How to Break the Base in Hair Coloring

Blending the Roots of the Hair

Hair coloring
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Breaking the base is a term that is used when you are blending the roots of the hair that are left after a highlight. Essentially you are 'breaking up' the darker color and softening the line of demarcation. You will most often break the base at the shampoo bowl after you have removed your foils, using a shade one to two levels lighter than your client's natural hair with a low-volume developer. The idea is to achieve a slight bit of lift without exposing the hair's underlying pigment.

Breaking the base is also sometimes called smudging, color flash, or base adjust. No matter what you call it, it’s an extremely important salon service every colorist should know how to perform, yet somehow, much confusion about the technique still exists. And while the beauty of the hair industry is that there's never one single way of doing things, we have to start somewhere. 

The Process of Breaking the Base in Hair Coloring

Breaking the base is the process of lightening the natural new growth very quickly — by 1 to 1 ½ levels — to diffuse (not match) dark roots before, during, after or even in-between highlighting services. This way, your client's hair gets a rest from using lightener and there's a little more growth to work with when the time comes for a touchup highlight. The hair is, therefore, healthier because there's little to no overlapping of lightener which can weaken the hair over time and cause breakage.

The great thing about this technique is its speed and versatility. It can be done during a client's regular highlight appointment, as an add-on to a haircut, conditioning treatment or blowout service. 

How to Break the Base

Using a permanent lifting color mixed with 20 volume developer will generally achieve two levels of lift if allowed to process the full time (30 to 45 minutes).

However, during a base break, you only process your formula for 10 minutes, since the idea is that you only want a diffusion or softening between the client's dark, new growth and her highlights.

While a base break can be done on any natural level, your ideal clients on which to perform this service are highlight clients with natural Levels of 6 and above. Natural Levels 1 through 5 tend to expose a lot of warmth due to the strong, red underlying pigment of those levels, which is fine for a select few, but these days, clients seem to be ‘warm-phobic.’ How many times have you heard a client say, ‘I don’t want to see any red?’”

A perfect example of when to offer the service? A client comes in for a haircut, conditioning treatment or blowout. She gets highlights regularly and she's showing some new growth, but not enough to warrant bringing out the lightener. She wants her color to look fresh, but she doesn’t have a lot of time to sit for highlights. Now is a great time to break the base.