The Curl Whisperer on Color and Highlights
Color and highlights are two of the most popular ways to get a new look quickly. And a new, fun color can certainly take some of the pain out of the maddening process of waiting foreeeeeeever for our hair to grow! So, let's take a look at a few of the options.
Highlighting is the process where strands of hair are pulled through a cap or wrapped in foils or hand-painted to add a lighter, more "streaky" effect to the base color of your hair (conversely, "lowlights" are the same, but are darker than the base color of your hair). They can be subtle or chunky, depending on the pattern you want and how they are wrapped.
Highlights can be done with color IF you are highlighting on hair that has not been previously colored. A color process cannot "lift" or lighten existing color ... only bleach can do that. Most highlights are done using what we call a "double process" --meaning the bleach is applied to create the highlights, then a color-based "toner" is applied over the highlights to cool down any unwanted warmth or brassy tones that may result.
You can safely have bleach highlights as long as your hair is in good condition and you make the commitment to take care of them well, although I do NOT recommend anyone using bleach at home unless you have had some training and know what you are doing. Bleach is a very caustic process and can cause big damage to the hair shaft if your hair strength and condition are not properly evaluated prior to application. Additionally, you need to think about what it will cost you for a professional to fix your hair if you run into trouble (our own color correction prices, incidentally, start at $100/hour).
I am not such a stickler about base, or all-over, coloring, however; many of the home haircolor products have greatly improved over the past several years. There are four different types of color:
1) temporary - only lasts until your next shampoo
2) semi-permanent - lasts approximately 6-8 weeks
3) demi-permanent - lasts approximately 8-12 weeks
4) permanent - lasts until the hair grows out
The main difference between semi- or demi-permanent and permanent color is that semi- and demi-permanent colors only stain the outside of the cuticle; permanent color actually results in a chemical change inside the cortex (inner core of the hair shaft).
Haircoloring can be safely done at home, provided you remember a few basic rules:
1) Home haircolor is what is known as "progressive" color--meaning the longer the color sits on your hair, the darker it becomes. That means, if that box of color says to leave it on your head for 30 minutes, ladies, you had best be buck-naked and ready to climb in the shower at minute 29. Salon color is "safer" in that it is non-progressive, so I can leave it on your head for hours and it will never become any darker than it is supposed to be.
2) If you are doing a "retouch" (only applying the color to new growth), you need to be careful to only apply the color to the new growth and not extend the color past the line of demarcation (where the existing color begins). This can create what we call "banding"--stripes of color running through your hair where you colored over the previously colored hair.
3) If you need to refresh the color on your length when doing a retouch (common when you are using red-based colors, which tend to fade quickly), do the following: about five minutes before your color is done and you are due to wash it out, mist your hair all over with water, then pull the color through to the ends. The water will dilute the color to avoid too much deposit on your previously-colored hair and make them darker than the rest of your hair.
Another note on color: Please be very careful using temporary, semi- or demi-permanent colors over any type of bleach process. Bleached hair will "grab" onto any type of color and it can become permanent (and who wants those green, orange and black streaks from Halloween in their hair forever?!?!?).
Vegetable dyes, the most popular of which is henna, are increasingly becoming more natural alternatives for many women. The downside is that you will not be able to make any drastic changes with them: they are mainly semi-permanent, meaning they do not affect a chemical change within the hair, cannot lighten your hair, and are best used to add depth to your natural hair color.
If you do use a vegetable dye and then want to permanently color your hair, you MUST ask a trained professional to do a hair strand test on you first. Some vegetable dye products, like henna compounds (not to be confused with body-art quality henna), contain metallic salts: if you put permanent color over these compounds, you will get a chemical reaction and your hair can literally smoke or boil on your head! (Ever heard someone say their scalp felt warm or hot when their color was processing? Now, you know why!).
Be safe, but have some fun with color!