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For our first article we’re going to talk about hair color, more precisely box color vs. salon quality color. I’m going to take it down to the basic chemical level as that is essentially where color products differ. Remember pH? Let’s refresh our memories with how the pH scale works.
The pH scale is a measure of value for potential hydrogen, for which there are two chemical extremes: acid or alkaline. The scale runs numerically from 0-14, with 7 serving as neutral. A measure of pH 0-6.9 is considered acid, while a measure of 7.1-14 is considered alkaline. As you move toward either extreme (acid toward 0, alkaline toward 14), the more caustic and stronger a substance will become. Substances which are acid have a positive electrical charge, while alkaline substances have a negative electrical charge.
In a normal, healthy state hair is positively charged and will be found in a pH range between 4.5-5.5. Therefore, we can state that hair, in its optimum state, is acidic. Hair which has a pH above 7 will become alkaline and hold a negative electrical charge. When this occurs, the hair will exhibit damage to varying degrees.
When hair is in its proper pH range (4.5-5.5), the cuticle is compact and constricted. This serves to protect the inner cortex layer, impart sheen, align the bonding (optimum configuration for strength and elasticity) and positively charge the hair in preparation for chemical services. In the event the hair is in an alkaline state (above pH 7), the cuticle is raised (tangles, dullness), the cortex is exposed (dryness, damage), and the hair will not readily or evenly accept chemical services. (nexxus.com)
Hair color must be alkaline however to create change in the hair. HOW alkaline is the difference between one color formulation and another. We just learned that the more alkaline the hair becomes the more damage it sustains. Salon quality color lines are created to fall closer to 7 on the pH scale making them less damaging. The closer you can maintain the hair at it’s natural pH 4.5-5.5, the better the results. Of course the use of an acidic maintenance product (eg: shampoos and conditioners) can help to restore a lower pH.
The type of pigment also plays a role in how products differ. Generally speaking, most professional color lines have developed pigment molecules that are easily deposited into the hair and employ a coagulating feature that helps to prevent color from escaping and causing color fading. But it goes back to the pH of the product and in what state the hair is left that determines whether the cuticle has been raised so much that color has no choice but to escape.
Additionally, most generic color lines (eg: products found in Sally’s or on your supermarket shelves) aren’t formulated to be rich in healthy moisturizers and nutrients. These ingredients are costly to include and are subsequently sacrificed to keep costs down.
What we’ve learned from pH alone is that salon quality color products are formulated to get maximum results without compromising the hair’s strength and overall health (assuming the Stylist is educated in his/her technique – save for another article). This formulation technology is essentially what you’re paying for when you spring for quality color. It’s far less expensive to create damaging alkaline products that you can find in a box on the shelves at Wal-Mart. The higher the quality of product, the less damage the hair typically has to endure. And less damage is generally more desirable.
Tune in next week as we continue hair color basics but on a less intense chemical level (What colors suit you, how color application and color theory play into formulation and more!). And remember you’re always welcome to ask specific questions whether it’s about hair color, cutting, styling or other beauty related topics.
Keep it classy Mojo.