Colour Build-Up is the Worst

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Colour Build-Up is the Worst

So you’ve been casually colouring for years. Ok, there was that time when you thought you were more professional than amateur and you really stepped it up with some interesting new colours, but you’re much more sensible now and you’re just looking for a reliable, utterly fabulous colour which you apply at home, watch Netflix, rinse and look like you just stepped out of a salon.

Perfectly reasonable.

Except for an irritating little bit of reality.

All that colour that you applied in all the time it has taken for your hair to grow as long as it is – it’s there, in your hair, deep in the follicle, affecting the colour outcome of every colour you apply on top of it.

Waddaya talking about? I hear you say. I use the same colour and colouring technique every time I colour. What could possibly go wrong?

If you’re aware of colour build-up then you know exactly what could go wrong  – darker, duller, flatter colour results creeping up on you each time you recolour.

If you’re not aware of colour build-up, but you’re wondering why your colour outcomes have changed over time – it’s because of colour build-up.

You are not immune. This will happen to you, whether you get your colour in the salon or at home, either way, if you have been colouring your hair, and you haven’t used colour remover or bleach to remove the built-up colour, then you absolutely have colour build-up, and every time you recolour it is taking you that little bit further away from your colour goal.

There are 4 key signs of Colour Build Up:

1. Dull looking hair with no or minimal shine.

2. Hair which is very dry or coarse, even after conditioning treatments.

3. Hair which looks and feels heavy.

4. Brighter regrowth and darker ends.

Colour build-up will interfere with and affect (not in a good way) your colouring outcomes:

1 You recolour using the same colour as always but your colour result is darker (and more boring) than it used to be.

Yep, not fun. It’s the midnight creep, where your hair just miraculously gives you a darker colour outcome than you used to have from the exact same colour. This is a sure sign that you have colour build-up, as you are adding layer upon layer of colour, which inevitably gives you a deeper, heavier, less vibrant, washed out and flatter colour result, which is frankly a little annoying and boring.

2 You recolour and get the colour you want, just not where you want it. Your roots look fab, gorgeous, but the lengths and ends of your hair are flat, dull and heavy.

This is another clear indicator of colour build-up. The colour is doing its job perfectly, on virgin, uncoloured hair, but it can’t achieve the same results on hair that has been recoloured repeatedly already. The layers of old colour block the effect of the new colour, giving you a muted, heavier colour result which lacks the brightness and vibrancy of the colour result at your roots.

3 You try colouring with a lighter colour and still get a dark colour result.

It’s just not as simple as that. A lighter hair colour will not give you a lighter colour result if your hair has already been coloured a darker colour. It just won’t. It can’t. The first hair colour which was darker has altered the pigment in your hair and another lighter hair colour is not able to alter that. The only way you can use a lighter hair colour over darker colour and achieve a lighter result is if you have used a colour removal product (maybe a few times) or bleach process before applying the lighter colour. These products can lift the darker colour pigments out, lowering your base hair colour level so that a new lighter hair colour can be effective.

Arrgh! What to do?

The first step to fixing something is to acknowledge it. You are a normal, hair-colouring human, and this is a thing that happens to hair colouring humans.

Hair colour builds up, affecting your hair colour results and not in a good way.

The way forward is to remove the built-up colour.

If you colour your hair full length regularly, then you should schedule in colour removal as part of your ongoing colouring strategy.

You can do this at home by using colour removal products which will lift lighter pigments out, enabling you to then use a lighter hair colour product or the exact same colour your regularly use and to get the bright, vibrant, fresh and fabulous colour result you want.

Bear in mind that the darker the pigments of colour in your hair, the harder it is to get them out. You may need to reapply your hair colour remover product twice or even 3-4 times to get enough colour lift for fresh new colour results.

Another option is bleaching, which is not quite as scary as it sounds. You can bleach or colour remove your hair at home using The Shade’s Bleach Wash Kit ($17.95) which has been developed for that exact purpose.

Follow the instructions exactly, checking the colour as you go by scraping the product of a small section of hair to check the lightening process.

When you have removed the built-up colour, you can recolour your hair and say hello to bright, shiny colour again.

Try to adapt your home colouring technique to avoid more colour build-up in future – use the tint brush we provide to only apply colour to regrowth. Avoid overlapping colour so that the lengths of your hair have only been coloured once. This will keep you on a path to gorgeous colour build-up free hair and banish the build-up blues.


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  1. Laila Docherty October 10, 2020 at 9:11 pm - Reply

    Do you have a video for hair bleaching?

    • Craig Ford October 12, 2020 at 8:57 am - Reply

      Hi Laila,

      Sorry, we don’t have a video for hair bleaching.

      The Shade team

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