The Basic Science of Hair Color

If you’ve ever wondered how hair color treatment works, meet the 3 players behind the surprising(ly fun) science behind hair color (and not nearly as confusing as high school chemistry).

Meet the three players working together to make hair color change possible:

The Gatekeeper: Hair Cuticle

Let’s talk about your cuticles first. They’re the outer layer of each strand of hair that acts as a gatekeeper, protecting the inside of your hair.

When you choose a semi-permanent hair color, the color is coated on top of the cuticle. Semi-permanents give you a temporary color that washes out fairly quickly. 

However, if you choose a permanent color, a different process happens. The cuticle must first be opened, allowing the hair color to penetrate the cortex of your hair. Then, the cuticle must be closed to seal the new color in.

Most tips for preventing color fade focus on keeping your cuticle shut to lock in the hair color pigments. For example, showering in hot water opens your cuticles and lets your color run out, so it’s better to opt for cooler water when washing your hair.

The Wild Card: Hair Porosity

This factor is a game-changer! Depending on whether your hair has high, medium, or low porosity, it could react to hair color very differently. Hair porosity simply means how porous your hair is and how quickly—or slowly—it absorbs moisture.

High porosity hair means your cuticle is damaged or open and on the dry side. Hair color will get absorbed quickly and usually fades faster. Low porosity hair means your cuticle is tightly shut, so hair color usually takes longer to absorb and won’t fade as quickly.

So essentially, porosity has a major effect on the absorption of the hair color, as well as how long it lasts.

The Catalyst: Hair Color

Now let’s talk about how the hair color itself works.

Without getting too technical, the key component of hair coloring products is the alkaline medium. It creates the pH level needed to lift the hair’s cuticle. Many hair coloring products use ammonia to achieve this result. Naturtint uses a similar ingredient called ethanolamine, which doesn’t have the strong smell of ammonia, and doesn’t lift the cuticle quite as much.

Another essential factor is the oxidant. When the colorant and color developer are mixed, the oxidant releases oxygen to activate the pigment of the color.

The last component is simply the micro-pigment, or the actual color used to tint the hair. Once pigments are absorbed, your hair will transform to a whole new color.

So, there’s the science behind hair color treatments! Hopefully now you have a better understanding of how hair color can affect your hair, and are empowered to make the best choices possible!

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Naturtint Team

Naturtint Team

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8 thoughts on “The Basic Science of Hair Color”

  1. Hi, I used the 10N on my hair, just did more of a highlight type color then whole head.
    But, it looked good for the first day, but slowly it has been changing color a bit.
    It is more orange, red head then blonde. I have ash blonde hair, but it is dark ash.
    Can you advise, I really do not want to spend $200 on getting my hair recolored.
    I thought I might be using something that is changing t
    he color?
    Please advise,
    Merry Christmas,
    Tanya Ericson

    1. Jenean Naturtint USA

      Hello Tanya,
      Unfortunately, permanent color can only safely lift up to two shades of color successfully. Some people who use a 6N without already getting red/orange hues can successfully highlight with 8N or if you use 8N without already getting reddish/orangeish hues you can often use 9N or 10N to highlight, but many times as people lighten their underlying hue comes into play and it becomes necessary to mix with an ash color. If your natural hair is a level 5 or darker, it becomes impossible to use a level 10 in color without seeing red/orange hues. Everyone has a threshhold of lightness they can reach without bleaching their hair. If your natural (uncolored) hair is at least an 8 in color you can try mixing 10A – Light Ash Blonde with 10N. If your natural hair is darker than a level 8 in color, you only choice in getting those really light highlights is visiting a salon and getting your hair bleached.

    1. Jenean at Naturtint USA

      Hello Amy! Once you mix the developer and the colorant the mixture has a life of about one hour. Unmixed the two can last up to three to four months after you open each bottle.

  2. I have been using 3N on my hair because I need the gray coverage but I would like to lighten there ends of my hair like an ombre. Is there a way to do this with your products?

    1. Jenean at Naturtint USA

      Hello Sara,

      You can effectively lighten your hair up to two shades. Colors 1N through 5N are pretty good at covering without getting brassy. Any lighter than that and you’ll need to mix two colors and there’s no guarantee that it won’t be a little brassy if you go lighter than 5N. A color strand test will always be the best indication of final results. If you have any other questions, please reach out to one of our color specialists – 877.372.6567

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