Expert Advice

Color Questions Answered

Patrick McIvor | September 7, 2011 | 12:59 PM

Where is Blonde on the Color Wheel?
I have been doing a lot of work recently on formats, haircolor guides, haircolor experiences and haircolor chemistry, and while I was working, one of my daughters was looking at all the colors on the color wheel and noticed blonde was missing.  Why she asked is brunette/brown on the color wheel and redheads/red on the color wheel, but not blonde?  It started me thinking, researching and then having some interesting conversations with different friends.

Is Brown Always Made By Mixing Blue, Red and Yellow?
Many times when we are learning, we are told stories to help us understand concepts quickly and to make us comfortable.  However, these stories can sometimes later become harmful when we are looking at solutions.  In beauty school, most of us learn about haircolor being made by a chemist who is actually mixing together red, yellow and blue pigments in different proportions to make not only brown, but all haircolors.  This story makes it easy for us to understand, play with finger-paints or play dough and feel comfortable quickly because we have had those experiences in the past, like in kindergarten. It gets us going quickly yes, but it creates a lot of problems down the road when we have challenges, because it is not true.

Think about it this way, when god made dirt, he didn’t take blue dirt, red dirt and yellow dirt, mix them together to make brown dirt, you just make brown dirt.  And though we can look at the brown dirt, some are cooler and some are warmer, but we can't break it down to yellow, red and blue dirt granulars.  In the same way, if we leave a shovel outside and it rains, rust forms producing a red brown color, but no one went out and added red and yellow dye molecules, it’s an oxidative process that produces a color as an outcome, sound familiar?  Professional haircolor does not use metal, but it is an oxidative process where we take an oxidizing agent (generally hydrogen peroxide), combine that with an oxidative dye, then depending on the coupler and pH, a color outcome is created.  The funny thing is, by combining the same dye with different couplers, the outcome can produce either warm or cool/ash haircolor shades.  So, one dye can produce a violet-based shade or a strawberry result depending on the coupler - not red, blue or yellow dye molecules.

How Many Primaries Are In White?  How Many Primaries Are In Black?
In play dough/finger paint theory, white is the absence of all primaries and black is all the primaries.  In light theory though, all primaries/colors are present in white and none in black, that's why when white light is refracted we see rainbows and when it is night the absence of light is black.  Color is created by what light rays are absorbed and what is reflected, what is reflected produces the color - also why snow can be blinding and we can stare at a black road all day.  It is also why some guests complain about the color of their hair when they are in the bathroom or driving, because the temperature of the light is warmer, and they like their color at work and when shopping, because the light is cooler - not because of red, yellow and blue dyes.

Reverse Engineering The Truth?
Many times, because of our education, we still want to prove that there is red, yellow and blue in the color and we can, in the same way we can figure out how much red, yellow and blue would be needed to reproduce the same color the rust produced on the shovel.  The challenge here is we can only figure this out when we are finished and it is only relevant to the guest we just finished and does not mean those same proportions would be the same with the same color on a different guest.  Let's take a level 6 Gold for instance, if applied to a healthy natural level 5-7 we would have a warm golden dark blonde/light brown and conclude that it has a balance of red, yellow and blue.  If we applied the same 6 Gold to a natural level 1-3 we would conclude that the color had a very low percentage of blue and higher red and yellow, and if we applied it to porous blonde hair level 9-10 we would conclude that the color had a very low percentage of red because of the greenish outcome the same color produced.  Why? Because there is no red, yellow and blue, it is a combination of the color chosen (shade), the rate of oxidation (volume of developer), contributing pigment and porosity that really produces that color result and the best way to predict that is with a test strand.

It is funny to me when people say they can accurately predict the color result based on the percentage of yellow, red, blue and the amount of time people spend debating exactly how much red, yellow and blue dye is used.  We all know if we put the same color on everyone, with the exception of black haircolor, everyone will have a different result, so instead of spending time trying to figure out something that is not true, let's put that time into test strands.  Let's also not get aggravated that we were taught information that is not factual, because it allowed us to understand something quickly that at that time could be very scary and though not true, it give us analogies to understand how to create great haircolor.  As I always say, it is not what you know that is harmful, it is what you believe that keeps us from learning more.   

Matrix Artistic Director, Patrick McIvor owns patrick mcivor color studio (Bethlehem, PA) one of the hottest hair studios in the Lehigh Valley. As a respected colorist in the industry, the former Color Director for Nick Arrojo and Rodney Culter in NYC, McIvor mentors his team by involving them in runway work at New York Fashion Week; fashion/beauty editorial shoots and interviews with publications like Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Real Simple, Seventeen, Family Circle and Allure (editors named him one of the best colorists in the USA); and television segments on “The 10! Show”/NBC Channel 10, WFMZ “Channel 69 News” and “Good Housekeeping Reports.”  A cultural junkie, Patrick is Inspired by international cosmopolitan influences from fashion, global trends supported by technology and social networking, guests leave his studio and stages with his studio’s signature beautiful, sexy believable hair.  McIvor is also featured in the book “50 Hairstylists.”

Twitter: patrickmcivor
Facebook: Patrick Mcivor

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