Category Archives: Blog

Speaking Stylist: Haircut Terminology

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This week, we are talking all about haircut terminology. This will help you listen for and understand basic terms to describe what you want in your haircut and even allow you to use them yourself in a consultation. 

Bulk or Weight

Any section of the hair that lays too heavy. Most haircuts need a weight line somewhere in the haircut, but if the style doesn’t look proportionate, there is usually too much weight in a section of the cut. Think of the Dorthy Hammil wedge haircut. In the back, you can see the layers were angled at about 40 degrees from the head, which created a very heavy, bulky section at the back of the head. This would be a perfect example of weight. Unfortunately, unintentional weight can also be in a long cut or in bangs if the hair hasn’t been finished properly. Oftentimes, though, where bulk is placed can come down to personal style. Some people like a heavy bang or weight lines and others like a soft look.

Texturize

When you have too much bulk in a haircut, one way you fix that problem is by adding more texture. There are so many different ways of adding texture to a haircut and that’s something you have to trust your hairstylist to know, but looking at a haircut and seeing where weight needs to be taken out is something you can easily do. If you look at your haircut and feel like your layers are a bit “chunky” as I’ve heard clients say, they probably need some more texture to soften the look. Texturizing is also great to take a look from a very strong, angular look to a softer, more round look. Even if you don’t necessarily want to remove weight, you can texturize just the ends of a section to change the look. The picture to the left shows what bangs look like when they have been heavily texturized. You can tell that the ends are varying lengths and degrees of thickness, making the bangs appear a bit edgier. You can also do this in layers and other sections of the haircut.

Thinning

Another way to decrease weight is to thin hair out. You’ll see shears that look like the ones to the left used for this and to add texture. As a stylist, I prefer using my 5″ shears to texturize and do basic bulk removal, but I’ll use my “thinning scissors” to remove a lot of bulk if needed. Often times, if you see your hairdresser pull these out, she’s about to take a lot of hair out of the interior of your cut. So, if you have fine hair or thin hair and you see your hairdresser pull these out… it’s safe to assume they are not very skilled in finishing a cut and you can feel free to tell them you’d not like them to thin out your already thin hair. I have very, very fine, thin hair and I’ve had hairdressers use these on my hair to texturize. Big mistake! Although, some clients are very scared of these scissors for no reason.  I had a woman bring her daughter to me last week… and this girl had enough hair on her head for three women. She had headaches frequently from how thick it was and the only way she was capable of styling it was to throw it in a braid. The mother was very scared of me using these scissors on her daughter, but afterwards, her hair was almost unrecognizable… in a good way. She now has about as much hair on her head as a 13 year old should and hopefully she’s having a much easier time styling it. But if you have hair this thick, you probably already know you want it thinned out. For those that don’t know, now you know how to ask for it.

Face Framing

I think we all know what this means.. the layers that frame your face. They can start at your chin or just be the last two inches of your haircut. A frame can also vary by being either heavy or soft and either disconnected or continuous. If you are one of those ladies that has long hair and layers and wants a change without letting go of the length, adding a face frame would be for you. Another tip about framing is that only the hair from the ear forward should be included in a frame, otherwise you are left with a slight mullet look… which none of us want! So, if you notice your stylist taking more hair than that for the frame, feel free to ask them about it.

The Fine Haired Girl’s Guide

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Let’s face it. The hardest part about finding a new hairdresser is finding someone who just gets it. They understand your frustrations about how your hair has to be cut a certain way or else it won’t lay perfectly. The way your cowlick always seems to render your bangs unbearable. The texture and how it always seems to frizz up, flyaway or fall down after two minutes. That gift of really understanding your hair’s tendencies and abilities is priceless when it comes to finding a good hairdresser… and it’s often the difference between whether you leave loving your hair or whether you need a good cry after an appointment.

My hair is fine and thin, so you could say I specialize in that hair type. I know what it’s like first thing in the morning, how it responds to all different types of products and I know exactly what it will do in any climate. I know my hair type inside and out and there are no surprises when it come to taming, teasing and tailoring it on anyone. I want every woman to know what works best for her strands so that she can embrace her style with confidence and ease and unfortunately, there hasn’t been a whole lot of help for myself and my fine-haired friends.

So here’s the first part of two meant to help you better understand your hair. Fine-haired girls, this is for you!

What is “Fine Hair” Exactly?

The term “fine” refers to the thickness of one single strand of hair. This is often a confusing situation when I speak to women in the salon. Sometimes a client will have a ton of hairs on their head and have fine hair and sometimes they will have about four hairs on their head like me.. and have fine hair. It has nothing to do with how many strands you have, but rather how skinny or thick those strands are. A very thick strand of hair would be called “coarse” and a very skinny strand would be called “fine”. And this particular texture of hair, fine, has to be treated properly in order to style well, stay hydrated and embrace thickening products. It’s really important to understand this aspect of your hair before trying to figure anything else out.

Why Do I Have Fine Hair? Is There A Cure?

I’ve seen some women in my chair who swear they used to have “thick” hair and now have fine hair. I never argue because for one, I never saw their hair before so I genuinely don’t know and two, it’s really not that important what their hair was like twenty years ago. I’m concerned about making sure it looks good now and if they’ve become insecure about it, it’s my job to help them embrace and own their hair. As far as my experience goes, however, I’ve never seen coarse hair just turn to fine and I’m not sure if that’s even possible. But that’s how important understanding the makeup of fine hair is. Oftentimes when this happens, it’s not that the thickness of your hair strands have gone down. It’s much more likely (and I’ve seen this several times over) that you’ve lost hair from the hair strand and because you have less hairs on your head, it feels like your texture has changed. That can be really normal in some situations. Sometimes we lose hair simply due to stress or climate change. But other times (as was the case with my hair changing), your hair loss can be a symptom of an underlying medical issue and needs to be checked out. I always encourage women who’ve noticed recent hair loss to check in with a doctor and make sure their immune system and nutritional intake are in good condition. However, even with all of this information, it’s important for you to know that hair doesn’t just go from coarse to fine overnight. If you have fine hair, you’ve most likely had it your whole life and will continue to have it.

There is no “cure” for fine hair, though there are several topical options to help us out. Most of the time I see someone in my chair with fine hair who explains their struggles, I tell them I totally understand because I’m rocking the same hair. The response I get is, “Really?!? Your hair looks so THICK!”. Styling products, darling. And a roundbrush. These are miracle workers for us fine-haired girls. But we’ll get to styling routines later… Basically, my whole point is that while you won’t be able to literally alter the composition of your hair strand and make it coarse, there are plenty of products and treatments out there to help with the appearance.

What Treatments Can I Use to Thicken My Hair?

Remember that there is a difference between “thin” hair and “fine” hair. Sometimes, you have both, but not always. For truly fine hair, you’ll want a topical solution, more of a simple styling product. If your hair isn’t thin and you’re just looking for a great way to plump up your strands for a fuller look, then Full Again by Kevin.Murphy is your new essential. It actually uses little Rayon fabrics that attach to each hair strand and almost like tiny, invisible hooks, they add space between each hair strand, making it appear much fuller. This is just a styling lotion you can apply to damp hair before blow-drying in, but it works wonders for making your hair look and feel more plump and thick.

Another consideration with fine hair is how easily it can break. Because each strand is so skinny, it has a hard time enduring things like heat, climate change and color without breaking and drying out easily. Oftentimes, you will feel like it takes forever to grow out your hair and even when you do, it won’t go past a certain point and keeps breaking. Or those baby hairs around the face always stick out short and never grow out. All of these issues are simply because your hair is fragile.

For fine hair that has a hard time staying strong and not breaking and for hair that is thinning out (when you lose hair from the hair follicle), I always recommend Kevin.Murphy’s Body Mass. It’s important for you to know that I recommend these products because I’ve tried them on my own hair and can attest to how well they work for me. With Body Mass, there are a couple fun features that my hair has loved. First of all, this product uses the latest in eyelash thickening and lengthening technology. It’s the first hair product that I know of using this technology and how it works is by lengthening the growing phase of hair to ensure your hair grows as quickly as possible. It also uses oleanolic acid to strengthen the hair at the root so that it has a better chance of growing long and thick. And perhaps best of all, it helps to reduce DHT, which when found in abundance, can cause baldness or thinning. All you have to do with this spray is spritz it on your scalp and hair after each wash and blow-dry it in or let your hair air-dry.

How Should I Wear My Hair?

Fine hair is in its own category entirely when it comes to how to cut, style and treat. I have learned over the years (through failed haircuts on my own head and trial and error with my clients) what works every time, what is a total fail from the start and small, simple tricks to make your hair the most flattering it can be. I like to say I know what to do because someone tried what not to do on my hair… and I’ve had to grow out several times because of it!

Because fine hair tends to be very naturally wispy, soft and prone to static and breakage, a tailored haircut and style can be perfect. And a not so great haircut can be the worst! For me, it’s all about texture and how to place it for the most appeal. With fine hair, you’ll want more volume, more texture and more body. With longer hair, some very subtle, long layers are the way to go. Even better if you can pull off the angled look with your length a bit shorter in back and longer in front.. it will make your hair appear thicker in front where it tends to break easier. If you have a one-length haircut and want to add some spice without thinning your ends out too much, add a long fringe. You can style it to the side or down the middle, but it will add some style and height without making your ends look scraggly.

Short hair or mid-length hair are probably the most ideal for fine hair, though long can work if you take the time to style it out. With short hair or mid-length hair, you can often add some bodifying mousse or thickening lotion and get some great volume. With longer hair, I would recommend using a larger round brush and going through the whole head to get volume that will last all day. And if you are looking to hold curl on fine hair, you’ll need a texturizing lotion or spray. Go for a sea salt spray or just a texture spray, but always use something like this before curling. The grip of the added texture will allow your curl to hold all day long.

Things You Should Love about Fine Hair

I didn’t learn to love my fine hair until I was about 23. It was a long journey of wishing and praying and trying to get my hair to do things that it would never even attempt to look good in. But once I decided to embrace it and learn to get real with myself, I actually fell in love with my hair. Sure, I can’t over-condition or else I’ll look like a greaseball and sure, I might have to rock extensions for certain special occasions, but I take all the bad with the good and at the end of the day, I love my hair.

Think about it, I bet it never takes you more than twenty minutes to style your hair. No hour long blow-drying for us and certainly no “ponytail headaches” from having a mass of hair sitting on our heads all day. And that sleek look that’s so in right now? You know, the look that other women have to spend hours flat-ironing to get? Yeah, that’s called natural for me. So easy! I also love that when I get up in the morning, I have the option of going for a textured look with curl or a roundbrush blowout and either option looks fabulous and takes less than half an hour and a dime size amount of product.

Or being on vacation at the beach? You know exactly what I’m talking about! From the minute my hair hits the humidity and saltwater, each strand plumps up and has this great, sexy texture that I literally won’t get from any bottle of any product. Nothing beats Mother Nature in this context. Instead of having to braid it up or try to tame the frizz like some of my friends, I just get cool, lived in beach waves.

Avoid Tangles & Work Them out Gently

Not only is this hair type the most prone to tangling, but it’s also the most fragile, so those tangles can cause a lot of unnecessary breakage if you aren’t careful. For best results, comb conditioner through with a wide-tooth comb in the shower before rinsing. Once you’ve rinsed, apply a lightweight leave in conditioner to only your ends and don’t rough up your hair in a towel before combing again; simply blot the moisture out with your towel. And during the day, when you notice those little tangles or static popping up, run a lightweight lotion or oil through your ends to help.

Dry Shampoo Is Your Best Friend

Fine hair feels like it gets greasy and oily much quicker than other hair types. And because you have less room for that oil to go, it ends up making your hair look heavy and unwashed very quickly. Meet your new best friend, dry shampoo. I wash my hair every 3-4 days and on my “off” days, I always use dry shampoo at the root. Spray it in and then work it in better with your fingers. It gives instant lift, body and the product soaks up all of the oils you have at your scalp. After finding this routine, I am the queen of day old hair.

Treat Wet Hair like the Delicate Thing It Is

Because of the breakage we’ve talked about, never brush your hair when it’s wet. Always use a comb and be as gentle as possible. Also, be careful not to pull or manipulate your hair too much while it’s wet or damp. My fiance was in a phase for awhile of pulling his hair up into a man-bun while his hair was still wet because he liked the sleekness of a wet look. I kept warning him that he would start seeing breakage around his hairline because those delicate, finer hairs around his face would just break off in his ponytail. Sure enough, after a few weeks, I started seeing the breakage and showed him. I know it might seem like a smaller consideration, but having to grow out those baby hairs around the face takes forever and can alter the way your hair looks on a daily basis.

Avoid the “Weather Lady” Haircut

For some reason, when your hair is above the shoulders and fine, everyone wants to cut and style it into what I call “The Weather Lady”. In an effort to get full volume, the well-meaning hairstylist attempts a basic round-brush style based on how she knows to round-brush other hairstyles and textures… and twenty minutes later, you end up with a bubble. Minimal to no volume at the roots and a beveled, bubble shape from the mid-strands down. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been given this style and each time, I end up feeling ten years older than I am. The key for a modern, youthful, straight hairstyle with fine, short hair is to go for volume at the root only and let the rest lay a bit more relaxed. It shouldn’t feel so “done” and “matronly”. To achieve this kind of a look, have your stylist use a mousse or sea salt spray at your roots, rough dry your hair until it’s mostly dry and then, go through with the round-brush concentrating at the root only. Or rough-dry completely and add a few waves with a curling iron and just nix the round-brush completely.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Occasional Clip In

I love my hair, but I also know what it’s not capable of. And I think that is a very crucial step of learning to love it. But in that, I know that when I’m going for a bit more drama and fullness that a good style just won’t do for me, I rock some clip ins. They are so great because you can easily put them in yourself after having a stylist cut them to your current haircut shape, they are just worn for the day and they add instant fullness and length. And sometimes, when I’m heading to a formal event or a night out with my girlfriend’s, it’s fun to switch it up and try something I understand I can’t rock naturally.

Think Before You Bleach

Fine hair is so incredibly fragile that when it comes to bleach, you have to go slow and steady. Here, that approach will be the only way to win the race. It’s very easy to have breakage, lose elasticity or to even lose hair from the root from over-processing. With my fine clients, I usually only lift them about two to three levels per bleaching just to make sure their hair is healthy and in tact each time. It’s easy to say, “I don’t care, I just want to be platinum!”, but when that platinum is perfect and you have so much breakage you look like you’re rocking a mullet, it’s not so pretty. Go slow, do deep conditioners in between and enjoy your healthy, bouncy tresses in the meantime!

Be Careful with That Conditioner

You can easily overdo it using conditioner on fine hair. When I shower, I literally use a pea sized amount of conditioner and I only work it through what can fit into a ponytail. It’s crucial to only get your conditioner on the ends because too close to the scalp will leave you looking greasy and weighed down all day long. It’s essential to get that moisture from a good conditioner, but just be careful with how much you use!

Don’t Overdo It on Hairspray

There is a huge misconception that fine hair won’t hold curl, so in order to get it to do so, you must curl the hair with an iron and then suffocate each hair in hairspray. With this process, you end up with dry, static-y ends and crunchy, over-done curls.. which isn’t a good look on anyone. The best way to get curl to hold is to start from the beginning: Rough-dry a texturing lotion into the hair to give grip and hold, curl up the hair with an iron, set the hair in pins for about 10-15 minutes, then take the pins out and shake your curls out. Don’t put a brush through the hair before curling because you’ll need the extra texture for hold and body. This is the best fool-proof way to get long-lasting, relaxed, modern waves on fine hair. And if you still want to, spritz some spray at the ends, but work from the beginning to ensure you get the best performance!

Study Which Bangs Work for You

You can definitely do bangs if you have fine hair, it’s just a matter of know which bangs work for you. As a stylist, depending on face shape, I usually recommend a long fringe or side-swept look that can easily appear much fuller than it truly is. A blunt, front-facing bang can be really flattering as well, but will usually look a bit wispier, so you just have to be prepared for that end result. And also, because fine hair isn’t as heavy, you’ll need quite a bit of hair to weigh down any cowlicks you may have at the hairline. Just know that before going in, so that you aren’t surprised when a hairdresser has to take a bigger section than you realized.

Have Some Updo Tricks

While fine hair usually takes less time to style because it doesn’t retain moisture as much as coarser hair, it can still be a pain to have to style it each morning. My go-to move is to have about five upstyles in my repertoire that I can throw my dirty hair up into within five minutes. That way, instead of a messy bun or a sleek ponytail, I have some more intricate, more intentional looking hairstyles that I can rock. If you need ideas, check out this fun piece I did on HelloGiggles.

Don’t Shy Away from Backcombing

On an everyday basis, backcombing is just too harsh for fine hair. BUT on those days when you’re needing extra volume in an updo or down style and everything just seems to be flat, backcombing is a must. The key is to use a small-tooth comb in medium sized sections around the crown only and when you actually place the backcombing, use gentle motions to “pad” it close to your scalp. When you need to take your hairstyle out, I recommend either spraying a leave-in conditioner on the backcombing and gently brushing out or just jumping in the shower and using conditioner to finger it out.

Never Let A Hairdresser Over – Texturize

This has always been my biggest issue with getting a great haircut for myself. Yes, there is texturizing needed to get the perfect shape and to distribute weight in the most flattering way. In fact, that’s essential. But sometimes when a stylist is unfamiliar with fine hair, they go to town and texturize the way they would on someone with thicker or coarser hair and all of a sudden, I have holes in my haircut that they accidentally cut out or I look like I’m rocking more of a mullet. The best way to texturize fine hair is to point cut the ends of the layers so that they lay nice and softly without heavy lines. And usually, a little slide cutting from the root and down the sections of the crown from the interior of the haircut. But seriously, that’s usually all you need to get the perfect amount of texture. If you notice your hairdresser going to town with thinning shears or working in one section for a long time, don’t be afraid to say something. Growing out a crappy haircut is much worse than feeling silly for questioning someone’s technique. As long as you come from a place of concern and approach the situation kindly, there should be no issue and you should still get your perfect haircut! 

Plenty of Fashionable Celebs Have Fine Hair

Olivia Wilde. Cameron Diaz. Angelina Jolie. Gwyneth Paltrow. Jessica Alba. Amy Poehler. Kiera Knightley. All beautiful, talented women known for their successes and all of them rocking fine hair. And I would dare to say that all of them are uniquely stylish from head to toe and on their heads, we’ve seen everything from blunt bobs to loose waves to pixies. Let these fierce ladies be your inspiration if you get bored or upset with your hair and look at photos of them or other celebs with fine hair to get new ideas. And when you are looking for a new style or haircut, look to photos of these celebs who you know have the same hair type. That way, your stylist will be able to get pretty close to the same result for you!

Add Dimension Through Lowlights or Highlights

One of the simplest ways to fake fullness in fine hair is to add some dimension through color. When I don’t have some kind of lowlight or highlight in my hair, I feel like my hair is a bit more blah and flat. But just a few key highlights around the face and a couple peeking through the sides and suddenly my hair looks instantly thicker. With fine hair, you have to work smarter and not harder and this is a really, really easy way to do so.

Have an Overnight Plan

I love my hair when it’s day old, but I also have to be really picky about how I sleep on it. If I wear it down, I end up with flat, oily, messy hair in the morning and I basically have to wash to look presentable. If I wear my hair up too tight, I end up with breakage around my hairline. But if I sleep with a bit of conditioner on my ends and my hair wrapped up in a very loose, messy bun, I usually end up with a great starting point for the following morning. No static, minimal oil and no weird part lines or messiness. From there, I can either spray some dry shampoo and round-brush the top sections for soft fullness or add some curl with my iron. You can also add in a satin pillowcase to decrease static and dryness.

Thyroid Disease & Your Hair

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During my apprenticeship years ago, I was in a really weird place. I was working 10-12 hour days from Tuesday through Saturday and taking additional classes every week on Sundays, Mondays or sometimes both. And then I was bringing in my own models on Monday evenings to test out with my educators on the advanced classes I was taking. Basically, the salon was my home in every sense of the word. I was coming home around 9 or 10 at night and passing out on the couch. My husband at the time was so annoyed with me. He felt that I was giving everything I had to my job and working myself to the bone. We would put on a movie when I got home from work or even just try to have a conversation and I would be snoring within minutes. It was really affecting my personal life, but I was at a loss as to what exactly was happening. I’d worked hard my whole life and before my apprenticeship, I was in school forty hours a week and working about 25 hours on the side as well. I was no stranger to long hours and hard work, but suddenly, it was kind of taking me over. I had no control over my fatigue. I could down two cups of coffee and still pass out minutes later.

I mentioned to my gynecologist during my yearly visit that I was finding myself to be incredibly fatigued all the time. I also told her that I’d noticed my hair was beginning to fall out at an alarming rate. A couple weeks prior, I began pulling out what seemed like handfuls from my scalp in the shower and I was really freaked out. Being tired I could deal with, but being a hairdresser without hair? No way! Without running any tests or really looking into it further, she chalked it all up to my birth control. I’d been on it for two years and she claimed that it was probably just my hormones adjusting. My gut told me there was something more there, but I trusted my doctor.

Four months later, I switched insurance plans and visited my new doctor. I had a slew of problems and was hoping someone would check into them. I was still losing hair, falling asleep constantly, and now I was becoming more alarmed as my periods had completely stopped and I now had dealt with a sore throat for a month straight. What the heck was going on with me? I mentioned all of these things to my new doctor and her eyes grew wide with worry. She asked if she could put her hands around my throat and feel around. I told her yes and she immediately noticed what she called a “goiter”, which is a large growth that often signifies problems with the thyroid. She was incredibly alarmed at my symptoms and the size of my goiter, so she took my blood and said she would expedite it to be done by the next morning.

The next day, I got a frantic call at work. It was my doctor saying that my thyroid was non-functioning and it was so bad that she was shocked I’d been able to even walk into her office the previous day without losing all of my energy. She needed me to leave work immediately and go pick up a prescription that would begin giving me the normal dosage of hormone that my thyroid should have been producing and she put me in touch with a thyroid specialist who could see me the following week and begin treating me properly. She made it clear how lucky I was to get in when I did before this disease started to affect my blood pressure level and other things that are difficult to bounce back from. I was shocked at how serious everything had become.

The next week, sitting in the specialist’s office, I asked every question I had and was hit with some really serious answers that I wasn’t ready to hear. The first thing she told me was that I had the worst blood test she’d ever seen… Oh, wonderful! She then told me how this disease would now be a part of me for the rest of my life and I’d be taking a pill every day, doing blood work every 3 months to monitor my levels and visiting with her to followup at least every six months or as needed based on my blood tests. She told me that my symptoms would be ongoing, popping up at random and that I’d need to pay attention to them and really learn to listen to my body. She also told me the worst of the symptoms being that my case was the worst she’d seen… I shuttered when she explained that this could greatly impact my ability to ever get pregnant. And that even if I did, carrying a baby to term with both of us healthy would be my biggest challenge. And then there’s the added factors of possibly passing this to my children and dealing with other serious effects such as spiked blood pressure and heart problems. She was optimistic because I was young and healthy and soon we were on track to handling this disease.

Over the years since my diagnosis, I’ve learned a lot. I’ve learned that I actually have a separate form of thyroid disease than was first realized called Hashimoto’s Thyroiditis. It basically means that my autoimmune system has attacked my thyroid, causing it to lose almost all function. I’ve also learned that symptoms never end… ugh! I spent one year gaining about 20 pounds, I go through bouts of losing my hair when my dosage needs to be upped, I’ve recently began experiencing periods of extreme dizziness where I feel like I might pass out and need to sit down and also in the past year, I’ve begun getting migraines about once a month. And though I am young and relatively healthy, I also deal occasionally with a symptom of memory loss, which is perhaps the most frustrating. At the age of 25, I worry about how much worse it truly could get in the years ahead of me with the worst symptom being heart failure. But my specialist is incredibly talented and on her game when it comes to being open, honest and treating everything that comes up.

From my job behind the chair, I’ve met women who I could just tell had an untreated thyroid disease. And they come to me, their hairdresser, because they assume that hair loss and severe dry scalp and skin must be something I can treat. Though I am certainly not a doctor and obviously don’t claim to be one, I always ask clients who seem to have the same symptoms I do about other things going on in their life… their fatigue level, weight gain, etc. And in every case, whether they have one symptom of hair loss or five of the same symptoms I have, I always recommend them to get tested and visit their doctor. I explain to them that their thyroid hormone effects their skin, nails and hair and that even if the symptoms they are experiencing are not from an improperly functioning thyroid, it could show a hormone imbalance that’s not related. Or it could give them the peace of mind in knowing that they are completely clear and free of a thyroid disease and now, her and I can begin treating her hair loss topically.

I tell you this story for a few reasons. One, because during the time when I was undiagnosed (and let’s face it, still in the everyday dealing with ongoing symptoms), I felt completely lost. I had no idea what was going on with my body and no idea where to turn. I also kind of thought it might all be in my head. But I’m glad I kept looking for an answer because that might have saved my life. And secondly, because our hormones affect everything and sometimes we don’t realize that. Because I meet women on a monthly basis who have problems with their hair, skin or nails that can only be coming from a hormone imbalance or something internal. And because I get asked about this problem constantly from women in my chair, I wanted to make a statement publicly as well for all of you who read this blog.

As your hairdresser, I encourage you to pay attention to dry skin, weak nails, or a flaky scalp and recognize that any of these can be a first symptom of a thyroid disease. And just like I would tell you if you were in my chair, tell your doctor about it just to be sure. When I began talking to my doctor about the process of having children, she informed me that a lot of women begin testing and treatment after having miscarried once or a few times because of their undiagnosed thyroid disease. I’m thankful that I found out the truth about my autoimmune system before beginning that part of my life journey, but my heart hurts thinking of the women who have suffered through such pain when they could have been tested and treated first.

Listen to your body and get the proper testing and information. Keep yourself informed and don’t let any doubt on your part be the reason why you haven’t been diagnosed, treated, or given a clean bill of health.

10 Commandments of Hair Color

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I’ve been getting a lot of questions via email and Facebook lately about hair color. After spending a lot of time answering in great detail, I’m realizing that there is a huge need for a comprehensive hair color guide that I can direct all of you lovely ladies to. As much as I love answering your questions (and of course, still send them in!), a lot of the questions I get can be traced back to a few basic “commandments” of hair color. A lot of questions are about too-brassy highlights, color that keeps fading and gray coverage, which can all be answered with these basics. And I’m also realizing that I might be part of a small group of hairdressers who likes to explain and teach all of these basics to my clients.

I believe that every woman should feel empowered and knowledgeable in a situation she puts her time and energy into. And being informed about why your hair color works the way it does is something every woman should spend the time on. Doing so helps both of us to get to the best result in the most efficient and enjoyable way. I want you to know what your natural level is and what undertones you prefer in your highlights. I want you to know that choosing red will mean a lot more maintenance or that blending gray with highlights can be more beneficial than covering them completely in the short and long-term.

So follow along this week as we go through my Ten Commandments of Hair Color! You’ll see a new post every day with two more commandments to study and learn, beginning with the first two today. I hope this information will serve as a really effective guide for you to understand the scientific makeup of your natural color and the chemistry of changing it with bleach or color. Enjoy and be sure to share with your friends! 

1. There’s a system to hair color levels.

Starting with level one representing true black and ending with level ten at platinum blonde, every hair color has a number to represent the level of darkness or lightness. Hairstylists don’t typically speak in “medium blonde” and “dark brown” because that can change based on opinion, especially when speaking with a client. But using the level system is to use science that every hairdresser understands the same way. Take a look at this chart below to become familiar with what level your hair is and to be able to explain what level you’d like to become when speaking with your hairdresser! And a couple notes… you’ll notice that there is no level one pictured on this chart. Though this level does in fact exist, most color lines don’t even bother to use it. Level one is a very true black with blue undertones and for most people that want “black”, a level two does the trick without giving them that blue undertone. Level one is also near impossible to lift out of the hair, so it’s best to completely avoid it if that color can be made with a level two. Also, it’s important to note that in recent years with the popularity of platinum blondes, you’ll often see levels 11 and 12. Those are not pictured here either, but if you can picture a Heidi Montag white-blonde, that’s your level 12.

2. Each color has an undertone.

Just like a the level system, there is a similar undertone system. Each level represents a color (example: true black) and that color always has its own undertone shining through the color. This is why if you have a dark brown hair color and even though you’ve never colored your hair before, red always shines through. That’s because at your level, red is the natural undertone that will always be present until the level is changed. This concept is so crucial to understand because as you lift or darken hair, you need to follow the undertones in order to end up with a true level 3 or whatever level you’re trying to achieve. Without having the correct undertone in a level, you’ll end up with a murky, muddy color that lacks warmth or a brassy, orange color that lacks neutrality. Knowing how this system works can help you explain to your hairdresser more clearly what you want! For example, instead of saying you want a “bright red”, you can say you want your red to have an orange-red undertone, which will result in a copper color. Or a true red undertone, which will give you fire engine red color and is most ideal at a level five.

3. Remember your primary colors!

Once you have your levels and undertones down, the next step is to know your primary colors. I know you learned about this in elementary school, but it plays a huge part in understanding hair color. Each hair color has an undertone, right? Either a natural undertone after lifting pigment out with bleach or from virgin hair color. Or a chemically created undertone from a box or tube of hair color. Well, the most requested undertone for most women? It’s neutral! And there’s a very specific way to take hair color from red based or yellow based to perfectly neutral.

Neutral is perfect balance between the two different undertone colors. It’s what happens when you have an abundance of one underlying pigment (such as yellow) and you use its complimentary color (violet) to balance and create neutral. If you prefer yellow, then you can stay with yellow. Or you can add orange and go more copper. But if you want a neutral color, you must use the complimentary color to balance.

So, let’s study those, shall we? First, our primary colors are red, yellow and blue. Neither of these colors can be created by combining other colors. And the combining of two of these colors creates one of the secondary colors. For example, blue and yellow combine to create green. Red and blue combine to create violet. And red and yellow combine to create orange.

When you break it down further, you look at the complimentary colors. And that’s what truly helps you to find neutral. Red is the compliment of green, yellow is the pair of violet and orange matches with blue. In all three of these matches, you can add one to the other in order to make neutral. Alright, so study the chart below and when you are ready with this commandment, scroll down and learn about how to use this information for your benefit!

4. Fillers and Toners are essential!

You can categorize any color service by these two titles: “Lifting” and “Depositing”. Simply put, if you are wanting to go lighter with your color, you are lifting and if you want to go darker, you are depositing. I’m sure this seems like a silly concept for me to spell out, but there’s a reason!

Let’s start with lifting. Let’s say you come to visit your hairdresser with level 6 hair. You’ve been coloring it this color for about a year and you’re ready for some fun highlights, maybe even in an ombre pattern. You show me a photo of Jennifer Lopez at a gorgeous level 8 with a neutral undertone. So, let me explain what is going through my mind when you are my client and it’s my chair you are sitting in.. 

“Okay, she wants to go to a level 8, so about two shades up. Her hair feels a tiny bit porous and I know she’s been coloring her hair, so I’ve going to have to use bleach to lift out this color. But of course, when I go through and do that, I’m removing the pigment and I’m going to end up with raw undertone of whatever level I lift to. She wants to go to an 8, so it’s going to still have some orange to it. I’ll have to tone with a level 8, blue/violet based demi-permanent color to deposit the color she wants to result with and leave it with a neutral tone, like the one JLo has in the photo she brought in.”

As you can see, there’s a lot more to lifting than simply throwing in some highlights and washing them out. When you are lifting the hair with bleach, toning is usually essential. Even if you aren’t lifting with bleach and you’re instead lifting with permanent color, you still have to keep in mind the tones you want to add and make sure they are in your color formulation. But regardless of the process used, toning the new hair color at the correct undertone is essential.That’s why you need to study and know the levels, undertones and primary colors to truly understand how your hair works and how to truly own the process of knowing what you can do with your hair realistically. For example, if you lift up from a level 3 to a level 6, you are moving up the undertone scale from a violet to a red-orange. So in order to truly achieve a level 6 (and not just end up with raw red-orange undertone), you have to tone with green/blue based toner.

And the same goes for depositing with a filler. When you have previously lifted pigment out of your hair or you have a natural hair color that lacks the undertones that come with darker colors, then you have to fill the hair before you can deposit color that’s more than two shades darker than the current level your hair is. It’s generally known among colorists that if you lift without toning, you end up with very brassy, warm colors. And if you deposit without filling and missing undertones, you end up with muddy, murky, cool colors. You need a proper balance of both in order to have a vibrant, rich hair color.

For example, when you are a level 9 and you want to go darker to a level 4, you’ll have to literally fill your hair with the undertones you are missing. A level 9 has an abundance of yellow and a level 4 should have an undertone of violet-red, so the missing undertone is yellow-orange, orange and orange-red. If you look down the undertone chart we saw yesterday, you can see clearly what’s missing. For this formulation, because we have more yellow than we do red and because red is so hard to get into the hair, I would use a toner with an orange-red base.

This process, as well as highlighting and then applying a toner onto the highlighted hair, is considered a double process. In depositing color that requires a fill, a stylist must apply the filler pigment, let it process and wash it out. Then, your colorist will dry hair as much as necessary and apply the final color result (Level 4, Neutral) to your hair, let it process and finally, wash it out. It’s also important to note that every time a fill or deposit is done, the product used is a demi-permanent color. It’s the least harsh color to use on the hair that will still get the job done. I use Wella and I love the demi-permanent color line because it looks so glossy and luscious after deposit and it has conditioning properties.

This concept of lifting and filling is so important for you to know for a few reasons. First, it would be great if you understood the process of what it takes to change your hair so dramatically. Some women want to be blonde, go to dark brown and then back to platinum in a year.. and wonder why their hair feels like straw. If you understand this concept, then you realize every time you make such a drastic change to your color, you are blasting the cuticle open and shut and lifting out old pigment and depositing new pigment. When done at a slower rate (say once every two years or less), neither process will give long-term damage to your tresses. But when done often, it can really fry your hair to the point of melting or breakage.

It’s also incredibly important that you understand this because when you pick up that “Dark Cherry Cola” box color from Walgreen’s and put it on your level 9, blonde hair, you understand why it doesn’t turn out. You know that if you want to put a level 3 color with a red-violet tone on your hair, you are missing a crucial undertone of orange. So, the color might look like it’s taken for a day or two, but once it washes off the surface of your hair strand, your left with a faded, awkwardly violet mess of a hair color.

5. Choose Semi, Demi or Permanent.

Semi-permanent color is your Manic Panic. Mostly popular among those who like to change their hair color on a frequent basis, semi-permanent color is a direct dye with no ammonia. It basically just coats the first two layers of the hair and washes out a little more with each rinse. I have friends who swear by using colors like this for their bright pinks or blues or even just to add some fresh, natural looking pigment to their hair. I personally am not a huge fan simply because it gets on everything! It rinses out with every wash, gets on your pillows and jackets and you constantly have to worry about it. And it also fades fairly quickly because of it’s semi-permanent status.

Demi-permanent color, which we talked a little bit about when we went over toners and fillers, is the next level up. Demi is an “oxidative color”, meaning a developer is mixed with the color in order to allow for a chemical process. It simply deposits color, meaning it can’t be applied and processed to lighten the hair, only darken or to add pigment. Demi-permanent color also does not cover gray hair according to manufacturer’s directions. I’ve been able to use my Wella demi-permanent under heat for clients who are less than 30% gray and have it cover, but for the majority of people, it’s not strong enough and it fades quickly on gray if you try. This category of color is also great because it doesn’t damage the hair as much as permanent color; because it only deposits and doesn’t blow the cuticle of the hair open to lighten, it’s actually quite soft on the hair strands. The one that I use, Wella’s Color Touch actually has conditioning properties and lots of shine, so the end result is always glossy, smooth and conditioned hair.

Then you have permanent color. This is your strongest type of color and as I said before, usually essential when trying to cover gray. Permanent color is also oxidative just like demi-permanent, so it is considered a chemical process. However, because permanent color lines lift and deposit color, they are often a lot harsher than the demi’s. This kind of color can be used to cover gray, change pigment, darken to a level 1 or even lighten virgin hair up to a level 10. I find myself using this hair color more than any other just because it doesn’t fade and it is so vibrant and rich for the entire 6-8 weeks in between touch ups. However, where demi-permanent fades slowly over time without a line of demarcation, permanent will show as grow out in a hard line. To cover gray or drastically change your hair, though, using permanent is necessary.

6. Know that red is a commitment before you try it out.

In the basic chemistry of hair color, it’s widely known that the molecules that make up red pigment are much larger than any other pigment. Why does this matter at all? Because what that statement means is that red will take a long time to finally penetrate each hair strand and once it does, it’s not going anywhere.

I just did a post on this specific topic of red hair color on HelloGiggles, which you can check out here. I won’t go into a whole lot of detail because you can read the HG post, but I do want to give you a basic rundown.

Because of the larger molecules, red will fade very quickly the first few times it’s applied. It hasn’t fully penetrated the hair strand, only coated the outside or second layer. This has nothing to do with lack of skill on a stylist’s part or even a faulty color line, it’s just simple chemistry. But since I have frequently gone red myself and I get red requested often in the salon, I know that once you’ve gone through about two to three sessions of reapplication through the entirety of the hair, that red is pretty much in there. It might lose a little bit of vibrancy over the course of 6-8 weeks in between touch ups, but the base will be there. In order to enhance the red, try a pigmented shampoo once a week. And definitely be careful when using white pillowcases or towels… I’ve ruined a few in my day with my red hair!

It’s also important to note that if you decide to get rid of the red at some point, you should get ready for a battle! Now that the pigment has worked its way into the innermost layer of each hair strand and has fully stained it, the only way to truly get rid of it is to lift it out with bleach. And the first couple times you do so by adding a few highlights in, be ready for a lot of orange. Each color has an undertone and the undertone directly above red is red-orange and then orange. So as you lift that color up from red, you’ll have to pass through the brassy oranges. In the next commandment, we’ll find out all about how to counteract those unwanted colors, but the important thing here is that you recognize that red is not for the faint of heart. It takes a lot of time, a lot of maintenance and a lot of patience.

But for those of us who just don’t feel like ourselves without red hair, it’s all worth it! 

7. Your texture determines how your color will take and last. 

Whether your hair is fine, medium or coarse will determine how well it will take to color and how quickly it will fade. If you don’t know the texture of your strands, check out my post on HelloGiggles about how to figure it out. And also, remember we are talking about the texture of each individual hair strand, not the amount of hair on your head. It’s totally possible to have really fine hair, but to have a large amount of it on your head.

Speaking of fine, we’ll start with that texture. Fine hair is the smallest texture of any hair type. When you run your hands through fine hair, it usually feels angel soft and air-y. And what most people don’t realize about fine hair strands is that the outermost layer, the cuticle, is actually incredibly thick. Even though the strand itself is so thin, the thickness of the cuticle makes fine hair the hardest hair type for color to penetrate. Just like what we learned about red color principles, color applied to fine hair will take a few processes to really stick and stay. But once it does, that cuticle has locked it in and it’s not going anywhere. If you have fine hair and have noticed this problem before, now you know there’s actually a scientific reason for why that happens! It’s also important to note that since fine hair has such a concentrated amount of pigment in one small strand, hair color can often appear darker than expected. Also, because fine hair is so fragile with a small inner layer, you have to be incredibly careful not to damage the hair when trying to get rid of pigment.

Medium texture is exactly like how it sounds: right in the middle. It has an average sized cuticle and cortex, making it the easiest texture to deal with when coloring. Because all layers are average size and supported, medium hair can handle most color applications. And it can also take color very well with minimal fading and minimal maintenance. If you have medium strands, you’re fairly lucky when it comes to how much your hair can handle!

Coarse texture is hair that has a very large inner layer and a small, thin outer layer. Coarse hair is quite resistant to lightening and can sometimes even process lighter than expected due to the size of each layer. It’s also important to note that because of the small size of the cuticle, color is mostly resistant because it has an easy time penetrating the cuticle, but a very difficult time penetrating the thick inner layer. If you have a coarse texture and have often found your hair to be resistant to color applications, now you know why!

8. Find your hair’s porosity.

Porosity is the hair’s ability to hold and retain moisture. The amount of porosity your hair strands have directly determine how well they will hold color or if they will hold color at all.

When I was new in my career, I put one color formulation on a client’s hair. She wanted to go to a darker, cherry red color, so I formulated that color and applied it from roots to ends. Obviously, there was a lot more thought that should have gone into this and one key thing that I missed looking into was the porosity of her hair. I’d asked this client about her color history and though she didn’t tell me about the dozens of box colors she’d done in the past on her long hair, I should have checked the porosity myself and noticed that her ends were severely damaged. Of course, when I put that color onto her crazy porous hair, the top half of her hair (where there was less damage) was the perfect color we had wanted to achieve. And the midstrands and ends? Completely black. They had soaked up every bit of pigment and her hair color history that I wasn’t aware of, her fine texture and her extreme porosity made for one bad experience for both of us. But I learned a whole lot about dissecting each aspect of the hair before even thinking about beginning a service. I tell you this story simply to explain how serious porosity can be to your hair color!

Very porous hair will usually be the result of heat or sun damage, previous color applications (especially harsh box colors), perms, relaxers and heat styling. You can always tell the porosity of hair by holding a small amount of strands in your fingers and running them down the strand. If the strands are very smooth with no roughness, they have a resistant porosity. This means they have a hard time holding and absorbing color, but if you use a little extra pigment and use the maximum processing time, the color can turn out beautifully. If the hair strands feel mostly smooth, but with a bit of a raised or rough cuticle, the porosity of the hair is average. This is most commonly what I see in clients and this kind of porosity holds color fairly well. If the hair strands feel incredibly rough or even like there might not be an outer layer, the porosity is extremely high. This would be where the example I gave you comes in of the very dark ends.

I always recommend checking the porosity before coloring because, obviously, it makes a great difference in how the final result looks. If you have very porous hair, I would suggest staying away from color or highlighting until you can repair and build your stands back up to optimal health.

9. Always do a patch test before using a new color line or coloring for the first time. 

Hair color is not always for everyone. I’ve seen allergies, reactions and just general sensitivities, but none of them are pretty or fun to deal with and treat. In beauty school, all new hairdressers learn that a “patch test” is required for every new customer they service. However, it doesn’t often happen because most women who receive hair color in a salon have had a color service previously and don’t have any known problems or issues. So most hairdressers will assume that they are in the clear to move forward with any color services. Also, a patch test needs to be applied and watched for 24-28 hours. Because this requires the client coming in for the patch test and then coming back in at a later date after seeing the results, a lot of women choose to opt out and follow a more convenient route, albeit a riskier one.

A patch test is taking a small amount of color, applying it to the forearm and watching and recording results to gauge any reactions. If the patch test leaves a little bit of redness, but had no itching or burning, the client has a mild sensitivity but not an allergy and you can proceed with a color application. However, if the patch test has produced any itching, burning, inflammation or even sickness or fever, you should consult a doctor immediately and forego any hair color applications in the meantime.

Unfortunately, it is a bit unrealistic to do a patch test on every client that books a color service in the salon. Because highlighting and balayaging doesn’t require putting color directly onto the scalp, I almost never do a patch test for clients who request these services. However, if I have someone who’s never had color before and we are applying right onto the scalp, I do require a patch test. And at the very least, for any color customer, I always inform them of all this information and require their acknowledgment that they understand the risks of applying hair color before a service. As a consumer, it’s crucially important to know your risks and your rights, so I really wanted to share with you how a patch test should occur and when it should always take place. Part of owning your hair color knowledge is understanding the risks involved, so always take extra precautions if necessary!

Furthermore, if you choose to do your own hair color at home, always do a patch test beforehand. Every single time. Even when I was in high school using box color, I would place a small amount of color on my wrist and watch it for a day before actually using it. The reason why this is so important is because box colors have much harsher ingredients in them that can cause serious reactions. Secondly, an allergy can pop up at any moment without any warning. Even if you’ve been coloring your hair for twenty years on scalp, you could throw the exact same box color you’ve used onto your scalp and experience a major allergic reaction. Because this can happen, especially if you color at home, please be safe with your process and always do a patch test first!

10. Maintain your hair color by following these key tips. 

Now, you have your Jennifer Aniston highlights and your chic blowout as you step out of the salon. You’re ready to take on the world one fabulous step at a time, right? Hold on, hold on. There’s way more to color than washing it out and having it look flawless. The maintenance is almost just as important as who you choose to actually do your color.

The very first thing you must do to keep vibrant and dimensional color is to invest in a great shampoo. Grocery store brands will strip your color and leave your strands looking dull and damaged. You can check out my recap here to find out exactly why. For colored or highlighted hair (and really any hair that needs help with moisture and health), you must use a sulfate free shampoo. Sulfates won’t strip any of that gorgeous color you just paid for and they will also deposit moisture and protein into the hair to add to your hair’s health. Ask your hairdresser what brands she recommends and make this aspect of your hair color maintenance mandatory. I always tell my clients there’s no point in spending hundreds on a fabulous color if it only lasts a few weeks because you don’t maintain it in between salon sessions!

Another thing you can do that will make a huge different in how your color looks is protect it from heat, the sun and any elements that can dry and dull it out. When styling your hair in the morning, if you use any kind of heat tools, always use a heat protectant or spray to protect each strand. The line that I love and use in my salon, Kevin.Murphy has made the three most popular products that I use on most clients all heat protecting. I also use one of those three products on my hair every morning before I even think about touching a curling iron to it. A lot of products that boast heat protection also usually protect from UV rays and the damage of the sun. Just like with skincare and how we all wear sunscreen in our BB Creams and moisturizers now, the same needs to be true with hair. The sun can fade your color quicker than almost anything and since it’s actively doing that every day that you step outside, it’s important to make sure the product you use can provide a shield so that your color stays bright and beautiful!

The last thing I would suggest seems like a silly thing, but it makes a huge difference. I suggested this tip when I wrote about frizz on HelloGiggles, but it also works when it comes to hair color. It’s a commonly known fact by hairdressers that warm water or air opens up the cuticle and cool water or air closes it down. This is why you’ll notice hairdressers trying to keep your head and hair warm while color is processing; it’s so that the color really penetrates the cuticle as much as possible. So when you wash out your hair in the shower with your conditioner, use as cool of water as you can stand. If you need to, get out of the shower and immediately rinse your hair with cool water under the bathroom sink if you can’t stand some coolness in the shower. This is so crucial because it will ensure that your cuticle is completely locked down and shut before you start to manipulate the hair or step outside, making it very difficult for that pigment to leave the hair strand. And again, when you are finished styling your hair, go over the hair with a cool shot from your blowdryer. This will lock in your style and your color by shutting down the cuticle again.

So that concludes our series on The Ten Commandments of Hair Color! I hope you learned so much and enjoyed empowering yourself with all the facts you need to know to about getting the perfect color. I don’t know about you, but I’ve always needed to know why things work the way they do and I’ve always had a desire to completely and fully understand the elements of things I take part in to be comfortable jumping into it. Trust me, my beauty institute educators were really sick of hearing, “but why?” from me by the time I graduated. Now, however, they are proud to see where I’ve taken that pursuit of knowledge in my career and I’ve been so eager to pass all of that along to you and your friends!