Why Does My Hair Turn Yellow after I Lighten It?

by Robin McDaniel

Beautiful blond locks and lustrous highlighted hair are enviable traits that many try to achieve. You purchase hair products for lightening your strands in the hopes of attaining desirable tones, only to end up with hair the color of fresh banana peel. Hair lightening is often tricky and may give you brassy yellow results if you do not understand the lightening procedure and effects products may have on the hair.

History

Commercial hair coloring was first developed in a lab by chemist Eugene Schuller, but hair dying and bleaching can be traced as far back as ancient Egypt and Greece where it was popular to use henna to change the color of the hair. Golden locks were prized in ancient times and alchemists and chemists would develop potions to bleach the hair and create the blonding effect that is much easier to obtain in the salon or at home today. Ingredients such as tannic acid and lye were sometimes used to strip natural hair color. Flowering plants with a yellowish hue including crocus or saffron would then be used to give the hair a golden glow.

Basics

Melanin is responsible for hair color and is made up of both eumelanin and phaemelanin. Eumelanin produces darker tones in the hair from brown to black, while phaeomelanin creates red and blond hair colors. When there is no melanin in the hair shaft, the hair will be white or gray. Bleaches work to reduce melanin and remove natural coloring from the hair through oxidation of the melanin molecules in the hair cortex or middle layer of the hair. Because keratin, protein in hair, is naturally yellow, hair that is completely free of melanin will likely have a yellow cast.

Types

Lighteners may be semi-permanent or permanent and either consist of bleach or hair color. Bleaching agents are more caustic and use high levels of hydrogen peroxide to lighten the hair through color removal. According to the Hair Finder website, high-lift bleaching agents may contain potassium persulphate and sodium metasilicate to help lift hair color from the hair shaft. Because of the high alkalinity of the solution, it more easily penetrates the cortex to lighten hair. Hair color can also be used to lighten the hair to a blond shade, but will only lighten the hair as many shades as the level of peroxide used, which can be from 10 to 40 volume depending on the level of lift desired.

Considerations

When lightening the hair you should consider your natural hair color before deciding on what type of hair product to use in order to avoid yellow tones. Because hair color is dependent on peroxide level to lighten, you may not achieve the color listed on the box if your natural hair color is over four levels darker than the desired tone. Peroxide will lift only the number of levels according to the percentage listed, so a high lift or 40 volume will only lift four levels. If you want a lighter color than this, you will need to use a bleach lightener. Off-the-scalp bleach lighteners are stronger than those used on the scalp and are recommended for highlights, while on-the-scalp bleaches work for whole head lightening because they are less caustic and can be applied to the scalp.

Solution

Avoid yellow tones by choosing the right product for your lightening needs and allowing enough time for the hair to lighten. Use bleach to lighten more than four levels and use a hair dryer to increase lightening action and processing time. Check the hair at 3 to 10 minute intervals and use a towel that is wet to fully remove product from the hair to look for true color. Because bleach color is white, it may cause the hair to appear lighter than what it is, if not fully removed. Dry the checked strand and look for a pale yellow color before removing. Follow with a toner or semi-permanent hair color to achieve your desired tone. Do not use ash tones on fully lightened hair due to their blue, green or violet base to avoid picking up unwanted hair color tones. Champagne and neutral tones work well for toning bleached hair. When using hair color to lighten, check your natural level first and choose the correct peroxide level to reach your desired shade. Leave on the hair for the recommended period of time to ensure adequate lightening has occurred. Perform a strand test as with bleach before removal. Ash and neutral-based tints will help you to avoid overly yellow tones.

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About the Author

Robin McDaniel is a writer, educator and musician. She holds a master's degree in higher educational leadership from Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton as well as a bachelor's degree in elementary education. She is pursuing a Ph.D. in adult in community education. McDaniel enjoys writing, blogging, web design, singing and playing bass guitar.