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What is Color Block?

By Christine Hudson
Updated May 21, 2024
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Color block, when referring to hair coloring, is typically a cream or gel which can be applied to skin or hair to prevent hair dye from staining those areas. This is also commonly referred to as barrier cream and is generally applied around the hair line so if dye does happen to touch the skin, it will not stain it. The use of color block is very common in most hair salons.

Hair color can easily stain the skin and create a very messy and unprofessional look to any color job. Beyond this, most hair dyes contain harsh chemicals which should not come in direct contact with the sensitive skin of the face. Using a color block cream will protect the integrity of the color job as well as protect the skin from irritation. Another common use for barrier cream is in two-tone dye jobs. When a stylist is dying a customer’s hair with two different colors, as in highlight or “chunky” dye styles, he or she may use a color block cream to keep the two colors from bleeding in to each other.

There are several commercial brands of color block available. Some are designed specifically to protect skin, some to protect hair and some can be used on both. There are, however, homemade barrier creams which have been used for decades to achieve the same or similar results. Many who dye their hair at home use petroleum jelly around their hair line and neck to keep dye from contacting the skin. Other recipes use conditioner and cooking oils applied to the hair to keep color from bleeding.

Most commercial color block formulas are gentle on the skin. Some, however, may contain harsh chemicals or cause an allergic reaction. When buying a cream for personal use, it is advised the user reads the full ingredient list and does a patch allergy test 24 to 48 hours before dyeing the hair. Salons do not always have this luxury, so those with sensitive skin or known allergies may wish to ask for a full disclosure of ingredients.

Professional stylists will generally agree that barrier cream is not to be used in place of other safety materials when dyeing hair. The person handling the dye should always wear gloves and use protective cloths to keep clothing free of stains. Individuals may also need plastic wrapped around the shoulders or neck to keep dye from contacting the skin in these areas.

BeautyAnswered is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon291560 — On Sep 15, 2012

I have had blond foils and dark brown color put into my hair for a few years and always experienced a mild irritation to the color but did not consider it to be too significant. I then changed hairdressers.

The new hairdresser used the same brand hair dye but added something to the dye mix called Preventit - they said it was like a liquid version of barrier cream. I had no allergic reaction at all so this was great. However, I don't like their styling and pricing so I don't really want to go back there.

So, I tried a third hairdresser who used a different product that contained the chemical PPD which is often the culprit in allergies. I developed a very bad reaction to the dye. My head was red, welted, burning, was insanely itchy and my eyes puffed up for a week. My dilemma is this: Is there a product available (I am in Australia) that protects the scalp while still allowing the dye to penetrate the hair? Everything I have read so far suggests that I can have barrier cream on the hairline to prevent coloring of the skin but I should avoid getting it onto the hair because it will prevent the dye penetrating my hair and naturally, this is not the outcome I want. Could you please advise me? -- Dot

By sunshined — On Jan 04, 2012

I don't trust myself to color my own hair at home. I think I would probably end up will all shades of orange, purple and green.

It can get kind of expensive to have your hair professionally colored, but that is one expense I make sure I have the money for. I would rather cut corners somewhere else, than give up having my hair colored.

My stylist also has great suggestions for me. A few months ago, she added color block to my hair. I absolutely love the way it turned out. The blending of colors looks so natural, yet adds a lot more dimension to my hair.

There is no way I would have been able to achieve something like that myself at home.

By SarahSon — On Jan 03, 2012

I learned the hard way how important it is to use some kind of protection around the hair line when coloring your hair.

Since I am on a tight budget, I buy my hair color and supplies at a beauty supply store. I never gave any thought to creating a barrier so my hairline wouldn't turn a darker color.

I found out just how permanent that dye can be, as it took a few days before my skin returned to normal. Now, I just keep a jar of petroleum jelly on hand, and that does a fairly decent job of keeping the hair dye from coloring my skin.

The next time I buy some color, I think I will look for a professional color block and give that a try. The petroleum jelly is effective, for the most part, but is pretty messy too.

By golf07 — On Jan 02, 2012

The most common type of hair color block I have seen, is when someone only has one section or chuck of their hair a different color.

I have a friend who has dark hair, but she has her bangs a completely different color, and they are usually a much lighter color. This is something that produces a stark contrast for her.

I must admit, it took me awhile to get used to it. She is always on the cutting edge of fashion when it comes to hair styles, and she was the first person I knew personally who had this done.

Since then, I have seen several other women have color block added to their hair. Since I am used to it, I don't think much about it now. For myself, I just stick to one color with a few highlights thrown in.

By burcidi — On Jan 02, 2012

@alisha-- I've never had color blocking done on my hair but I do love color block fashion. It's basically the same idea but instead of separate color tones in hair, fashion uses several different blocks of color. I adore color block clothes, purses and shoes, especially when bright colors are used. I have a really cute summer color block dress with bright colors.

Block color shoes and purses are really nice too. Sometimes I wear a dress or top and jeans in one color and then color block shoes for a flash of color. It definitely grabs attention.

By discographer — On Jan 01, 2012

Color block is a great dying technique, it ends up looking really cool. My stylist used this technique on my hair recently. I wanted some more dimension to my hair and I also wanted tones that would mask the dark hair coming in from the roots better. So my stylists color blocked with three different color tones in different sections of my hair.

It turned out great! I have dark brown, light brown and golden tones in my hair now. Even if I do absolutely nothing to my hair or wear no makeup whatsoever, it still looks good. I'm really happy they came up with this technique. Without the color block cream, my hair would have probably ended up orange. I think Paul Mitchell was the first one to start using this technique but I'm not sure.

Has anyone had the color block technique done on their hair recently? How did it turn out?

By serenesurface — On Jan 01, 2012

I dye my hair regularly with box dye at home. I wish I had the money to spend on a professional hair stylist but I don't. I actually had no idea that there is such a thing as color block. I do stain my forehead, my ears and my neck while dying my hair. I don't really get the opportunity to wipe them away until I've finished dying. And by that time, it's already made a stain on my skin.

It does look bad for the next couple of days. The stains generally go away after several showers. And in those days, I try to cover up the stains with foundation which doesn't work too well. If I had known about color block before, I could have avoided this all together.

I don't want to use petroleum jelly or any oil on my face as color block because I have acne-prone skin. I'm sure these would cause me to break out.

Where can I purchase color block? I've never seen it at the pharmacy where I get my box dye. By the way, is it affordable?

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