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How do professionals strip hair color?

Changing your hair color can be fun and exciting. However, what happens when you’re ready to go back to your natural color or try a new shade? Removing artificial hair color requires a process called color stripping. Professional hair stylists have techniques and products to effectively strip color without damaging your strands.

What is hair color stripping?

Hair color stripping is the process of removing artificial pigment from the hair shafts. This allows you to remove permanent or semi-permanent hair dye, going back to your natural tone or preparing for a new color application.

Stripping color involves applying a chemical treatment to open the cuticles, the outer layers of the hair strands. This allows the artificial pigment molecules to be dissolved and washed away. After the treatment, the cuticles close again to restore and protect the natural inner structure of the hair.

Why would someone strip hair color?

There are several reasons people may want to strip away their current hair dye:

  • To return to their natural hair color or go back to grey hair
  • The current color has become brassy, faded or uneven
  • They want to change their color palette dramatically
  • The hair has been damaged from excessive coloring and needs a reset

Removing the old color allows the hair to be replenished before applying a new shade. Fully stripping away dye gives better results when significantly altering your color profile.

Should you strip color at home?

Stripping hair color requires the use of strong chemicals that can damage hair if not done properly. Bleach and high-alkaline strippers should only be applied by a trained professional. Improper application and processing times can cause injury to your scalp and permanent breakage of the hair strands.

Attempting to strip color at home has risks. You may not fully remove pigment, leading to uneven results. Overprocessing causes dry, brittle hair. It’s best to enlist an experienced stylist who can safely perform color removal.

The professional color stripping process

Here are the basic steps a professional stylist follows to effectively strip hair dye:

  1. Evaluation – The stylist will examine your hair’s condition, existing color and desired result. This determines the proper stripping method and products.
  2. Patch test – A small area of hair will be tested first to check your tolerance for the chemicals used.
  3. Cleansing – Hair is shampooed thoroughly before stripping to remove styling products and oils.
  4. Application – The color removal solution is massaged into damp hair, ensuring full saturation.
  5. Processing – The chemicals must remain on the hair for a precise development time.
  6. Rinsing – The stripper is rinsed away thoroughly with lukewarm water.
  7. Neutralizing – A specialized shampoo removes leftover chemical residue.
  8. Conditioning – Hair is treated with a hydrating mask or conditioner.
  9. Coloring – If desired, new color can then be applied to freshly stripped hair.

Types of color strippers

Professional stripping products use strong chemicals to penetrate the hair shaft and release trapped pigment. The main active ingredients include:

  • Sodium hydroxide – Also called lye or caustic soda. This alkaline agent swells the hair to open cuticles.
  • Persulfates – Oxidizing agents like ammonium and potassium persulfate damage dye molecules.
  • Hydrogen peroxide – Bleaches hair to remove dark pigment.
  • Dithioglycolic acid – A reducing agent that destroys bonds holding color in place.

These chemicals are combined in various concentrations and formulas for different professional stripping products. The most common types used by stylists include:

Stripper Type Description Best Uses
Bleach kits Liquid bleach mixed with peroxide developer. Quickly lightens hair. Removing darker permanent color, pre-lightening for color change.
High pH strippers Alkaline agents like sodium hydroxide or calcium hydroxide. Gentler option. Lifting direct dyes from lightened hair. Less damage to delicate blonde hair.
Reducing creams Contains dithioglycolic acid. Breaks color molecules apart. Removing unwanted tones from untreated or lifted hair.

The stylist selects the stripping products according to the current color and condition of your hair and your desired result.

Preparing hair for stripping

Your hair should be properly prepared before undergoing the stripping process. Here are some tips professional stylists recommend:

  • Avoid applying conditioners, oils or masks right before stripping. These can block the chemicals from penetrating the hair.
  • Come to your appointment with clean, dry hair.
  • Trim split or broken ends which are more prone to damage.
  • Use a clarifying shampoo several days before stripping to remove styling product buildup.
  • Take a supplement like biotin to strengthen hair before chemical treatment.
  • Use a pre-color treatment to equalize porosity and protect the strands.

What to expect after professional stripping

It’s normal for your hair to feel a bit different after the stripping process. Here’s what to expect:

  • Dryness – Hair may feel drier than normal. Use a hydrating conditioner and mask to add moisture back.
  • Texture change – You may notice slightly coarser or fuller hair after stripping. This is temporary.
  • Lighter color – The underlying pigment will be exposed. You’ll see your natural color or bleach-blonde tone.
  • Brassy tones – Yellow or orange hues can develop after stripping darker dye. These can be toned down.
  • Frizz – From cuticle damage. Use smoothing serums and heat protection.
  • Irritation – Some redness or itching of the scalp. Gentle shampoos and cold water rinses provide relief.

Schedule a conditioning treatment within a week after stripping to help your hair recover. The texture and tone will settle after a couple washes.

Risks and considerations of color stripping

While professional stripping provides the best results, there are still some risks involved in the process:

  • Breakage – Overprocessing with bleach or alkaline chemicals increases fragility. Hair can snap off easily.
  • Scalp burns – Chemical solutions may cause stinging, redness and irritation if left on too long.
  • Incomplete lifting – Some underlying pigment may still remain, interfering with the new color.
  • Patchiness – Improperly applied solutions lead to uneven stripping.
  • Loss of curl pattern – The chemicals penetrate deep into the cortex, which can loosen or relax curls.

To limit damage, ask your stylist to do a strand test first and closely monitor development time. Be sure to communicate if you have any scalp discomfort during the process.

Also consider your starting hair condition and health. Porous or frequently colored hair is more prone to injury when stripping. Drastically lightening dark hair requires more chemicals and time. Discuss your hair history with your stylist so they can adjust the process accordingly.

Caring for hair after stripping

It’s extremely important to nourish and protect your hair following the stripping process. Here are some post-care tips:

  • Wait 2-3 days before shampooing to allow the cuticle to fully close.
  • Use a sulfate-free, gentle cleanser to avoid dryness and irritation.
  • Rinse with cool water and apply conditioner only from mid-length to ends.
  • Replenish moisture with a weekly hydrating hair mask.
  • Apply a heat protectant before using any hot tools.
  • Avoid further chemical processes like coloring for 4-6 weeks.
  • Get regular trims to snip away split ends.
  • Take biotin supplements to support keratin production.
  • Use oils like argan, coconut and marula to increase shine and softness.

With proper aftercare, your hair can fully recover from stripping and achieve your desired new shade.


Removing artificial color allows for amazing hair transformations, but only when done correctly by a professional. Bleaching, alkaline solutions and reducing agents must be massaged on and rinsed off with great precision to avoid damage.

Always consult an experienced stylist when planning to strip color. They will assess your hair and select the safest method to lift your existing pigment without causing harm. With the proper process and post-treatment care, you can strip away old dye to reveal fresh, healthy and vibrant hair.