Decoding the numbers on your hair dye

What do the numbers on hair dye boxes mean?

My hair has been on a journey and a half since February 2012! My natural hair colour is darkest brown – almost black – which can get pretty boring. I don’t like red or plum tones, so have always avoided those as they really don’t suit my skintone.

A couple of years ago I decided I needed a change, so I booked an appointment at my hairdressers.

The look I was going for was a few golden highlights throughout my hair to gain a caramel tone. It all went a bit wrong – well, very wrong in fact. I was busy reading my magazine for ages until I looked up and saw she was putting foils on the top layer of my hair – I asked her to stop but it was too late :( My entire head was covered in foils that contained bleach on very thin strands of hair. I tried not to panic as I thought I could at least change what the all over colour dye was going to be once my hair had been lifted.

When the bleach was rinsed out my hair was like straw. My hair was breaking at the slightest touch – it was clearly too much for my hair to take. Here are some pics – remember, my hair was almost black beforehand!

2013-02-23 11.10.18Decoding the numbers on your hair dye

The next stage was to add an all over colour, with the claim from my hairdresser that caramel tones would appear on the highlighted sections. Once complete, and dried off, it was very light – like a mousy brown. I liked it but the hairdresser wasn’t too happy with it so said she was going to put a toner on it to cool it all down. That is what I believe created the awful mahogany tones.

Here’s after the bleaching and toner:

Decoding the numbers on your hair dye

Then, applying a second toner immediately after the first one:

2013-02-23 15.33.56

Since then, not only have I never returned to that hairdressers which is a shame as I had been going for over 10 years, I have been trying to cool the tones down and create an ash tone to reduce the red tones. I wanted to do it properly so I contacted Scott Cornwall who I had dealt with in the past in reviewing some of his fab products.

Scott was so helpful and took the time to reply in detail to my very long email. Scott suggested I use his Colour Restore Ash so off to Boots I went. I applied this the next day – it was very easy to apply as it is just like a conditioner. I left the product on for about 30 minutes which is longer than suggested just because I needed it to work!! The images above show the immediate results which showed a significant difference compared to the red tones seen the day before.

Unfortunately, over a year on, I still get the warm tones creeping in which I really dislike. So I use this product every 4-6 weeks or so. In between I also use Clairol Nice & Easy semi-permanent dyes which act more like a toner and tend to last a couple of weeks. These are perfect for a little colour refresh and a product which the experienced Scott advised I use.

I won’t bore you with the details of colour dyes and colours used like I did with Scott, but thought you may find the below useful whether dying your hair at home or at the hairdressers:

Hair dyes are defined by numbers i.e. 10.21

The first number represents the depth of the shade; the higher the number the lighter the shade. So, 1 is black and 10 is lightest blonde.

The second number defines the tone (which is where I encountered problems). There are 6 tones in total which are:

  1. Ash
  2. Pearl
  3. Golden
  4. Copper
  5. Mahogany
  6. Red

I wanted a caramel shade so chose a golden tone, but 3-6 are in fact warm shades so will always have a hint of red in them. From now on I ensure the dye has 1. Ash or 2. Pearl on it, to make sure they add coolness such as blue, silver and neutral to counteract the warmth.

My hair became utterly damaged though so I had to have it all cut off to a short bob last year – gutted. 2 years and 6 months on, I feel brave enough to go to a hairdresser again. On Saturday I will be getting – hopefully – some ash brown balayage created in my hair – watch this space for results and wish me luck! :)

What has been your worst hair experience and how did you fix it? x

2 Comments on Decoding the numbers on your hair dye

  1. Sarah Louise Stevenson
    February 16, 2014 at 10:55 am (4 years ago)

    oh I am so glad to have helped :) I feel your pain as I struggled to find anything online which is why I wrote this. Good luck with your hair x

  2. Claudine Astbury
    February 16, 2014 at 2:18 am (4 years ago)

    Can I just say I love you….you’ve saved my hair!

    I’ve been trawling the internet with hair induced insomnia and you have answered my prayers…………THANK YOU!

    bye bye red brassy shades.


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