Does Color Remover Damage Hair?

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Color Remover should not damage your hair if used as directed – read instructions people! There are many different brands of color removers and processing times may vary, but they all essentially work the same way.

Though color remover is a godsend for anyone wanting to remove a permanent hair dye without causing damage or changing their natural color, what’s important to understand is that it can’t work miracles.

If you want to know what to expect from your color remover, you need to not only know how color remover works, but also how permanent hair color works and what it does to your natural hair color.

Does Color Remover Damage Your Hair? It shouldn’t if you use it properly. Don’t mistakenly blame your color remover for the damage or an unexpected color you uncover after using it!

In this article we are going to get into the nitty-gritty of color removers, permanent hair color, how to make sure you don’t damage your hair when using color remover, and discuss its limitations. You’ll know what you can expect.


Getting to Know Your Hair

First things first – in order to really understand what’s going on when you color your hair and then remove color from your hair, you need to understand your hair, how it’s structured, and what makes up your natural color.

Natural hair has a colorless cuticle. The pigments are in the cortex.

Your natural hair color is made up of melanin. All natural hair color is made up from the same four pigments of two types of melanin—black and brown pigments called eumelanin, and red and yellow pigments called pheomelanin.

The shade or depth of hair color is determined by the concentration of melanin. The more melanin produced in the hair, the darker it is. The tone of the hair is dictated by the ratio of black and brown eumelanin to yellow and red pheomelanin. More black and brown pigments create a cool-toned hair color, while a predominance of red and yellow pigments creates a warm-toned hair color.

Blondes and those with light colored hair tend to produce yellow undertones. Brown hair typically produces warmer orange undertones, and those with very dark hair have red undertones.

What Is Permanent Hair Color And How Does It Work?

Color Remover

It’s also really important to understand how permanent hair color processes your hair so you know what to expect when you use a color remover.

All too often you see people leaving reviews for color removers saying it damaged their hair or it changed the color, when really the damage that they’ve experienced, or the unexpected color was as a result of the coloring process, not the color remover.

Using permanent hair color can cause structural changes to your hair that can damage it and obviously change the color. The level of damage and color change is dependent on whether you are dying it darker or lighter, the condition of your hair before you colored it, the amount of post-dye care you give, etc.

Permanent hair color uses a developer which enables it to penetrate the hair cuticle and deposit color onto the cortex. Developer contains hydrogen peroxide which either lifts (lightens) or deposits color, depending on whether you are coloring your hair lighter or darker, which is what determines the strength of the developer.

Note that there’s no actual bleach in hair bleach!

Developer Volume and Strength

Developer comes in different strengths – 10 volume, 20 volume, 30 volume, and 40 volume (strongest). Developer strength is sometimes represented as a percentage.

  • 10 volume = 3%
  • 20 volume = 6%
  • 30 volume = 9%
  • 40 volume = 12%

Peroxide is used in higher concentrations in blonde dyes and lower concentrations in darker-colored dyes.

The 10 volume developer is used for no-lift hair color (i.e. for darker colors that do not require lightening). It’s designed for use when you want to add a color tone or tint to the hair of the same lightness level. For 10 volume developers, the low percentage of peroxide is used, not to lighten, but to open the hair cuticle, allowing the permanent color to penetrate the hair.

The 20 volume developer opens the cuticle and lifts the hair by one to two levels. Most standard box dyes use at least a 20 volume developer. So if you are using a box dye as opposed to using a separate color and developer, you should expect some lightening of your natural color.

The 30 volume developer works like 20 volume, but it will lighten the hair’s original color by two to three shades.

The 40 volume developer is the strongest. It will lift your hair four shades and is used in lighter shades of blondes.

And because it’s much stronger, it will cause the most damage.

You should avoid using 40 volume developers altogether. If you’re not convinced, all you have to do is google “hair bleach fails” and almost all of them are because the person mixed their bleach with 40 volume developer.

Though bleach and permanent hair color are different, it’s the developer that does the damage.

What Happens To Hair Pigments When You Color Your Hair?

So let’s circle back to your natural hair color for a minute. You’ll see why it’s important to understand your hair color so you can understand what happens to it when you color your hair.

When coloring your hair darker, the developer will not be as strong. It does not need to lift your hair color as much to deposit the darker color.

That said, even though it is not as strong, even 20 volume still uses enough peroxide to lighten your hair.

If you are coloring your hair a lighter color, your developer will be stronger because it needs to lift (bleach) your natural color to achieve the color you’re going for.

The developer is stripping away the different colored pigments one layer at a time. Cool-toned color pigments are smaller molecules and the first to be lifted out of your hair during the coloring process.

The warmer toned pigment molecules (red & orange) are larger, so they are the last (take longer) to be lifted out of hair. There are also more warm pigment molecules than cool pigment molecules.

This is why often after using a color remover, hair can be left with a yellow or orange hue as the developer has changed the natural color of your hair.

So if you’ve dyed your hair, especially if you’ve dyed it a lighter color, you cannot expect a color remover to restore your natural color. Color remover will only take out the dye color to leave you with whatever color your processed hair is underneath.

This is commonly remedied through the use of hair toners and toning shampoo. More on that below.

See also:

What Is Color Remover? And How Does It Work?

Color Remover

Color remover only removes permanent dye color. That’s it. It will not remove semi or demi-permanent hair color or all-natural, plant-based dyes like henna.

Color removers work by entering the hair shaft and dissolving the bonds of the dye molecules that allow it to stick to your hair, breaking up the molecules into smaller pieces that can then be rinsed out of the hair.

Salerm Color Reverse
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Color X-Change Phase-Out Gentle Dye Decolorizer + Intensive Hair Mask , 2 Count (Pack of 1)
Color X-Change Phase-Out Gentle Dye Decolorizer + Intensive Hair Mask , 2 Count (Pack of 1)
PPD, ammonia, peroxide and paraben free; Contains no fragrance, peroxide, ethyl alcohol or sulfates
$6.05 Amazon Prime

Pro Tip: Although color remover will not alter your hair color, it’s important to understand that it cannot restore your natural color if you’ve bleached it or used a permanent hair color. It will only remove the permanent dye to reveal whatever color your hair is underneath.

If you’ve colored your hair using permanent color, your hair will likely be a little lighter and you may have unwanted yellow or orange undertones from the coloring process.

Orange Happens

Blue Shampoo

Permanent hair color uses developer. Especially if you’ve been coloring your hair from dark to light, you will most likely end up with some unwanted warm brassy undertones you probably weren’t bargaining on.

Now you know why.

And you also know that if your underlying color has changed, it’s because of the coloring process, not from using the color remover.  

But not to worry. There is a quick fix for unwanted brassy undertones – enter blue and purple shampoos!

If you have brassy yellow tones, use a purple shampoo to neutralize those unwanted tones.

If your unwanted brassy tones are more on the copper/orange side, opt for a blue shampoo.

Does Color Remover Damage Your Hair?

Most* color removers do not contain the bleaching agents like ammonia and peroxide that are found in hair bleach. These are the ingredients that are damaging to the hair, leaving it brittle and dry.

Does color remover damage hair?

If you use a color remover as directed, it should not damage your hair.

Pro Tip: If you are looking to only remove color and keep your natural hair color intact without damage, make sure your color remover does not contain bleach.

That said, it can be drying because it strips away dye color and your hair’s natural oils. So it’s recommended to follow up with a deep conditioning treatment or hair mask.

Color removers are not recommended for regular use.

If you are into changing up your hair color every other week, you should opt for a semi or demi-permanent dye that eventually washes out, rather than a permanent dye that will require using a color remover to remove.

* Make sure you read labels because there are a few color removers that do contain bleach, like L'Oreal Paris Effasol Color Remover  amd Redbook Color Changer - Permanent Hair Color Remover .

How Damaging Is Color Remover?

These products are not particularly damaging unless they contain bleach.

Bleach will lighten your hair, but it is very harmful to your hair. So if you are asking – Does color remover damage hair? – color removers with bleach can damage hair for sure.

These color removers with bleach are only recommended if you’ve already lightened your hair before coloring, and should not be used if your hair is already damaged. You should probably avoid them altogether.

If you are looking to only remove color and keep your natural hair color intact without damage, make sure your color remover does not contain bleach.

How Many Times Can I Use a Color Remover?

One application is usually enough if you just colored your hair once. If you’ve been coloring your hair for years, the build-up may be a little harder to remove. If you find it necessary, you can use the color remover up to three times in a row.

Some darker hair dyes, like black or red, can be harder to remove. They use large amounts of artificial pigments and may require several color remover applications.

Worst case scenario: black dye can leave the hair so stained that it can’t be removed. If you are still unable to completely remove the color after three applications of color remover, you need to go see a salon color specialist.

Color remover will not damage your hair if used as directed (read the instructions!). But it can damage your hair if you use it too often or too many times in succession.

If you didn’t get the result you wanted the first time around, you can use it again, but don’t use a color remover more than a maximum of 3 times in a row.

Is It Better To Use Bleach Or Color Remover?

There is a lot of confusion when it comes to bleach vs. color remover. It’s easy to understand why because they both remove color, but there are some major differences.

Hair bleach strips color from your hair. Not only does it strip away any hair dye in your hair, but uses a lightening agent (usually peroxide or ammonia) in an alkaline solution that opens up the hair shaft to allow the agent to enter where it bonds with melanin (pigment) molecules and oxidizes them to strip your hair of its natural color as well. Bleach can be extremely damaging to your hair.

Color remover, on the other hand, only removes permanent dye color, leaving whatever color your hair is underneath, intact. Color remover does not remove semi-demi-permanent colors or plant-based dyes, like henna.

Using a color remover should not damage your hair.

Because color remover and bleach are two totally different products with totally different outcomes, the end result you are trying to achieve will dictate which product you need to use.

Use color remover if… you only want to remove a permanent dye color without lightening the color of your natural hair.

Use bleach if… you are trying to remove any type of non-permanent or all-natural dye, and/or you want to lighten your hair.

Take Away

Color remover will not damage your hair if you follow these guidelines:

  • Read and follow the instructions 
  • Make sure the color remover does not contain bleach
  • Do not use color remover is your hair is already severely damaged
  • Do not use color remover more than 3 times in a row
  • Do not use color remover regularly – if you like changing your hair color often, choose a semi-permanent color that washes out, instead of a permanent color you have to remove.

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).