Tell us if this sounds familiar. You were scrolling TikTok, spotted a gorgeous auburn hair color, and impulsively decided to color your hair with boxed dye rather than wait for an appointment with a pro. The results: not-so-great. We've been there—but, while frustrating, color mishaps aren’t the end of the world.
If you’re coming off of an impulse dye job gone wrong (or maybe you just love switching things up), hair color remover is a product to keep on your radar. These professional formulas help remove color and give your mane a clean slate so you can move on to the next hair color trend.
To understand how to remove color from hair the right way, we tapped Matrix brand ambassador Jessica Kittredge and Pulp Riot artist Amanda Epstein. Here, they break down everything you need to know about color remover and give insight into the best hair color remover products to ask for at the salon.
What is hair color remover?
Hair color remover, also known as hair color eraser, is an in-salon treatment designed to remove hair dye. It works similarly to bleach, entering the hair shaft to strip old or unwanted color. Unlike bleach, though, hair color erasers won’t lift any natural pigment from your hair: all they target is the artificial dye. One size doesn’t fit all, either. Some color removers, Epstein says, are designed solely to remove semi-permanent dyes, while others are strong enough to remove permanent color.
How do you use hair color remover?
There are quite a few DIY hair color removers on the market, but Epstein says they can do more harm than good. For the best possible results, she advises leaving unwanted color removal to the pros. The reason being is that hair color removal (and application, for that matter) is all about chemistry. While your colorist can tailor salon color removal formulas to suit your hair’s unique needs, boxed removers take a one-size-fits-all approach. Unfortunately, this approach doesn’t always yield the best results (even if you follow the box instructions to a T).
Is color remover bad for your hair?
According to Epstein,“most [hair color] removers contain persulfates and ammonia,”—the same ingredients used in hair bleach. While color remover is generally considered less damaging than bleach, it’s not without its risks.
When you’re looking to fix a botched dye job, Epstein strongly recommends consulting “a salon professional so they can decide the best course of action for your hair.” If your stylist does determine that color removal is needed, they can create a color remover formula customized to fit your hair’s specific needs. Plus, licensed hairdressers have access to high-quality formulas and treatments that can help reduce the likelihood of damaging your strands.
What shade does hair color remover leave your hair?
Used properly, hair color remover should remove all artificial color, leaving your hair whatever hue it was before you dyed it. Keep in mind, however, that while color removers shouldn’t remove your natural color, “they can shift it and expose the warm underlying pigments,” according to Epstein. So, if you find that your hair appears slightly brassy after using a color remover, don’t panic: it indicates that the remover is working as it should.
How many times can you apply hair color remover?
Epstein says that one application is usually sufficient for removing color. However, some hues may require more than one treatment to remove.Jet black hair color, for example, is notoriously stubborn—even professional colorists have a difficult time removing all of the pigment in one session.
Your hair’s porosity can also play a role in how well color remover works, Epstein says. Drier ends are usually more porous than the healthier hair near the roots, and as such, may hold onto artificial color more stubbornly. In these cases, your ends might require repeated color-removal sessions. Because there are so many different factors that can influence how well color remover works on your hair, you’ll find you enjoy the best results when you leave color removal to the professionals
Is there anyone who shouldn’t use hair color remover?
Metallic hair colors are all the rage right now, but if you quickly tire of your coin-inspired shade, you may want to think twice before using color remover.
“Some henna and metallic dyes contain metallic salts,” Epstein discloses. These salts, when combined with color removers, can trigger a chemical reaction and damage your hair. As such, Epstein notes, ”It’s important to be honest with your hairstylist when using these types of dyes.”
What is the best hair color remover?
There is no individual hair color remover that works perfectly for everybody. You should always schedule a consultation to see what best suits you and your mane. Dye formulas each work differently, and unlike a botched salon job, box dye formulas can be extra challenging to lift from your hair. That’s because potent, store-bought dyes need to be strong enough to work on all hair, regardless of type, texture, or damage level. Not tailoring dye to your hair’s needs can compromise its integrity, making it that much harder to remove in the salon.
Be truthful with your stylist if you’ve colored your hair at home, and don’t be shy—they’ve seen it all. Open communication will only help your hairdresser customize a color remover formula that works best for you; that way, you can reach your future hair color goals together.
As far as formulas go, Matrix offers a salon-only product akin to a pink pencil eraser: the SoColor Cult Color Eraser. According to Kittredge, this color-removing treatment “helps remove all artificial pigments from the hair—both direct and oxidative dyes—while maintaining the natural hair’s tone and integrity.” She adds that “it’s great for clients wanting to completely change their hair tone or [who] want to go lighter but already have color on their hair.”
The formula is designed to be used by a professional hairstylist during a salon appointment. There, a licensed technician like Kittredge will mix it with a developer to lift the added color from your strands.
“[First,] I start with a mild application to remove [any direct dyes] from the surface of the hair using distilled water. Then I continue to slowly strengthen my formula with developer to remove pigments that are layered deeper into the cuticle until my desired amount of removal is achieved,” Kittredge explains.
Another effective pro-only formula is Pulp Riot’s Blank Canvas—one of Epstein’s top picks.
“It’s made specifically for semi-permanent and direct dyes and works quickly and gently,” she says. “It’s mixed in a 1:3 powder-to-developer ratio and can be left on the hair for up to 30 minutes at room temperature.”
Can baking soda remove hair dye?
A common DIY color removal method involves combining baking soda with dandruff shampoo and using it to wash your hair. The truth is, while dandruff shampoos and baking soda have clarifying properties, there’s no evidence that they safely or effectively remove hair color on their own. If you’re looking to remove hair color, your best bet is to book a professional color removal appointment at your nearest salon.
How do you care for your hair before and after hair color removal?
For a few days leading up to your appointment, consider washing your hair with a clarifying shampoo. These formulas help loosen up some of the dye molecules within your hair, which can enhance the results of your hair color remover. We’re fans of Redken’s Hair Cleansing Cream Clarifying Shampoo. Part of L’Oréal’s professional product portfolio, the creamy shampoo contains AHA Fruit Acid and the brand’s Cleansing Complex to help thoroughly cleanse and detoxify the hair.
While your colorist will work to keep your strands as healthy and strong as possible, there’s always a chance that salon color processes will leave your hair feeling dry, brittle, or damaged. That’s why we recommend adding a few nourishing hair care products to your at-home hair routine.
For brittle hair, swap out your shampoo and conditioner for a moisturizing system like Matrix Food For Soft Hydrating Shampoo and Detangling Hydrating Conditioner. Both formulas contain nourishing ingredients like hyaluronic acid and avocado oil and help soften, hydrate, and smooth hair. Have extremely weak hair due to overprocessing? Strengthening products may be in order. We suggest Pureology’s color-safe Strength Cure Shampoo and Conditioner. Their plant-based protein, Keravis, strengthens hair, while powerful antioxidant astaxanthin helps heal and repair damage.
You can also add a weekly hair mask to your lineup for some extra TLC. Matrix’s complementary Food For Soft Rich Hydrating Treatment can help replenish hydration in even the driest and most porous hair. Or, opt for Redken’s All Soft Heavy Cream Mask. Formulated with the highest percentage of Redken's Moisture Complex with argan oil, this deep conditioning mask dramatically transforms the feel and appearance of hair.
The bottom line: “Every hair color remover is different, and so is everyone’s hair,” concludes Epstein. “What works for your fave TikToker may not work for you. It’s important to consult a licensed professional and ask for a consultation.”
Now that you know how to remove color from hair at the salon, there’s nothing standing in the way of you and your next hair color transformation.