Sexy Science Series Part 2: Strand Test or Die

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Welcome back to our Sexy Science Series! This is the second part of a three part series dedicated to the science behind healthy hair. In the first part, we discussed what causes and prevents hair damage. If you haven’t read it yet, make sure to check it out! 

As a reminder, to bring you this fun series, we partnered with Gina Cooper, Wella Master Color Expert and owner of Spectrum Salonsin Park City, UT. Gina is also a frequent guest on the Beyond the Technique podcast, so make sure to check out podcast episode 105, our first introductory episode with Gina to learn more about her background.

With all the fun introductions out of the way, let’s get started! For part two, our topic is: Strand Test or Die. 

For most stylists, strand testing is reserved for extreme cases. For example, you have a client come in with a level two hair and they want to be a level eight.  Although they told you they did box color a few months ago, you’re still nervous about the outcome. Or on the flip side, you have a client who is a level 12 who wants to go back to a brunette, and you want to check it out before moving forward with anything. 

Both great reasons to strand test, but Gina believes you should strand test on a more frequent basis. From her experience, strand testing is a simple way to get a solid foundation and understanding of your client’s hair before beginning anylightening service or color correction! A ten minute strand test takes out the guess work and produces consistent, beautiful results for your clients. 

At Gina’s salon, she requires a strand test anytime her stylists will be doing a service that requires lightening, color, or bleaching. She encourages her stylists to recommend a strand test at the beginningof a consultation, that way while the test is processing, her stylists can spend that time having a conversation with their client about what they are looking to get done and possible solutions. 

The reason Gina has incorporated this into her everyday practice is because she feels strand testing is a long forgotten trick stylists should be regularly practicing. Just like we should be testing our blow dryers on our wrists before applying it to our guests. We want to make sure we are following all the steps to make sure we are  safe, professional service providers.  

How to Do a Strand Test

At Gina’s salon, they are loyal Wella followers. For their strand tests, they use a Wella technique that is one part lightening powder and one part 10 volume, and they mix that one-to- one ratio for ten minutes. After you’ve prepared the mixture, you will want to isolate a few strands of hair over a few different areas of the head. 

Typically, if you are dealing with a color correction, there will be a few different zones to work with. Say your client applied color at home and she couldn’t reach the back as well, but she really over-saturated the front. Cases like this require you to test different hair strands around the head. 

So, you will take a few strands and isolate them in a foil, then place the mixture and gently fold the foil. After the ten minutes are up, you are going to want to spray each of those sections with a little bit of water and gently towel off the lightener. Then you want to go through and mechanically stretch the hair with your hands to see what happens. If it starts to break, you know it can’t withstand the stress of lightener. 

Gina’s Pro Tip: The reason you want to test small sections is because there could be a chance that when you take the foil off, there will be hair that is breaking. However, by testing small sections, you can isolate the areas of compromised tears versus large chunks of hair that you can no longer do anything with. In other words, always do a small strand test! 

If a client wants to go lighter or have a color correction, it’s always best practice to conduct a strand test. Even if it’s for a client of 10+ years, if they want to go lighter, make sure you do a strand test. It gives you a great opportunity to make sure your client’s hair is healthy and can take the lightener. Because as we discussed in part one, lightener has a much higher pH level than color and can cause more damage. 

Building a Roadmap from Your Strand Test

When you’re conducting a strand test, you might have a client that has had a wild color history and you might not catch all the color treatments they’ve gone through simply by looking at it. That’s why it’s important to always formulate to the deepest tone to prevent the underlying pigments from being an issue. 

Typically, the darkest, deepest point is going to need the most time and attention. By targeting it first, you get an understanding of your most challenging area and it will help dictate the pace at which the other sections of hair can move. This will allow you to set a roadmap for the rest of the color correction. 

Unfortunately, while you are building your roadmap, you might realize you can’t provide your client with their desired service for the day. One clear red flag that you shouldn’t move forward with a color treatment is if you see the hair snapping or breaking when you use your fingers to inspect it. Try and stretch the hair a little bit and if it has the ability to stretch and return to its length without breaking, it’s a good sign you can move forward. 

If you find the hair is breaking and you can’t continue with color treatment, you should begin to think of a different recommendations for your client. Take advantage of the other services your salon has to offer and make the best of the situation for your client. Perhaps offer a conditioning treatment or recommend product that will help get their hair healthy again. 

View Strand Tests as Insurance

There’s a good number of stylists that won’t even conduct a strand test. In most cases this is because they don’t feel they have the time. Stylists are encouraged to keep their consultations to less than 15 minutes, which doesn’t bode well for a ten minute strand test. This usually results with making a judgement call based on what you can see and what your client has told you. 

The problem with this approach is that you could be wrong and end up seriously damaging your client’s hair. Hair can only take so much stress, so while it may seem like an extra step, it will provide you with information you need to produce better (and healthier) results for your client.  By conducting a strand test, you have a solid insurance to take back to your client for reasons to hold off on color treatment until their hair is healthier – saving you from making a mistake that could cost you a client. 

To Sum it All Up: Strand Test! 

The formula Wella provides is one part lightening powder and one part 10 volume, mixed one to one and applied to several different sections of the head in five strand increments. Then you process it for ten minutes. After those ten minutes, simply spray the hair with water and gently towel off excess lightener. Check for snapping, breaking, and the strength of the hair. If you have a client that passes the strand test, proceed forward. Otherwise, evaluate that strand again. Check for your deepest points of lifting and that will be your roadmap to where you will apply your lightener first to start your color correction. If in fact you did hit that stop sign (e.g. too much breakage), make sure you have those ideas in your head for what you need to do to redirect your client in another route, but still keeping them in your chair.

For Gina, having her Wella Master Color Expert certification really helped earn trust from her stylists when she decided to implement her strand testing protocol. But more importantly, her stylists have seen incredible success come from strand testing. And because of this new protocol, their new mantra is this: ten minutes with a strand test can translate to 10 years with a guest. 

To listen to the podcast that inspired this blog, check out episode 114 on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify or your favorite podcast app! 

Make sure to check back for part three: What Your Clients Need to Know That You’re Not Telling Them. 

Emily Kelly