Hair Coloring: Lighteners, Toners and Special Effects

Hair stylist and client discussing hair colors

Hair coloring, or hair dyeing, is the art of changing the hair’s color with different chemical compounds. It is not new for us to suffer in the name of beauty, self-esteem, and confidence. Coloring the hair is no modern-day affair. For hundreds of years, we have explored the ever-changing, often torturous methods to achieve the ultimate hair color formulations. We still color our hair, but the processes and formulations have evolved. Hair coloring is now a multi-billion-dollar industry involving both plant-derived and synthetic dyes.

Why Do We Color Our Hair?

The reasons why we change or enhance the color of our hair goes way beyond covering grey or relieving style boredom. Some psychologists say seeking individuality, healing traumatic occurrences, and image dysmorphia (the inability to control negative thoughts about a perceived issue) are some of the deeper reasons why people color their hair. There is nothing new about the perception that blondes have more fun or brunettes are more intellectual, for fear of sounding hyperbolic. Different hair colors shape the way people see us in every environment; from the bar to the boardroom, from the rich to the financially challenged, men and women, perceptions are the same.

Brunette (also black)

People see brunettes as attractive, intelligent, and professional. While the thesis is that blondes are far more approachable, those with brown hair tend to be rated higher for perceived aptitude and confidence. Brunettes are also assumed to be more intelligent, capable, even favored to receive a position or promotion over another hair color. Begging the question: is a lower approachability score directly related to the abundance of confidence?


People see blondes as approachable, sexy and fun. Blonde is the most coveted hair color among women since real blondes are rare, but not as polarizing as red. Those with lighter hair are seen as more energetic, open-minded, bubbly, but sometimes needy. That is not to say they do not take their business seriously, as blondes tend to earn more on average due in part to higher self-esteem than brunette and redheaded counterparts.


Natural red heads are rare, but constantly stereotyped. People see redheads as successful, full of confidence, and temperamental. Yes, redheads are fiery and the least shy of vibrant hair color. Red heads also like to be noticed and are open to new and exciting adventures.

Permanent, Semi-permanent/Temporary Hair Color

Primary hair color typically gets divided into two classes: permanent and semi-permanent (temporary). The permanent and semi-permanent coloring processes are not nearly as similar as one assumes; semi-permanent hair color is more temporary.


Ammonia and hydrogen peroxide combine, opening the cuticles and interacting with the melanin and keratin, elements responsible for color and texture, and changes the structure to deposit the dye directly into the hair shaft’s cortex. The permanent class of hair color lasts anywhere between six to eight weeks. However, permanent colors require far more maintenance and expense than their hair color counterparts. Another drawback is the caution necessary when using ammonia and hydrogen peroxide.

Semi-Permanent and Temporary

Semi-permanent hair color does not contain any chemicals, such as ammonia or peroxide. Without these active ingredients, the hair color does not open the cuticles and penetrate the cortex, permanently changing its structure to allow for long-lasting color. Instead, semi-permanent hair color deposits acidic dyes that bind onto the outside of the hair shaft, or they consist of small amounts of pigment molecules that slip inside the hair shaft.

Hair glazes and glosses fall under the class of semi-permanent hair color. These color tools boost shine for natural or colored hair and return vibrancy to colored hair, making the creation of a just done look in between hair coloring appointments. Temporary hair color, typically brighter and more vibrant than semi-permanent and permanent hair color, is most often used for special occasions such as costume parties and Halloween.

Hair Coloring Application Techniques

Once your client has decided to get a hair coloring service, as the hair stylist, you need to ask yourself which hair color technique will provide the best results? Have an in-depth discussion with the client, complete with images, so expectations are clear. Then, decide the technique required to achieve that color. Here are some hair coloring techniques that you should know:


Highlighting adds depth to the hair, creating a multi-dimensional effect. If a client has never colored her/his hair before but wants more self-esteem, starting with highlights is a safe first step, and most salons offer this tried and true method. You will apply the hair dye to the ends of the hair and then work from one side of the head to the other, spacing out the highlighted sections. The natural hair color highlights sit side by side in contrast to each other. Randomly spacing these highlighted sections gives a more natural appearance.


Like highlights, lowlights also create a multi-dimensional effect, but a dark color gets applied to hair sections instead of a light color. (See Highlights)


This semi or permanent hair color technique is typically accomplished in three steps: application, highlighting, and toner application. Like highlighting and lowlighting, Bronde is a hair coloring technique that combines blonde and brown to create the ultimate sun-kissed hair color result. Blondes enjoy a soft natural color with added depth, and brunettes enjoy a lifted illuminated appearance. Bronding is a useful tool for you to highlight specific facial areas, great for enhancing the cheekbones’ appearance and boosting self-esteem.


Ombre, often compared with Bayalage, is where you transition all the hair from deeper roots to light ends. The Ombre technique, known a bit more as a style than a method, is typically done with a lightener placed horizontally and then blended upward to diffuse any visible lines. Ombre stems from the French word that means color graduating in tone. Because the color does not start at the root, Ombre requires little maintenance.


Bayalage is a relatively new technique. It is a freehand hair color technique that gives the client a natural finish. The client will decide on how light or dark they want the finish. Often compared to Ombre, Balayage will take a smaller sectioning of the hair. While Ombre is more of a horizontal placement, Balayage consists of a more vertical placement. If the client is daring, the two techniques used together create another desirable look and can really boost a client’s self-confidence.

Hair Coloring: Adverse Health Effects

It is important to know about and remind clients about some of the adverse health effects of coloring one’s hair. Hair coloring involves chemicals capable of removing, replacing, and covering up natural pigment inside the hair shaft. These chemicals require caution due to the possibility of a range of adverse health effects, including allergy, temporary skin irritation, hair breakage, and skin discoloration. After all, hair coloring services should help the client’s self-esteem and confidence, not cause an allergy or adverse reaction. It is also pertinent to use caution, protecting yourself and your client with gloves and smock for those same reasons.

Hair Coloring: Unintended Color Results

An unintended color result is an unpleasing cousin to adverse reactions and allergies when it comes to hair coloring. Several factors play into the wrong results, including the blending of non-complimenting colors, types of dyes, and condition of hair. Here are a few reasons you may see unintended results:

  • The final color outcome is an unintended blend of the hair’s natural color and the dye color with semi-permanent color.
  • Bleached hair requires pre-pigmentation before the color application. Dying bleached hair brown can result in an ashy tone (containing a greyish green tone).
  • Prior color-treated hair can react unpredictably with dyes used in the current process.
  • Some shampoos, which deposit a layer of plastic on the hair, hinders the dye’s reaction.
  • The presence of salts, minerals, chlorine, and other contaminants from the salon water utilized in the hair coloring process can produce a poor color shade.
  • Certain prescription drugs can alter hair chemistry.
  • Coloring darker hair to achieve blonde shades requires bleaching, followed by secondary color treatment.
  • Bleached hair can still have a brashy (yellow or coppery) shade. According to the color wheel, a violet-based color cancels out yellow tones, and a blue-based shade cancels out coppery orange.
  • The porosity of hair can affect the final shade. Porous hair often absorbs more color, which sometimes results in a darker than expected shade, especially at the ends where damage is far more prevalent.

Final Thoughts

Interested in learning more about hair coloring, lighteners, toners and special effects? It may be time for you to take a cosmetology program at your local cosmetology school. Learn how to color hair and much more, from industry experienced instructors. Learn all the tricks of the trade and start a career that is both rewarding and challenging.

Cosmetology Program

At Minnesota School of Cosmetology, we are dedicated to helping our Cosmetology program students develop a solid foundation and a flair for style through hands-on training in basic and advanced industry techniques. You will learn how to cut, color and style hair, give manicures and pedicures, provide spa treatments and perform various skin care techniques from industry-experienced instructors in a professional salon setting.

Contact us today to learn more about becoming a cosmetologist and starting a rewarding career in the beauty industry.

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