How to Use a Hair Colour Remover
You’ve probably heard of hair colour removers already, but do you know how they work? Maybe you’re considering trying one for the first time, or you might be here to pick up tips on getting the most from your hair colour remover. I’ll show you how to use a colour remover on all types of dyes and give tips for getting the best results.
There are plenty of occasions when you might need to use a colour remover:
- Making a big change from one permanent colour to another
- Removing permanent or long-lasting semi-permanent dye in preparation for bleaching
- Correcting a colour that’s gone darker than expected
- Fixing built up colour from multiple applications
But did you know you can use colour remover to lighten bright, unnatural colours and direct dyes
Removing direct dyes requires a bit of extra preparation. Read on to find out how.
Before I get into how to remove hair dye safely, let’s clarify what I mean by “Colour Remover”.
Types of Colour Remover
There are two main types of colour removers: Reductive Colour Removers (also known as Colour Reducers) and Bleaching Colour Removers.
This article deals with Reductive Colour Removers. These work by reversing the dyeing process of permanent hair dye. The synthetic colour molecules within the hair are shrunk (reduced) allowing them to be washed out of the hair.
Typically, this type of colour remover comes in a box with 2 liquids: a colour remover and an activator. The two liquids are mixed and applied to the hair for around 60 minutes. Reductive colour removers are not particularly damaging to your hair and won’t lighten your regrowth, but they do have a strong sulphurous odour.
Well-known brands include ColourB4, ColorOops and ColorZap. There are many more brands available and most professional hair colour lines also include this type of remover.
As the name suggests, bleaching colour removers work a lot like bleach. They usually come in a sachet of powder which you can mix with water for minor corrections, or with peroxide for a stronger lightening effect. This type of remover is moderately damaging and can lighten your natural regrowth. It can be useful for breaking through tough staining.
The best known brand in this category is L’Oreal Effasor/Effasol, but several other brands have recently hit the market including Pulp Riot’s Blank Canvas and Pravana’s Bye-Bye Direct Dye.
From now on when I mention to “colour remover”, it will be the reducing type.
Before you Begin
You’ll need to gather up a few supplies before you start:
- Colour Remover (obviously)
If your hair is longer than shoulder length you’ll need 2 boxes.
- Vinyl or latex gloves
- Shower cap or plastic wrap
- Non-metallic bowl
- Tint brush
- Hair clips (for sectioning your hair)
- Old shirt
Wear old clothing that can be easily taken off.
Work in a warm but well ventilated room. Start with clean, dry hair and avoid using conditioner or styling products before the process; these can prevent the colour remover from penetrating your hair.
Using a colour remover is as simple as dyeing your hair. Mix the remover with the activator in a bowl. Try to ignore the smell while you apply the colour remover to your hair using a tint brush to ensure even coverage. When each strand is thoroughly coated, cover your hair with a shower cap or plastic wrap to prevent it from drying out.
Follow the manufacturer’s instructions carefully.
Most colour removers need around 60 minutes to work. Stay in a warm room, away from draughts while it processes.
Washing & Rinsing
The washing stage is crucial. I can’t emphasise that enough.
During the last 60 minutes, the colour molecules within the hair were shrunk, but they’re still there inside the hair. The colour will reactivate over the next few days if the old colour isn’t washed out of the hair shaft.
You need to shampoo your hair at least 5 times. Jump in the shower and expect to spend about 45 minutes washing and rinsing. Scrub down the length of your hair with the shampoo – remember you need to physically remove those old colour molecules.
You probably won’t see the colour running down the drain, but rest assured that the repeated shampooing is doing its job, washing out the colour.
After all that washing your hair will feel a little too clean. Go ahead and use a deep conditioner to restore its softness.
ColourB4 on Direct Dye
The process for using colour remover on direct dyes – colours that are applied directly like pink, purple, blue etc. – it does require a bit more preparation. Keep reading to see how colour removers perform on colourful hair.
If you read my article “5 Colour Removal Techniques Put to the Test” you’ll know that I had an excellent outcome when using the colour remover ColourB4 Fashion Colours on my strand test. It performed at least as well as bleaching for colour removal, but with less damage.
5 Colour Removal Techniques put to the Test
Testing out 5 hair dye removal methods, I'll show you side by side comparisons on difficult to remove colours to find out which method is best.
After the article was published I received a lot of questions about using colour removers in this way. Initially I had thought that colour removers didn’t work well on colours like pink, green, blue and purple. So what’s changed my mind?
The main difference between ColourB4 Fashion Colours and other colour removers is the “Pre-Clarifying Treatment”. This is a deep-cleansing shampoo that’s applied to the hair before the colour remover. It eliminates oils and silicones that can block the colour from escaping when you use a colour remover. It helps the colour remover do its thing by letting it penetrate into the hair.
Alternative ProductsAlthough ColourB4 Fashion Colours is now discontinued, you can achieve the same results by using a good clarifying shampoo, followed by regular ColourB4.
So, on to my latest experiment!
I’ve already covered the main principles of colour removal. When dealing with direct dyes, wash twice with a clarifying shampoo and dry your hair before using colour remover.
I had some swatches of various colours lying around from other articles and from sampling new colours that we’re stocking in our shop. Let’s see how it turns out.
Manic Panic’s Siren’s Song, Voodoo Forest and Deep Purple Dream
Here’s some human hair that I dyed with Manic Panic’s Deep Purple Dream (top), Voodoo Forest (middle) and Siren’s Song (bottom).
And here they are after a round of ColourB4. Siren’s Song (bottom) came out brilliantly, Deep Purple Dream (top) turned to a fairly attractive and easy-to-dye-over silver colour, but Voodoo Forest (middle) was a bit trickier. I made a mistake with Voodoo Forest and left it too close to a heat source. Those lighter patches are where the swatch was touching the heat source.
What can we learn from this? Well, the packing states to keep out of drafts while the colour remover is processing. It seems that for a good result getting the temperature right is important. Therefore, I would recommend wrapping your hair in a disposable shower cap or cling-film and then in an old towel to keep the heat in while the remover processes. By the way, colour removers work on textiles so keep the mixture away from your cloth
Pravana’s Neon Range
Here’s a photo of a weft I coloured using the Pravana Neons line. The colours were Neon Blue, Neon Green, Neon Yellow, Neon Orange and Neon Pink.
And here’s how they look post-colour remover (in the same order as the photo above).
The most effective colour removal was on the blue and pink, followed by orange. You can see that there’s some residual fluorescent yellow present in the orange. Neon Green has lost its cool tones and gone yellow, and while Neon Yellow doesn’t look to have changed much, the colour is significantly faded but still fluoresces under UV light.
So it looks like ColourB4 is effective on most shades but not so much on colours with a fluorescent base.
The Ultimate Test
I needed the longest-lasting and hardest to get rid of colours to test this on, so of course, I opted for Special Effects Atomic Pink. There have been times when bleaching barely put a dent in this colour. Could ColourB4 be effective in removing Atomic Pink?
Here are the results.
An incredible amount of dye washed off with the pre-treatment clarifier and applying the colour remover caused a lot more dye to wash out. Although there isn’t a huge difference in colour in this photograph, the hair has lost its intensity; the colour is less saturated. The treated hair is on the left with an untouched swatch of Atomic Pink on the right.
In spite of all the washing from the previous treatment, even more colour came out with the clarifier, colour remover and “after treatment buffer”. This Atomic Pink swatch is looking more like Cupcake Pink. The hair is feeling fairly dry though. Ideally I would condition between stages, this isn’t my own hair and I have more colour removing to do!
This time only a small amount of colour washed out at the pre-clarifier stage and there was none visible on the plastic I wrapped the swatch in to process. It’s about a shade lighter with this latest round of colour remover and probably equivalent to several months of fading Atomic Pink naturally.
After conditioning the sample returned to a similar texture to the control swatch.
I got the impression that 3 treatments would remove as much as was going to come out so I left it at that. With a highly pigmented colour such as Atomic Pink some staining is inevitable but I was impressed with how much dye it was able to take out. ColourB4 could potentially half the fading time of Atomic Pink. With further clarifying and fading treatments maybe the colour colour be completely removed.
- Do a strand test to determine how effective the colour remover will be.
- Do a sensitivity test before use and make sure you read through the instructions thoroughly before starting.
- Use a deep-cleansing shampoo before using the colour remover.
- Follow the instructions. Although it seems unnecessary to time rinsing your hair, for the most successful outcome it’s an essential step.
- Keep your hair warm. I’m not saying to apply heat, just keep your hair wrapped up and sit it out somewhere cosy.
- Budget 2 hours for the whole process. You’ll need 1 hour to process the colour remover and at least 20 minutes before and after for washing and rinsing.
- Follow up with a good conditioner.
- Buy plenty. If your hair is long or thick you will definitely need 2 boxes to achieve an even result.
- You can use a second application of colour remover if needed.
- It’s OK to re-colour or bleach on the same day as using a colour remover; just be certain that the old dye has fully washed out or the colour will reactivate.
I’ve discovered ColourB4 works well on blues and purples, pinks, reds and greens but not as well on fluorescent shades. Colour Removers work most reliably on permanent and semi-permanent dyes that use peroxide.
The effectiveness of this product varies by dye and it is affected by the cleanliness of your hair before the colour remover, as well as the ambient temperature and the washing and rinsing done following the process.