Before diving into the best practices for dying your hair extensions please note that coloring your hair extensions is always done at your own risk. Some brands of extensions take color well while others do not. If you wish to color extensions- always dye a test strand to ensure you are happy with the results before proceeding.
Here are some quick tips I use in the salon to customize my client's hair extensions:
Don't ever lighten hair extensions
Rule #1- Don't ever lighten hair extensions unless the hair you are working with 100% virgin. I've have only seen bad results from lightening preprocessed hair extensions. The reason for this is that hair extensions are processed off the head in factories using different chemicals than we use at a hair salon. There can be chemical reactions between factory chemicals and lightening agents causing damage and issues with uneven processing. Don't try it - trust me!
Start with a lighter color
I always recommend starting with a color slightly lighter than the shade you want to achieve so you can add color to achieve the desired look rather than removing (lightening) extensions. Usually 1 level lighter is a perfect starting point. This way the hair already has a good background color and you can fine tune the intensity or tone as needed.
Use Demi permanent hair dye
Whenever shadowing, rooting, or toning hair, I always always always recommend a demi permanent dye (semi permanent works too but wont stay as well).
- Demi permanent color provides good color coverage without fully penetrating the cuticle. This will keep the cuticle smooth and can help add a lot of shine.
- Demi permanent color tends to spread easier leaving a blended look vs permanent color which can leave harsh lines or end up blotchy.
- Demi permanent color has good staying power when applied correctly.
- Demi permanent color is longer lasting than semi permanent color.
- Demi permanent color is typically translucent which can go over blended colors and still allow you to see dimension which is what we want.
Rooting hair extensions is a popular method of darkening the hair closest to the root to match a clients deeper root color and essentially hide the hair extension application point. Buying hair extensions that are rooted or ombred are usually more expensive many times the color may not be quite right to match your clients hair. If this sounds like something you struggle with I have some tips for you!
I use Redken Shades EQ and Redken Shades creams to root extensions for my clients. Start at the root with the darkest shade needed and then add a little clear and work the color a little further down and so on as needed. The result is a soft blended root shadow. I find my self using a lot of the Redken Shades EQ tones in WG for my warm rooted clients, N tones for my ashy clients and then a blend of these two tones for clients with a neutral root. One of my most used formulas us 06N + 06WG in equal parts but it depends on what the goal is and what tone I am going over. If I am going over a warm brown and I need a deep ashy root I might use a 05N by itself or mix in a little extra ash if needed like 06T. When it comes to toning the ends of the hair I find myself cooling down hair colors more often than not. Some of my ashy blondes want a cool look and usually the lightest extensions tend to be a little yellow. A quick tone with 09V, or 09V + 09T, or 09T will do the trick to ash them out. I usually use the shades creams for a deep look right at the root. This line of color is deep and usually a full level darker than what the box indicates. I love the 05WB, 05WN, 07WN, and 8N. I use these colors alone and sometimes blend them together depending on whats needed.
The science behind using demi vs. permanent hair color:
Demi (and semi) permanent colors sit outside of the hair cuticle so you are less likely to cause damage to the hair using them. Permanent color can be more risky because it works by opening the cuticle and pushing color molecules inside the hair shaft. If the cuticle doesn't open/close properly you might end up with blotchy tones or damaged hair extensions.
Think of Demi permanent color as lip gloss- It adds the tone you want but is translucent, sits on top of the hair, and still shows the hairs natural color(s) underneath. Permanent colors are more like paint or lipstick- you are masking the original color which might not be what you want especially when the process involves more stress on the hairs cuticle.
Saturation is key when dying all types of hair. Make sure you are working with a small amount of hair at a time so that the color is fully saturating each strand of hair - front and back. Double check your work by turning the hair over and doing an extra coat on the backside to make sure you didn't miss any spots. The better you saturate, the better your outcome will be.