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Colour Theory Pigments Knowledge Base  Article. 1


In order to understand the process of hair colouring, we need to be aware of how colour occurs naturally in hair and how chemicals react with it. An individual's natural hair colour is related to the quantity, size, type, and distribution of cellular bodies called melanosomes, which contain the pigment melanin.


There are two types of melanin, Granular (Eumelanin), and Diffuse (Pheomelanin).


Granular=Large Molecules

Eumelanin are oval shaped dark granules that range in colour from brown to black and are insoluble in solvents, resistant to chemical treatment and have a complicated chemical structure. Darker levels of hair have a higher concentration of Eumelanin, levels are from 5 to 2.


Diffuse=Smaller Molecules

Pheomelanin are diffused small particles that range in colour from red to yellow. Its shape is different than eumelanin and it is more soluble. Pheomelanin usually occurs in lighter shades of hair, making light hair easier to lighten, levels are 6 to 9.



Ethanolamines are another group of alkalis used to increase the pH of colourants. The Ethanolamines act as bridges and connect (or couple) the colourless pigment molecules together to form a visible colour molecule.

Grey hair is a gradual loss of pigment in the hair resulting from a decrease in melanin production. The hair appears to have an absence of pigment, but it is not completely devoid of melanin. In white hair, melanin may be completely absent the percentage of grey hair influences shade selection. Observing the pattern of grey influences where you begin your colour application. Ideally you may want to begin the colour application where the highest percentage of grey is located.


When determining a hair colour formulas always consider the following:.


1. Resistance

Grey hair, by nature, has a greater resistance towards colour than natural hair. It is for this reason that heat processing or extended processing times are often recommended.


2. Undertones

Grey hair requires a balance of brown tones plus added warmth (if desired) to maintain a natural look. Golden or auburn tones may be used in combination with neutrals or naturals, depending on the desired results. If some warmth is not added to the formulation, the results may appear cool, flat or unnatural.


Understanding Levels and Undertones

The level system is a numerical way of measuring darkness to lightness (depth) of hair colour. When analysing natural hair colour before a hair colouring service, consider the level and undertones of the hair. The natural level reacts with the level of the hair colour formula to provide the final hair colour result (level and tone).


In the level system, each level is assigned a number and a descriptive name. The lowest number 2 corresponds to the darkest level of hair - black. Level 2 (black) hair contains the highest concentration of pigment and thus, absorbs the most light.


The highest number, 9, corresponds with the lightest level of hair - very pale or lightest blonde. Level 9 hair contains the least amount of pigment, thus absorbing less light and reflecting the most light.


When formulating hair colour, the first step is to establish the natural level of the hair. The next is determining the desired level, and deciding the most efficient way of achieving that result.



Tone - in hair colouring, is the term used to describe a specific colour - gold-orange, copper-red. For example, note that two hair colours may be the same level and from the same colour family (such as red), but they may not be exactly the same tone. For example, a level 5 red may appear violet or copper (i.e. 5.6 blue-red or 5.4 copper-red). Both colours are in the same colour family and are the same level, but they are different tones of red.


Colour Theory Components Knowledge Base - Article 2.


It's important to understand the individual components of hair colouring products and their primary functions. Essentially, most hair colour requires dye and developer to produce a result.



There are two general categories of dyes: Direct and Oxidative.


Direct dyes are pre-coloured molecules that coat or stain the surface of the hair and do not require a reaction with hydrogen peroxide. Direct dyes are large or Macro Molecules.


Oxidative dyes are extremely small colourless molecules that penetrate through the cuticle and into the cortex with the aid of an alkaline substance such as ammonia. Oxidative dyes are microscopic or Micro Molecules.


Developer (Hydrogen Peroxide – H2O2)

In order for oxidative dyes to form coloured dye molecules, oxidation must take place. Oxidation is the chemical process of a hair colour dye reacting with a developer to form visible colour. Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is the most predominant oxidant used to develop professional colours.

Hydrogen peroxide can be considered 'super-oxygenated' water, and is categorized by volume most often 10, 20, 30, and 40. "Volume" refers to the 'volume' of oxygen gas contained in one 'volume' of hydrogen peroxide. It is a measure of concentration.


Each volume corresponds with a percentage level as follows:.



10 Volume.  3%. Lifting Ability.   0 to ½ level.


13 Volume.  4%. Lifting Ability.   1 levels.

20 Volume.  6%. Lifting Ability.   1 to 1½ levels.

30 Volume.  9%. Lifting Ability.   2 to 2½ levels.

40 Volume.  12%. Lifting Ability. 3 to 3½ levels.



Lower volumes of developer are used for minimal lift and staining techniques. Higher volumes are used when increased lifting of the natural pigment is desired. Hydrogen peroxide has a dual purpose in the hair colouring process.


 *   Hydrogen peroxide reacts with the melanin, breaking down the natural pigment and lightening the hair. This
      is what is referred to as 'lift'.

*   Hydrogen peroxide develops the oxidative dye molecules creating 'deposit' into the protein structure of the


Hydrogen peroxide alone will not lighten hair easily; it alone is not a decolouriser because it is stabilized at an acidic pH of 2.5 - 3.5. It must be combined with an alkaline source to produce a chemical reaction with the dyes and the pigment in the hair.


The most common alkaline agent used in hair colouring products is Ammonia. In addition to maintaining stability of the dye intermediates, Ammonia swells the hair strand, which helps the dye molecule penetrate the cuticle and enter the cortex layers. Ammonia also acts as a catalyst to activate hydrogen peroxide, which causes the oxidative dye molecules to couple and form.


Ethanolamines are another group of alkalis used to increase pH of colourants. Note: The lack of ammonia or its odour does not necessarily mean low pH. 

Hydrogen peroxide in combination with an alkali source will break some of the internal disulfide bonds found in the cortex of the hair. Disulfide bonds are responsible for hair's stability and strength. In a typical hair colour process, approximately 10% of existing disulfide bonds is destroyed. In a highlight colour or decolourising process, 15 - 20% may be permanently broken. The destruction of disulfide bonds leads to the production of a new molecule called cysteic acid.


Permanent hair colour

In permanent hair colouring, artificial dyes interact with the hair's natural pigment to create a final hair colouring. Permanent hair colour dyes or oxidative dyes (dyes that require hydrogen peroxide to form colour) are extremely small colourless molecules that penetrate through the cuticle and into the cortex with the aid of an alkaline substance such as ammonia. When these molecules combine with hydrogen peroxide, a chemical reaction occurs. They oxidize and react with other molecules called "couplers" to form complex dye molecules. The newly formed dye molecules are embedded in the protein structure of the hair fibre, which makes them 'permanent' or more resistant to rinsing out. This complex process is referred to as lift and deposit, two independent chemical reactions which occur simultaneously and throughout the oxidation process. Oxidative dyes are the only dyes that provide permanent hair colour in a variety of shades, and provide coverage of grey/white hair. Almost all permanent hair colours contain oxidative dyes.

2 Colour Knowledge -

Timing (Permanent)

Processing time for retouch (root) application or virgin hair application of a permanent colour (tint) is 30 minutes or by the manufacturers’ instructions.

Demi-permanent and semi-permanent do share common characteristics: both are generally no-lift, deposit-only hair colours that are often associated with enhancing or increasing tonality and blending grey hair. However, there are also some clear differences between the two. 


Demi-permanent (Long lasting semi permanent)

Demi-permanent or tone-on-tone hair colouring products may be formulated with oxidative dyes only or with a combination of oxidative and direct dyes. Demi-permanent colours must be mixed with a low volume hydrogen peroxide to develop. The formulations in these products contain low concentrations of alkali for minimal lift or can be formulated without ammonia for no lift.


Semi permanent hair colour

Semi-permanent colour products are formulated with direct dyes meaning that the colour is present and visible without the need to chemically develop it with peroxide. What you see in the bottle or tube is what you can expect to see in the resulting hair colour. Semi-permanent colours can cover grey without lift, but shampoo away in five-ten shampoos. They are more rapidly lost from porous hair.


Temporary hair colour

Almost all temporary hair colour products are formulated with large direct dye molecules that affect only the surface of the hair (the cuticle). Temporary hair colour stains the cuticle layer only, resulting in a slight change to natural or modified hair colour. Temporary hair colour is not mixed with a hydrogen peroxide developer. 

Temporary dyes often include acid dyes, disperse dyes, basic dyes and FD&C colours. These dyes are ideally used in temporary colour products, such as coloured shampoos, rinses, mousses, sprays and gels and generally only last 1-3 shampoos.



Colour Theory Bleach Knowledge Base - Article 3



Chemistry and Effect of Bleaching the Hair


The terms bleaching, bleaching and lightening are interchangeable. However, all of these terms share one common word: Oxidation - a key process in hair bleaching. Regardless of the terminology you select, bleaching the hair is one of the most frequently performed salon services.


Bleach bleaches are used when one of the following results is desired:. 

1. when clients with naturally dark hair desire tones too light to achieve with permanent hair colour alone (i.e. light bright reds, true light ash browns and blondes) 

2. removing artificial hair colour such as in a corrective colour situation 

3. lightening selected strands in a highlighting service 


Oxidation in the bleaching process means the hydrogen peroxide is mixed with an alkaline product such as bleach. 


Once activated the bleaching mixture changes melanosome structure and lightens the colour of the hair. It does this by breaking the melanin into tiny fragments which are no longer able to absorb light to the same degree as before. The melanin does not immediately lose its colour when oxidized. The hair goes through relatively predictable colour changes as the pigment disperses and lightens the hair to a new level.


The following table lists each level of hair colour with its corresponding undertone, as well as shades that are achievable at each level.


Undertone.        Level


Yellow                 9


Yellow                 8


Yellow  Orange    7


Orange  Red        6


Red                    4

Red                    3

Red                    2





There are no established times for bleaching the hair to any given level. Processing time always varies, depending on the strength of the bleaching mixture, use of heat, as well as texture, condition, porosity, type and density of natural pigmentation. The best way to determine processing time is to perform a strand test and to follow manufacturer's directions.


There are three general classifications of bleaches used in the salon: oil, creme, and powder. Each performs a specific function, and has unique characteristics.


Oil Bleach

These are frequently used for on-scalp applications when a mild lightening action is desired. Oil bleaches are part of a 3-component system including powder activator(s) and hydrogen peroxide developer. Oil bleaches have a pH of approximately 9.5 to 10.


Creme Bleach

Creme bleaches also include developers and may also include powder activator(s). They are formulated to stay moist during processing in a no-drip consistency. They are popular for their versatile application techniques and are used in both on and off-scalp methods.


Powder Bleach

Powder bleaches are often selected when lighter blonde results are desired on darker natural hair colours. Most powder bleaches are for off-scalp techniques, although some do provide the flexibility for on-scalp applications. The pH of powder bleaches is approximately 10.3 to 10.5.


There are two basic classifications:


1. On-scalp: Used on-scalp for double processing and off-scalp in highlighting and creative colour techniques. 


2. Off-scalp: This type of bleach is usually stronger and faster-acting than on-scalp bleaches due to the higher pH and stronger peroxide activity.


Maximum Time

Maximum time for leaving bleach on the hair whether it is off scalp powder or on scalp oil bleach is 50 minutes. Do not exceed this time.


Colour Theory Hair Knowledge Base - Article 4


Hair is our "medium" - it's the material that we work with to create our art. Just as a sculptor needs to have an understanding of the properties of clay, bronze or wood… so too must a colourist understand the basic properties of hair. With a grounded knowledge of this information, we are empowered with understanding. 




Hair is comprised mainly of a non-living protein called keratin. Proteins are chains formed by amino acids. These acids are linked together lengthwise and held together by peptide bonds. Keratin protein contains five elements: carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen and sulphur. 


The chemical composition of hair is the same for all people:

Hair Composition


70-80% Proteins.

Provides strength and resilience.


10-15% Moisture.

Softens and adds flexibility.


3-6% Lipids.

Keeps the hair soft and supple.


1% Pigment.

Adds colour to hair and absorbs UV rays.


.05-.5% Minerals.

Residual elements to the cell that made the hair.


.1-.5% Carbohydrates.

Part of intercellular cement that holds hair cells together.


However, the texture or diameter, abundance, shape (straight, wavy, curly), and the amount of natural pigment all vary based upon our genetic coding.


The visible part, or hair shaft, is non-living keratin divided into three layers: cuticle, cortex and medulla. 


The cuticle is the translucent, outermost portion of keratin that protects the inside of the hair shaft. It is generally six to ten layers thick, with scales that overlap each other like shingles on a roof. 

The cortex or middle layer is composed of softer, more pliable spiralling chains of protein, which give hair its strength and elasticity. The cortex contains melanin or hair pigment. (The cuticle may contain melanin or hair pigment in very dark hair.)

The medulla, when present, is the innermost layer running down the middle of the hair shaft. In humans, it has no known function.

If the hair's cortex is damaged, the cuticle has been damaged too. Each hair shaft has seven to twelve layers of cuticle scales, which protect the cortex. In healthy hair, the scales are flat and compact. In distressed hair, the cuticle is abraded. Distressed hair is weakened hair. There are many different factors that can cause some level of distress to the hair. 


Chemical Distress


Chemical services such as hair colour, bleaching, perming or straightening can result in chemically distressed hair. These alkaline services cause the cortex to swell, forcing the cuticle layers to stretch and weaken. During the colouring, perming and straightening processes, hair bonds are actually broken. The results are a reduction in elasticity, an overall weakening of the proteins and internal structure of the hair and a visible negative effect on the external appearance. 

Mechanical Distress


Normal wear and tear from blow-drying, thermal irons, and everyday brushing can also weaken the hair. This type of damage is called "mechanical". Friction and heat can weaken the hair fibre, create split ends, and cause a "ruffling" effect on the cuticle and a disorganized interior.


Colour Theory Laws & Rules Knowledge Base  - Article 5

1.  Tint does not lift tint.


2.  The only solvent that can lift or lighten artificial colour, i.e. tint, Long lasting Semi Permanents is BLEACH.


3. Any hairdressing chemical product, i.e. Bleach, High lift tint, that can lift and lighten the hair will work on the    skin and scalp twice as fast.


4. Never use H2O2 (Hydrogen peroxide) above 9% (30 Vol) with bleach, always follow the manufacturers’            instructions.


5.  Never place a client under heat with bleach on her/his hair and leave them. Always check the hair every 5 to   10 minutes.


6.  When “On Scalp Bleaching” never exceed the 50 minute time limit, always follow the manufacturers’                instructions.


7.  Never use Permanent Aniline hair colours to tint the eyebrows or eyelashes – to do so risks blinding the            client permanently. Always follow the manufacturers’ instructions.



Colour Theory Fillers Knowledge Base - Article 7


Fillers are necessary when tinting hair back to its natural base shade, as when you lighten hair, you are stripping it of it's natural pigment.

Filling the hair is the process of returning the hairs natural pigment or 'underlying tone' as it is necessary to replace pigment when colouring hair back to dark again. 

  • A filler must always be applied with the correct natural pigment/underlying tone as the level of colour you want to achieve.


  • A colour rinse, temporary colour or semi permanent colours are most commonly used as fillers.


  • Filler must be one level lighter than the desired colour to avoid colour build up, which deepens the level of end result. 

For example, if you are returning the hair to a natural base level 6 then you would use a level 7 filler with an orange undertone
If you are returning the hair to a natural base level 5, then you would use a level 6 filler with a red orange undertone.

  • Fillers can be dried into the hair or processed, depending on manufacturers instructions.

  • When using a semi permanent colour to fill the hair, you must give the hair one light shampoo (no conditioner) before application.  Once processed you must RINSE ONLY, do not shampoo or condition the hair.

  • If you choose to leave the filler in the hair, after applying you must immediately dry the filler into the hair(100%) using a hair dryer - then the tint is applied straight over the top.

  • If you process your filler, once it is rinsed off, the hair must be dried 100% using a hair dryer - then apply the tint.

PERFORM colour TINT BACK application



1. Wash hair with one light shampoo (no conditioner) – towel dry hair.

2. Apply the appropriate level filler with correct underlying tone.

3. Let the filler process for minimum 20 minutes – maximum 30 minutes. (Refer to manufacturers instructions)

4. Rinse off filler.

5. Dry hair 100% using hair dryer.

6. Apply tint – mid lengths to ends - process for 15 minutes.

7. Apply remainder of tint to the roots & process for a further 15 mins.

8. Once processed,  emulsify, rinse tint thoroughly and if necessary give one very light shampoo.

9. Condition and towel dry.

10. Bring client back to the station and complete remainder of service (ie. haircut or blow dry). Remember to sterilize any equipment that may be used on clients head or hair if you drop on the floor.

Colour Theory Fillers Knowledge Base  - Article 8

Pigment Type and Density Chart

Level     Level Name     Tone of Colour     Pigment Type      Pigment Density


 9.              Light Blonde      Yellow                    Diffuse                  **


 8.              Blonde              Yellow                    Diffuse                  ***

 7.              Dark Blonde      Yellow - Orange     Diffuse                   ****

 6.              Light Brown      Orange                   Diffuse                  ****


 5.              Brown              Orange - Red          Granular                ++


 4.              Dark Brown       Red                       Granular                +++


 3.              Darkest Brown   Red                      Granular                ++++


 2.              Black                Red                       Granular                +++++



Diffuse Pigments *  


Diffuse pigments are small, scattered pigments found in blonde or very light brown hair, diffuse pigments are very easy to alter and lighten and do not require strong chemical lighteners to lift them. Can be likened to grains of sugar or hundreds and thousands. Also known as Pheomelanin this is orange-red.


Granular Pigments + 


Granular pigments are large densely packed pigments, they are found in brown and darker hair. They are very difficult to shift and require stronger chemical lighteners than diffuse pigments. Can be likened to coffee beans. Also known as Eumelanin this is brown.

Colour Theory Analysis Pre-Colour Knowledge Base - Article 9



Before we can carry out any oxidative colour service we must go through a thorough and correct analysis of the hair to determine how we can lighten the hair or how we are going to restore the natural colour or create a colour based on the clients’ desire.


1. Analysis (silent)

Thorough hair analysis is critical before any chemical or oxidative service. Below is a checklist of points that must be considered before we even begin to consider altering the hairs colour or structure.

Porosity; the ability of the hair to absorb moisture i.e. chemicals.

Elasticity; the ability of the hair to stretch and return to its natural state.

Texture; Coarse, Normal, Fine & Baby fine. Each texture has its own characteristics and must be recognised before attempting to formulate a lightener or colourant.

Resistance; is the cuticle smooth and “glassy”, is the hair grey. Grey hair will require specific rules – i.e. base colour and percentage to be added to the final colour.

Compatibility; has the hair been treated with compound dyes or progressive dyes, has the hair been straightened with strong alkalis such as Sodium Hydroxide?

Level; level refers to light or dark as measured in a colour chart - how many levels are we lifting the hair up too? Alternatively how many levels darker are we restoring the hair too and what undercoat is necessary for the target colour to anchor too.

Integrity; is the hairs condition and structure capable of undergoing the proposed alteration, especially important when going lighter or removing artificial colour.

Colour & Pigments; the level and natural pigment contained within the hair – natural diffuse and granular pigments, or artificial oxidative pigments or a combination of all of these pigments. Possible incompatible dyes such as Henna or Progressive metallic dyes.

Tone; refers to the actual colour we see, cool, warm, ash, gold, copper, metallic – matte, violet - violet-red, brunette, blonde or red head.

Complexion & Eye Colour; the complexion of the client must be taken into account when designing or altering tone. Is the skin tone golden or warm, or is the skin pale and florid or cold? 


The complexion is treated as the primary and the eyes as the secondary. Consider the laws of complimentary tones when choosing tonal qualities of a colour.



2. Consultation, careful observation and tactful questioning will draw out key clues as to what the client wants and expects from the service.

History; we need to know and understand what has happened previously to the clients’ hair before we begin to plan a change to the colour.

Scalp condition, no cuts or diseases.

What is the existing level?.

What is the expected level?.

How many levels of shift are required?.

Has the client had her hair professionally done or DIY?.

Does the hair have Henna or Metallic dyes present?.

How much maintenance is the client prepared to do and will she be able or willing to do it?.

How “out there” does the client wish to be and what sort of personality and occupation do they have?.

Allergies to colour?


3. Procedure Planning

Before we begin any colour procedure we should be clear about what we are doing and attempting to achieve and have all materials and tools necessary.



How many levels lighter are required?

What pigments are we addressing?

Tint or Bleach – strength of peroxide and timing considerations.

Is the structure and condition of the hair able to withstand the process?

What is the final undercoat to be addressed and its complimentary colour?

Do we have to apply special procedure application rules; i.e. mid lengths to ends and then base, etc.?

What final colour formula is needed to ensure the correct appearance that the client desires – what complimentary rules have to be applied?


Removal procedure.

Backup procedure for colour correction or toning, i.e. Long Lasting Semi to achieve even final result.

Record all procedures, formulas, recommendations and results for future reference and co-workers.

After service salon treatment and recommendation for take home salon products.

Tint Back and Darkening


What is the natural base colour?

What are the mid lengths and ends, how faded and what undercoat is showing?

What is the proposed colour?

What is the client desire, cooler, warmer, darker or lighter than her natural colour?

How porous is the hair and how even is the porosity along the hair shaft, does porosity equaliser need to be used?

What is the required undercoat level to restore or fill the hair evenly so that the final colour has the desired appearance at the desired level?

What final colour formula is needed to ensure the correct appearance that the client desires – what complimentary rules have to be applied?

Do we have to apply special procedure application rules; i.e. mid lengths to ends and then base, etc.?


Removal procedure.

Backup procedure for fading, i.e. Long Lasting Semi to achieve even final result.

Record all procedures, formulas, recommendations and results for future reference and co-workers.After service salon treatment and recommendation for take home salon products.


4.  Closing Consultation 

Recommend professional salon products and aftercare treatments.


For highlighted or highly lightened clients recommend colour shampoos and conditioners that contain the necessary complimentary colour to keep their colour clean and natural and a treatment routine to maintain structural strength, condition and shine that they can do at home between visits to the salon.


For tint back clients recommend colour shampoos and conditioners that will help to keep their colour fresh and rich and a treatment routine to maintain structural strength, condition and shine that they can do at home between visits to the salon.


Glossary of Terms

Saturation; the amount of pigment the hair has absorbed, the more colour within the hair the more saturation.

Iridescent; to shimmer or scintillate with all the colours of the rainbow, a specific term referring to Violet and Pearl tones.

Reflect; the actual colour reflected or shown in the shine of the hair.

Colour Knowledge Page 1

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