The Chemistry of Hair Color Explained

Understanding How Hair Color Change Happens

Did you know that thousands of years back people already are into hair coloring? Perhaps to enhance beauty of hair, they learned to use ingredients from plants and minerals that contain pigments to improve or change hair color. You wonder how safe they were? Maybe safe enough to still be popular down the ages. The first safe commercial hair coloring came out only in 1909 formulated by a French chemist.

We know that hair is mainly keratin, a protein, found in skin and nails also. Hair has two other proteins, eumelanin, and phaeomelanin, the quantity and ratio of which determine the natural color of one’s hair. The former is responsible for brown to black hair shades while the latter for golden blond, ginger, and red.

Natural pigments generally work by coating the hair shaft with color. Applying temporary or semi- permanent colors can deposit acidic dyes on the outside of the hair or maybe its minute pigments can sip inside the hair shaft, using a small amount of peroxide or no peroxide at all. Sometimes, a collection of several colorant molecules enters the hair to form a larger complex inside the hair shaft. However, this is only temporary, and shampooing can wash it off. These colorants don’t have ammonia so the shafts don’t open up during the application. Your hair’s natural color comes back after a shampoo.

Permanent hair color application is a two-step process -removing the original color of the hair and then depositing a new color. The colorant contains alkaline ammonia that opens the cuticle and allows the hair color to penetrate the cortex of the hair. Then the developer is applied, which is peroxide that reacts with the permanent hair color when they come together, the ammonia being the catalyst. Peroxide is used as the oxidizing agent, it removes pre-existing color, breaking the chemical bonds in hair, releasing sulfur, which accounts for the characteristic odor of hair color.

The reaction will decolorized hair melanin, a new permanent color is bonded to the hair cortex. In most commercial hair dyes, these two components – ammonia and peroxide – are already combined. Applying conditioner will close the cuticle to seal and protect the new color.

On the other hand, to bleach hair is to lighten it. Bleach reacts with the melanin removing or oxidizing the color in an irreversible chemical reaction. The melanin is now colorless. However, bleached hair tends to have a pale yellow tint which is the natural color of keratin, the structural protein in hair. Bleach reacts more readily with the dark eumelanin pigment, so some gold or red residual color may remain after lightening. Hydrogen peroxide is one of the most common lightening agents.

We Know Hair Color at our Bellevue Hair Salon

We don’t only know the chemistry behind hair coloring, but we’ve also got a myriad of colors to choose from. So come for a consultation at our Bellevue salon and see for yourself!