- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 4, 2002

Professional advice to consumers about hair color:
Recognize that not everything is possible. "Everybody's hair has a history," says colorist Andrea Earls of Subairi Hair Salon on R Street NW, who says that "at least 50 percent" of her customers are men. "Any coloring job has to be done on a case-by-case basis. If I'm unsure, I'll do a strand test by having a customer stop by the night before an appointment to snip off a tiny piece of hair and process it to see how it reacts. I then can show them the next day what happened." She has to do this, she says, because "some people are chemical junkies" and assume that anything is possible.
"If a woman has had a relaxer treatment, there are certain things color can't do," she warns. "If someone comes to me with shoulder-length hair that has been chemically relaxed six months ago, it's likely I won't do bleach highlights because of the possibility of breakage due to the interaction of chemicals."
Be honest with your hairstylist. Don't lie, Ms. Earls pleads. "If a person puts henna on his or her hair, don't say the sun did it. Henna is a natural plant substance that doesn't coat the hair evenly and doesn't combine well with certain chemicals. I would use a semipermanent rather than a permanent hair color over it because of the possibility of breakage.
"A lot of people have the idea that if a product is 'natural' or plant-based, it is better for the hair. That isn't always the case," says Jefferson Wilson of the Axis salon in Dupont Circle. "Plant-based dye coats the hair like nail polish; it doesn't lighten hair, and it can be harder to correct. You have to break the shell by bleaching out the color to get results."
On the other hand, Annie Humpheys, director of color and technical research for Vidal Sassoon Salons and Schools Co., says customers need not immerse themselves in technical details. "All the consumer needs to know is which kind of color is being used," she says. "That and knowing that you have the option of not having all-over color. A partial color is good for certain kinds of hairstyles."
Know the limitations of your hair type. Curly hair doesn't shine as much as straight hair, Ms. Humphreys observes, "because the light doesn't bounce off it. So if it is gray and curly and not well-kept, you look a bit unruly. Gray tends to be drier and wiry."
Act your age. Most women are better off not coloring their hair black if they are naturally gray because it doesn't look good, suggests retired research chemist John Corbett of Norwalk, Conn. "The dyes are good, but they can look a bit blue. It's partly psychological, too. You see a woman who looks 60, you know she can't really have all-black hair."
The industry does not have an answer to the question about why some people go gray and others don't, he says: "We don't know the technical reason. Diet doesn't make a great difference. Although some claim it does, there is no evidence.
"Conditioners are valuable to people who use color because you do damage the surface when you brush and comb hair. The other thing to avoid is too much drying. Hair is most fragile when it has been dried out."

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