amounts, it was colourless and odourless, meaning you might not be able to detect its presence, it’s chemical basis, hydroxyl radical, had been shown to mutate DNA, denature proteins, and chemically alter critical neurotransmitters in humans and all other animals. This chemical is found in a number of caustic, explosive and poisonous compounds. It’s used in shampoo, conditioner, hair colourant, it can also be found in biological and chemical weapons manufacture and it’s an industrial solvent.

Based on this information, 86% of Americans would support a ban on dihydrogen monoxide. Would you?

I haven’t given you any important information on what dihydrogen monoxide actually is, and when the facts are twisted this way, when a harmless compound is given its chemical nomenclature (the names by which everything in the universe is known to scientists), it sounds more dangerous.

Does this picture give you a clue as to what dihydrogen monoxide actually is?

dihydrogen monoxide aka DHMO

It’s water. If you were ready to sign a petition to ban water, can you see how easily ingredients companies twist the facts to their advantage to try and get you to avoid common ingredients, so you spend more money on things that don’t contain chemicals?

Everything in the universe is made from chemicals. You know about the Periodic Table, right? That everything that possibly exists is made of atoms, and that these atoms are all elements, which are the things with the symbols on the periodic table. I use the Periodic Table symbols for Platinum (Pt) and Silver (Ag) to make writing “platinum and silver blonde” quicker, by saying “Pt and Ag blonde” instead. That’s all those chemical names are. They’re just a way of calling an ingredient by its exact combination of elements in its molecules so that we can reproduce the same things again and again. Take salt water. It’s totally natural, but it’s chemical name could reasonably be sodium chloride dihydrogen monoxide. Doesn’t that sound horrible? But it’s totally precise (hardcore nomenclaturists are crying right now at my simplification).

This is important because of this: In science, lots of similar molecules are all called “salts” including sodium chloride – sea salt – but also sodium iodide, potassium fluoride, and potassium chloride, to name but a few. Some of them behave very differently to others.  In science, it pays to be exact about ingredients names. In fact, labelling law in some countries forbids the manufacturers from calling a lot of things by their normal names, to avoid confusion. For example, did you know that the plant known in England as plantain, hailed as one of the seven miracle herbs of the Celtic world, is not even remotely related to Caribbean plantain, which is a savoury banana. You can buy plantain chips in the Caribbean aisle of the English supermarket, but they’re made of Caribbean plantain, which could be confusing! To make it more confusing, rabbits can eat plantain (from England) but not plantain (from the Caribbean)! This is the exact reason that scientists have given everything in the world a chemical name. Every single thing.

So the only thing anyone could sell that would truly contain “no chemicals” would be a big jar of nothing! And even then, the jar is made of chemicals such as glass, stone or plastic. Manufacturers really cash in on this meaningless term because they can bend it to mean whatever they want it to mean. One minute, “no chemicals” means “nothing with a ‘y’ in it” another it means “no metals” (salt is 50% metal), they pick the meaning, don’t explain it to us customers, and charge us more money for the product because it’s supposed to be healthier.

As customers, we expect “no chemicals” to mean something we can’t quite define – nothing unhealthy or made in a lab, for starters. Something healthier, or that’s more natural. I would like the phrase “no chemicals” to be banned by labelling laws.

Everything’s Natural

Natural is another word that should be banned from all packaging. Everything we have on this planet is natural. People often think scientists go round attaching atoms to each other to make molecules with special properties, the so-called “secret formula” of outdated horror movies.

Scientists like these are as non-existent and unreal as the vampires, werewolves, golems and slime monsters they invent or destroy in those films. I promise you. I’m a fully qualified chemistry teacher and I have worked in a pharmacy, and I have never once seen scientists create nearly-magic stuff from nothing. I repeat, everything we have, everything we’ve made, it’s all come from our natural planet. But that doesn’t mean you’d want to eat it. What you’re expecting from “all natural” products seems obvious – plant derived, herbs, cleansing energy, ancient goodness, things you could make in your kitchen. Unfortunately, that’s not always what products contain when they’re labelled “all natural.”

Often, subversive companies use the “all natural” or “natural ingredients” type labelling to make you think something is more wholesome than it really is. For example, Walkers Sensations were claiming their crisps (potato chips) were “made with natural ingredients.” Let’s break this down and define it by what it isn’t:

Supernatural means anything that occurs which is physically unexplainable.
Unnatural means “not natural.”

Natural means anything that occurs which is physically possible and explainable by the triple discipline of biology-physics-chemistry (aka science) through empirical means (in other words, by testing it).

Therefore everything in the universe that can be explained by physics is natural.

I asked a physicist if crisps were explainable by biology chemistry and physics. He agreed. There may have been investigator bias because I am a chemist asking the question and I already knew the answer, but I don’t think it affected his answer because it’s a simple “natural or supernatural.”

When you look at labelling, this is the definition that is often used.

The other definition, and the one people expect “natural” to mean, is “occurs in nature.” Crisps don’t occur in nature, you don’t just find them lying around. The label did say natural ingredients, so I will point out bottles of vegetable oil (the second ingredient on the back) aren’t just sitting around in the jungle waiting to be picked up, a plant has to be processed to get it. Face creams, soaps, shower gels, miso soups, and tubs of beans don’t occur in nature. They have all been subjected to a process even if that process is simply mixing them together. If we were to say natural means “any ingredient that occurs in nature, that has been processed and combined with other ingredients” then anything in the universe could be classed as natural. The use of the word is completely binary, with no middle ground. Therefore, if a law were to regulate use of the word natural, you wouldn’t be able to put it on any natural products because you wouldn’t find them occuring in nature with “natural” labels on them. The only 100% natural way of life is to become fruitarian. Which as I discuss elsewhere is shockingly unhealthy and lacks amino acids in the quantities needed for brain, muscle and organ function in humans over the long term (but sounds very romantic). So no, that toothpaste isn’t natural, and yes, that orange is natural, and they’re both made of chemicals, because all things in nature are made 100% from chemicals (check out the “Periodic Table of Elements – also called “the periodic table of CHEMICAL elements”) and they’re all completely natural.

Conclusion:

Natural and no-chemicals labelling has become a marketing ruse to get you to pay over the odds for a less effective product because then they don’t have to actually spend time and money on Research and Development to make a product that functionally competes with the brand leaders.

The ideals of the original companies that began labelling their products with these words have been subverted by large corporations and smaller swindling start-ups for financial gain, because you can’t prove that anything (even 2-hydroxypropanoic acid*) is not natural.

* 2-hydroxypropanoic acid is also called lactic acid and is made in the human body, it builds up in muscles after exercise causing that familiar stiff feeling.

Hair Dye 101: Bleaching your hair

Ag (silver) and Pt (platinum) blonding 101

“It started as a sudden fancy…” Terry Pratchett, Monstrous Regiment

I believe that we are inspired to take our hair to its blonding limits. It sometimes feels like a labour of love – certainly, the frustrations and disappointments that can be felt if it all goes wrong is akin to losing a sporting event or getting an unexpectedly low mark in an exam, compounded by people’s negativity and their failure to understand that a slight mistake isn’t proof this was a bad idea, it’s an opportunity to learn. The triumphs and successes are commented on by far more people than any other colour. There’s something very special about a good blonde, it has the power to delight, uplift and inspire awe and wonder like no other hair colour. I can wax lyrical all day, white blonde, Ag and Pt blonde are my favourite colour range. They are where science and art meet to create perfect harmonics with beauty and perfection in a delectable barbershop quartet. Okay I’m done with the poetics.

To start blonding, you need to think like a hairdresser. A highly imaginative and intelligent colourist. Think you’re up for it? If not, go to an actual hairdresser (not an average one; just because they did Sheryl up the road’s highlights does NOT mean they know how to take your hair to within an inch of it’s physical limits. If you want above average hair, you will need to either get an above average hairdresser, or do it yourself).

It’s not arrogant to think you can colour your own hair, and here’s why – you have lived with this hair for how many years? You know what you’ve done to it, you can’t lie to yourself, you know where you chopped that fringe when you were twelve, which bits still have henna on them (get these cut before you start colouring, henna and bleach don’t mix), how often you comb your hair when it’s wet or overheat the straighteners when you’re in a hurry. You know what shampoo and conditioner you use, and how often you REALLY use that protein spray you bought. Most hairdressers take a history of your hair, but they don’t have the time or memory to go very in-depth. And here’s the thing. You can tell them you colour your hair every 6 weeks, and they’ll say “it’s in good condition, let’s bleach it with SUPER STRENGTH” and they’re not the ones who have to go home with ruined hair. You do. I get my hair cut by hairdressers (although I’ve done that myself in the past). I don’t let them colour. I used to, but they just crapped on my trust and took my money anyway and left me to go home with awful hair several times, from several different hairdressers, in different parts of the UK, so I just don’t trust them to colour. The hairdresser who cuts my hair even got in on the action this year. She tried to tell me I could bleach my hair more, that it could take another round of maximum strength 40 vol peroxide. I could see signs that she couldn’t, that told me this was a terrible idea. I did a test strand, and lo and behold, it burnt clean in half. What she didn’t see was the red wasn’t my hair colour, it was cuticle staining from the last time I let a hairdresser colour my hair, 2 years ago (this was a trainee who needed to do it to qualify so I have never told them how badly they wrecked my hair). Or perhaps she was hoping I’d come for a colour correction.

There are two ways you can bleach your hair:

1. None of the hair currently on your head has any colour on it or has been coloured in the past, unless all the coloured bits have been totally cut off.

2. You have coloured it, even if only an inch of colour is left.

Method 1: None of the hair currently on your head has any colour on it or has been coloured in the past, unless all the coloured bits have been totally cut off.

Do not follow this method if someone else coloured it for you, if you have got highlights, ombre or any other sort of colour, even if it’s the same colour dye as your natural colour. I’ve got another method for you, why follow the wrong one?

Firstly, you will need the following items:

1. A box of hair colour. I would use a pre-lightener such as Belle Blonde or Born Blonde on fresh hair as they are easy to use and work well enough.

When I box dye, it takes 3 boxes to cover my hair. Mine is waist length and very thick. Make sure you buy enough.

2. Something to cover yourself with, such as a bin bag (sexy!) especially if your hair is long. Hair dye can burn your nipples. Just saying.

3. Something to cover the floor with. Another bin bag or some sheets of newspaper will do.

4. A clock, watch, or VERY accurate sundial. I sometimes use my laptop so I can listen to music during the development time.

Your natural haircolour will determine how long you need to leave the dye on for. I would do a strand test if possible, following the instructions on the packet. Here’s why: people are often shocked by the range of colours hair goes through before it finishes at blonde. If you see your hair turning orange, would you panic and wash the bleach off? If you’ve seen it all on the strand test, then when your whole head of hair starts going through a series of colours you’ll not even worry.

Note: Wash the pre-lightener off at the maximum time, even if your hair isn’t as light as you want it. While most of the product will become inactive before the development time is over (meaning that if you leave it too long it’ll start to go patchy), there’s still enough active product on your scalp to cause damage. Wash it all off, let your scalp recover (I recommend at least a week, and two if you can wait that long) then pre-lighten again if you need to. While your hair won’t “heal” itself, your scalp will, and that can make the difference between being a healthy blonde and being plagued with hair loss and permanent scalp damage.

Once your hair is as light as you want (for platinum and silver, you need your hair to be a very pale yellow before toning), move on to toning your blonde hair.

Method 2: You’ve got some other colour on your hair:

If your hair has a COLOUR (e.g. red, black, brown) on it, you need to use a colour remover before bleaching, then wait two weeks before bleaching (because the bleach will re-oxidize any remaining colour molecules in your hair and it’ll go very dark and possibly greenish, see how colour remover works for details). The reason to use colour remover is that there’s only a certain amount of bleaching a hair can take before it melts. Colour remover stinks and washing it out is tedious and it leaves your hair so dry but its an important step, particularly for darker dyed hair. It doesn’t bring your natural colour back, it just gets rid of dye colour, so once that’s done, you’re ready to bleach.

You have two options, I prefer to pre-lighten then blue-bleach because pre-lightener is idiot proof and takes it to just enough blonde that if there are patches of brown it’s less conspicuous until you fix it, which is always good on your first step. If your hair is light, you’re probably done after pre-lightener and ready to tone, but this is unlikely.

After pre-lightening, get some powder bleach, in the UK, Jerome Russell’s B*Blonde Maximum Lift Powder is for sale everywhere, and depending on your CURRENT hair lightness (I know, the box says natural, it assumes you haven’t just prelightened/colour removed etc), use either medium or high peroxide cream. Peroxide comes in percentages. Medium is 30vol, high is 40 vol. If you’re not sure, go for medium, you can always bleach it again if it’s too dark. If you go too high, you can burn your hair off, this is called a chemical haircut and you can’t dye your hair again once it’s happened (but hairdressers will tell you they can “fix” it by putting more peroxide-filled chemicals, or worse, semi-permanent colour, on your hair). Once your hair has been damaged that badly, it cannot be repaired (see also: how to fix hair that’s turned to chewing gum). We’ve all wrecked our hair, it’s a rite of passage. But you’re going to try not to, so go for medium if you’re unsure.

Mix the bleach in a bowl (I use a pyrex glass bowl, most people use plastic ones that are specially made for hair dye) and use a spatula (non-metal), so your brush doesn’t get full of lumps of unmixed powder that lands on your hair and makes a splotchy mess later. Once it’s mixed, apply it to your hair according to the instructions (usually brush on lengths and ends first, then roots 20 mins later because roots develop much faster. I find this hard so usually just leave my roots to do on a further application when the rest of my hair is dry and not tangled up in thick creamy bleach, it’s more of a faff but my hair would be much shorter if I just yanked it around and treated it like a Stretch Armstrong), basically wait until your hair is the colour you want, and wash it off. Let hair dry. Congratulations, you should have some pale yellow bleached hair, and if it’s pale yellow, contrasting with your complexion and looking a bit unnatural, you’re ready to tone!