What is brassiness in hair?

Okay so in the hair coloring world, this term is thrown around a lot, and it is often seen as a villain in hair color. Yes, we want rich brunettes, cool blondes, and vibrant reds, but brassiness? No, we avoid the color like the plague. But what is brassiness? How do we identify it? How do we get rid of it? These are all questions that used to boggle my mind until I went to hair school and got a deeper education in hair color. Brassiness is not really a color in my opinion.

To me, brassiness is actually the tones that are left behind when hair is absent of it’s cool pigments. It is the leftover color of hair that lightener doesn’t lift. For darker hair, that leftover is red/orange (unless more than 4 levels of lift is achieved), and for lighter hair the leftover pigment is orange/yellow. That leftover color (true “brassiness”) looks bad because it’s not an actual hair color, but a hair color under construction. The right color must be placed on top of it.

Brassiness often appears in hair that not lifted enough to support a lighter color, and too much warmth shows through the color. Another scenario is when toner (a hair color tint) used to correct yellowish blonde hair doesn’t take or washes out. And as a general rule even permanent hair dyes eventually wash out exposing brassy color in the hair

In the end, I don’t think brassiness is the enemy of hair color, but it’s the con of chemically lightning and coloring hair. Artificial colors will eventually fade and change due to the daily environment (sun, wind, shampoo, chlorine)…and fighting this change in hair color has become unfortunately routine  It’s with re-coloring faded color as a solution. It’s what hair colorists are here for and why as a business, there will always be repeat customers…I think it’s fine price to pay for our preferred hair color, as long as we give our hair a rest between color treatments.

I lightened myself to a level eight to try and support a pinky color… But even at a light level the leftover warmth shows through a bit making the color more of a peach. But I still like it! (not brassy because it’s wanted)
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Go dark brunette, without a regret!

I love playing with hair color as one can probably tell from all my posts about hair dying over the years…I feel nothing feels fresher than a change of color. Natural black hair is gorgeous, but after a year of playing with lightener, aka bleach/peroxide, I have rocked lighter hair color all summer in the way going“bronde”, which is a very light brown. Being a dark brunette, I could never go to light butter blonde without killing my hair, but in general I have been wearing much lighter colors than I was born with.

But a recent resurgence in the brunette hair color has come about…basically because of the royally babe-alicious Meghan Markle. I think she really showed the world how amazing dark brown hair can be since getting engaged and married to Prince Harry really put her in the spotlight.. She set the bar high for a representation of brunette beauty, and it has inspired me to let go of my beachy light locks, for a dark chocolatey brown; a refreshing look for my sister’s upcoming wedding.

The new Duchess always made dark hair so glamorous. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)
No regrets

In the past I have gone darker with tons of regret, and I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes I’ve made. All the pitfalls of dying darker were results in hair color that was either too dark, too green, too inky, or too flat. Here are my tips from going lighter to darker and loving it:

  1. Go for drama: Going only one shade darker will not be noticeable and has no mystery or depth. I recommend aiming for 3-4 shades darker for the freshest change. Sometimes it’s scary getting a dark color because it’s so intense! But I have a tip to combat this (see tip #4).
  2. .Choose demi-permanents: When getting hair darker, pigment is being added to the hair shaft, and only needs to be on the surface, unlike lightening that has to go deeper to remove color.  A less harsh way of dying is by using demi permanent colors. Because they use less peroxide, they are gentler to hair than permanent color, and add deeper tones. It’s also easier to lighten hair back with a demi if not truly satisfied.  Demis, unfortunately, will fade faster, but at least the fade will be less brassy since less pigment is lifted with a low peroxide dye.
  3. Notice the hair tone you are starting with: Previously lightened hair has a certain base tone to it that is very visible. It can be neutral, golden, red, or ashy. The base color that a darker color will lay over, should be on the warmer side, since red and gold tones are what makes dark hair pretty. If the starting hair color is very translucent and pigment free, sometimes adding an redish auburn color first is needed to create depth before adding a darker color on top.
  4. A trick I use for not going too dark and inky: Buying two shades. Demi permanent color always processes darker than the sample swatch since it is adding color and not lifting anything. For example, starting with light brown hair and adding a light brown demi, the results will be dark brown because of layering. To keep hair from being too intense in darkness, I like to dilute my dark shade with a blonde or clear color by a ratio of 1:1 and use the right amount of activator accordingly. This makes sure you are getting the dark color you want, while the texture of each strand and subtle highlights are still visible…resulting in more faceted color.
My Own Results

To get my hair to Meghan Markle dark, I had to be careful or else I would get something too dark and flat. So I used an ashy brown mix of colors on my warm roots, (Wella Demi in 5N and 7A) and then a neutral brown mix on my midshaft and ends, since they had an ashy light tone (wella demi in 5N+8N). I diluted the brown color by adding some blonde shades to both mixes of color.

See how in the sun, it’s visible how the back and ends of my hair picked up the dark demi permanent differently. It was also ashier because of previous lightening.

The only thing I had to tweak after darkening was the different color on my midshaft and ends. The back of my hair was so light from previous dye jobs, it didn’t pick up the demi fully, and was also a cooler tone. I fixed this by doing another treatment, a rinse of auburn red in a semi permanent color. (Semi permanent is peroxide free and like a conditioner with dye, no activator needed). And now hopefully, I feel my hair is uniformly dark and mysterious!

After the rinse in an auburn red semi permanent to fill in my mid-shaft and ends. Nice and evenly dark. Yay!

My Hair Color Transformations and Comicon Cosplay!

I had lightened my hair several times within the last half year in an attempt to find a hair color that suited my aging complexion. Age plays a big part in what hair color to wear, and my complexion recently has turned a bit more pale and ashy, less olive and creamy. Also been getting a few grays here and there. My natural hair color of black was no longer an option, because dying black hair black, looks like inky mess. So ultimately, I lightened my hair (soap capped it) to a “bronde”, a bronze-dark blonde.

Tinting it with a Pink Semi Permanent:

But I remember recently about how I used to have a goal to have rose tinted brown hair…a subtle red/pink that would glow under the sun and bright lights. So one day, feeling tired of my “bronde” locks (my previous article about “bronde”), I saw there was an unused tube of vibrant purple/pink semi permanent hair color on my shelf, and decided that was the day that I was gong to use it.

I used Ion Color Brilliance Semi-permanent in “hottie pink”. And I diluted it 1:1 ratio with conditioner and a bit of coconut oil. Why did I dilute it? My hair was a warm caramel color to begin with. Without diluting, the hair dye would have come out darker, more muddy, layered on top of my existing color. But with diluting, the color came out as a tint over my existing shade of hair. It darkened it as a “no-lift” color will, but also added a rose tone to the hair (the purple in the pink dye was cancelled out by orange tones in my hair) With my dark roots showing and the caramel undertones, it was like a cup of tea infused with rose petals. Thus why I call it “rose tea” 🙂

Tea anyone? Can you see the rose glow on top of my brown locks?

Going to Light Brown for Montreal Comicon:

Ok, now part 2 of my summer hair coloring: Going to a light brown I call “brown sugar”: it’s kind of a golden, muted brown color…I used a permanent Wella color since the ammonia in it could lift my faded reddish color to the right lightness. The character I was channeling for this color inspiration? “Cat” from the TV series Gotham, as a cosplay costume for Montreal Comicon 2018!

This is my starting color from the washed out Rose tint. (took me about 8 shampoos)
Used 10 volume on roots to avoid lifting brassy orange tones. Rest of my hair 20 volume to lighten ever so slightly…
Mixed an Ash blonde for toning with a double NN blonde for more pigment…a must for darker hair going lighter!

Using a blonde color (level 8) was what I wanted to do because I knew with out bleaching first, my hair couldn’t get any lighter with a permanent color, so I had to make sure any color deposit would be light. Also, since my hair is darker than level 8, I mixed ash with a double neutral for better pigment coverage. After processing, I washed the permanent dye out and the result: Light brown: hello Selina Kyle! It was so much fun transforming my hair instead of buying a wig for costumes. It was actually more economic, and less wasteful for the environment. I thrifted most the rest of the cosplay costume too!

Cosplaying Selina Kyle “Cat from the Gotham TV Series! Got the hair color I wanted without using a cheap wig!