Colour it right

WHEN WOMEN want to change their looks, the first thing they think of is a different hair do - either get a cut or perm, streak or colour them.

International hair colourants in Indian beauty market and the accompanying glitz have made the concept of hair colouring an exercise in enhancing one's looks.

Vegetable hair colourants like walnut bark for an attractive brown colour or indigo for a blue tinge have been in vogue since ancient times.

Henna has been particularly popular with the ancient Egyptian people. Camomile rinses have also been popular for a gentle lightening effect on hair and is safer than chemical bleaches.

Colouring options: Since the options are varied, it is advisable to get professional help. Temporary colours are ideal for first time users and party-time highlights.

These are water-based surface colourants that work by coating the outer cuticle layer of the hair and get washed away at the next shampoo.

Semi-permanent colours are ideal for those who want to experiment but don't want to commit themselves to a more permanent change in looks.

The colour stays for about six to eight shampoos. Permanent colours are oxidation dyes that penetrate the cortex where the molecules get fixed.

The roots may need a retouching every six weeks to tint only the fresh hair growth, else this would result in a build-up of colour from the mid-lengths to the end, which will make the hair porous.

Covering grey hair: The pigments in the cortex layer give the hair the colour; the more the pigment, the darker is the colour. The absence of pigment formation due to several factors including ageing, results in greying. To cover a few grey hairs, use a temporary or semi-permanent colour choosing one that is similar to your natural colour. If the hair is totally grey, it can be covered with a permanent tint. If you prefer to stay with the natural grey shade, improve on the colour by using toning shampoos and conditioners that will remove any brassiness and add gorgeous silvery tones.

Choosing colour: "Just as clothing and make-up, the hair colour should make you look more beautiful.

The colour should match your natural hair colour and texture, complexion, eye colour and eyebrows.

Even your personality plays an important part in the choice. The basic rule is to pick two shades each side of your original tone, to ensure that the growing roots will not be prominent.

Beauty salons today have colour charts and hair samples divided into cold and warm shades. Hold the selected shades close to your face near the eyes to determine if the shade harmonises with the natural colouring of your body," says Laila Kakade, beautician.

Shades in vogue: "Indian women have black hair which is often thick, accompanied by a dark or wheatish complexion. Chestnut brown, reddish brown or caramel (light brown) are perfect to tint either globally or in streaks.

If you have brown hair with a fair skin, choose a shade that is few tones lighter that the original colour. Soft blondes and lighter golds can be used for highlights," recommends Laila. Apart from an overall colour, highlights or lowlights are used to give varying tones throughout the hair where fine strands are tinted or bleached lighter or darker. Highlight can break up the heaviness of very thick hair.

Rich tones give hair a thicker appearance and too light hair colour can make the hair appear thinner. The slices technique uses assorted colours through the hair for emphasising a cut and show movement.

Colour correction: If you have been colouring your hair for quite some time and wish to go back to your natural colour and tone, consult a professional salon. Hair that has been tinted darker than its normal shade will have to be colour stripped with a bleach bath until the desired colour is achieved. Hair which has been highlighted or bleached will need to be re-pigmented and then tinted to match the original colour.

Test for skin allergy: "It is important that you conduct a patch test or sensitivity test before colouring the hair. Mix a little colour with the developer and apply the solution to a tiny area behind the ear or on the inside of the elbow. Wash it away after 24 hours. If you show symptoms like reddening, itching, rash or swelling do not use the colour," says Laila.

Henna dos: When used on dark hair, henna gives a rich auburn tone but a carroty red colour on grey hair. Coffee or catechu (kathha), when added to henna paste, gives a richer brown colour. Importantly, use the same product each time you apply henna. Rinse it thoroughly or the scalp and hair will feel coarse. Don't expose hennaed hair to strong sunlight. Do use henna shampoos between henna applications to enhance the tone, but don't use shampoos and conditioners containing henna on blonde, grey or chemically treated hair.

Caring for coloured hair: Chemically coloured hairs need extra care. "Use a shampoo designed for coloured hair. This will prevent the colour from fading. Gently blot the hair after shampooing. Use conditioner to retain moisture. Take an intensive conditioning treatment at least once a month.

Avoid direct sunlight by wearing a hat or a scarf when going out. Special hair care products are available in the market with ultraviolet filters that protect coloured hair from the effect of the sun.

If you are planning to perm or straighten your hair, do it before you use hair colour," says Laila.

Misuse of colouring and bleaching can be very harsh on the hair resulting in damage to the texture and making it dry, brittle, rough and lack-lustre.

Use hair tonics with amla, shikakai and brahmi to protect the hair from harmful effects of chemicals. Dye your hair if you desire, but make sure you restore its beauty.