If hair color is your passion and you want to honor that part of your professionalism, a great way is to become certified by the American Board of Certified Haircolorists (ABCH). It takes a lot of both "book" study and hands-on preparation working with a mannequin, but stylists say it's worth it. They do it both for the marketing potential and just for their own satisfaction.

certified stylists' testimony

When Michelle Wilson received her certification some years back, she was a stylist at Panache Salon in Oklahoma City and the only certified colorist in the entire state of Oklahoma. "I felt I owed it to my clients to become certified," Wilson says. "I thought it would prove that I backed up the talk; I'm really a colorist. Since passing the test, I've had a lot more clients say, 'Wow! This is exactly the color of my hair when I was a child.'"

Charlie Adams prefers that all colorists have certification to work at her salon, Salon XL Color & Design Group in Ann Arbor, Michigan. "For the consumer out there, one colorist could be awesome, while the next colorist did little more than spend $60 to get a license," she explains. "We're not saying that just because I'm board-certified and the other person isn't that the other colorist isn't qualified. We're saying that the board-certified person has really put her skills to the test and has gone the extra measure to make sure quality and consistency is achieved. It's taking our craft to the next level."

Once you're certified, you can add that credential to your business card and ask your salon owner to include in ads something like, "Board-certified colorist on staff." This impresses clients, some of whom are specifically looking for a stylist who can do a difficult color or color correction job. ABCH also lists certified colorists on its website.

"The clients I get because of my certification usually come in very frustrated because they've been to other salons but haven't been getting their color the way they wanted," says Wilson. "A lot of time their color requires just a little bit of correction. When I succeed for them, they're very appreciative and become extremely loyal clients."

Like Wilson, at first Debbie Elliott was the only certified hair colorist in her state. Co-owner of Debbie Elliott Salon and Day Spa, Portland, Maine, Elliott says, "In order for stylists to compete in an upscale world, they have to be well-trained." Clients have become very savvy about hair color, Elliott adds, and they expect their stylists to stay a step ahead of them in knowledge.

how it works

ABCH certification was developed by a group of hairdressers concerned that clients would abandon salon hair color if results weren't consistent. "After two or three disappointing hair color experiences, clients begin to color-correct their own hair because they don't trust us anymore," explains Andre Nizetich, a top California colorist who came up with the certification idea.

The recently revamped process seeks to certify 70 percent of the colorists who apply, up from the previous figure of 50 percent. ABCH has targeted the difficulty at a level that excellent colorists can pass while still keeping certification meaningful. Part of the test is demonstrating different techniques.

"You may have to do a reverse highlight, a highlight-lowlight, a tone-on-tone or a gray reduction," explains Adams. "It's like having a client sitting in your chair; you have to be prepared for everything."

The application cost is $540, which includes a mannequin clamp, hair for swatches and the study portfolio. If you fail, you can retake the test as often as you like at a much reduced price. Test sessions are held periodically throughout the country.

another option

Manufacturers are beginning to offer their own color certification. If you use Redken color products, for example, you can become a Redken Certified Haircolorist, with your name and location included on the Redken website.

"Redken Color Certification was designed to recognize and reward top colorists," says Christine Schuster, senior vice president of education for Redken. "Our accreditation process assesses their technical skills; knowledge of hair color products; and principles and approach to color formulation, application and color correction. An individual who becomes certified will excel in the area of hair color and provide top-notch service to clients."

For more information on Redken's program, go to www.redken.com. For a full explanation of the ABCH certification, go to www.haircolorist.com.

Photo courtesy of Fantastic Sam's.

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