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How do you specialize in hair color?

Hair color is an integral part of hair styling and can dramatically transform someone’s look. Many hair stylists choose to specialize in hair color services to focus on this creative and chemistry-driven aspect of hairdressing. Specializing in hair color involves developing expertise in color theory, formulations, techniques, and trends. It requires an artistic eye, technical skills, and continuous education.

Getting the Right Training

The foundation for specializing in hair color is comprehensive training. Cosmetology programs provide an introduction to color services, but specialized training is needed to truly master the art and science of hair color. Post-secondary color certification programs teach in-depth color theory, formulation, product knowledge, application techniques, and client consultation skills. Many manufacturers like Redken, Matrix, Schwarzkopf, and Pravana offer advanced color education as well. Ongoing education through classes, workshops, YouTube videos, trade shows, and magazines keeps colorists up-to-date on the latest techniques and trends.

Understanding Color Theory

Hair color theory explains how color works and how to achieve desired results. Specialists need to understand the color wheel, levels and tones, the underlying science of hair pigment, and factors that influence results like hair type and condition. Key principles include:

  • The color wheel displays the relationships between different hues
  • Levels refer to the depth of color from 1 (black) to 10 (lightest blonde)
  • Tones range from warm (gold, red) to cool (ash, beige)
  • The main pigments in hair are eumelanin (warm brown to black tones) and pheomelanin (warm gold to red orange hues)
  • Hair’s porosity, texture, and elasticity impact how it receives and holds color

Experts understand how these elements interact to create customized results. They conduct thorough consultations to analyze the client’s hair and desired outcome.

Mastering Color Formulation

Hair color specialists have advanced formulation skills. They expertly combine various color levels, tones, and product types like permanent, demi-permanent, semi-permanent, and bleach. Key abilities include:

  • Assessing the client’s natural hair color and condition
  • Selecting the appropriate color product and formula to achieve the client’s goals
  • Mixing and measuring color combinations precisely
  • Considering the chemical reactions between products
  • Adjusting formulas based on variables like hair porosity and processing time

Master colorists understand how to carefully craft custom color formulations tailored to each client’s unique needs.

Application Techniques

Proper application techniques are critical for flawless results. Hair color experts demonstrate their specialized skills through methods like:

  • Full highlighting and balayage: Precisely painting color in fine strands of hair.
  • Foiling: Isolating sections of hair for lightening, toning, or coloring.
  • Color melting: Blending highlights seamlessly from roots to ends.
  • Tinting: Applying permanent or semi-permanent color smoothly from scalp to tips.
  • Toning: Neutralizing or enhancing color results with gloss treatments.

They also incorporate advanced techniques like ombre, sombre, color blocking, color melting, and shadow roots. Expert application minimizes overlap and perfectly places color where desired.

Trend Knowledge

Hair color trends are constantly evolving. Specialists stay current through continued education and commitment to their craft. Some current and emerging trends include:

  • Bronde / expensive brunette: Warmer brown tones with subtle highlights.
  • Bottled brunette: Rich chocolate and mocha colors.
  • Butterscotch blonde: Golden beige and buttery accent colors.
  • Virtual foils: Balayage or ombre mimicking foiled highlights.
  • Pure pigments: Vibrant tone-on-tone shades.
  • Blended gray: Seamlessly incorporating gray hairs with color melting.

Staying ahead of trends and techniques keeps specialists in high demand. Clients come to them for fresh looks and expert execution.

Retailing Color Products

Product Type Uses Examples
Shampoos and Conditioners Gently cleanse and condition hair while preserving color vibrancy Redken Color Extend Shampoo, Olaplex No. 4 Shampoo
Color Depositing Masks Revive color between salon visits Biolage Colorlast Mask, Joico Color Balance Purple Shampoo
Glosses and Glazes Refresh tone, increase shine, and reduce brassiness Schwarzkopf Essence Ultime Crystal Shine Polisher, Color Wow Color Security Shampoo
Color Protecting Products Minimize fading and color washout It’s A 10 Miracle Color Keeper, Olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector

Hair color specialists recommend professional products to prolong results and maintain hair health. They educate clients on how to use color-safe shampoos, conditioning treatments, styling products, and at-home gloss treatments.

Continuing Education

Ongoing education is vital for hair colorists looking to specialize and excel. Some ways to stay current include:

  • Advanced color certifications: Take in-depth training through companies like Redken, Wella, Matrix or independent programs.
  • Classes and workshops: Attend sessions at shows or salons taught by guest artists.
  • Online education: Use YouTube, social media, apps, and virtual classes to learn new techniques.
  • Books and magazines: Modern Salon, Behind the Chair, Milady texts, instructional books by hair legends.
  • Photography: Study the latest looks through Instagram and Pinterest.

Great colorists never stop building on their knowledge and abilities. They pour their passion into staying on top of the latest innovations and trends.

Developing a Specialized Portfolio

A targeted portfolio demonstrates expertise. It should include:

  • Before and after photos showcasing dimensional coloring, color corrections, trend looks, foiling, balayage, and stunning transformations.
  • Pictures from advanced training and classes.
  • Copies of any specialized color certifications earned.
  • Testimonials from happy clients.

A specialized book exemplifies the colorist’s talents and continued education in hair coloring. Clients can flip through it to view the stylist’s previous work.


Hair color specialists bring artistry, passion and expertise to their work. They combine a masterful understanding of color theory with up-to-date techniques and individualized client service. Comprehensive training, precision application, trend knowledge, continued education, and a targeted portfolio establish specialists as exceptional colorists. Their distinctive skills and aesthetic talents establish them as masters of hair color.