Patrick McIvor Guest Blog: There’s Nothing Natural About Unnatural Hair Color

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There’s nothing natural about unnatural hair color. In fact, when it comes to the traditional hair coloring goals of our industry, priority is keeping hair in great condition, then color, watch porosity, stay within two levels to control tone, etc…and now none of it applies. There is nothing natural when creating an unnatural color, a lot has changed.

Fight Warmth VS Lighten More
Traditionally, the two biggest challenges (aside from regrowth and a couple guests we all have that shall remain nameless) are fading and unwanted warmth, both from oxidation. Fading is a challenge all colors have - hair color, the paint on your house, the asphalt on the road - ALL colors fade (unless produced by refractive prisms like how a peacock gets its color and some new bike helmets and car paints, but we don’t have them and they’d still “fall out”). So, all colors fade and that includes natural and unnatural hair color, that’s just a fact.

Now, fighting warmth and oxidation. Natural/traditional colors and unnatural colors deal with warmth in two different ways. Natural looking/traditional hair colors are brown, blonde and red, the traditional beautiful brunettes, sexy blondes and the blonde we create to hide new grays, even the strong trendy reds from Lucile to Grace, this is what I mean by natural or traditional. Unnatural colors would be the fashion colors like Kelly Osbourne's purple, Lady Gaga's pink, Katy Perry's blue, and Pam Oliver from the NFL. These colors have been around for a while with punk kids, artists and the X Games set - from skateboarders to snowboarders and every other X sport in between. But, never before like we see now with the fashion set and the “I have a real job and make great money and want cool colored hair” set. Today, you can find “regular” people getting the “not so regular” hair color.

The warmth issue, let’s take “Sally” as an example – she’s a natural level light brown, 25% gray, wants to go lighter to blend the gray, but no red. Traditionally, if you didn't lift through the warmth, you still fought the warmth at some point. For some guests, we fight warmth when going lighter with color seasonally, with others it can be if we don’t refresh within 6 weeks and with others we glaze every time we see them to keep the warmth at bay. Why? Because with color there is always some warmth left in the hair, whether immediately visible or after the hair has oxidized to show the underlying warmth – there is always warmth. With unnatural colors, because many of them cannot even be created in an oxidative form (remember you can’t make a primary color - chemists can’t either), but you can find them in stains, most from nature (look up where the red in lipstick is from for fun). That’s why to achieve many of the reds, blue, pinks, purple, oranges, etc. we are creating now, we can’t do it in one step. Because those colors can’t be made in oxidative form, we have to lighten first. And, this is why if we are looking to make a strong blue we have to lift first, because to make blue we can’t be controlling warmth. If blue is controlling warmth, i.e. orange + blue = brown and yellow + blue = green, it’s not going to be blue. So, if we want blue, the hair has to be pale yellow. If not, the only blue you could get would be a navy blue, because unnatural colors can’t fight warmth. The blue would have to be dark enough to cover over, overwhelming the warmth - to get a real blue, you would need to start with a clean canvas. So, when creating unnatural hair colors, fighting warmth is not something you do, you just keep lifting, first.

Coloring VS Staining 
The biggest difference between traditional/natural hair colors and unnatural hair colors is traditional colors are traditionally created with oxidative dyes/colors that can both lift and deposit color. This is not the case for most party, bright, unnatural hair colors - these most often are direct dyes that stain hair because they are able to find pigments naturally to create, blue, red, yellows and all the other bright pure tones, but not make them chemically. That’s why most unnatural colors that people use when coloring their hair are not mixed with any developer, because these colors don’t oxidize and color, they stain.

A second big difference is, when coloring hair traditionally, porosity is bad, but when creating unnatural hair color, porosity is not only good, it is needed for the colors to penetrate into the cortex and stain the hair for greater wearablity. So, lightener is used to not only lighten the hair, but to create the porosity needed for the direct dye.

What To Expect
Well, that’s a tougher question. For new growth/regrowth, both natural and unnatural colors grow out at the same rate, but in terms of wearability, there are a lot of factors that come into play.

Natural/traditional colors are formulated to “last” 4-6 weeks and have acceptable fadage of no more than halfway from where you started. So, if you were light brown naturally and you used a strong red/red hi-def/pure tone type of color to be a bright red/red, 4 to 6 weeks later acceptable fadage with daily washing would be to red, not to orange or gold or brown when applied to natural hair with good porosity.

With unnatural hair colors, a single shampoo can result in major color loss due to porosity - too much or too little, or reds that last longer than others, just like the blues, purples, greens, etc. last longer in some companies lines and less in others. It can depend on the tone company to company, a great red that last from one, a purple that is great at another and then a crayon red the really works from a third. And, because of potentially strong fadage from every shampoo, most guests with strong unnatural tones wash their hair less frequently, use dry shampoos often and refresh their color at least every 6 shampoos if not more often. The great thing about a stain is, eventually stains start to set and wearablity increases with each refresh of the same tone, but an unnatural color is never going to last 6 weeks with daily shampoo and conditioning like natural colors do.

What I love today is people do understand that you can be different. That’s why we have seen mirror image growth of guests with unnatural hair color requests and options for professional dry shampoos. Ten years ago, the average salon did not stock blues, purples, yellows, if we had them, they were discontinued products covered in dust. And ten years ago, if the average salon had dry shampoo, it was because a family member had been to the hospital for an extended time. A lot has changed and I love it, but remember, what we have naturally done in the past to create amazing hair color, doesn't seem to be so natural for the future. -Patrick McIvor

Patrick McIvor is Artistic Director for Matrix. As one of the most respected colorists in the industry, the former Color Director for Nick Arrojo and Rodney Culter in NYC, is a cultural junkie inspired by international cosmopolitan influences from fashion and global trends to technology. He specializes in social media and new experiential educational formats and guides salon professionals on how to communicate with progressive media to build business and connect with community to “Take Back The Social Network.”


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