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Do hair dye removing products like Color Oops really work? Episode 94

Do hair dye removing products, like Color Oops, really work?7847449296_9db97ea7ba

Lenora in our Forum asks…There seems to be some debate on this in online forums, so I’m wondering if you guys can please answer if “Color Oops” can be damaging to the hair?

Thanks for the question Lenora but I think before we can answer how to remove haircolor we’re going to have to talk a little bit about how to put color into your hair.

How oxidative hair color works

We could spend an entire show, or maybe even several shows, just talking about hair color chemisty. It’s a very complex subject. But here’s the quick version. You can color hair by applying some sort of dye that stains the surface layer which is the cuticle. That’s how natural hair colors like henna work. It’s also how those fashion colors like Manic Panic work.

But if you’re looking for a natural shade of hair color and you want that shade to last as long as possible then you need to use a permanent hair color which is based on oxidative dyes.

I always found it ironic that oxidative hair colors don’t actually have any color in them. Instead they contain very tiny molecules that, when they are reacted, link together to form larger molecules that actually give you the color.
The reason this works so well compared to the types of dyes that just stain your hair is that the molecules are small enough to actually penetrate deeper into the hair shaft.

Under the right reaction conditions they link up to form larger molecules (that’s called polymerization) which are too big to get back out of the hair. The dye molecules stay trapped until your hair grows out. This reaction that links those tiny molecules together is an oxidation reaction which is why these are called oxidative hair colors.

Because this process happens to use hydrogen peroxide as an oxidizing agent you can also lighten your natural hair color in the process because hydrogen peroxide can bleach hair at the appropriate pH.

That’s a gross oversimplification but at least it gives you a sense of how these products work. And now we can talk about how color removing products work.

How hair dye removers work

There are two different ways to chemically breakdown a dye and remove its color. One is by oxidation, which removes electrons, and the other is by reduction, which adds electrons.

Either way the idea is to try and break these large molecules down into smaller particles. When you do that, two things happen. First, when you break down the chromophore, which is the technical name for the ingredient responsible for the color, it doesn’t produce that color any more or at least it won’t be as intense. And second, the smaller pieces of the molecule can more easily slip out of hair so more color will wash out.

There are several products on the market that work this way, I’ll just mentioned a couple of them quickly and I’ll put them in the show notes with Amazon links so you can buy them if you’re interested and we’ll get a little commission from each sale.

Wella Color Remover kit
Wella has a a two phase system Color Remover Kit that you mix together to activate. It’s based on persulfate and hydrogen peroxide and it costs about $10.

Cost: $9.99


Amazon link: http://amzn.to/1IbVmGD

Jherri Redding One ’n Only ColorFix
Jherri Redding’s One ’n Only ColorFix is a three three part system based on Sodium Hydroxymethane and Sulfinic Acid. It costs $17.

Cost $17.00

Part 1 Color Reducer
Water (Aqua), Sodium Hydroxymethane, Sulfinic Acid, Hydroxyethyl Cellulose, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothizolinone.
Part 2 Conditioning Catalyst
Water (Aqua), Citric Acid, Cetearyl Alcohol/Dicetyl Phosphate/Ceteth Phosphate, Cetearyl Alcohol, Fragrance, DMDM Hydantoin, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Pentasodium Pentetate.
Processing Lotion
Deionized Water (Aqua), Hydrogen Peroxide, Dimethicone Copolyol Medowfoamate, Simethicone, Phosphoric Acid.

Amazon link: http://amzn.to/1SGfG5R

L’Oreal Effasol Color Remover
L’oreal’s Effasol Color Remover is a powder that you mix with water. It’s based on persulfate as the oxidizing agent and costs $11.00

Cost: $11.00

Ingredients: Ammonium Chloride, Cellulose Gum, Dioctyl Sodium Sulfosuccinate, EDTA, Potassium Persulfate, Sodium Benzoate, Sodium Lauryl Sulfate, Sodium Metasilicate, Sodium Persulfate, Strontium Dioxide, Ultramarines.

Amazon link: http://amzn.to/1IbVaH6

L’Oreal also makes a “ColorZap” hair color remover but we couldn’t find any ingredient information for that product. And the salon brand Pravana makes an Artificial Hair Color Extractor kit. We couldn’t find ingredients for that one either but it’s a three part system that sells for $40. I expect it uses similar technology but they throw in a bottle of sulfate free shampoo so they can charge more.

And that brings us to the product Lenora asked about – Color Oops.

Color Oops
This product is based on the “reduction” technique as opposed to the oxidation technique like most other products. It uses a chemical called sodium hydrosulfite in a two part system. Why a two part system? Because hydrosulfite is very unstable so you don’t want to expose it to a low pH until you’re ready to use it. It costs about $14.00.

Cost: $14.00

Part 1 – Deinonized Water, Hydrosulfite, Fragrance, Polysorbate – 80, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Cocamidopropylhydroxysultaine
Part 2 – Deionized Water, Citric Acid,. Aloe Vera Extract, Soyamidopropyl Dimethyl Benzyl Ammonium Chloride, Cocamidopropylhydroxysultaine, Xantham Gum

Amazon link: http://amzn.to/1BJsXq8

Their website has a pretty good description of how the product works. They say that…

“Color Oops is a revolutionary hair product that removes hair color to restore hair to its natural color. This is a miracle product because not only can it remove unwanted color, but it won’t damage your hair!”

“Color Oops contains hydrosulfite which “rapidly reduces the dye molecule without the need for bleach, ammonia, or peroxide.”

“Color Oops reverses the oxidation process of hair color pigment. Color Oops shrinks the color pigment back to small clear dye intermediates. These intermediates are still in the hair. The rinsing and shampoo process is essential in assuring these intermediates are thoroughly washed from hair. We recommend washing and rinsing for 5 minutes 3-4 times, but the longer you rinse the better. If any of the dye intermediates are left in the hair they can re-oxidize over time and your hair can re-darken.”

So the question is, does this stuff really work and is it damaging to hair?

Does Color Oops work and is it damaging?

Unfortunately, I couldn’t find any test data to prove how well any of these products work. But, I did check with an expert on hair dye formulations who has used this technology and here’s what he said:

“Bisulfite has been used for a long time as a “color corrector/remover/lightener/etc.” My experience has been that it works to a minor degree and the closer the color is to the natural hair color, the more it appears to be restoring the natural color. People rarely know what their natural color is if they’ve been coloring for awhile, and it doesn’t remove all the color from gray hair, so when you’re done it would look sort of “natural” as you remember it. It would work to a degree and if it satisfies the consumer – all is good.”

So in lieu of seeing any actual data, I’ll accept this “expert testimony” as proof the product works reasonably well. But there’s one catch here that bothers me. And that’s when we get to the question of damage.

Potential for damage

Our hair color expert says that he has worked with BIsulfite as a color remover. (Remember that Color Oops uses HYDROsulfite.) Bisulfite is also well known for its use in another reactive hair care product – Permanent waving lotion or Perm for short.

Here’s how that works: Disulfide bonds determine if hair is curly or straight. Bisulfite, because it’s a good reducing agent, can disrupt these bonds allowing the hair to be changed from straight to curly. Then the bonds are reoxidized to lock in that new shape. While it’s true that bisulfite perms are milder than thiglycolate perms (mostly because of the lower pH) they still don’t reform ALL the disulfide bonds and therefore bisulfite can be weakening to hair.

What does all this have to do with Color Oops and its hydrosulfite? Well, when hydrosulfite reacts with water guess what it breaks down to? That’s right…Bisulfite. So hydrosulfite has actually come out of the closet and revealed that it’s Bisulfite. Oh, by the way, just in case you end up Googling this yourself don’t be confused because hydrosulfite is also known as dithionite and hypodisulfite.

Now, just because Color Oops uses hydrosulfite which turns into bisulfite, all is not lost. That’s because Color Oops mixes hydrosulfite with citric acid which probably brings the pH down below 5.5. At this point, hydrosulfite is converted to bisulfite and the bisulfite itself breaks down releasing Sulfur dioxide which smells a little like rotten eggs. Since people complain about how this product stinks, I’m assuming this is what’s happening. If that’s the case, the low pH could be allowing the reduction of the dye molecules so you get rid of color while preventing excessive swelling of the hair – and that means it’s less damaging.

However, I would still expect this kind of chemical processing could cause SOME degree of damage. This is consistent with what some of the product reviewers say although it’s also just possible that the extra damage just came from washing and rewashing hair that was bleached and colored at least once. The tradeoff of getting a little more damage to get rid of a little more color MAY be worth it. Only you can decide that for yourself.

The Beauty Brains bottom line

Color Oops should work reasonably well because it’s based on the principle of using a reducing agent to break down hair dye.

However, the reducing agent it uses, hydrosulfite, converts to bisulfite and we know bisulfite can weaken the structure of hair. So there’s the risk of some damage. You have to decide it the risk of a little damage is worth getting rid of the excess color.

Finally, remember that Color Oops won’t remove non-oxidative hair colors. Those are the bright stains that you get form products like Manic Panic.

Improbable products

A special high tech beauty gadget edition of the game where I challenge you and Perry to guess the fake product. Which of the following is NOT a real beauty gadget? Listen to the show for your answer.

1. Color changing Hair ‘E-extensions” use fiber optics to suit your mood.
2. A “Fake Fingernail Trackpad” is a mini remote control your iPhone.
3. The “Body Blower” works like a Dyson hand dryer for your entire body.

iTunes Reviews

Our first review from Spain! The user name is just a string of numbers 1547892356871009  but they say…
It’s difficult to make informed decisions on skin and hair care and the BB approach is a true breath of fresh air. Plus, I find Randy and Perry really likeable 🙂

So excited that people are taking their time to review us. We’re up to 95 reviews now ALL of them 5 star and 4 star. Until today…

Good resource — 3 stars
– by J/p/h from United States on Jun 23, 2015
Good resource for low-bias, scientific info regarding beauty products, which is hard to find. Can be a little dry & uber-nerdy. Didn’t you take an Uber Nerdy to work today?

volume control PLEASE! — 3 stars
–  by JinnahKang from United States on Jun 21, 2015
1.  Informative podcast
1.  Volume control.  One guy always seems to be a little louder and more excited.  Its painful to listen on either speaker or earbuds cause the volume is never steady.  I find I have to constantly adjust my volume to make up for this difference.
2.  Every episode seems to have a long intro (that’s not related to the title of the episode) before they get to the actual content.

If you have feedback like this you don’t have to save it for a review. Email us at thebeautybrains@gmail.com

Now you can get a FREE audio version of our second book, The Beauty Aisle Insider. 

Just click this link to Audible.com

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Laura August 5, 2015, 2:15 pm

    This is a great article! As always- thank you. Just wanted to add that the Pravana hair color extractor uses the same chemistry as Color Oops (at a much higher price!) :
    Part 1: water, Hydroxyethylcellulose, Sodium Hydrosulfite, Tetrasodium EDTA, Methylchloroisothiazolinone, Methylisothiazolinone, fragrance
    Part 2: water, Cetearyl alcohol, Ceteareth-20, Citric acid, EDTA, fragrance

  • f2h Anderson August 8, 2015, 3:31 am

    Wow, plate full of information.
    Very good and interesting post.
    I like it 🙂
    Thank You for sharing this post with us.

  • Becci (Becky) August 14, 2015, 8:24 am

    Yes please I’d love to hear more about hair color products and hair straighteners and how they work.
    I am so frustrated with the information I can find – if I can find any at all!
    I would like to know if the new hair straightener products claiming to be “100% formaldehyde free” being introduced to the professional hairdressing world are truly free of the ingredient and its fumes.

  • ChynnaBlue September 9, 2015, 11:41 am

    Hello! I read this after my own Color Oops experience. It had used a red dye (Garnier Olia) that was labeled Natural Auburn and instead came out a Bordeaux color not on a human head by nature. I lived with it for 3 weeks, then used Color Oops. As instructed, I rinsed forever, felt super guilty because WATER, and then had mostly dirty blonde hair. (I’m naturally a brunette.) It was really effective and my hair did not feel mushy or brittle afterward, so I was very pleased. I used a protein deep conditioner and then recolored my hair the next day. The color took beautifully with no uneven patches and even after coloring, my hair did not feel brittle or mushy. I was really pleased with the results.

  • Kaycee December 16, 2015, 11:51 am

    I have used color oops many times, it works great, the sooner you use it it after coloring the more effective it is,
    Also, it’s about half price at target compared to wallgreens

  • Taina Torres December 21, 2016, 8:03 am

    Thanks for your great article on hair removers. I used Touch of Gray (Just for Men- Black) because I wanted just a LITTLE less gray in my beautiful salt & pepper shoulder-length hair. I had virgin hair and might have used too much. The problem is it got rid of All of the gray. I want my gray hair back! My natural hair color (besides the gray) is black. Can you recommend the best and least-damaging color remover for me. Thank you for being there.

  • Jim H. February 6, 2017, 12:38 pm

    If you need to remove conventional (Oxidative) color you could try mixing Ascorbic Acid Crystals (Vitamin – C) with conditioner, shampoo or hot water and apply to hair wait 10 to 20 mins. followed by through rinsing and shampooing – I have tried this and in most cases, it works great without damaging the hair although, it may be a little dry.

  • Joan O' Toole February 27, 2017, 12:57 pm

    I would really appreciate some feedback regarding a product called Colourless manufactured by Medichem under licence for TAM, UK

    Look forward to hearing from you. Joan

    • Randy Schueller February 28, 2017, 8:24 am

      I don’t know much about it but there primary ingredient is Sodium Oxymethylene Sulfoxylate which is similar the functional ingredient in the Jherri Redding One ’n Only ColorFix which we discussed in the post. So it does appear to use valid technology. Is it better or worse than other products? I have no idea.

  • Teri Burns August 19, 2017, 2:11 pm

    I have Color Oops and have been wanting to use it, as I have in the past and its worked fine. I went to use mine and i am only finding bottle 1. I thought bottle 2 was just developer, but it seems that is not the case. anything i can use in lieu of their bottle 2?

  • Nicole Boik November 19, 2017, 1:49 pm

    I actually didn’t find this to be dry. I think knowing the chemical process of how hair dye deposit and removal happens is very interesting. Thanks.

  • Chemist November 24, 2017, 8:34 am

    FYI I’m a Chemist and bisulfite and hydrosulfite are the same compound.

    • Valerie February 8, 2018, 6:10 pm

      When I decided to grow out my platinum roots, I let them grow a little more (like about an inch or so) and went around in hats a lot! My hair was very long, so it was a drastic move to chop it all off to within 3 inches. But I was sick of dyeing my roots every 2-3 weeks, and my hair was thinning. So I tried Color Oops, and it worked. Keep in mind that I dyed my hair a dark coppery shade with highlights, and it was damaged. After I used the product, I had to use a toner, but it looked great. Short but cute! Three years later, my hair is completely natural and long again. It looks more platinum blonde than grey. Now I can afford to buy better shampoos and other hair products, since I’m not wasting all that money on hair dye. Bottom line….Color Oops works. 🙂

  • Maya March 14, 2018, 2:14 am

    This is a super informative article on color removers, thanks! It does have some misinformation about henna in it, however. It’s nothing like Manic Panic. REAL henna (the actual crushed plant powder, as opposed to “compound henna” which is henna+synthetic chemicals in a boxed hair dye product) doesn’t just coat the surface of the hair, it binds with hair’s DNA, and when used properly it’s far more permanent than oxidative/chemical (boxed or salon) hair dyes, not to mention henna is actually healthy for hair and non-toxic. It’s also untrue that you can only get natural looking hair colors from dumping known toxic chemicals (oxidative dyes) on your head. Henna can actually produce ANY natural color of hair, when mixed with other pure plant powders like cassia or indigo. The only thing henna can’t do is dye hair lighter. See the Henna For Hair website for confirmation of this info. It’s written by an academic who wrote her PhD thesis on the chemistry of henna.

    • Perry Romanowski April 3, 2018, 7:49 am

      Hair doesn’t contain DNA so there is nothing for henna to bind with. But if you like the results you get from henna, go ahead and use it. If it gave better results more big companies would offer it as a technological option. Companies are interested in results.

      • Laura August 2, 2020, 2:10 pm

        The hair shaft does contain DNA, mitochondrial DNA, not nuclear DNA. So it used to be you couldn’t use it for DNA tests, but now they can extract the mitochondrial DNA.

  • Nikki August 9, 2019, 8:36 pm

    I have natural black hair that I had gotten it done by someone who I don’t think used bleach. She had dyed streaks of red and brown to my hair and realised that I don’t like it and I want my natural colour back without waiting long for it to regrow. I searched up many remedies to remove artificial hair colour but always was scared that I would loose all my hair. I found colour oops and read many reviews, some said it was great, some hated it and I am scared if I buy it and then it breaks off all my hair. I have straight to wavy hair and it is long. I don’t know if I should try it but at the same time I don’t want to re-dye it. Is it safe? Will it remove all the artificial so I am back with my natural black hair? Since I didn’t use bleach, will it go back to its original colour?

  • Arden's Maline February 28, 2020, 6:11 pm

    My hair is blonde with brown underneath. I used oops and barely seen a change in the color…What went wrong??