Must Know Color Myths


As colorists, we’re always experimenting, and sometimes our tests don’t produce the results we were expecting. Of course, every canvas is different, but knowing your boundaries is a great place to start.

Goldwell Colorist and Salon Owner Robert Brown takes us through some of the most common hair color myths, separating the truth from the lies in order to empower us to become the best colorists we can be. Robert is the founder of Hairobért Salons in Memphis, Tennessee and he has been using Goldwell since the 1980s. Robert is passionate about sharing his knowledge with colorists all over the world in order to help them produce even better results. So, who better to speak about the many myths of coloring than the man himself, Robert Brown!

Myth: You’ll Get Better Results When Coloring Dirty Hair

Robert takes us back to the days of those incredibly bright blondes of the 50s and 60s—think Marilyn Monroe and Kim Novak—to educate us on just how this myth came about. Although applying color to dirty hair has never been better in terms of results, back then it probably did subdue the irritation from the harsh chemicals they were using to achieve those infamous blondes. 

Robert says that the color treatments they were using were so high in pH that having a little oil and sebum built up before your appointment was probably the only thing keeping your scalp from legitimately suffering from first-degree burns during treatment.  

Nowadays, nobody is using those unorthodox methods and everything is carefully crafted with such gentle ingredients that few people ever experience irritation. In fact, today we have to be mindful of how much oil we’re adding to the hair when we use pomades or other oily products prior to coloring because they can actually act like a blocking agent and the color can have a hard time penetrating that greasy barrier.

Myth: You Shouldn’t Shampoo So Soon

Robert reminds us that hair color can either be on the hair or in the hair. If you haven’t the color in the hair so that it could really anchor itself to each strand and develop as it’s supposed to, there’s a chance that what you’re seeing prior to the shampoo is really just existing superfluously on the surface and it will wash out.

Peroxides and developers tend to stay active in the hair for anywhere from 24 to 48 hours after removal unless we use another agent to shut them down entirely. If the processing is done correctly and you’ve followed through to the finish, really locking the color in with a serum, shampooing later that day or waiting a week shouldn’t make much of a difference.

Myth: You Need to Use Heat When Processing Hair Color

Sure, heat speeds up all chemical reactions, but with chemistry, everything is a trade. Robert says that if you speed something up on one end of the equation, you sacrifice something on the other side, which in this case could be damage to the hair or irritation of the skin.  

During his time with Goldwell, Robert has never endorsed using external heat for color applications with the exception of Lumen hair color, which is totally non-oxidative. If he really thinks the hair structure is too healthy to take to the color he reaches for a more aggressive product with more alkalinity over the hood dryer.

Myth: Semi and Demi-Permanent Hair Dye Doesn’t Last As Long

Years ago, someone must have decided that “permanent” hair dye sounded so negative that everybody just started doing semi and demi-permanent hair color, but do you our clients really know the difference?

The difference is what the hair has to endure. Permanent hair color doesn’t mean that the shade is going to last forever. It means that the structure of the hair has been permanently changed or altered in such a way that it will never return to its natural state. With permanent hair color, you’re disturbing the core color. You have diffused the natural pigments in order to make room for the synthetic, they trade places.  

Semi and demi-permanent hair color typically insinuate that they don’t mess with the core color, they sit on top of it. Essentially, semi and demi-permanent hair color treatments just add another layer on top of the existing color. They tint the hair, or stain it, basically, conditioning the hair into a color direction without actually disturbing the core.

The word “permanent” doesn’t refer to how long the color lasts whatsoever, so when discussing the two stylists can get kind of trapped. Robert’s favorite example is the teenage client going through a “goth” phase. You don’t want to die their hair permanently black—their mom will kill you! So instead you reach for a semi-permanent black dye, which winds up being much harder to remove. The chains of oxidative chemicals in the permanent black die would have been much easier to break up. Robert says that the word “permanent” in this context is really a misnomer.

Myth: Ammonia Based Products Are Bad for the Hair

Robert acknowledges that today’s modern millennial clients are really looking for the ultimate healthy haircare which lends itself to the idea that ammonia based dyes are bad for the health of the hair.

The truth is, ammonia occurs quite naturally, and today most products contain very little ammonia anyway, so it’s not necessarily the ammonia causing the alkaline environment to begin with. You’ll notice that ammonia-free products don’t say alkaline-free. It’s the level of alkalinity that makes the hair angry, ammonia’s not the bad guy.

At the end of the day, whether you’re using ammonia based products or not, you’re going to damage the hair, but it’s all about balance. You should always be restoring the cuticle with nourishing products and oils after you’ve done your business.

Myth: If a Client Brings in a Photo You Should Be Able to Replicate It

Every canvas is different. So, while it’s nice to have a photo as a physical example of what the client is looking to have done, it’s okay to be frank with them about whether or not the look is actually achievable.

Robert explains that on top of all of the filters and Photoshop edits, a client’s perception of the actual color story within the look is also often skewed. Heck, sometimes the client is even bringing in a photo of a lace-front wig!

Robert’s favorite thing to do in these scenarios is to pull the shades he sees in the photo and then take his own pictures, one using flash and one without, just to show the client the difference that lighting makes before carrying on. It’s not their job to be an expert on hair color, it’s yours, so you’ve got to give it to them straight.   

Oh, and when in doubt—test strand!

Myth: Developers Are for Speeding Up the Process

We’re always trying to get as many clients in as we can and we’re trying to do these more extensive, more laborious techniques on the hair so we try to make up the difference by getting a higher developer in play, thinking it will speed up the process.

Robert says the better way to think of developer when concocting a formula is to think of it as the heat source. 10 Volume is like a simmer, 20 is cook, 30 is roast and 40 Volume is broil. You rarely need to use the broiler, right?  

Robert compares using 10 or 40 Volume developer to the rabbit and the hare—slow and steady wins the race. 10 can actually get you a brighter blonde if you have the time because it does a more thorough job.

Robert’s Favorite Myth: Metallics Are Easy to Achieve

Those metallic silver and gray tones are still some of our most popular requests, but they’re some of the most difficult color services to perform. At the end of the day, the trick to achieving those ultra-cool tones is adding stress to the hair to really make it stick.

Robert will tell you that what you really need to achieve these silvers and grays and still give the hair some durability is to come in with a permanent hair color that lives inside of the core of the hair to establish that initial gray or silver hue from within. Then, you can use those beautiful semi and demi-permanent hair dyes on the outside to give it that metallic finish.  

Of course, there are so many other hair color myths that we could dive into, but these are just a few of the prevailing myths of the times and we’re so grateful to have Robert to help us separate the truth from the lies. 

In Roberts words, knowing what you can and can't do is what gives you wings for what you could see in your mind—and that’s the fun part.

If you’d like to learn more about Robert and his passion for mixing formula and adding those finishing touches, listen to the podcast that inspired this blog, episode 179. And don’t forget to check out her incredible Hairobért in Memphis, where the magic happens.

Samantha Georgson