I was sharing ideas at a beauty school yesterday, one of the things I love to do, and this time the topic was “Hair Color 101 & Beyond,” covering everything from primaries to developer and how to use tone to determine level. So, the class was going great and we started to talk about consultations, how to assess skin tone and eye color, and then I shared something that seemed to be some what shocking...I shared that every new guest that I have ever had for a single process, I actually really do a test strand, honest and the truth.

Okay, so now I have all these students staring at me like I don't know how to color hair. And honestly, I'm standing there thinking, “Do they think I should be able to get the color right every time on the first try?” I looked at them and said, “If you think I get every color right on the first try, you think way too much of me because we all know that if we put the same color on everybody here in the room (and there were probably about 50 students), everyone would be a different color, unless we used black, right? …but even then there would be some variation. So, why do we need to be right when in about 10 minutes a test strand will make sure we aren’t wrong?”  

The set up for this is important because you want to earn the right by showing the guest you are doing this for professional reasons, not because you don’t know what you are doing.  The disconnect for me is, on one hand people are asking, "You really do a test strand?" and on the other hand we all agree that everyone has a different outcome even if you use the exact same color…and we question why a test strand is being done? So, here’s how to set yourself up for success. First, a good consultation with a brand new guest should be at least 15 minutes. Again a new guest, 15 minutes seems reasonable. During that time, we are looking to understand how they see themselves, how their eye sees color, what they like about their hair and what they don’t like about their hair. Use images, swatches and more to determine the outcome, ask about lifestyle and share about maintenance and cost of upkeep to make sure they always look good.

For highlights or strand selection work, Balayage/freehand techniques, I don’t test a strand useless I feel lightener won’t work because of over-coloring and/or breakage. Ninety-nine times out of 100, lightener works and makes hair lighter, something color doesn't always do, color doesn't lift color. But, for color the eye is not looking at light, it’s seeing tone and tone is much harder to get perfect every time. A classic example is the guest who starts with highlights that are done with color beautifully and then decides to use the same highlight color formulas all-over in a single process application and the "beautiful formula" turns into blorandish- blonde and orange, and not so beautiful. Why? Because with contrast, our eye sees light first, without contrast our eye sees tone first. That’s why I simply ask all new guests, "Would you mind if I take 10 extra minutes today to make sure your color is perfect?" In 10 minutes, you might not know if it’s going to be perfect, but you will know if it’s going to be bad, and that’s where the challenges lie every time we wish we had done a test strand.  


The reason we as professional colorists have an unexpected outcome or "mess up" is because we thought we were right, even with the knowledge that we have different color results from the same color on different people. Our industry could learn a lot if we didn't teach, learn or worry about being "right" all the time. When we do, it keeps us both from doing test strands and stylists asking if they did the color the "right way." It’s funny, people don’t usually ask after they finish a haircut if they have done it the “right way," so being "right" can also keep us from celebrating our work and sometimes even stifle creativity. And that’s why we have strand tests and patch tests too.  

Being Right