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How do hairdressers strip hair colour?

Hair colour is an important part of many people’s style and self-expression. However, sometimes hair colour needs to be removed or stripped out, such as when wanting to go to a lighter shade or remove buildup from multiple colouring services. Hair stylists have a few methods to safely and effectively strip colour from hair.

Reasons for Stripping Hair Colour

There are a few main reasons a stylist may recommend stripping out hair colour:

  • Removing artificial colour buildup – Multiple rounds of hair colour, especially dark colours, can leave behind a buildup of artificial pigment. This needs to be removed before attempting to go lighter.
  • Changing to a lighter colour – In order to achieve a lighter shade, whether natural or artificial, the existing darker colour needs to be stripped out first.
  • Removing banding or splotchiness – Sometimes hair colour can turn out uneven, with darker or lighter bands of colour. Stripping the colour can even out the overall tone.
  • Re-colouring after a long time – If it’s been more than 6-8 weeks since the last colour, a stripping service helps the new colour absorb and adheres better.

How Hair is Stripped

Stylists use chemical processes to strip artificial colour from hair. Here are the most common techniques:


Bleach is the strongest colour remover. Bleach contains peroxide which opens the hair cuticle and oxidizes the artificial pigment molecules. The colour molecules are degraded and can then be rinsed away.

  • Works on stubborn, built-up colour.
  • Can achieve pale blonde tones.
  • Very drying to hair.

Colour Remover

Colour removers use a milder chemical reaction to shrink colour molecules so they can be rinsed away. Contains ingredients like sodium hydrosulfite or sodium dithionate.

  • Less harsh than bleach.
  • Leaves hair in better condition.
  • May need multiple applications.

Clarifying Shampoo

Clarifying shampoos use surfactants and citric acid to help break down and lift away colour buildup from hair.

  • Gentle option for minor colour removal.
  • Works by repeated use, not a single treatment.
  • Won’t lighten natural pigment.

The Hair Colour Stripping Process

Here are the steps a stylist follows to strip hair colour:

  1. Evaluation – The stylist will examine hair health, existing colour, and desired result. This determines the safest removal method.
  2. Patch test – A skin patch test checks for allergic reaction to removal products.
  3. Mixing – The stylist mixes the remover product according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  4. Application – The removal product is brushed through the hair, applying thoroughly from roots to ends.
  5. Processing – The hair is allowed to sit for the recommended time to allow the chemicals to work.
  6. Rinsing – The hair is thoroughly rinsed with water or a special remover-reducing solution.
  7. Drying – Excess moisture is gently squeezed out and hair is towel dried.
  8. Repeating – If needed, the process is repeated until desired colour removal achieved.
  9. Neutralizing – A neutralizing shampoo helps stabilize colour and pH.
  10. Conditioning – Hair is conditioned to restore moisture and reduce damage from processing.

Things to Keep in Mind

Here are some important points about stripping hair colour:

  • It is always best done by a professional stylist who can assess hair and use the proper products.
  • Multiple rounds may be needed for significant colour removal.
  • Hair may not return to its exact natural colour.
  • Stripping is drying so conditioner is a must.
  • May cause some discomfort like itching or irritation.
  • Works by opening the cuticle so hair can be more prone to damage afterwards.


Proper aftercare helps keep hair healthy after stripping services:

  • Avoid heat styling for 1-2 weeks.
  • Use a nourishing hair mask or treatment 1-2 times a week.
  • Rinse with cool water and avoid very hot water.
  • Use a gentler, sulphate-free shampoo.
  • Avoid repeating colour services for 4-6 weeks.
  • Get occasional trims to remove damaged ends.
  • Use a heat protectant before heat styling.

How Long Does It Last?

How long stripped hair stays free of colour depends on several factors:

  • Natural pigment levels – Hair with high natural pigment will start to revert faster.
  • Stripping method – Bleach removes more artificial colour than other methods.
  • Existing colour buildup – More built up colour means faster reversion.
  • Hair type and condition – More porous or damaged hair will pick up colour faster.
  • Hair’s exposure to elements – Sun, pool water, and minerals shorten colour-free time.

On average, stripped hair stays lighter for 2-4 weeks before natural colour starts to return. To maintain a light shade, touch-up appointments are needed around every 4 weeks.


The cost of stripping hair colour can vary widely based on:

  • Salon location and overhead costs
  • Stylist’s experience level
  • Amount of hair needing processing
  • Number of remover applications needed
  • Whether other services like cut, style are included

On average, stripping services can range from $80-150+ per session. However, investments into properly removing old colour leads to better results the next time hair is coloured.

Benefits of Professional Stripping

While home colour strippers are available, professional stripping offers key advantages:

  • Thorough removal – Even stubborn built up colour.
  • Proper application – Ensuring every strand gets saturated evenly.
  • Rinsing – A professional sink rinses out remover thoroughly.
  • Assessing – A stylist can check if more removal is needed.
  • Safety – Less risks like irritation or chemical burning.
  • Advice – On aftercare and maintaining new shade.
  • Even result – No splotchy sections or banding.

For the healthiest hair and most successful colour change, professional stripping is the best approach.

At Home Stripping Risks

Stripping hair at home has some potential downsides:

  • Skin or eye irritation from chemicals.
  • Uneven removal leaving splotchy colour.
  • Damage from improper rinsing and neutralizing.
  • Overprocessing from leaving on too long.
  • Frustration from colour not lifting enough.
  • Accidental removal of natural pigment.
  • No help assessing when done or next steps.

Without professional skill and equipment, at home stripping can be risky and have disappointing results.

Alternatives to Stripping

For some cases, there are colour-altering options that don’t require full stripping:

Colour Correction Gloss

Uses a demi-permanent gloss to shift tone and add shine without lightening.

Colour Softening Treatment

Special treatments close the cuticle to make colour appear softer and more faded.

Full Colour Application

In some cases, going darker or adding lowlights can essentially “cover up” the existing shade.

Cutting Hair Short

Removes some length with colour on it. New growth comes in natural colour.

However, for significant colour removal to lighter shades, there is no substitute for stripping services.

Should You Avoid Stripping?

Stripping hair colour is damaging so should be avoided in some cases:

  • Chemically overprocessed hair – Additional chemical treatment risks breakage.
  • Fine, fragile, or naturally dry hair – Prone to stripping damage.
  • Wanting to go darker – Stripping is unnecessary.
  • Pregnancy – Certain chemicals should be avoided.
  • Wanting only subtle lightening – Try alternatives like gloss instead.
  • Already quite light – Lighter hair won’t need as harsh stripping.

For overly damaged or sensitive hair, stripping services may be inadvisable. Always consult a stylist first.

How to Care for Stripped Hair

Stripped hair needs special care and moisture to recover. Recommended tips:

  • Use a hydrating mask 1-2 times per week.
  • Cut out or limit heat styling.
  • Switch to a nourishing shampoo and conditioner.
  • Rinse hair in cool water instead of very hot.
  • Brush gently with a wide tooth comb.
  • Avoid tightly pulling back hair.
  • Get occasional trims to remove split ends.
  • Use a heat protecting spray before hot tools.

With time and TLC, stripped hair can regain its health and shine.

Maintaining Stripped Hair

To maintain stripped hair between salon visits:

  • Use colour depositing shampoo or conditioner.
  • Get gloss treatments to freshen colour.
  • Use semi-permanent rinses to balance brassiness.
  • Don’t go longer than 4 weeks between colour services.
  • Schedule regular trims to prevent damage spreading up strands.
  • Limit use of hot tools to 2-3 times a week max.

Proper maintenance keeps colour vibrant and hair healthy.

Troubleshooting Stripping Issues

Some common stripping problems and their solutions:

Issue Solution
Orange, brassy tone Use blue toning shampoo, gloss, or semi permanent colour
Hair feels very dry Weekly treatments with a hydrating mask
Lighter ends but root regrowth visible Full colour service to even out shade from root to ends
Colour builds up again quickly Clarifying shampoo 2 times a week
Stripped colour turning out uneven Have a professional colour correction gloss treatment


Hair colour stripping done properly by a stylist allows for dramatic colour changes that would otherwise be difficult to achieve. While the process can be drying to hair, with the right aftercare regime hair can recover and remain healthy. Stripping services may require patience for multiple sessions, but can provide beautiful, vibrant results in skilled hands.