The secret to effective hair color removal – the best products and techniques

Don’t you just hate those hair dye disasters? Whether you opted for a salon color or experimented at home, if things didn’t quite go to plan, bad hair days can be hard to hide. It’s lucky then that there are some good options out there for effective hair color removal, so step out from behind that paper bag away and read on.

How does hair color removal work?

In order to understand how you’re going to remedy that tangerine orange hair, you really need to know a bit about how different hair dyes work.

Permanent hair color contains ammonium, a strong alkaline chemical that’s able to open up the cuticle of the hair, allowing the dye to penetrate deep inside. Hydrogen peroxide is also present – this not only has a bleaching effect on your natural hair color, but reacts with the dye while it’s inside the hair. This causes the dye molecules to swell and basically get trapped within the hair, holding the new color in permanently.

Demi permanent dye contains a weaker alkaline chemical than ammonium, and a weaker concentration of peroxide, so the hair color isn’t able penetrate as deeply into the hair, and it won’t lighten your natural hair color in the same way as permanent colors.

Semi permanent colors don’t use ammonium to open up the outer cuticle of the hair, so dye molecules don’t enter the hair’s core. Instead, dye molecules are smaller so are able to enter the outer layers of the hair, but in turn are washed out relatively easily.

Temporary colors and tints simply coat or stain hair, so tend to be relatively easy to remove.

Getting rid of the color – let the professionals at it

Yes I know, it may not be what you want to hear but I’ve got to start with the sensible advice. Too many chemical processes can really wreak havoc with your hair, I speak from bitter experience on that front. Home coloring is one thing, but color correction can be a tricky business, especially if you’re dealing with anything but gentle tints and temporary colors. Trying product after product in an attempt to remove disastrous or just unwanted color from your hair could just leave you with fried hair that’s still a bizarre color – not good!

An experienced colorist will carry out a thorough consultation, check which chemicals have already been used on your hair and can use the right product to get the job done, with minimal damage.

Home hair color removal

OK, I know, I was a home color fiend myself and I’m sure plenty of you will be keen to sort out your hair woes at home instead of heading to the professionals, so let’s look at the options for home hair color hair removal (carried out at your own risk may I add!)

Let’s start with the gentlest method. It may sound obvious, but repeat shampoos can go a long way to at least fading unwanted hair color, leaving a better base color for you to re-dye over. Shampoos with a high pH work best, as these open up the cuticle of the hair, making it easier for the dye to escape. Try a clarifying shampoo, baby shampoo has also been said to work well.

No, you can’t expect miracles with this method – your jet black hair isn’t going to just shampoo out to reveal your previously platinum locks (sucks, huh?). But you can fade the worst of a shocking hair color – just remember that clarifying shampoo can be drying, so moisturise your hair with plenty of conditioner afterwards.

Which color remover products to try?

If you do want to brave it and try a product formulated for color removal, be realistic with the results you expect. Make sure you choose a product formulated to remove the right type of dye and, no, don’t just chuck away the instructions – it’s important to follow them to the letter.

These products won’t magic back your natural color, but instead can provide a more neutral base color ready to dye over. Remember that if you’ve used a permanent color, your hair may well have been lightened underneath the dye, so your natural color isn’t going to be waiting for you once the dye’s been stripped out.

Also bear in mind that any lightening effect is permanent and can’t be reversed so, if you hate your new brassy blonde locks, I’m afraid you will need to re-color over with a darker shade until the bleach has grown out.

Sulfur based products

There are a number of sulfur based hair color removal products available that don’t contain bleach or ammonia, but instead work by shrinking the dye molecules trapped within your hair, allowing them to escape and wash out. This means they’re a lot gentler on your fragile hair than other bleach based color removers, though can be tough enough to tackle permanent and semi-permanent dyes.

These products can be quite laborious to use, with long soaking times and lots and lots of shampooing. Reading reviews, not everyone’s been happy with the results they’ve achieved, and they can be pretty smelly. That said, there are also plenty of happy customers who’ve found them surprisingly effective. You might want to try:

  • Color Oops
  • Affinage Eraser
  • Color B4

And the rest?

Some other color removal products can contain bleach, so although they can give more dramatic results, they may well end up lightening your natural hair as well as frazzling it. Effasol, L’oreal ColorZap are popular products, but be wary of using them if you’re not after a bleached effect.

Getting rid of black hair dye

As you can imagine, it’s no easy feat if you decide you’ve had enough of the black, and color removal kits alone may not be enough to do the job. I have heard bleach baths recommended, where you soak your hair in a very low concentration of bleach to (relatively) gently lift the worst of the color out. I’ve actually tried this out myself when I was desperately trying to banish the last traces of red hair dye (notoriously difficult to remove). I must say it did work pretty well, though whenever there’s bleach involved there’s risk of real damage.

If you’re having a nightmare with your hair color, don’t despair – there are plenty of ways to salvage a bad dye job! The best advice will always be to get thee to a salon and get it sorted by the professionals. Failing that, always try the gentlest possible option – color removal products can be pretty hardcore, so try at your own risk and - always - remember that all important strand and patch test first.

So have you had any hair color mishaps? Did you head to a salon, or have you had success with DIY products? Let me know what worked best for you!

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