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Why colour matching can be a disaster


Colouring Hair PictureOver the past few years, hair dyes have developed further and further.  We now are able to dye our hair any colour of the rainbow and are spoilt for choice when it comes to choosing a new colour and shade. Changing our hair colour, either temporarily or permanently, is an exciting and refreshing way, that should be a relatively easy, to create a new image and identity. More natural looking dyes have allowed people of all tastes to change their hair colour often giving them much more confidence in their own appearance.

Unfortunately it is quite easy for a colour to go wrong because picking the exact shade depends on a number of factors. Hair is made up of several proteins, the main one being keratin. Hair colour depends on the ratio of the other two proteins that are normally present in hair: eumelanin accounts for brown and black shades while phaeomelanin accounts for blonde, ginger and red shades. The absence of both of these proteins produces white or grey hair.

Claim Now ButtonLightening Hair:

Lightening processes can fracture the colour pigment and can cause unwanted undertones. Reddish undertones are described as ‘warm’ undertones and ash blonde caused by having ‘warm’ undertones of red; this can be cancelled out by using blue or by lightening further. Unwanted undertones can be cancelled out by using opposite colours: either green or violet. The final result will be a combination of your underlying pigment and the artificial colour.

Hair PictureLightening uses bleach, most commonly hydrogen peroxide, H2O2, in an alkaline solution. The solution separates the scaly cuticles to allow the H2O2 into the cortex to react with the melanin inside. H2O2 oxidises the melanin (either eumelanin or phaeomelanin) present in the hair to remove the colour irreversibly. H2O2 reacts better with eumelanin than with phaeomelanin so dark hair red or hair with ginger tints can remain and the hair can look orange instead of the desired gorgeous blood; this is because eumelanin will have decolourised but the phaeomelanin will have not. If these tints are unwanted they can be removed by further bleaching. Bleached hair can have a pale yellow tint as this is the natural colour of keratin yet bleaching destroys keratin. Repeatedly bleaching hair leaves it weak, brittle and dull meaning it will weather rapidly and it will be easy for cuticles to be stripped away. Using an acid-based shampoo afterwards helps to close up the cuticles so that they lie flat again so that the hair is smooth.

Temporary hair colouring:

Temporary hair colour is generally safe to use without causing damage to the hair. This is because it either deposits an acidic dye onto the outside of the hair, coating it, or it consists or small molecules which can slip through the protective layer of scaly cuticles into the middle where the cortex is without damaging the cuticles. Ammonia is not used so the hair shaft is not opened and the natural hair colour is retained so that when the temporary hair dye is removed through shampooing the natural colour appears unchanged.Lightening Hair Picture

Permanent hair colouring:

Permanent hair dye is not like paint, where the colour shown on the box will be the colour you end up with because it does not coat the hair and hide the original colour. Hair colour is a reflection of light off the coloured pigments inside the hair shaft while a shade is made up of different combinations of reflections off the pigments. Hair colour is made up of the primary colours red, yellow and blue, while the secondary colours orange, green and violet can be used to cancel or negate particular colours. For example, orange hair colour can be cancelled out by blue to turn hair a brown/black colour because blue and orange are opposite each other in the colour wheel.

Hair colour is labelled Level 1-10 in the colour wheel with 1 being black and 10 being the lightest blonde white. To make sure you choose the right colour there’s a little bit of maths involved:

  • Work out what level your desired hair colour is, for example Level 8. Times this by 2. (16)
  • Using a swatch book work out what level your natural hair colour is, for example Level 6.
  • Subtract your natural level from your desired level, in our example 16-6=10.
  • In this example case you would lift your hair 2 levels because your desired colour is 2 levels higher than your natural colour, and you would use a Level 10 colour.
  • If your answer to the above equation is 13 or higher pre-lightening will be required.


Permanently colouring hair can seriously damage it and have long lasting affects. It should therefore be done carefully and with the help and advice of a professional stylist.

Hair PictureEach strand of hair has a cortex in the centre surrounded by layers of scales called cuticles. The cuticles should lie flat and be close together keeping the strand practically waterproof. In order to colour your hair the chemicals must penetrate the cortex so that they can reach the melanin inside. The cuticles are separated using ammonia, which allows the chemicals in to react and deposit or remove colour. Peroxide is the oxidising agent which removes the pre-existing colour in the melanin; it breaks the disulphide bonds in the hair, releasing sulphur which produces the smell associated with hair dye. Ammonia also acts as a catalyst between the hair dye and the peroxide which react to bond the colorant within the hair shaft. Afterwards the cuticles normally close back up again. Conditioners can also be used to help close up the cuticles to seal in and protect the new colour.

However, if this process is done too much then the cuticles don’t return to their original tightness and can’t offer the normal protection. This makes hair over-porous: water can enter easily but it can also leave easily so hair becomes dry and damaged, developing split ends. This affects the hair’s elasticity which is important: if elasticity is reduced then the hair cannot stretch, curl, perm or bleach easily and breaks instead. It also means that hair is roughened and weathers more quickly.

During colouring hair is very fragile and vulnerable because the cortex is in the process of being chemically changed and the cuticle may have been slightly damaged. Therefore care must be taken as it is easy for damage to occur.

If damage does occur it can be difficult to rectify. This is because hair starts to grow inside the scalp in follicles. As new cells are made the hair is pushed out of the follicle towards the surface of the skin, once it is outside the surface it no longer receives any nutrients and the cells don’t grow so the hair is actually dead. This is particularly important if your hair becomes damaged because it is difficult to treat as there aren’t any cells to produce new ones to replace the damage. Normally the best way to treat damaged hair is to cut it and allow it to grow back. If a mistake has been made it is better to stick with the stylist who made the mistake as they know what they used and therefore have a better chance of correcting it.

Claim Now ButtonBefore colouring is done, a clarifying treatment should be undergone to remove the build up on the hair. Also a strand test should be performed on uncoloured hair before every colour treatment. This can be used to preview the new colour and can identify or highlight potential problems with underlying pigments, but more importantly it can indicate whether you are allergic or sensitive to the chemicals, which can develop at any time (even if you have had your hair coloured many times before). Hair should not be coloured if:

  • You have an allergic reaction to the chemicals. Taking a patch test 48 hours before colouring can help to determine if you have an allergy to anything in the hair dye.
  • Your hair has already been coloured. Colouring should only be done to re-growth every 4-6 weeks.
  • You have used henna or metallic dyes on your hair, because they can react unpredictably with industrial tints producing uneven shading.


If you feel that your hair stylist used the wrong colour, used the chemicals incorrectly or failed to do a patch or strand test then you could be entitled to compensation towards any extra hair or medical treatments you required to rectify the mistake or treat the damage and towards any discomfort or embarrassment you suffered while your hair was recovering or growing out.

For advice and help after a colour matching disaster at the hands of your hairdresser, call Free phone 0800 980 9386 or 01642 252828Macks Solicitors are also available on our website at where you can complete an online claim form.  At Macks Solicitors, we have experts on hairdressing negligence claims who can give you expert advice on your chance of receiving compensation.  We are concerned with your welfare and so will help you claim for your extra expenses and for your emotional and physical injuries. Our solicitors are both professionals and approachable so you should not hesitate to receive expert advice from Macks Solicitors.