Color Correction: Removing Years of Black Box Color

Brig Van Osten, owner and stylist at P!ay Hair Lounge in Simi Valley, California, met client Stina at a shoe store where she used to work. "I was having a little retail therapy after a long salon day and her hair caught my eye," Van Osten says. "It was in a perfect ballerina bun on top of her head. The bun was black, the rest was NOT. I quickly decided that she was stunning and I would be able to capture a great makeover shoot from her."

The results justified the 3-4 hour color correction that was soon to follow. Stina was thrilled. "She had been letting her natural level 6 grow in for a year," Van Osten says. "She was at a loss and didn't know what to do to get rid of her years of black hair."

Shortly after the shoot, she joined Van Osten's salon team as a Client Coordinator while she finished her esthetician course. She is now licensed.

Here's how Van Osten achieved a natural look on Stina:

"At p!ay hair lounge, we use this technique at least once a month on a new guest. Stina's was extreme due to the length/thickness of her hair," Van Osten says. "We do not ever use color strippers/removers. We patiently nudge the layers of color off using lightener."


"Always take a test strand before making any promises or giving pricing to your guest," Van Osten says. "We use Wella Blondor with 30-volume for the test strand under heat for 5-10 minutes. Where is the line of demarcation for their natural color and dark color? Are there surprising highlights from when they were blonde last summer and forgot to mention it to you? You will find out through a test strand."

Stina had been box coloring her hair black at home for more than 3 years. Her color was layered on and the test strand revealed what Van Osten calls "the Big Stick effect: pale yellow down to orange down to red on the ends." Stina's hair did lift to a level 6, so that is what Van Osten gave her as a target shade.

"If your guest says 'NO RED' they are on crack," laughs Van Osten. "There will be warmth. No matter how much of an ASH shade you use to go over the underlying pigment you uncover. Be clear with them. I’m sure you will agree, there's nothing worse than being unable to deliver the results you promised to your guest."

Prior to Step 2, WARN your guest that after this next step, their hair will look very scary. Yellow and orange. "By letting them know what you expect, they won’t freak when they see it," Van Osten says. "So super-duper important to gain their trust early on in this tedious color process. Also be sure they have 3-4 hours and make sure they are fed."

COLOR CORRECTION HOW TO: Removing Years of Black Box Color


Using a thin mixture of Wella Blondor powder lightener + 20 volume, start applying at the darkest part up to the line of natural growth. "If there is a TON of hair like in Stina’s case, two of us do the application so we can keep the processing time consistent. We actually did the back 1/2 of her hair first then rinsed and did the front half." Once the darkest area of the hair has reached the desired target level, let it process slightly longer. Get it up another ½ level. Then shampoo thoroughly and lightly condition.


Next, dry the hair and make sure you have reached your target level or above. "With Stina, we reached a 6 in some places and 7 in others," Van Osten says. "I went over all of her hair with 7N in PM shines. It is a demi-permanent, but absorbed as a permanent due to how porous her hair was after our lift. I used a level 7 so I could allow it to sink a bit without going too dark. This processed at room temperature for 30 minutes. We then shampooed and lightly conditioned."


Highlights through the bottom ½. "I used Wella Magma 07+ with 20 volume and did an 'ombre' foil placement to further break up the color and provide some glow to the ends," Van Osten says. "I LOVE Magma 07+. It is a lightener that lifts and deposits a level 7 caramel tone all at once. It never over lifts. It is also brilliant to use on gray retouches when you want to add a caramel highlight. I also am a huge fan of Magma 44 which is a fire engine red. When we shampooed out this final formula, we use Wella Magma Pure Shine Sealer to lock the color by balancing the PH & closing the cuticle. It is brilliant as an after color service, color lock."

Van Osten says to always remember, you will not be able to take a client from a level 2 to level 10 in one visit or even 1 month. "If they don’t understand this, or believe you, let another salon make the mistake, not you. Sometimes the best thing you can tell a guest is NO."

You can see more of what Brig Van Osten does with the passionate stylists at p!ay hair lounge here:
Photo Credits: Todd Jones
Hair & Make-up Assistant: Toni Bramson 


For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.