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.

The Dos and Don’ts of Hair Coloring

Hairstylist providing a hair coloring consult

Coloring your hair is one of the biggest changes you can make to rejuvenate your appearance. You may be nervous about making such a serious decision about your look, and rightfully so. There is a lot to consider, but also a lot to be excited about. Preparation, the hair coloring itself and aftercare are all important to the success of your hair color changes, and it is important to consider each area very carefully before going all in on a brand-new look.

Hair Color Preparation

Before your hair undergoes whatever color transformation you have planned for it there are things that you need to do to prepare. Hair dyes and bleaches have harsh chemicals that can be extremely hard on your hair, particularly if you aren’t careful beforehand. Starting with healthy hair may not be the most glamorous or fun part of the coloring process, but it is essential to successfully achieving the look that you are going for.

Hair Color Preparation Do’s

Invest in a good conditioner and hair serum

The amount of damage done when coloring can be minimized by making good choices about the hair dyes you use, but at the end of the day hair coloring requires the use of chemicals. The harsh effect of these chemicals can be amplified if you’re starting with hair follicles that are already damaged. Achieving a proper moisture balance can help strengthen and revitalize any damage you may have already done before stressing your hair out with bleaches and colors.

Be patient with your hair

Try your best to be patient with your hair. I know you can hardly stand to wait for your exciting new color transformation to happen but rushing things can lead to disappointing results. Being in a hurry could cause you to damage your hair to the point that it takes months or even years to come back properly. It can be difficult not to shortcut to the “fun” part, but it will be worth it when the final result looks every bit as good as you want it to.

Hair Color Preparation Don’ts

Turn down the heat

Curling irons, flat irons and hair dryers are some of the most commonly used heated styling tools, but can cause damage if not used carefully. Even using them too frequently can cause hair to be dry and brittle. Before embarking on your exciting color adventure, it might be wise to minimize the use of hot tools and give your hair a break. This could be a good time to explore heat-free styling techniques and think outside the box a little bit.

Don’t waste dye on damaged ends

Leaving split and fried ends is never a good idea, but especially when it comes to coloring. Getting rid of dead, dry ends will help your hair repair itself and can assist with the overall health and growth of your hair. Even if you are only getting highlights or touching up some gray, cleaning up damaged ends is a helpful step in preparing for whatever colors you have in mind for the beautiful new you.

Hair Coloring

Whether you want a vibrant, multi-colored rainbow look with color transitions and fading or you are looking for some hi-lights or lo-lights, coloring is an incredible way to breathe new life into your hairstyle. Here are some tips to make sure that all of that change to your look ends up being for the better.

Hair Coloring Do’s

Choose a hair colorist you trust

This might seem difficult if you don’t already have a reliable hair colorist you go to already. It can be challenging to feel like you can trust someone you’ve never met with such a dramatic and immediately visible change to your look. You can ask other professionals in the cosmetology field for their recommendations, ask friends for advice, and look at online reviews to help you feel more at ease with the idea. Make sure that the hair colorist you choose is certified in their field and operating from a licensed salon.

Know what you want before you make the appointment

Having a basic concept of what you want can work in some areas of cosmetology and beauty, but hair color is specific. Mere shades can make a significant difference in the way a look comes together.  having a vague idea or acting spontaneously can lead to fantastic looks, but often they lead to disappointment, regret, and some serious revitalization treatments. Being sure about your decision is the best way to know you’ll be happy with it long term, so don’t be afraid to take your time and think on it if you need to.

Communicate as clearly as you can with your hair color specialist

Sometimes, words fail us. You try to explain the specific look you are going for, but it can be hard to know if you got your message across. Therefore, it is always wise to have multiple visual references of the colors and affects you are looking for to show to your hair colorist. This will allow them to ask you questions and voice any concerns they may have with your hair color goals. It will also allow you to discuss alternatives and solutions to any issues there may be. A clear understanding between you and your hair colorist about what you are hoping for will help you get an end result you are thrilled with and help your hair colorist give that to you. Sometimes, a picture really is worth a thousand words.

Hair Coloring Don’ts

Resist the urge to take on big color projects without professional help

It can be tempting to impulsively run to your nearest beauty supply store and grab boxes of hair dye the second the idea comes to mind. For extremely simple color projects a DIY dye kit might do the trick. However, even those can be messy, uneven and can end up fading quickly. Utilizing professional skills allows the benefit of professional products and equipment, keeps you from damaging your belongings with chemicals and colors, and keeps you from accidentally damaging your hair.

Rushing isn’t an option

All coloring is a process. Some styles take longer than others and a lot depends on the hair you are starting with. Your natural color, texture, cut, and previous coloring history all play a factor in how long the process takes. Prepare for a few hours of time in most cases and don’t schedule your appointment on an already busy day if you can possibly help it.

Take advice carefully

There is a definite difference between taking advice or suggestions and being bullied by a hair stylist into a look you didn’t really want. If your hair colorist suggests something you like, go for it! If they have a concern, discuss it and allow them to provide you with an alternative. But there is also no shame in going home and thinking about it before you say yes to any changes to the original plan.

Hair Aftercare

After the hair coloring is done, the best part begins! You are all ready for the world to get a good look at the striking new you. There are some things you are going to want to keep in mind so that you can keep the look you want for as long you want it.

Hair Aftercare Do’s

Invest in a leave-in treatment to protect your hair

Of you course you are going to want to immediately show off your new look, but make sure you protect it. A conditioning treatment that doesn’t need to wash out will help maintain a protective barrier against the impact of things like brushing, twisting and tying. Also, it will maintain moisture for those times you want to curl or straighten it.

Include a dry shampoo into your routine to reduce fading

The more you wash, the more your hair color fades. However, no one should sacrifice hygiene for color, no matter how truly epic it is. Dry shampoo will help you keep your hair clean without compromising the color with the scrub and rinse of a traditional shampoo. Lather shampooing will still be necessary, but dry shampoo will help you keep you color for as long as possible.

Make regular appointments for touch-ups

Touching up your exciting new look after hair growth or fading will help you keep it as vibrant as it was on day one. The more dramatic your look, the more frequent your touch-ups will need to be. Keep up that gorgeous new look and keep turning heads!

Hair Aftercare Don’ts

Avoid shampooing your hair in extremely hot water

Not only can hot water damage follicles, but it also is more effective at fading and washing out dyes. Washing with warm water instead of hot will help you cleanse without damaging. Rinsing with cold water after conditioning can help seal in the moisture.

Stay away from products with sulfates

Sulfates are a harsh detergent ingredient found in many common shampoos. It acts as an astringent to clean dirt and excess oils, but it can also be harsh and damaging to your beautiful new look. If you are having trouble finding a shampoo that isn’t harmful to the style you love, ask your hair colorist or hairstylist for some product recommendations.

The color changes you make to your look can be as shocking or as subtle as you want them to be. Following these tips will help you both achieve and maintain your hair color.

Ready to lay a foundation as a salon hair colorist that will open up unique opportunities in cosmetology and hairstyling? Need to get your undergraduate certificate in cosmetology first? 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. We keep our class sizes small to make sure you get the individualized instruction you need and attention you deserve. You will graduate with everything you need to be a versatile artist in an exciting industry, including a cosmetology diploma from a respected college.

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