Mad Scientist: Caustic Color Combinations

Platinum locks are a style staple, and the look is consistently among my most-requested of color services. To achieve these shimmering hues – whether snowy white, gray or champagne – I’ve been known to push the limits and test my boundaries. But as I’m experimenting, I take care to abide by one simple rule: do no harm. This includes ‘no harm’ to myself but also ‘no harm’ to my client. Though ‘throwing caution to the wind’ can be a treat, when it comes to the color lab, I make sure to dot my I’s and cross my T’s. Read on to find out how experimental color combinations can become caustic, plus learn how you can prevent serious reactions.

Stylists as Scientists

Social media has generated a wave of ‘unknowing experts:’ As a result, stylists around the globe are trying new – and often times untested – color techniques, without understanding the potential consequences of their concoctions. One such example is the unethical blending of high-lifting products with bleach. This combination, which is gaining popularity at a rapid rate, is hailed for its ability to quickly change the hair’s hue. But did you know that this combination could cause chemical instability, plus unpredictable reactions? Here’s why.     

  • Ammonia: (NH3). Ammonia is an alkaline compound of hydrogen and oxygen, which is both naturally occurring in nature and man-made. Ammonia in hair color is very efficient at opening the cuticle, which allows hair color to penetrate more efficiently into the hair’s cortex. Ammonia in hair color is not fundamentally bad for the hair. When both ammonia (catalyst) and peroxide (oxidation) are used with hair color, tiny molecules carry dye all the way into the cortex, where they react to remove natural pigment and expand artificial pigment, to a size that cannot be washed out. This creates a permanent color change.
  • Bleach. Bleach is a powder substance, that when mixed with hydrogen peroxide, works to decolorize the hair. The two active lifting ingredients are: Sodium Met Silicate and Potassium Persulfate. Sodium Meta Silicate lifts the cuticle layer, while the Potassium Persulfate works on the melanin.

When ammonia and bleach are mixed together, the bleach’s activity is reduced. Additionally, the bleach increases the alkalinizing activity of the high lift tint. When this combination of products is used directly on the scalp, irritation and/or burns can occur.  When used in a foil or in ‘off the scalp applications,’ uncontrolled swelling of the hair and potential damage can occur.  Mixing these products together creates chemical instability. The mix ratio and the volume of your developer will also play a role in the chemical reaction that occurs. Ultimately, heat is created, that could burn the scalp and/or damage the hair.

Safety Testing: Why it Matters

Hair color companies subject their products to extensive testing before offering them to stylists. This process is beneficial to all parties involved – the Color Company, salon owners, stylists and client’s alike – and works to guarantee the safety of each interested person. Through rigorous safety testing, product manufacturers formulate ‘recommended uses’ for each of their formulas. As a stylist, if you choose to forgo these recommendations and create a rogue concoction, you (and the salon that you work for) will be held responsible for any adverse reactions. Reactions can vary, but those that are serious may result in a lawsuit. So, to protect yourself and your client, you should forgo mixing chemicals – especially if you don’t have a full understanding of how they work.

Though mixing products can create striking results, plus can speed up processing times, doing so can cause unsafe conditions for both you and your client. So while manufacturer approved mixing can result in beautiful, dimensional hues, using products that aren’t designed to play together – and don’t play nicely with one another – isn’t worth the potential fallout. Think outside the box – but be sure to remember my one simple rule: do no harm.

Stay healthy and safe!