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Understanding how to colour hair


Created as a source of advise education knowledge skill experience:

mike vallance

Understanding how to colour hair

It takes knowledge and understanding of how a fibre of hair is structured to fully know what we can and cannot do to it. What products should we use to effect colour change and get the results we require and desire! In this instance Alterego Italy professional products have been used and presented.



As a stylist do you challenging your self to stay current. Stay at the top of your creative game. With all the new techniques and products coming on to the market we cannot afford to sit back relying on what we know Nor should we get complacent about the basic’s are the core of what we do on a daily bases.Taking short cuts is a habit so easy to fall into. It’s one that can and will have an effect on all that you do produce and create.


My goal is to offer a quick and easy refresher. Offer some basic information that you can trust, to give honest easy to read information to keep you on track.

IMG_8958A quote:  I like a great deal:

To succeed in any cosmetology Endeavour demands quality, professional skill, creative talent, and technical knowledge. In the hairdressing profession, many individuals have good artistic skills,but fail to acquire the technical knowledge needed to make those skills truly great.


“Webster’s” defines The word skill as ‘The ability to use one’s skills effectively’

Today’s Hairdressers must have a strong working knowledge of the hair’s. Chemistry and structure before you can effectively show your artistic skill through colouring. There are no short-cuts to knowledge–the more you understand, how hair colour works and reacts with human hair fiber the better prepared you will be to face the challenges that. Can. Will and do arise.

Put aside preconceived idea’s and lets explore a world of hair colour possibilities together!IMG_8902

A review together. Well we start with basic refresher. We have to start with a basic review of hair structure.  The key to all colour and chemical endeavour’s.

Hair structure:

To understand the dynamic’s of hair colour, the how and why’s we need to look deep into the hair’s inner structure. Look at it’s layers and how they are affected and changed during the hair-colour process. If we gain a better understanding of these functions and changes we can avoid common hair colour problems and achieve the best possible results.

The Cuticle

The protective outer layer of the hair shaft is called the Cuticle.

The cuticle is made up of translucent overlapping layers of keratin protein.

The main functions of the cuticle are






The cortex

The cortex contains keratin protein consisting of 19 amino acids,these long amino acid chains give the hair it’s elasticity. Two of key amino acids we effect in the colour process . Tyrosien this is key to hair colour pigment retention. Cysteien found in the hair’s helix helps with  curl formulation effected in the perming process. Keratin is a natural fibrous protein cross-linked by sulfur bonds [cystine].

The Medulla

The medulla is the inner layer of the center of the hair shaft, it is comprised of a softer keratin than the cortex.

The cellular structure is similar to that of a raw sponge and is part of the bodies excretory system, eliminating toxin’s from the blood stream. This is why in the consultation process we have to have full disclosure with regard to medication, drugs, that could be present in the hair and could effect the chemical process we are going to perform.



Basic hair colouring:

That being where all understanding of hair colour and colouring this starts with our primary colours and the Colour wheel. Many of us who have been doing hair for some time or indeed newly trained may balk at this. We already know it all right!.This is a useful refresher the building block or firm foundation of understanding into the world of hair colour.

Primary colours: These as we know are.




When mixed they create Brown. But as we know things are not that simple.

When we mix. two primary colours in equal parts we create Secondary colours, bare with us we have to understand this so that when we lift hair and expose the colours in the hair’s natural pigment we have the understanding on how to deal with them.

Secondary Colours:

Yellow + Red  =  Orange.

Yellow + Blue =  Green

Blue     + Red  =  Violet

With our understanding of colour. We can start to comprehend how to neutralise or utilise colour, as we expose it in the lifting process of hair colour. Ah but it goes on, yes it get a tad more complicated. Trust me when I say when the penny drops with this stuff hair colouring takes on a whole new meaning. Take two pie section opposite each other the law of colour dictates that when they meet in the centre they neutralise each other out,  a balance is restored and brown created at any given level.

Tertiary Colours:

This is created by mixing one part primary colour with equal parts of a secondary colour. This creates our tertiary colour.

*1/2 part yellow + 1/2 part red =orange

* 1 part yellow   + 1  part orange = yellow/orange

Know this: The primary is always placed before the secondary colour within a tertiary, due to the higher amount of Primary. Why is all this so key? Lets consider colour families shade and tone: This is how we can start to apply this to our shade chart and so have an understanding of the basic’s of hair colouring.

The law’s of colour is:

Colour is a reflection of different light frequencies. we all view colour differently.

I have included different versions of the colour wheel because it is my experience that we all digest or process information in different ways. This diagram shows the break out of primary colours in the centre working out through secondary into tertiary.

Quarternary colours are all the other combination’s of colour, including all the colours the eye can see


The keys to understanding hair colour are knowing learning trusting the law’s of colour. How many of us know these rules and yet constantly whilst doing colour try to break them. Well they are called rules for a reason and guess what, when you break them you get bad poor results they cannot be broken.

Colour as it relates to hair:

Colour is formed in the cortex of the hair by malanocytes which produce two types of pigment: melanins,which are black/brown, and pheomelanins which are red/yellow. All natural hair colours are a combination of these two types of pigment. Dark-haired people have more black/brown pigments while the fairer-skinned nationalities have more red/yellow pigment. It is the variation in these pigments that produces the spectrum of different hair colours shades and tones.

Its understanding where they lie in the hair structure when will will encounter them in the lifting process and deciding which path we want to take that really helps us to understand the dynamics of colouring hair do we want to utilise or neutralise the pigment we expose in the lifting process depending on the formulation we chose.


Types of melanin.

Melanocytes produce two types of Melanins:  Which are Black/brown Pheomelanins which are red/yellow the teaching below are part of the “Alterego technical information” as always we all digest information differently so sharing alternative ways to understand always helps I find.

Eumelanin  is the dark pigment found in the external part of the hair its the easiest part to lift and considered tone responsible for the hairs natural colour level.

Tricosiderine a red pigment found in the middle layer of the hair its this that creates those red copper tones and highlights found in medium and dark tones, can be a challenge to lift and control

Pheomelanin  the light colour pigment that we find left when lifting above level 7 seen as yellow found in the internal layer of the hair and has to be removed or toned to create a desired blonde shade for platinum this pigment must be gentle removed.

Alterego Italy

Onto the Eight colour families: and how they then relate to out colour chart. We have what is know as an international colour code system. The number denotes lightness and darkness. The letter denotes shade and tone. Using the knowledge we have gained from the colour wheel.We are ready to move forward.

The N series is normally calibrated to control the warmth exposed at any given level working with up to 2 levels of lift. An example of this would be a natural level 6 would have enough Blue/Green to control the Red orange exposed in the under pigment at that level. [colour wheel] think opposite.

Note: The N series is neutral a perfect blend of the primary colours at any given level 1-10. Now we are starting to see how these colour rules/laws work in conjunction with our shade chart.

Lets look for example at Nc natural copper this would sit on a colour wheel around level 7

It is a perfect balance at that level of our primary colours with secondary colours

red+yellow= orange  NC or 7NC natural level 7 with copper.

At a level 7 as soon as you lift the hair the first pigment exposed will always be warm and always have an orange undertone. Finally the last piece of the puzzle. Level refers to how dark or light the shade of hair.

These shades are divided into levels. note were level 7 sits!

 Depth                                                Tone

 *1 blue black  = blue base               /0 natural

*2 black                                           /1ash

*3 dark brown =violet base             /2 cool ash

*4 medium brown =red violet base /3 honey gold

*5 light brown =red                         /4 red

*6 dark blonde =red orange             / 5 purple

*7 medium blonde =orange             /6 violet

*8 light blonde =yellow orange       /7 brunette

*9 clear blonde = yellow                  /8 pearl ash

*10 extra light blonde = pale yellow / 9 soft ash

Therefore a colour which has a number of 6/1is the depth of dark blonde with ash tones, so it would be a dark ash blonde.

Any degree of lift beyond level 10 would require bleaching/decolouriser. It is a fact that many stylist will argue that level 10 is not attainable with out pre-lightening. It is always advised to leave some pigment in the hair. We will discuss this at a later date.

The information provided might seem quite daunting and complex, don’t worry help is at hand ask the questions get answers. Our goal is to provide information but also to make you think, to push buttons on the subject of hair colour. As this journey unfolds and more information is provided it will build up into a manual that comes together to  provide you with all the tools you need for greater success and hair colour knowledge.

Developers lets touch on types of pigment.

Types of Pigment

Artificial pigment is categorised into two groups:

*Direct pigment

*Non-Direct pigment

IMG_8957Direct Pigment

Direct pigment or Direct dyes are, large fully oxidative colour pigments. Due to the fact that these dye pigments are fully developed they are too large to be readily absorbed through the cuticle into the cortex. They tend to lie on the outer shaft of the hair, in some cases depending on the chemistry of the colour they may have enough alkaline to partially open the cortex for partial deposit.

By design they are stains temporary colour semi permanents. [more to follow on these types of colour]


Non direct Pigment

Non-direct pigment is a molecular colour system utilising small undeveloped pigments to achieve a colour change.The molecules pass through the Cuticle layer[with ease due to there size] entering the cortex where interaction with other oxidative ingredients [ alkaline, hydrogen peroxide,] creating colour change. How so? The formulation is our tube of colour in this case our non direct colour pigments mixed with a chosen level of hydrogen peroxide.IMG_8956

Most permanent hair colors use a two-step process (usually occurring simultaneously) These step’s serve to remove the original color of the hair and then deposits a new color. It’s essentially the same process as lightening, but it’s working with the hair’s natural pigment, as it gentle lightens the pigment  to attain a target colour, colorant is then bonded within the hair shaft. Ammonia [or another alkaline substance] are the alkaline chemical that  gentle opens the cuticle and allows the hair color to penetrate the cortex of the hair. It also acts as a catalyst when the permanent hair color comes together with the peroxide. Peroxide is used as the developer or oxidizing agent. The developer lifts pre-existing color. Peroxide breaks chemical bonds in hair, releasing sulfur, this can account for the characteristic odor of hair color unless masked by other added ingredients . As the melanin is decolorized, a new permanent color is bonded to the hair cortex. Various types of alcohols and conditioners may also be present in hair color. The conditioners  and restoring the hair’s natural level of Ph, We close the cuticle after coloring to seal in and protect the new color. Timing and formulation are the key to effectiveness of any colour application. Of Course deciding on what product to use in this instance can be quite confusing from a low ammonia permanent colour, ammonia free permanent or one of organic/ herbal products on the market I would always research the products and company, ask your self what you want and expect form a colour line. In this instance Alterego Italy offer alternatives professional products that cater for all needs.


Non-direct pigments only affect the natural colour pigments [melanin]and have little or know staining effect. they tend to be found in Demi colour and permanent colour formulations.This creates long lasting,vibrant hair colours.

 Shades of reds and coppers

Here we are on the colour bus so many stops to make , for our part we are just the tour guides, you as passengers can get on and off as you please. You become the drive when you choose the route, the topic’s of interest to you, when you decide to do the work, decide to use this information as tool to update your skills and knowledge.

The more we put this together the more the realisation of how big a topic we have to share with you.


Next stop developers but we feel to tie developers in with hair structure and pigment we have to touch on the subject of the Ph of hair and role it plays.

The Ph of hair: When we do any chemical service on the hair be it colour, perming, relaxing, we have to create an environment that enables us to get below the surface layer the cuticle layer of the hair. This is the outer layer that serves to protect the inner structure from both damage and moisture loss the inner layer being the cortex and Medulla. Once we have decide on the service we are going to perform in this case colour the formulation we choose will dictate the amount of deposit the more we open the cuticle the deeper the deposit. So understanding Ph, lift, deposit, is key to being able to perform outstanding colour services.

The Ph scale tells us the working environment of the hair and helps us determine the ideal product for any given hair type.

 Please note: Take time  to look at the chart and see where the various applications we apply sit. A Demi application developer will sit at the same level as hydrogen peroxide on this chart. Healthy hair should have a Ph of 5 to 5.5  when we introduce an alkaline be it Ammonia which comes in many different strengths the stronger the more it will open the cuticle the same can be said for other colour drivers MEA, Dealcoholised grain products, all serve the same purpose to manipulate the Ph the stronger the  product the more the cuticle will be opened and the more damage can be done it is essential after a process to re balance the hair and close the cuticle and restore that natural balance of 5.5.This can be done with a chemical balancing product these normally have a Ph of 2.5 when introduced to the hair it will close the cuticle and restore the ph balance of the hair to 5.5.

Always be aware to consider the hair condition and assess during consultation before deciding on any chemical service knowing and understanding the Ph of hair is key to keeping it healthy and allowing colour retention or retaining moisture after the perming process. Ok the Colour bus had a brief stop to review Ph now we can move onto developers with so much more knowledge of the colouring process.


This really is such a huge topic and so important choosing the correct strength is the key to success. Developers play such a huge role in the degree of lift and deposit we decide upon, allowing us to expose the pigments we utilise in the hair colour process. The formulation we chose to attain our target colour is a a blend of chosen colour level of developer timing. It’s just like baking the perfect cake! Mess with the recipe it will fail.


Lets work off an example of level 6. Dark Blonde. 6N on most  international colour charts Depending on the level of peroxide we opt to use. We are going to introduce colour or add undertone from the hairs natural Pigment. {remember level 6 }

This gets a little complicated, mainly because in some circles we are mislead as to lift we should expect, from any given strength or volume of  Hydrogen Peroxide.

10 volume or 3% Peroxide:

In some circles it’s suggested that it does not lift. My thinking is that it will expose the pigment below the surface at the level you are working in. in other words the lift you get is enough to expose the pigment in the hair at that given level.

Example on our level 6 we would expose “Red Orange”, by Introducing this warmth into our equation. We have to decide on the role it plays, how will it influence our colour. Do we want to Utilize or neutralize the shade exposed? At this point we should consult our shade chart and yes the colour wheel, choose the shade to do the job not just the shade that you like in the swatch! The higher the volume of peroxide the more lift the more pigment to consider.


Take a look at a colour wheel if 10 is the lightest then it sits in the yellow segment.

So working from our level 6 what shade would we expose trying to get to level 10? is it possible to get their? lets see.

   * 10=  pale yellow off chart

   * 9 =    yellow

   *8  =     yellow orange

   * 7 =    orange

   * 6 =    red orange

Down the scale.


Level 6 + 10 vol 3% 1 level  still level 6 but with pigment exposed. red orange

Level 6 + 20 vol 3% 2 levels through level 6 up to level 7 orange pigment exposed.

Level 6 +  30 Vol 9% 3 levels through level 6 and 7 into level 8 Yellow Orange pigment exposed.

Level  6 + 40 vol 12% 4 levels through level 6, 7, 8. and into level 9 exposing yellow but still a warm yellow.

4 levels of tint lift. Will not give you lift from level 6 to level 10 you will always struggle with the issue of warmth. { even with a high lift Blonde using adjusted formula with a violet base to neutralize the pigment exposed} You should be able to see from this example, that as we lift hair from it’s natural level we expose pigment.This exposed pigment becomes part of our colour formulation,  seeing as we have introduced this pigment into the colour equation  we have to  decide do we want to utilise it or neutralise it. thus creating our target colour. You can at this juncture take time to review and digest the very key points raised for creating perfect colour.




Ask your self this question which is the stronger 10 volume hydrogen peroxide or 40 volume? Be honest with your answer! I would say that 75% would say 40 Volume! The fact is they are both the same. The only difference is the 40 vol stronger in the  active time.[see timing chart] Think of it like this you have a glass of water in each hand. One glass has 1 alkali dissolving tablet in it this represents 10 vol. The second glass has 4 alkali dissolving tablets in it. This represents 40 vol strength wise they are the same, the only difference is the 4 tablets will fizz for stronger or more actively.


The difference is not the strength is the activity of the action in this case lifting! We are back to formulation and timing. We can now appreciate the careful balance that is hair colouring. Having a fuller understanding of the hair’s structure, how we can manipulate it’s Ph, to facilitate the hair colour process. Have a better understanding of lift deposit and how to utilise and neutralise the pigments we expose and use towards our target colour.


The above an insight into basic knowledge and skill required to colour hair and under the processes taking palace as we deliver any hair colour chemical service.

Below: Some information and link to theAlterego Italy product line”  their products have been used to demonstrate the colours and products in this article I have also added links on help on how to understand and run your salon and business successfully


This was a long topic but I hope those who read it find it useful


The ‘Three R’s’ 
”Reputation. Recommendation. Retention”. 
It’s not built on that constant looking for new clients it’s looking after what you have! It’s investing in your self and your business and those around you.


This journey, this career, is wonderful – challenging, inspiring, and yes, hard work.

Our industry is in constant change and is sometimes criticised. For lacking vision in some areas. However there is an ever growing body of professionals. That have a firm commitment to our industry, they have a passion for change, to raise standards through education and sharing. Leadership, education and team incentives.Will over time and with commitment give any individual that ability to do exceptional work and to be more creative. Leadership and management help create an amazing work environment for all concerned. So key for success for all concerned.
This journey. This career, is wonderful – Challenging. Inspiring and yes can and will be hard work. but the rewards are worth all the effort.
Thank you all for letting me share some thoughts with you today.These are inspirational, passionate, industry professionals.They have a vision. These are the people I want on my bus to learn from, share with, take a journey with. Get inspired. Connect with driven motivated industry professional. challenge your self. invest in ones /your self 

Are you driver or passenger !

 There are no guarantees in life and ones career and career choice is no different thing happen and its how we deal with them that defines us. Jobs change relationships come and go the one thing that remains after training is our skill both hands on creative and the ones we learn about people and communication about caring about being a team player. Constantly developing new skills staying current is so very important.

Alter Ego Italy professional products are already having success in both the UK and all over Europe and its now ready to launch and be part of the Market in the USA. It’s offering all the things that I hold dear passion and commitment to salon training and support. It has the support from being just one part of a much bigger entity that is striving for success in the salon and hair industry.

The product line is very comprehensive offering professional products to cater for all needs of both the salon and the stylist salon products and retail support for the clients. Many new an exciting things are being launched and coming on line via there web site Alter Ego Italy and various social media platforms.

Alterego Italy

For more information on the products or the Brand new Uk Academy here is the contact information:

Available now my first Book ‘The salon and the ‘S’ word Available Now Click here for details 

Latest comment. Enjoying your book. A lot of thought has gone into this book and to be honest I wish that I had read it while operating a business.
The time and effort in explaining the target clientele was good as I feel that most people wouldn’t even think about it. Your subject with dealing with suppliers was very good. I wish that I had studied when working.
There were a lot of questions and points that I was not asking. My overall view of it is that it is well researched, and has good subjects and points. Currently I am on page 56. so lots to read yet!


Alterego Image


highlights low lights

Reviewing a new colour line:        Reviewing :High lift blonde.

Alterego Italy  salon exclusive professional Hair colour and salon products / client retail a very exciting range of products designed for those with a mind for quality  passion and creativity.

by Alterego Italy

Techno Fruit. Hair colour click above to read reviews on this colour line.

I also think that we need to always look at the Why. Ask the question Why are we in business whats it for? OrWhy do we want to go into to business what is success? Why do I suggest this I think by asking and exploring the why we get to the motive behind why we want to be in business what is true success. Why the will also help us to understand our true values this in turn helps us to follow the path to the success we want  and desire. It will help us to surround ourselves with the right team those who share our values and vision.


Remember. Salon success. Stylist success. Business success are all linked together it’s Team success. Its never about any destination only ever about a journey taking the right people on that journey makes it enjoyable maybe even fun!

My web site is Back2myroots: B2MR feel free to check in

You can also find me here on LinkedIn on Twitter MikeB2MR and Facebook Back2myroots B2MR

Mike B2MR


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