How Color-Removers Work

In today’s Haircolor Lesson I want to talk about Haircolor Removers.

Removing haircolor with a color remover can be one of the most intimidating coloring procedures you can do.

I remember when I was first starting out as a hairdresser and someone came in who had tinted her hair at home very, very dark.

The salon owner told me to put on some color remover and take the dark out of her hair. (I knew nothing about haircolor back in those days).

So I mixed up the color remover and, not knowing what I was doing, applied the color remover all over from re-growth to ends.

Within a few short minutes, this lady had a bright yellow and orange re-growth area and the hair on the lengths and ends were still jet-black.

The owner of the salon started freaking out and I had no idea what to do. (The owner of this salon was an esthetician and not a hairdresser).

Finally, in the end, we decided to go ahead and recolor her regrowth jet black again to match the ends and send her home.

This was my first introduction to what color removers could do.

Now, many years later, I can look back on this time and laugh, but that day in the salon it was horrible. However, this little experience taught me to have great respect for color removers and lighteners.

I should state here, that I personally do not use color removers per se anymore as I do not see any advantage to using them over powder lightener (bleach). I prefer to use regular bleach lighteners to remove the color during a color corrective procedure.

However, for the purpose of our discussion on this topic, I’ll explain the two different category types of color removers available in the marketplace today and the pros and cons of each. Both of these use different methods of removing artificial haircolor (tint).

Here in the United States, there are two types of haircolor remover systems. One system uses a method called the Oxidation Method. The other system uses a method called the Reduction Method.

Now, I am not a chemist, I am a haircolorist, so I’ll explain the difference between these two systems in Plain English, as a hairdresser and not as a chemist. After this explanation, you will understand when, why and how to use each system.

The Oxidation Method

Let’s first talk about the systems that use the Oxidation Method. This is by far the most common type of color remover used in the USA today.

Color removers that use the oxidation method are typically a powder substance, much like powder lighteners that are mixed with developers and applied to the hair.

This system is called the oxidation method because, just like a permanent haircolor or lightener, when the powder base is mixed with developer, the oxidation process occurs.

What this color remover actually does is that it goes into the hair shaft and infuses oxygen into the haircolor molecules (artificial dye molecules and natural haircolor molecules).

When the haircolor molecules become infused with more oxygen, they begin to expand and grow again.

What actually happens is that the color molecules lodged inside the hair shaft begin to grow so large that eventually they begin to break up or shatter into tiny pieces (blow up). This enables them to come back out of the hair shaft and leave the hair lighter than it was.
This, of course, is an over-simplification of what actually happens, but for our purpose as hairdressers, this is really all we need to know.

This method is very good for getting out dark, stubborn haircolor. However, it does have two significant drawbacks.

1) This type of color remover not only removes the artificial tint from the hair, but will also remove the natural pigment of any hair that is not tinted.

This is why my “First Time” color removing client that I mentioned at the beginning of this post, regrowth area went Bright Orange, because she had about ½ inch of natural virgin hair regrowth (roots).

2) This type of color remover can be quite stressful on the hair because it works very much like an aggressive powder lightener.
(Which I believe it pretty much is)

The Reduction Method

The second method for removing color is called the Reduction Method.

Presently in the United States, there are only a few of color remover systems using the reduction method. Some examples are: PRAVANA Color Extractor and another one is Goldwell’s “ System Haircolor Remover”.

What this method actually does is reduce or shrink down the artificial dye molecules into teeny little pieces and the color gradually becomes lighter as the molecules become small enough to be released from the cortex of the hair.

With this method, you must be absolutely sure to follow every step that the directions explain. You must do the something called the 10/10 test to see if you got out all of the color. If you don’t, you will end up with dark hair once again.

The 10/10 test is nothing more than putting 10 Volume peroxide all over the hair, for 10 minuets. That way if there are still some artificial dye molecules left in the hair, they will start to grow again and the hair will begin to look darker, which means that you now have to REDO the whole thing again (including the 10/10 test) until all the color is out.
Each of these two systems (Oxidative and Reduction) has pros and cons. I will list a few of them here.


The system that uses the Reduction Method leaves the hair in far better condition than the system that uses the Oxidation Method. However, The reduction method system works on the premise that it reduces the
dye molecules that are lodged inside the cortex layer of the hair ONLY and does nothing to the cuticle layer of the hair.

I point this out because, if the hair has gone too dark with permanent haircolor, this method will work fine. However, if the hair had gone too dark with a Demi-Color, which is lodged in the cortex AND the cuticle layer of the hair, it may not be lightened with the reduction method.

That is to say, that the artificial dye molecules that are in the cortex will be removed but the dye molecules that are in the cuticle will NOT be removed. (It looks very weird though)

One of the best things about using the reduction method is that it only lightens artificial dye molecules and will leave the natural haircolor alone.

One of the weak points of the reduction method is that it takes longer to do and many times this product needs to be applied more than one time to get all the dark color out.

The system that uses the oxidation process is a much more aggressive product and, therefore, will usually do its job much quicker. But it will also lighten the natural color as well as the tinted hair.

For more information on How Haircolor Really Works, see my book but this name.

Cheer! David