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In Hair Coloring, what is Double Process?

By N.M. Shanley
Updated May 21, 2024
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Stripping a person’s natural hair color and then applying a new color is called double process hair dyeing. It is generally done when changing from a dark hair color, like brunette, to a much lighter, blond color. This two-step color change process is permanent, and the natural color will be noticeable as the roots of the hair grow out again.

In a double process hair color change, the first step is known as bleaching. Ammonia and peroxide are used to strip most of the natural color out of the hair. It is important to keep the bleach solution away from the scalp to avoid skin irritation. At this point, the hair will most likely look yellow or orange.

Toning occurs when the new color is added during the second step. The new hair color mixes with the small amount of natural color molecules left in the hair. The resulting combination is the new permanent color that cannot be washed out.

Since the new color reacts with a person’s natural hair, the same hair dye can look different on each person. A strand test is recommended to preview the color. In this test, only a small piece of hair is dyed so that a person can see what the new hair color will look like before dyeing the whole head of hair.

Care must be taken to preserve and protect hair that has been dyed using a double process. Special shampoos and conditioners are available that can be keep hair color bright and protect the hair from breakage. Since the color change is dramatic, double processed hair will need frequent touch ups when hair grows out to reveal the natural color at the roots. The same process can be used to color the roots to ensure that they match the rest of the hair.

Such dramatic color changes can cause severe damage to hair. A more subtle process called single process dyeing may limit breakage. In single process, a new color is added to the natural hair color in one step. The natural color is not removed, and instead, the two colors combine to create a new hair color.

Adding color highlights is another option. Ammonia and peroxide are used on certain sections of hair to lighten it, causing a change that is often less dramatic. Highlights create a mix of natural and dyed hair colors, and they are often used around the face to make the skin tone and eye color look brighter.

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Discussion Comments
By Tomislav — On Aug 26, 2011

@saraq90 - I have seen friends go from strongly highlighted light hair back to their natural hair color but in my opinion it always seems to take a while, and it depends also on how many shades darker you would be going back to.

The other issue is how much product and chemicals would be in your hair following such a change. This would be the type of job left to a color professional as opposed to a box job in my amateur opinion!

By Saraq90 — On Aug 26, 2011

I have the genes for early gray hair (my mom was completely gray by her mid thirties) and looks like those genes will be expressing themselves with my hair as well as I have already found quite the gray streaks in my hair now that I am in my late twenties.

My husband loves to give me a hard time about this, as he is thirteen years older than me and not a single gray hair on his head!

Needless to say, I am considering hair-coloring options (I started to consider them even more strongly as people that seemed to be my age started calling me ma'am).

If you go double process blonde is it difficult to go back to light brown? My natural color is a light brown and I thought it would be fun to go full out blonde for my first time ever dying my hair, but I know I would probably tire of it after a while...

By animegal — On Aug 25, 2011

For anyone who wants to add more extreme colors to your hair, like pink, blue or green, you have to go through a double process so that the color comes out just like the picture you see on the box. For myself I love putting in funky streaks, so I usually have a friend bleach out sections of my hair.

If you following the bleaching instructions very carefully you shouldn't have too much trouble doing this at home. Once you're hair is a more neutral yellow you can wash it and then dye it with your fun color. Make sure you get all the bleach out though, and that the processing is stopped fully, or you'll wreck your color.

By manykitties2 — On Aug 25, 2011

If you have dark hair never try to bleach out your own hair at home. A few years ago I wanted to go blonde and decided that going to a salon to have my hair done was too expensive. At the salon a double process can cost hundreds of dollars.

I ended up buying an at home bleaching kit to strip the color from my hair so I could dye it the shade of blonde I wanted. Apparently bleaching hair is a bit of an art and I ended up frying my hair. It was so dry and brittle I ended up having to cut most of it off just so the damage wasn't so visible.

I had blonde hair after all my trouble, but it just wasn't silky or beautiful like I had imagined.

By Perdido — On Aug 24, 2011

My sister used to get her hair dyed red by double process coloring, and her hair had sustained a lot of damage. I really loved the auburn hue that her dark hair had, but I didn’t want to deal with all the breakage and split ends.

Since my hair was a few shades lighter than hers, my stylist told me that single process coloring would work fine for me. The auburn color could easily react with my medium brown hair to produce the shade I wanted with no bleaching involved.

I was very happy with the results. Rather than being damaged, my hair actually seemed healthier. It felt more moisturized, because the color contained conditioners.

By seag47 — On Aug 23, 2011

I had my dark brown hair bleached strawberry blonde, and I wanted to protect it from breakage. My stylist recommended a special shampoo and conditioner made for color treated hair, so I bought that from her.

It is formulated to protect against damage from things like curling irons, flat irons, and blow dryers. A special ingredient shields the follicles from the heat so that they don’t snap.

The products are also supposed to keep the hair color from fading. They protect the color added to the hair during toning from looking washed out and dull. My reddish-blonde color stayed shiny and bright.

By wavy58 — On Aug 23, 2011

@shell4life - I hope you pointed out to your stylist what she had done! Surely you didn’t have to pay for a botched job.

My stylist is very careful when doing double process hair coloring. It is one of the most profitable things that they do, and since she charges a lot for it, she wants to make sure that her customers will be happy with the outcome.

She always does a strand test on the underside of the hair close to the neck and in the back. She does this for me every time that I request a new color. There have been times when the strand turned out a shade that I didn’t like, and I was glad that she did the test first.

By shell4life — On Aug 22, 2011

My stylist used double process coloring when making sections of my brown hair blonde. At first, it was all good. I would go back to her for root touch-ups, and she would process only the roots that hadn’t been colored yet. This protected the already processed hair from further damage.

I had gone back to her several times to get my roots colored, and usually, I was satisfied with the results. However, the last time I visited her, she was distracted. She was talking on the phone to her child while brushing the bleach onto my hair.

I don’t think she ever realized what she did, but instead of painting it on just the roots, she painted the entire strand, all the way to the tips. She did this all over my head.

My hair was so damaged that pieces of it curled up, as though they had melted. I bought some hair color and died it back brown at home, but the damage was done. I had to live with it until it grew out enough for me to get it cut.

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