Monday, July 7, 2014

Hair Dye Primer

This is going to be a brief explanation of the different kinds of hair dye- semi, demi, and permanent. The terms are often confusing and can cause people to choose the wrong dye.

A permanent dye is the longest lasting, right? Not necessarily. Permanent dyes use the highest volume developer (peroxide) to activate the dye and make it stick to the hair. Peroxide is damaging and high volume peroxide more damaging than lower volume peroxide. Damage to hair is cumulative, meaning you can't repair it so if you apply permanent dyes to the same hair over and over it really adds up and causes breakage. Permanents can also fade faster than other kinds of dye due to the higher peroxide levels. The peroxide lifts the cuticle (the scaly outer part of the hair) so the dye can slip inside the hair. If the cuticle is lifted too much or scales are broken off the hair dye will slide back out.

Box dyes are typically permanents but the danger with them is you don't know what volume peroxide is included. Is it 20, 30, 40?  Even calling the company doesn't always answer the question as the phone reps don't have a clue. Typically they have 30 and high lift dyes (typically come in blondes or reds) have 40.

Speaking of high lift dyes... L'oreal High Color has become a very popular way to get red or pink hair with out "harmful bleaching". High lift dyes use high level peroxide to lift color (like bleaching) but don't lift as effectively as  bleach and often cause more damage due to the higher peroxide level. For example if I wanted to get my hair bright red from its natural brown-black I could use 20 volume developer and bleach to get my hair to ginger or I could use 40 volume developer and high lift dye to lift my hair to ginger and deposit color in one step. The 40 volume developer is very damaging and not really safe for the scalp, you risk chemical burns. If you do use a high lift dye it is important to top up your color with a dye that does not use peroxide (more on that later) and NOT with the high lift dye. If you use high lift color on the same hair multiple times you will have major damage. You WILL get hair that mushes up like chewing gum when wet. Unfortunately permanent reds need frequent topping up as they fade very fast.

Demi dyes are deposit only dyes that use peroxide developer to activate the color and attach it to the hair. The low volume peroxide, typically 10 volume or less, does not lift the color of the natural hair and is far less damaging than permanents. You can't use a demi to get your hair a shade or two lighter like you can with a permanent though. You can only go darker or change the tone.

Demi-perms are probably the best way to get black hair. You don't need lift to go black so there is no need to harm your hair with high volume peroxide. They also can last a long time, typically 3-4 weeks which is about the same as many permanents. Demi dyes can last longer than permanents on many people due to the lower level of damage to the cuticle.

A true semi-permanent dye is a deposit only dye that does not require developer. Many box dyes that say they are semi-permanent are actually demis. True semis are sometimes called veggie dyes or direct dyes. These dyes are basically colored conditioners and do not damage the hair at all. However, they don't stick well to unprocessed hair. Typically you will need to bleach or at least "pre-soften" the hair with straight peroxide to allow semi-perms to stick to the hair. The pre-processing required to use these dyes is where the damage comes from but careful lightening can be done and yield minimal damage.

Semi dyes can actually make the hair feel very nice due to their conditioning ingredients and are actually good for bleached hair. They are a much better choice to tone blonde hair than toners that require developer. No double processing (using peroxide twice in a row) required!

Semi dyes also tend to come in wild colors like pink, blue and green while you'll never find those colors in demis and permanents (at least in the USA and UK). On the flipside it can be hard to find natural semis but they are out there. The brand Adore makes some very nice natural looking semis and they are a fantastic way to get a gorgeous long lasting natural looking red... or unnatural looking red too!

This kind of dye can fade fast or it can last a very long time. There are a ton of variables that effect the lasting ability of the dye. Some dyes just last forever and a half because they stain like crazy and are basically super permanent (as in you will not remove this color from your hair ever). Special Effects Atomic Pink and the Ion brand blue shades fall into this camp. Other dyes are just weakly pigmented like Pravana Magenta, pastel shades and Manic Panic Purple Haze. The condition of the hair prior to applying color also makes a big difference. Cuticle too smooth like in unprocessed hair and it won't stick. Cuticle too damaged from over processing and it won't stick either. After care probably makes the biggest difference though. Washing with hot water and regular sulfate based shampoos will take semi dyes out very quickly. Switching to sulfate free shampoo or conditioner only washing and reducing how much you wash will make these dyes last a long time.

A Word on Conditioners
After dying our hair we pretty much always apply conditioner to make it feel better. When I was a teen dying my hair with box dyes my friend and I used to wonder why people said they were so bad because our hair always felt better after. The conditioner included with the dye is typically LOADED with silicones that coat the hair and make it feel really smooth and amazing. The damage they caused was being disguised.  

Deep conditioning is great to do after processing hair but make sure to check the ingredients. Choose a deep conditioner that contains oils like coconut, olive, argan, meadowfoam and shea and is low or free of silicones.  The oils will actually help the hair rather than coat it. 

Silicones are not all bad though. They can be very useful to prevent mechanical damage and keep hair from tangling. Just don't let them fool you into thinking your hair is in better condition than it is and that it can take another chemical process. 

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