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!

Does your hair need Hydrolyzed Protein…?

I’ve always struggled with hydrating my dry hair, because it always seems to be dry and stringy…and although it is long, it is often feeling weighed down by more than it’s own weight. I have always used my coconut oil hair salve daily and it has helped hydrate my hair to shine, de-tangling and smooth, but over use of a good thing can be bad too. Over moisturized hair from oils can leave hair feeling greasy, thin and rough. Hair color doesn’t shine as much, even if it is a fresh dye job when too much of an oil/silicone coating has taken over. But is there another way to add softness and hair vitality? I recently discovered that an ingredient called hydrolyzed protein (wheat, oat, silk, keratin) can do wonders for dull rough hair in ways that oil hydration alone can’t. Hydrolyzed protein fills in some of the gaps and roughness in your hair with an organic material that will feel kinda like new hair…when paired with a hydrating routine of conditioners/oils it’s a complete package of shine and softness.

Notice how stringy my ends are and how they seem to thin out near the bottom? They are moisturized, but not soft for some reason…it’s missing protein…
This is when I was lightening and coloring my hair a lot, and the chemical dyes saturated the shaft, but since it was missing protein, it’s not shiny, but rough in texture…

How did I find this out? While traveling during March Break and visiting Halifax in Nova Scotia, Canada, I stayed at a hotel there with spa quality toiletries. I tried their shampoo and instantly I felt a difference in my hair vitality; my hair was less wiry when damp, and the next day the strands felt plumper, reminding me of how it had been in my younger days. I knew it was not my conditioner that provoked the change since I had packed that from Toronto. It was the hotel’s shampoo. I then scoured the ingredient list on the hotel shampoo and found out the main ingredient that I didn’t have in my shampoo at home was hydrolyzed wheat protein. An ingredient that would prove to make the difference.

Havin’ a “good hair day” in this vacation photo from Halifax at the Nautical Museum. After using the hotel’s shampoo the night before, it felt softer, silkier than before. Can you see this in the photo?

Back in Toronto now and using a shampoo with a hydrolyzed wheat protein. And am really liking it. But I only have protein in my shampoo, since I hear that using too much protein can cause hair to be brittle! Everything in moderation it seems!  My main tip for true hair health though is to rely less on hair care products and just treat your hair well. Do you really need to have the unicorn hair color that requires bleaching it to white, or do you need your hair to be heat styled all the time? There is no ingredient, chemical or natural that can reverse hair damage. New fangled and expensive heal-all chemicals such as Olaplex have drawbacks too, as the beauty industry has discovered (although I won’t go into detail about it this time around). Bottom line: no product or oil can substitute minimizing hair damage in the first place, so treat your hair and body well.