How to Get the Right Hair Color for You

Selecting the right hair color for you is the first step in achieving the hair color results (and avoiding hair coloring nightmares that find you looking for a good color correction specialist). Following some general guidelines can help you find a hair color shade to complement your skin tone, eyes and natural coloring so you don't wind up with a look that makes you want to tear all of your hair right out of your head.

Before you set out to color your hair, it helps to understand the different types of hair color. Each one works differently, so you want to be certain you choose the one that is best for the look you want.

Types of Hair Color
Semi-permanent colors are also known as glazing, color staining or washes.

These are a good choice if you've never colored your hair before or if you want to try a new color that you aren't sure you want to commit to. Semi-permanent color works by coating the hair with a non-peroxide hair color that will wash out gradually over four to six weeks. An advantage of the gradual washout is that you don't have to worry about touching up your roots. By the time your regrowth is visible, your color is mostly back to normal.

However, semi-permanent colors cannot lighten your hair; they can only darken it. They can also be used to cover your gray temporarily, to add shine to your hair and to help control frizz. They are the gentlest type of hair color, and you should use semi-permanent colors as long as they give you the result you desire.

Since it breaks down the cuticle of the hair and deposits pigment directly into the hair shaft, permanent hair color does not wash out. You can use a permanent color to either lighten or darken your hair. These types of hair colors lighten by bleaching the hair and then adding color all in one step.

Permanent hair color is harsher than the semi-permanent colors, and it can damage your hair, especially if you use it repeatedly over time. Your hair can become dry and brittle and take on a straw-like texture. You should take extra care in your daily hair routine when you use permanent hair color, and use products that are specially formulated for colored hair. Your hair will stay healthier if you also use thermal protective styling products before using any heated styling tools like a blow dryer, irons or hot rollers, and don't use heated styling tools too often.

Lightening Your Hair
Highlights and lowlights add bits and pieces of color to your natural hair color. Highlights will lighten your hair and are a great way to "test drive" a new blonde before going for the all over color. Lowlights add darker shades of blonde and brown to your hair. A skilled colorist can use both highlights and lowlights along with your natural color or an all-over color of your choice. By having several different shades in your hair, the color will look more natural and will have greater dimension and shine.

Bleaching is the process used to get the ultra-blonde shades such as platinum and champagne. Bleaching is usually a two-step process: First, the bleach removes the color and then a toner helps define the shade. Because of this double processing, bleaching is hard on your hair. It is also time-consuming and needs frequent touch ups every two to three weeks to hide every bit of root growth. Bleaching does not work well for natural brunettes and in fact is even harder on brunette hair than on lighter natural shades. When you lighten your hair, it will look its best and receive less damage if you stay within two shades of your natural hair color.

How to Choose the Right Hair Color
Your hair color should complement your skin tone. Skin tones are considered warm and cool. The best way to determine your group is to base it on eye color, skin color and natural hair color.

Here are characteristics for people with warm tones:

  • Eye color: Hazel, golden brown, green-blue and turquoise.
  • Skin tones: Brown skin with pink or golden undertones, pale skin with peach or gold undertones or people who turn golden brown when they tan.
  • Natural hair color: Deep brown with gold or red highlights, red, strawberry blonde or grays that have a yellowish cast to them.

If you have warm tones, your best hair color choices are deep chocolate, rich golden browns, auburns, warm gold, reddish highlights and golden blonde. Warm tones should avoid harsh colors like blues, violets and jet-blacks.

The following are characteristics for people with cool tones:

  • Eye color: Dark brown or black/brown, gray/blue or dark blue or hazel with white, gray or blue flecks.
  • Skin tones: Very dark brown; true olives, including most people of Asian and Latino decent; medium with no cheek color, faint pink cheek color or golden undertones; pale with no cheek color or pink undertones and people who turn brown or bronze when they tan.
  • Natural hair color: Deep blue/black, dark coffee brown, medium ashy browns, medium golden browns, dishwater blonde, golden blondes, salt and pepper grays or white.

If your skin is in the cool tones, your best hair colors include shiny deep black, cool ashy browns, cool blondes that range from mink to platinum and icy whites. Cool tones should avoid golds, yellows, reds and bronzes. People with cool-toned skin can also try wild, unnatural colors like bright reds, burgundies and purples.

At Home or in the Salon?
You can color your hair at home, but, if you want to be sure of the best results, go to a salon for professional hair color. Drugstore hair color products can vary widely from the shade indicated on the box, and different types of hair absorb color differently. A professional hair color specialist is trained to determine the level of porosity to your hair, and this determines how well your hair will take the color and how long the processing time should be.

If you do color at home, do not use professional products if you are not trained to do so. Be sure to read all the directions carefully, and time your color according to the directions. Start checking your hair after the least amount of time in the guidelines to avoid overprocessing.

What About Covering Gray?
Permanent hair colors will cover extensive gray, but remember that your body ages as a unit, and, if your hair color is too bold, it won't look harmonious with your face and the rest of your body. Stick to gentler tones and shades, or you may wind up emphasizing those lines and wrinkles that you would rather minimize.

Correcting Color Disasters
The basic rule of thumb when you have a color mistake is don't try to fix it yourself. You are best off going to a professional colorist, whether the color nightmare was caused by a home product or a professional in a salon. Even the pros can have a color go bad on them, but they are the most qualified to be able to lift the color and correct the mistake without damaging your hair beyond all hope.

You will have the best chance of fixing a color mistake within the first 48 to 72 hours, so call immediately when you realize the color is not what you bargained for. If you used an at-home hair coloring product, take the box with you to the colorist so he or she knows exactly what you used. This will be the most help in trying to repair the problem. If you must try to fix the problem yourself, call the customer service number on the box of hair color that you used for help.

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