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The Hair Colorist’s Guide to Understanding Color Theory
By Amanda Lenz, Product Club Educator (@hairstorybyamanda)

Part Two – Applying Color Theory to Gray Coverage, Filling Color, and Color Corrections

Welcome back to our series on color theory. In the second part of this informative blog series, we will continue to discuss the color wheel and how to apply your color theory knowledge to formulation for several hair color techniques including color corrections.

As we discussed in our last blog, color theory is the science that every single hair color formula is based on. Whether you are formulating color, lightening the hair, color melting, covering gray, toning, or glossing, you must have a basic understanding of the color wheel, and it should be referenced with every color service that you perform.

Gray Coverage

If you can nail your gray coverage formulas using proper color theory, you will create a loyal and consistent base of clients. The color theory rules involving gray coverage are somewhat different than standard rules of color. Gray hair lacks pigmentation, so it does not have any contributing warmth to add to a formula. Gray coverage challenges can sometimes be resolved by adding warmth to a formula.

It is also important for a formula to have the correct percentage of gray coverage color within the formula. Depending on the percentage of gray hair and the contributing natural pigments, two formulas may sometimes be required. Basically, if a client is 75% gray, then 75% of their formula will need to be gray coverage and the other 25% can be the desired shade.

  • Existing Level: 6
  • Desired Target Level/Tone: 7 Golden Brown
  • Percentage Gray: 75%
  • Formulation: 3 pt. 7NN (gray coverage shade) 1 pt. 7GB w/ 20 volume

Color Correction

Now, let’s apply theory to my favorite color process - color correction. Color corrections can vary from typical to extreme scenarios. Keep in mind that color correction is all about identifying the problem(s) and determining specific solutions. Remember:

  • Every time we “tone” hair, we correct it
  • When we reformulate a base color, we correct it

Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What do I need to correct?
  • How do I need to correct it?
  • What tools do I need to correct it?

When you combine the color wheel and color theory with technique, you can find the answers.

When you perfect the art of color correction, you can truly say you understand color theory. The entire process of correcting color is using theory to create solutions to various problems throughout a client’s existing canvas of hair. Even understanding how to correct your own mistakes (because we are human and will always make them) is also a great example of mastering color theory.

To break down the most common color correction scenarios, you can refer to the following chart.

Scenario Lift Cover Tone Fill
Too Dark X X
Too Light X X
Too Brassy X X X
Too Green X X
Too Red X X X
Too Many Colors! X X X X

When you consult with a client and begin to create a plan, begin by identifying:

  • Which of the above situations need to be corrected (there may be more than one)
  • A solution to correct the problem

Then use your color theory knowledge to formulate and create your roadmap!

Expert Tool Tip

Product Club balayage strips and countoured meche sheets are my go-to tools for color corrections. They are large, lightweight, and perfectly curved to follow the shape of the head. They are also safer to use with ammoniated color and to process under heat.

Expert Tool Tip: balayage strips and meche sheets are my go-to tools for color corrections.

Important Advice for a Color Correction: Consult – Plan – Adapt

  • Consult - Speak with your client so you know exactly what they want.
  • Plan - Know exactly why you are doing what you are doing.
  • Adapt - Be ready to shift gears if necessary. 

I always adhere to these steps whenever I am correcting color. The following tips are just as important:

Test Strands

A test strand is the best way for you to decide which products to use before you apply color to the entire head and your client hates it. Test strands allow you to adjust AND properly quote a price based on the products you will be using.

Take Notes

Nothing is worse than making the same mistake twice or doing something awesome and then forgetting what it was. Always take notes. It also helps to keep a file for each of your clients so you can notate what has worked (or didn’t work) in the past.

Under Promise and Over Deliver

Don’t ever tell a client you can work miracles! Color is often unpredictable - even when you do everything by the book. Hair integrity can interfere with plans and price can sometimes be an issue. Be realistic in your planning and in your conversations with your clients. If you can make magic happen and your client does not expect it – then you are a hero, my friend!  We can all agree that is the best feeling as a hair colorist!

Don’t Stop Learning

You will never stop learning about color theory. There will always be a new situation that challenges you and requires you to learn something new. You will be surprised at how many times you refer to your color chart and your basic color theory knowledge to face a new hair color challenge and come up with a solution.

If you are struggling with your confidence when it comes to color formulation and you want to learn more about color theory and how to formulate beautiful hair color, check out our brand new video series, Trade Secrets of a Haircolor Expert. Each video focuses on color formulation and features step-by-step techniques and pro-tips for creating unique and vibrant color with transformative results!

Invest in yourself and enhance your skills with education. There’s always more to learn – and it only makes you more experienced, empowered, and sought-after as a hair colorist.


Follow Amanda (@hairstorybyamanda) and Product Club (@productclub) for more expert tips on hair color education and salon business!

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