Hair Color Strand Tests Instructions and Tips



Hair color strand tests are especially important if you want to know what hair color you’ll get, before you apply color to your hair.

They are essential if you are changing hair colors and will keep you from making disastrous mistakes.

It is so beneficial to take the extra time to do them. They help take the guesswork out of coloring your hair!



highlighted hair image


I have been a licensed Cosmetologist for over 18 years now and although I’m not officially practicing anymore, I specialized in color for many years. I also answer hair questions on this website. The most popular question that's asked is about switching and/or using hair colors. The biggest misconception is that you can’t just buy a hair color, slap it onto your hair, and expect that your hair color will look like the picture on the box.

In order for that to work, your hair has to be in the same color category or similar in color. In other words, if you apply a light golden brown hair color on hair that is already light brown, you are more far more likely to get the pictured results. However, if your hair color is light blonde and you purchase a dark brown hair color, your hair could end up jet black. Its good to know a few basic things about color before you make huge hair color mistakes!

Things That Influence Hair Color Results

  • Porosity - Is your hair porous? If so, your hair will quickly absorb any color you apply to your hair. Blonde hair is much more porous than brown hair however, even brown hair can become porous if its not regularly conditioned well. You can improve your hair porosity by following the tips on the referring page.

  • Present hair color, previously colored hair - Is your present color virgin or has it previously been colored? If so, how long ago did you color it?

  • Hair color bases - If your hair was previously colored, what was the base of the color you used and what is the base of the new color you’ll be using? If you previously used an ash brown color with a blue base, and you use a golden blonde hair color over it, which has a yellow base, your hair could end up green or greenish. (blue + yellow = green) For that reason, primary colors bases should never be mixed. Secondary and tertiary colors bases are even worse offenders.

    Another huge problem is lifting hair too quickly. If you have dark red hair and try coloring it with a much lighter color, it can turn pink.


    hair color wheel image

    This is a color wheel. The concept is basic. You have 3 primary base colors, red, yellow, and blue. You also have secondary and tertiary colors. When you buy colors, they can have one base color (primary) or be a mixture of base colors. (secondary and/or tertiary) If you mix two base colors, you can get an awful mess!

  • Hair health – If your hair is damaged, it could make the color very uneven. Most hair is healthiest underneath because its somewhat protected from the environment. If you have unhealthy hair and used a light brown color on it, it might look light brown in some places, but in damaged areas where your hair was unhealthy (the top and ends are typically problematic), the color might not hold/absorb well because the hair was porous. The color in this area might look lighter or faded.

    You can easily see why its so important to do hair color strand tests before you color and to keep your hair healthy!

    Of course, there are many other things that influence the health of your hair, like your general health, medications, stress levels, hormones, the environment, and more!

    If you want the best results from the hair colors you buy, you need to do due diligence first! That’s why doing hair color strand tests are so essential! They take guessing out of hair coloring! The steps you take beforehand can save you a big fat hair color headache later.

    There are many reasons for testing a few strands of hair before you color it. Here are a few reasons for doing them.

    Why You Should do Strand Tests

  • You’re unsure of the color results.

  • You couldn’t find your regular brand hair color and you’re trying a new brand.

  • You are changing hair colors.

  • You want to color your hair two different colors.

  • You want to lift your dark hair to a lighter color.

  • You want to go from a light color to a darker color.

  • You want to add highlights or lowlights.

    These are just a few reasons why it’s a good idea to do strand tests!

    Hair Color Strand Tests Instructions



    Permanent Hair Colors

    Mix a small amount (one tablespoon) of hair color with your developer/peroxide. Follow manufacturer directions for mixing. Most colors are mixed 1:1 (one part color to one part developer) but some are mixed 1:2 (one part color to two parts developer) and some 2:1 (two parts color to one part developer).

    Select a small section of your hair and apply the color all along the strand. It is always advised to at least test two sections. Select one section from underneath where hair is unexposed and healthiest and one from the top of your hair, where hair is most exposed to environmental conditions. You can make the section(s) as large or small as you like but the bigger the section, (and longer your hair), the more hair color you’ll need for the tests.

    Allow the color to process according to manufacturers instructions. Rinse thoroughly. Dry thoroughly. For the truest hair color results, after hair has dried, view hair colors outside or in a well-lit area inside.

    Semi/Demi Permanent Hair Colors

    Many semi/demi permanent hair colors are not mixed. (If you need to mix them, use the instructions for permanent hair colors above.) Use the color straight out of the bottle but only use as much as you need.

    Select a small section of your hair and apply the color all along the strand. It is always advised to at least test two sections. Select one section from underneath where hair is unexposed and healthiest and one from the top of your hair, where hair is most exposed to environmental conditions. You can make the section(s) as large or small as you like but the bigger the section, (and longer your hair), the more hair color you’ll need for the tests.

    Allow it to process according to manufacturers instructions. Rinse thoroughly. Dry thoroughly. For the truest hair color results, after hair has dried, view hair colors outside or in a well-lit area inside.


    highlighted hair strand tests image

    Hair Color Strand Tests Tips

  • Do two strand tests for full colors. Choose one section of hair from an area just below your part line and one section of hair from underneath for your strand tests. Most of the time, hair that’s on top is slightly lighter than the rest of your hair because its been bleached some by the sun and because of other environmental factors. For that reason, the hair that’s on top processes faster because its more porous.

  • Mixed hair color is strong. Always use protective latex gloves when you color your hair... and even when you do hair color strand tests!

  • Always ventilate the room you’re in. Hair color odors can be overwhelming and make you light headed. Be sure you always have plenty of fresh air in the room.

  • Always color in a well lit area. You must be exact when you’re doing strand tests so you’ll need to be able to see well.

  • Always look at hair color results, inside your home and outside in the sun. Color can look completely different in different light.

  • Know your own hair color level! There are 10 levels of hair color. You should know what color your hair is before you color it. You should also know the level of the hair color you’re using. If you want to know more information about coloring your hair at home, use the hair color guide!

  • Dark hair colors have very small dense hair color molecules. If your hair is porous before you color your hair, the color will absorb into your hair very quickly. If you have light colored hair, color results will be darker than the colors you choose because lighter hair colors (blonde especially) is far more porous than brown hair. It is always advised to amend your hair porosity before you color by using deep conditioning hair treatments.

  • Light hair colors have very large hair color molecules. They are devoid of color (for the most part) and very porous. This means they absorb color faster than any other hair color.

  • If you want to try several colors in your hair at the same time, (like highlighting, lowlighting, or two-toned hair), remember this. Brown hair colors contain a lot of dense hair color molecules. (the darker the color, the more condensed and dense the hair color molecules are), so wait a few days until you don't ‘see color' in the shower after you use them, before you can safely use other colors. If you add other colors too soon, the previous color may bleed into the hair you’re adding color to. Once hair color isn’t bleeding anymore, you can safely add other colors. Blonde hair colors have very large color molecules so you don't have the same problem with them.

  • If your hair ends are lighter or dryer than the rest of your hair, it’s a good sign that ends are not conditioned well or have been abused by hot irons, blow dryers, or simply overexposed to the environment. Make sure you bolster ends before you color by using <hair conditioning masks before you color or try strand tests.

  • If you have dark brown/black hair, purple hair, or dark red hair, (most of the time), you must remove the color from your hair first, before you should apply another color to it. In this instance, use hair color removers or bleach. Strand tests will not work or help.

  • Dry hair and damaged hair are extremely porous and will not hold color well unless its amended beforehand.

    Hair color strand tests were designed to help you predict hair colors before you use them. Use them so you don't make a hair color mess!



    Related Pages on This Site

    Tips for Damaged Hair – Fried, Dyed, Laid to The Side

    Dry Hair Remedies – Tips to Correct Brittle Hair

    Increase Hair Volume – Tips for Big Full, Voluptuous Hair

    Hair Texture - The Skinny on the Fat

    Hair Growth – How Fast Does Hair Grow?

    Hair Facts and Fiction – Separating Truth from Myth

    Virtual Hair Makeover – Newest Way to Change Your Hair!

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