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Why Hair Gets Brassy: A Novel

Updated: Jul 28, 2020

Brassiness is a complaint of just about every guest who sits in my chair. What is referred to as “brass” or orange/yellow tones in the hair is natural hair pigment that has been exposed after color fading or damage to the hair from other external elements. Whatever the cause, brass isn’t flattering on anyone.  

Brassiness is a natural and, unfortunately, inevitable result of lightening services. As hair is lightened from its natural color, the natural pigment is slowly removed revealing tones of red, orange and eventually yellow. So when a client tells me “I lift warm” I reassure them that everyone does. 

Hairstylists counteract the unwanted warm tones with toners/glosses that have pigments (blue and purple, mostly. Sounds scary but it’s just science, people!) that counteract and cancel out the orange and yellow tones (ie brass) in order to achieve the final desired look. When a guest asks for “cool” hair, a toner/gloss with stronger counteractive pigments is used. 

I digress. 

There are many reasons why a guest experiences brassy tones in their hair. And I’m here to break them down and help provide solutions. (I promise I have a point)

Mineral Buildup:

Hard water has copper, magnesium, calcium and other minerals which can cause hair brittleness, discoloration, dryness, scalp issues and color fading. This is also true with well water and old pipes, which can leave deposits of all sorts of minerals on the hair. (I had a guest who was frequently washing with well water at her vacation home. When I did her highlights, parts of her hair turned MAGENTA caused by a reaction between the hair color and minerals. Fun times)

Guests with hard water generally notice brassiness rear its ugly, gold head much sooner than is normal. A hairstylist should be able to diagnose mineral buildup and provide solutions for removing the buildup and repairing the damage.

For severe mineral buildup I always recommend a hard water treatment before the color service. For mild issues with hard water I tell clients: “Google Culligan shower head filter”. This usually does the trick. 

Frequent Washing:

The more often the hair is washed, the more quickly the artificial pigments will fade out (therefore revealing the unwanted warmth underneath). If the proper products are used a daily wash isn’t necessary (there is a balance, of course. Dry shampoo buildup can cause it’s own set of problems). I often challenge my guests who are daily washers to try going two weeks of washing every other day (quarantine should make that easy peasy). Usually by the end of the two weeks the scalp has adapted and won’t create the natural oils as quickly. 

UV Exposure:

UV rays from the sun will break down and fade color-treated hair. Think about how colors on fabrics and other painted objects fade in the sun. That’s what is happening to hair color when it is exposed to the sun without proper protection. Yikes. And when that hair color fades those brassy pigments are exposed. 

Luckily, there are many haircare options out there that contain UV protectant. Sunscreen for hair, if you will. A hat always works wonders too. 


Chlorine from pools (even salt water pools have it) or hot tubs can strip hair dry and leave it brittle and damaged. Damaged hair does not absorb or retain hair color well, so fast color fading is common. And we now know (congrats for reading this far!) that fading color often reveals brass.  

Of course I’m not suggesting that one should never take a dip in a pool. But getting hair wet before going in helps to prevent the hair from absorbing as much chlorinated water. For longer swims or laps consider putting wet hair with a bit of conditioner under a cap to really shield it from the pool water. Sexy.

Hot Tools:

The reason for brassiness due to hot tools is two-fold. First, the high heat opens up the cuticle of the hair which allows for the escape of color pigments. When those artificial pigments sneak out of the hair, the brassy undertones are exposed. Secondly, hot tools can damage the hair when the heat is too high (never ever go above 360) and a thermal protectant isn’t used (naughty!). Damaged hair has trouble retaining color which leads to fading which leads to brassiness (you aced that)

The solution? Turn the heat down and use a thermal protectant every single time heat is applied to the hair.

Quality of Haircare Products:

I know. I’m going to tell you to purchase your products from the salon. Target is convenient. So is Amazon. But those places don’t have a personal hair guide (guru?) handpicking the exact, most perfect hair regimen for your hair. I, like, really love having control and when I can have some control over what my guests are putting on their hair between appointments….it’s a beautiful thing. Not just because I’m a control freak (yah, I said it) but because I prescribe just what my guests’ hair needs based on their hair history. So their hair is getting just what it needs (and also, bonus, looks the way they want it to as well). 

I could go on and on but this is about brassiness not the perils of TRESemme. 

Quality haircare products will work to preserve hair color and maintain healthy, strong, hydrated locks.  Cheap, drugstore shampoo will harshly cleanse that color right out of the hair and drugstore conditioner will coat strands with heavy waxes meant to make the hair feel smooth. Literally money down the drain.


Simply, time. Those toners and glosses I've been talking about? They aren’t permanent. I tell my guests that their gloss will last anywhere between 4-8 weeks. That’s a big, wide span. Longevity of the gloss is dependent on so many factors (as I've obsessively explained). But sometimes the reason for color fading (and therefore brassiness) is because the hair is due for maintenance. 

I suggest a toner/gloss and treatment between all lightening appointments. Usually scheduled between 6-8 weeks from the original service, this mini maintenance appointment refreshes the color (kicking the brass to the curb..ugh, I’m so lame) and provides nourishment, strength and shine through the treatment. 

And In Conclusion (Finally):

Your hairstylist should be able to diagnose why your hair is turning brassy and recommend a haircare routine to combat it. Many of my guests reach for purple shampoo or a purple mask which *can* be super effective. But this can sometimes just mask the problem (see what I did there? oh my god somebody stop me) and there are missed opportunities to really repair and revive the hair if it is suffering from one of the many factors that can lead to brassiness in the hair.

Now that you're educated (inundated?) you may be less inclined to freak out over a little brassiness and take some control back over your hair knowing

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