What works and what would not

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A 2014 study found that around 75 percent of American women and increasing numbers of men have their hair colored. Inevitably there were some hair dye mishaps along the way.

If your latest hair color hasn’t worked as planned, or you’re just ready for a change, you may be wondering if it is possible to restore your natural color.

Unless you’re using a non-permanent dye, the short answer probably is not. However, there are commercially available hair removers and home remedies that you can use to fade the dye so it can be re-colored.

Read on to learn how to safely remove unwanted hair color at home and in a salon.

Your hair strands are made up of three layers:

  • Mark. The soft innermost core of your hair. It is not found in all hair.
  • Cortex. The thickest part of your hair that is responsible for maintaining your hair’s texture and strength.
  • Cuticle. The outermost layer is made up of overlapping cells that resemble fish scales. The cuticle protects the inner cortex and medulla.

Your hair color is determined by the amount and type of melanin that is in the cortex of your hair, according to a 2013 study. Melanin is the same protein that gives your skin its tone.

You can change the color of your hair in two ways.

  1. You can remove melanin by bleaching your hair.
  2. You can use a hair dye to add artificial pigment to your hair.

Hair dyes can be:

  • temporarily
  • permanent
  • semi-permanent

Temporary hair dyes bind weakly to your outer cuticles and can be washed out in a single shampoo, according to the research report above.

Permanent hair dyes penetrate your outer cuticles and mix with your natural color in your cortex.

Semi-permanent dyes get into your cortex but don’t chemically mix with your natural pigment, so they will fade after a number of washes.

Stripping against bleaching

Stripping and bleaching are two chemical processes that lighten the color of your hair.

Bleaching uses alkaline chemicals like hydrogen peroxide or ammonia to break down the melanin in the cortex of your hair. Without melanin, your hair will appear whitish-yellow.

Stripping breaks the bonds between hair dye and melanin, which allows you to maintain your natural color. Peeling off does not lighten your natural hair color, only the hair dye.

If you bleached your hair before dyeing it, you will not be able to regain your natural hair color.

Many permanent hair dyes contain bleach to lighten your hair at the same time as it is colored.

The safest way to avoid damaging your hair or a color problem is to have your hair stripped off by a professional.

If you want to do it at home, you can use one of the many hair strippers available commercially to lighten the dye.

A number of home remedies can help you fade the color, but they are unlikely to lighten more than a shade or two.

Sulfur based hair remover

Sulfur-based hair strippers open the cuticles of your hair and break down the dye molecules clinging to your cortex so that they can be washed off.

These products target hair dye without changing your natural hair color. They can be useful for lightening your hair or preparing your hair for re-dyeing.

However, if you have already bleached your hair before dyeing it, it will not be possible to regain your natural color.

Where to buy

You can find hair removal products:

  • on-line
  • in many pharmacies
  • in other stores that sell hair products

Buy hair removers online.

Clarifying shampoo

Clarifying shampoos are designed to thoroughly cleanse your hair and remove product buildup. They don’t have a dramatic effect on permanent hair dye removal, but they can cause them to fade over time.

If you want to fade your hair color, avoid clearing shampoos that are labeled “color safe”.

vitamin C

Many people anecdotally claim they used vitamin C (ascorbic acid) to fade their hair color. It’s plausible that ascorbic acid can lighten your dye by a shade or two, but it won’t return your hair to its natural color.

To remove vitamin C hair dye, you can try mixing a cup of 1/2 vitamin C tablets with a clarifying shampoo. Leave on for 30 to 60 minutes, rinse and then treat with a moisturizing conditioner.

Strip off hair color with baking soda

A 2015 study showed that alkaline substances like baking soda can penetrate the cortex of your hair to remove hair dye. But anecdotally, many people claim that it is not very successful.

Baking soda is likely more effective at removing semi-permanent dyes, but it can easily fade permanent dyes.

If you want to use baking soda to lighten your hair, you can make a paste by mixing about a teaspoon of baking soda with a small amount of water. Let it sit in your hair for 15 to 20 minutes and then rinse off.

Products that bleach your hair like hydrogen peroxide and ammonia can potentially fade the hair dye in your hair, but many hair professionals do not recommend bleaching your hair at home. Bleaching your hair has potential dangers.

Leaving the dye on for too long may turn your hair completely white or irritate your scalp. Bleach is also known to make your hair brittle and prone to drying out, especially if you let it sit for too long.

Bleaching your hair will lighten both your natural pigment and hair dye.

If you want to get rid of the hair color, it is safest to consult a professional in a salon.

A colorist can use bleach-based or sulfur-based hair removal products to lighten your hair so it can be re-colored. They can also examine your hair for damage and recommend the best treatment option.

Commercially available hair removal products can help you lighten hair dye in your hair.

However, if you have bleached your hair or used a dye that contains a bleach, it will not be possible to regain your natural hair color.

The safest way to strip your hair is to seek help from a professional in a salon who can help you figure out the best way to re-style your hair.

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