how to become a better colorist

Evolution of A Hairstylist: How To Become A Better Colorist

What Is A Hair Colorist?

What is a hair colorist? Every stylist can color how nowadays, but a true colorist is a hairstylist that specializes in hair coloring techniques. A hair colorist is who you want to visit for color correction, extreme color change, or precise color treatment. They are an expert on not only the art of color but the science of color as it pertains to hair. A hair colorist can customize a color formula to any individual. If you are a licensed hair stylist or an aspiring hair stylist and you love to color and seem to understand hair color more than others, you may be interested in becoming a hair colorist! Contrary to common belief, you do not have to be board certified to work as a hair colorist or to perform hair color services on others. However, people tend to trust the advice of those who possess a certification over the opinion of those who are not certified. If you love to color your bundles and everyone compliments your hair color, you can significantly improve your skill by becoming a certified colorist.

How To Become A Certified Colorist

1. Attend Cosmetology School

Yes, you need to be a licensed hair stylist/cosmetologist (Check out this article: pros and cons of being a cosmetologist). There are many benefits to becoming a licensed cosmetologist, including education concerning sanitation, instruction concerning caring for different hair types, and of course a license to legally practice and to work in a salon! Attending cosmetology school will give you a solid foundation for hair color, hair cutting, hair styling, and sanitation. Find a few cosmetology schools in your area and sign up for a tour. Not every cosmetology school is the same, and they all offer different experiences. If you have other obligations like work or children, pick a cosmetology school that works best for your schedule. Each state has different hour requirement for graduation. For example, Georgia requires 1500 hours, while Montana requires 2000 hours.

2. Get Funding

Cosmetology can be expensive, but do not cut yourself off from your dream by believing you cannot afford it. Look for scholarships, grants, and student loans. Inquire about a cosmetology program at your local community college. How badly do you want to live in your purpose? Trust me, your dream and purpose are priceless, so invest in yourself and your craft!

3. Take State Board and Receive Your License

After you graduate from cosmetology school, you will need to take your state board test. The state board test is a practical and written test that covers sanitation, chemical services, styling, and more. Take your time to study with the state board exam prep your school has provided to you.

4. Work with a colorist

Apply for assisting jobs in salons and work with the salon's colorist(s). Study. Their formulas and their techniques. Learn everything they are willing to teach you and study everything they won't. Don't rush the process; most new graduates work as an assistant for six months to a year. Work at your own pace.

5. Prepare For The Exam

If you do choose to get a certification from The Board of Directors for the American Board of Certified Hair colorists (ABCH); be sure to study as much a possible. Invest in study guides, get hands-on training, and practice! Inquire about all the required materials needed for the test. Get a good night rest before the exam and eat a breakfast full of protein.

Gaining Hair Coloring Experience

No matter the amount of money you shell out in education, nothing is more valuable than experience. You do not need a certification from the ABCH to be a genius colorist. Here are some ways you can practice hair color and gain experience:

Practice on Raw Bundles

An easy way to practice hair color at home without a model is with raw hair bundles. Raw hair is hair that is in its natural state with no chemical or steam processing. This type of hair extension will give you the most similar experience to coloring a model's hair.

Practice on Curly Bundles

Practicing on different textures of hair is extremely important. You should be able to take any client that walks through your door, regardless of their hair texture. There are different techniques for coloring different hair textures and curl patterns

Practice on Mannequins

You can purchase hair mannequins from or Make sure to invest in hair mannequins that can be colored. Some cheap mannequins are made with synthetic hair and cannot be dyed or lifted with bleached.

Practice on Models

After you have gotten the hang of lifting and coloring extensions and mannequins, you may be ready to perform color on a model! You can find models anywhere; ask one of your family members if you could do basic highlights or a root touch-up. If none of your family members trust you, ask a close friend neighbor. If all else fails, make a Facebook Marketplace post requesting hair color models. In the post specific what kind of hair color service you are willing to perform, what kind of hair type you are looking to service, and of course the time and place of the service. Keep in mind that the people responding to your post will be complete strangers from Facebook, so be sure to perform the service in a safe environment. I highly suggest you not bring these people into your home, because if things get out of hand, it could be dangerous. If you know a stylist, ask if you could practice in their salon suite.

Work In A Salon

As I mentioned earlier, working in a salon is a great way to gain experience. Most salons will not allow you to perform color service right away, but after a while, they will teach you their methods of coloring, and you can practice their techniques on the salon's clientele.

Continuing Education

Although you may have graduate cosmetology school and you may even be a board certified colorist, you still do not know everything! Don't feel bad; no one knows everything, not even hair colorist that have been working for 40+ years. Hair color technology is constantly updating, and trends are always changing. Investing in continuing education will keep you up to date with the newest hair color technology and keep you modern. You will also learn how to master different color lines, and you can learn how to color different textures of hair. Now that we have gone over the basics of getting licensed and gaining so introductory experience, there are a few technological tips that you will need to remember to advance as a stylist.

1. Identifying Natural Level

Before starting any color service, whether it be highlighting, root touch-up, or even deposit-only color, you need to identify the natural level. The natural level of the client's hair is the color their hair has naturally. You can typically find this color at their roots. This color can be lighter or darker than their desired color. As a professional colorist, you should be able to identify the natural level and underlying tone. Identifying NRP is critical to deciding your next color steps. The easiest way to determine your client's natural level is by using a level finder. You can find a level finder in a color swatch book. Place the level finder against the client's regrowth and use your judgment to determine what level they are.

2. Understand Developers

So often we use a product without knowing what is truly is and how to utilize it properly. At its core, a developer is a blend of hydrogen peroxide and water. This mixture is designed to activate color dye molecules, and volume is chosen to control the level of lift you desire to achieve in a particular time frame. Oxygen from the developer mixes with the ammonia in hair color to life the natural level of the while depositing the artificial color simultaneously. This creates beautiful hair colors!

3. Never Over Process Hair

Over-processing hair is never a good idea. Over processed hair is brittle, stiff, and breaks easily. When coloring hair, always remember to keep the health and integrity of the hair first. When it comes to certain color processes, you may have to slowly lift the hair over a series of sessions to safely lift the hair to your desired result.

4. Learn Hair Tones

A professional hair colorist will understand the difference between cool, warm, and neutral undertones. You should be able to look at any hair swatch and determine the underlying tones.

5. Understand NRP

You must always gauge NRP when lifting hair. NRP is the Natural Remaining Pigment that is left in hair after you lift the color with bleach. NRP can be red, dark orange, orange, orange-yellow, yellow, and pale-yellow. You must combat, compliment, or eliminate these tones when creating new colors.

6. Look The Part

So many people overlook this tip, but it is essential to building the type of clientele you want. If you enjoy creating crazy, bright hair colors, then you should be rocking loud, bright fashion colors. Rock browns and blacks if you are more reserved and love classic browns and blacks. If you are a beast at creating flawless blondes, then rock blonde! People will look at you and say, "I love her hair color; I want that," and request for you to do their hair. The same goes for your outfit and makeup. Different salons have different dress codes, but if you are blessed enough to work in a salon with a lenient dress code then dress to match your look. You should always appear professional, but don't be afraid to look unique and have your sense of style. Your look is a huge part of your brand.

7. Trust The Process

You will improve over time! Don't feel bad about yourself when you make a mistake, learn from it and move on. Always remember that your first color process will more than likely be your worst color process! Don't let a mistake keep you from practicing and improving your skill. Remember to keep learning, keep practicing, and keep an open mind. With time, you will become an amazing colorist.

8. Stay Inspired

I love to use Pinterest to find new hair color inspiration. Stay inspired because after a while you become disinterested with color become you keep repeating the same color processes over again. Challenge yourself with new techniques and trendy colors. Never feel like something is too hard or too advanced for you to accomplished. Always experiment on a mannequin or extensions first, then try it on a model! Once you've got the process, you now have a new service you can add to your service menu. More coins! You should also keep an inspiration book with colors you've tried, or you would like to try. This way you always have something new up your sleeve when your client wants to try something completely different but doesn't know what he/she wants exactly.

Keep Up The Hard Work

Whew, that was a lot! I know that may be a lot to take in, so here is a recap: Please, don't be intimidated by the idea of the color. Color can be hard work, but it is so enjoyable when you get the hang of it. Keep color a passion and never let it become a hassle for you. Take your time to find a cosmetology school that you feel you will thrive in. Be sure about your decision because you will be there for at least 12 months! Once you graduate, apprentice under a colorist or assist in a salon and grind! Learn as much as you possibly can. Keep an open mind and keep yourself up-to-date with continuing education classes. Practice, practice, practice! Take advantage of every opportunity you have to experiment with color. Trust the process, and stay inspired! You will get better with time and practice! You know we love to hear back from you guys, so leave us a comment below! Are you a licensed colorist? What was your experience getting licensed? If you are an aspiring colorist, what are the next steps you are taking to improve your skill? Comment below!
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