Chemical Warfare.

In an earlier post I mentioned the role chemistry plays in hairdressing. Most of the products we use contain various chemicals that are essential to the services we offer. Some are fairly benign, others are quite active, but they all play a role in what we do. The chemicals and processes have become a lot more refined than they used to be. Compared to modern products, the chemical services used 20 or more years ago could be likened to sledgehammer therapy. Modern products usually contain enough chemicals to do the job and no more, lessening the possibility of over-processing and damage to the hair. Which is all well and good, provided you know what you’re doing.

It’s a common misconception amongst clients that when you have a chemical service done in a salon, we go out to the back room, open a box and put the contents on your head. That’s simply not the case. Boxed colours that you purchase off the shelf at chemists or supermarkets bare about as much resemblance to what we use in the salon as a Toyota Corolla does to a Formula 1 racing car. We will mix any number of different colours together with any of a number of different developers in order to give you a mix that is individual to your hair type and the colour you want to become. You can’t get that out of a box. The mix we use is based on a bunch of different factors; your hair type and natural colour, percentage of grey hair, presence of previous artificial colour, condition of your hair, whether you are going lighter or darker and, of course, the final colour you want to become.

This, however, doesn’t prevent people from attempting to replicate what we do in the privacy of their own home with products purchased from their local store. Sometimes it works okay in the case of a simple application. Sometimes the results can be calamitous. And amusing.

I want to share with you some stories of what I’ve seen over the last 23 years. I’ll leave the names out as they are irrelevant, but the actions speak the loudest.

I’ll start with a mild little incident that gave me a hell of a shock early in my career. It was one of the first permanent waves I carried out on a client. I wound the rods into the hair, applied the solution and set the timer. When I came back to check I was rather shocked to see the hair had turned pink. Hiding my concern, I checked the hair, told the client it needed a few more minutes and went out the back to my senior stylist and said, “Her hair has gone f**king pink!”. The stylist informed me that it was quite normal as the client in question lived in a house that used bore water and the metallic compounds in the water react to the perming solution to create the pink colour. It rinsed out without a trace. Would have been nice if I could have been informed of that earlier.

So that was harmless enough. But when someone tries to perm their own hair at home…

One day a lady walked in the door wearing one of those woven hats that cover most of your head. That’s not unusual, but it was the middle of summer. I asked how I could help her. She sat down and proceeded to tell me a story I will never forget. After having her hair permed for years, she had decided she didn’t want to fork out the money for it anymore. So she went and bought herself a home perming kit. Fair enough. Problem is, she didn’t really have a clue what she was doing. So she wound the rods into her hair and applied the solution. So far, so good. Here’s where she made the mother of all mistakes. She was under the impression that the amount of curl you get depends on how long you leave the solution on for, when it’s actually the size of the rod that dictates the curl. Small rod gives a tight curl, large rod gives a loose curl. So she put the little plastic cap on and went to bed, leaving the solution on overnight. Keep in mind that the solution contains thioglycolic acid and is designed to be left on for around ten to twenty minutes depending on the hair. The expression on my face when she told me this must have been a sight to behold. Needless to say, when she awoke in the morning and removed the cap, all the rods fell out and she was left with nothing but the occasional small tuft of hair no more than a few millimetres long.

She then removed the hat exposing her near bald head and asked me if I could fix it. Certainly Madam, let me fetch my magic wand.

Sometimes a catastrophe can occur when a client lies to their stylist. Around the same time that the above incident occurred, a lady came in for a permanent wave. As she had a regrowth, my co-worker asked what colour she used in her hair. The client said she didn’t have any colour in her hair.

“But you have a regrowth”.

“No, that was from my last colour a month ago. I don’t have any colour in my hair”.

“The hair on the midlengths and ends has colour on it so you do have colour in your hair”.

“Okay, fine. Whatever”.

So the stylist asked the client what sort of colour it was. The client said it was done in a salon and she had permed it before with that colour on. So the stylist proceeded with the service. I must point out here that certain colours react violently with the neutralising solution used in permanent waving. So those types of colour aren’t used in professional salons as we like our services to be compatible. The colour that this client had used was actually a henna type colour that she had purchased from a health shop as they are chemical free. They are also full of metallic compounds. There is a reason why we don’t use metal combs during chemical services. They react with the chemicals. So this lady had lied to her stylist. When the stylist had completed the application of the neutraliser, she noticed that some of the rods had started to bubble and fizz. In the matter of seconds it took to get the client from her chair to the basin and apply water, the rods had already started to fall off her head. She ended up with what we call in the industry a ‘chemical haircut’. The reaction had dissolved the hair from the regrowth line and she ended up with hair around 1 cm long. While she was understandably upset, this whole sorry episode could have been avoided if she told the truth.

Colouring is no different. You’ve no doubt seen people walking around with very strange looking brassy coloured hair. They most probably had dark hair and decided to buy a box of colour in an attempt to turn themselves blonde. Lightening the hair is the most difficult and potentially damaging colour service you can do so please leave it to a trained professional. I have had colour corrections that have been so complicated, labour intensive and required so much product that the cost has exceeded $500.00 whereas if they had of come to me to get the job done professionally first it would have cost them less than $150.00. Likewise, if you have very blonde or bleached hair, don’t buy a box of brown colour and put it on at home. You will end up a not very fashionable shade of khaki green.

Some say colouring is an art form. Maybe. It is creative for sure. But it is a science more so. The techniques and knowledge of the chemicals used takes years of formal training to get to the colour specialist stage. Don’t be fooled when you hear the term ‘colour technician’. That is merely a trainee who has completed their colouring assessment during the course of their standard training. They are competent in the application of colour services but their knowledge is limited.

So they are some of the more memorable moments involving chemicals. There have been many occasions I have had to fix home colour jobs but they are relatively straight forward if not time consuming. Occasionally, I have had to do corrections on colour jobs done by professional stylists but that is rarer and usually less problematic. People are reluctant to return to a salon to get a colour fixed up, even if it will be done free of charge, which it should be, due to a loss of confidence in the ability of the stylist. They will often go somewhere else to have it corrected and pay more again. This is where I have picked up many colour clients over the years, through correcting botched colour jobs.




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