Double take Double-process hair colour is doubly excellent… and the reason why celebrity hair looks better than yours

Scarlett Johansson Spirit Party 2008 Double process hair colour is doubly excellent... and the reason why celebrity hair looks better than yours

Eeks! Two days in a row of hair colour posts—and slightly shouty ones at that. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to insinuate that you have bad hair, or anything like that. But possibly it could be better.

Wanna know why? Because after more than half a decade of putting myself out there in the name of “research,” I think I may just have found my—wait for it—Life Colour. It’s true! (And if you’re just joining us, you need to get caught up and read the original and epic Life Cut post.)

I only wish I’d made this discovery five years ago. But maybe all the battle scars… er, fried ends and bad photo evidence… will be worth it if I can impart some tips to YOU.

So let me backtrack. After test-driving the Ombré, which I just felt wasn’t “me” for several reasons (blonderexia, for one), I went back to my regular salon. I got them to put some highlights back in order to break up the colour as an interim stop-gap measure. A few weeks later I went back for a hair cut and my Hairdresser For Life, Bill Angst, let me in on an insidery celebrity colouring secret, which is a little thing called the Double Process.

This is how it’s different:

Single Process Colour

Single process colour is all one tone. It can be permanent or semi-permanent, but there are no highlights—your entire head is the same. This can look fine a lot of the time… but the blonder you go (*cough* Holly Madison *cough*), the more wig-like it can get.

Holly Madison blonde Double process hair colour is doubly excellent... and the reason why celebrity hair looks better than yours

Highlights and lowlights

Highlights and lowlights are just sections of your hair that are coloured darker or lighter, leaving your base colour intact. As we learned yesterday with Charles Baker Strahan’s excellent Leighton Meester hair tip, lowlights can be fantastic on brunettes especially. However, for all hair colours, highlights alone sometimes work and sometimes don’t. First of all, there is the problem of the ashy base, which is more likely to happen the older you get (and combined with highlights can create a greyish cast). Also, depending on how much of a contrast there is between your base and the highlight colour, you run the danger of looking stripey, instead of the desired tone-on-tone effect we want.

Kate Gosselin Hair Double process hair colour is doubly excellent... and the reason why celebrity hair looks better than yours

In my humble opinion, the best result is achieved via…

Double process colour

Double process colour involves both highlights AND all-over colour. It’s more natural-looking because it’s less one-dimensional, and you can get that lovely tone-on-tone look that CBS was telling y’all about yesterday. It is also the secret behind most excellent celebrity hair colour jobs that you admire.

Kate Winslet blonde Double process hair colour is doubly excellent... and the reason why celebrity hair looks better than yours

The thing is though, you need to specifically ask for it, and be willing to pay extra for it (since it takes more time, and probably talent). Which leads me to how I ended up with my “Life Colour.” Thanks to Bill’s advice, I knew I wanted double-processing to warm/lighten my base. And I ALSO knew that I wanted a slightly more strawberry tint to my blonde (based on the advice of celeb colourist Marie Robinson, who does everyone from ScarJo to Amy Adams and really knows what she’s doing).

So when the people at Schwarzkopf kindly offered to colour my hair gratis with their brand-new Essensity line, I decided to bite the bullet and give it a go. If you’re a secret hippie type like me then you’ll like the sound of this stuff. It’s probably easier to tell you what it doesn’t contain first: no ammonia, no odour, no silicones, no paraffin, no mineral oils, no parabens, no alcohol and no artificial colourants. Oh, and what it DOES do? Complete (100 percent) grey coverage, with 50 permanent shades in total.

Schwarzkopf Essensity Double process hair colour is doubly excellent... and the reason why celebrity hair looks better than yours

I had the treatment done at Toronto’s Tony Chaar Salon, and since I’m deathly afraid of new hair people, I annoyed Tony to no end with photos and descriptions of the look I wanted. (You gotta dewit, though, to make sure you’re both on the same wavelength.) The photo of Scarlett at the top of this post was the inspiration. Here is what it sorta looked like before (notice the streakiness):

Before Ombre Double process hair colour is doubly excellent... and the reason why celebrity hair looks better than yours

…and after highlights, all-over colour and a toner, this is what I ended up with:

Schwarzkopf hair Double process hair colour is doubly excellent... and the reason why celebrity hair looks better than yours

As you can see, I like stripes.

Anyway, maybe you can’t really see the difference all that well in these photos, sorry. (This is why I am one of those bloggers that just WRITES, dang it… I’m hopeless at taking photos and figuring out lighting, etc.) Anyway, it’s MUCH more tone-on-tone instead of stripey, and a slightly darker, more reddish blonde. Plus, getting rid of my ashy, mousy brown base was life-changing (if your life involves around this kind of thing, as mine sadly does).

I might do a toner to go even more red when I’m due for a touch-up, but overall I’m extremely pleased. And most importantly, the colour left my hair in great condition! I’ve been using the Essensity line to care for it ever since, and the prodz are surprisingly lightweight, which is a good thing for fine-haired types like moi that hate those grease-inducing heavy formulas.

Schwarzkopf Essensity duo Double process hair colour is doubly excellent... and the reason why celebrity hair looks better than yours

Have you ever had a double-process colour?
Might you consider it now?
Word on the street is that many salons, in the quest to get everyone in and out quickly, don’t even enlighten folks about it. So wrong, no? We need to get the word out!


Thursday, March 24/2011 at 1:08 pm

Ok so that has to be the cutest picture of you!!!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, March 29/2011 at 6:50 pm

Haha – thanks!


Kris Coghlan
Thursday, March 24/2011 at 1:20 pm

Love the double process – had never heard of it until today.


Thursday, March 24/2011 at 1:24 pm

That colour looks like what you should’ve been born with (if we were all born with perfect hair colours…)! Kate Gosselin is a guide for everything every person should never do.

I got some highlights in in Feb, and my hair dresser said I should come back in April and he’d “throw a toner on it.” I just smiled and nodded (happy that he wasn’t recommended another full head of highlight$$$) but I really had no idea what he was talking about. Is it just a treatment that injects some oomph back into your colour?


Thursday, March 24/2011 at 7:08 pm

…politely butts in…Sophia that is exactly what my stylist does. A soft toner can lift the root colour just a teensy bit so regrowth is not as noticeable, it tones down brassiness in highlights, and just refreshes the all over colour/tone. Plus a toner smooths hair and gives a little boost to the roots that I always love. Getting between-highlights-toners has been a revelation!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, March 29/2011 at 6:58 pm

Yep – Jane is exactly right – it’s sort of an all-over tint and is really good to tone down brassiness or in my case will be using to add more of a reddish cast. You could do it just at the roots or all over your head. I usually get it done every highlight job, but you could also highlight only every other visit and do just a toner in between to freshen it up.


Thursday, March 24/2011 at 1:28 pm

So pretty!!! Love it! My genius stylist has been doing this on me for as long as I can remember, and her uncle before she took over. Maybe that is why I love them so much…she is so amazing, and matches the colour & toner so closely to my natural colour that I can go months (like 5-6) between highlights by just popping in for a toner from time to time.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, March 29/2011 at 6:59 pm

5-6 months? That’s amazing! My new colour’s going to be a lot higher maintenance than that, unfortch…


Wednesday, March 30/2011 at 10:23 am

Its all about the toners baby. And occasional low lights that are closer to your natural colour.


Nomadic D
Thursday, March 24/2011 at 3:19 pm

It’s so hard to tell from these pictures! Wish your lighting was better so we could see the color in all its glory. I’m a huge fan of the double process. And for the past year I’ve been getting strawberry blonde highlights and then all over bright red/copper coloring. I love it. And the super blonde bits make me feel somehow like a superhero, but since it’s all in the same reddish family it blends so nicely. Let’s hear it for hair dye!


Thursday, March 24/2011 at 4:43 pm

I love how adventurous you are with colour. I want a colour change but I have no idea where to start (my forays into color years ago resulted in straw like bright blond streaks that practically screamed for attention against my brown hair.) They really damaged my hair and turned me off the whole process of colour experimentation. I’m glad you found something that really works for you!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, March 29/2011 at 7:02 pm

I get all my inspiration from Us Weekly! I’m telling you – it’s the best for getting colour & cut ideas. That’s where I’d start… you’ll probably find yourself drawn to certain celebs, and the best part about it is that you can see how their hair looks naturally eg with the paparazzi shots. Much more realistic than looking at fashion shoot photos of models.


Liz (Beauty Reductionista)
Thursday, March 24/2011 at 8:09 pm

Being Asian, luckily my life colour is the colour I was born with. Hair is just way too much work. Congrats on finding your colour! Love your expression in the second pic. =D


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, March 29/2011 at 7:04 pm

Lucky! Asian hair is so naturally gorgeous… if only mine stayed blonde like it was when I was a child, instead of morphing into this dishwater mouse colour. No choice but to embrace the dye here! :-)


Thursday, March 24/2011 at 9:43 pm

Love it! Looks like you just happened to be naturally born with perfect hair colour!


Friday, March 25/2011 at 4:40 am

I had always gone to the same salon over and over again and everytime I went I told my hair colourist that I wanted the “Jessica Simpson” tonal type of bright light golden blonde with natural looking white blonde highlights mixed in. This was more than 5 years ago now. All she would do is highlight my hair and I was NEVER happy.

I decided to try somewhere else. The spa I had been going to had a very large, nice looking salon in it and I thought hey…. why not. So I called in and just decided to go to whoever they sent me to. That is when I met Rosy. My hair colourist, stylist, and everything in between, after and before. She is AMAZING. I told her what I wanted and she said to achieve the look I would have to colour my hair a solid colour and then put highlights in. Ahhhh genius! Why didn’t I think of it?

This was about 5 years ago. The first time she did the colour first, dried it and then applied highlights. Now when I go in I find that I can skip the highlights every other time (this also saves money!) So I get just a colour (and she touches up my roots) and the next time I go I get the colour to touch up the roots and some highlights (about a half head) which she does at the same time as the colour.

I pay about $70 for the colour and $70 for the half head of highlights (not included a cut, but including a blow dry and style.) I go every 2-3 months, so 4 times per year. 2 of those times I pay $70 (+ hair cut) and the other 2 I pay $140 (I usually skip the cut this time to save some money.)

I have been doing this for about 5 years now and am super happy! I would definitely ask for the double process.

Your hair looks great btw!!!!!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, March 29/2011 at 7:07 pm

YES! Isn’t it a revelation? I forgot to mention that too, that you don’t have to get the double-process every single time… they can just touch up the roots. It probably works out to be the same or cheaper than highlights, because I know when I had highlights alone I couldn’t stand to leave them more than 8 weeks for a full head. (Was NEVER happy with the half-head.)

It’s so weird that so many colourists don’t talk about this though! Maybe because highlights are usually $150+ and colour is around $70.


Tuesday, October 25/2011 at 7:31 pm

Hi! :) Is your colorist in Toronto? I just moved and I’d love a salon name if possible. Thanks!


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, October 26/2011 at 9:18 am

Yes Tony Chaar Salon. I see Tony. (Don’t let initial impressions scare you off, he actually has really good taste when it comes to colour.) I don’t let anyone cut my hair there though. For that I go to Angst.


Friday, March 25/2011 at 9:12 pm

For me personally, I actually have a fairly nice base color that is on the lighter side, reddish golden so I find when I have the double process my roots are super bad and my hair seems to not harmonize as well. What I have done is gotten my hairdresser to weave in very fine highlights of one that is just lighter than my base and then a lighter so its not streaky. It looks really quite natural and then I dont have to go in for a color every six weeks.


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, March 29/2011 at 7:08 pm

Oh pretty! You’re lucky to have a warm base colour – I’d do the same thing you are doing!


Tuesday, March 29/2011 at 9:06 am

Double Process is good, My friend also look like u!


Tuesday, March 29/2011 at 3:01 pm

Do you mean the colourist Marie Robinson? :)


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Tuesday, March 29/2011 at 6:30 pm

Oh shit! What did I write – Anderson?? Fried brain. Thx!


Wednesday, August 10/2011 at 12:59 pm

I have medium-dark warm brown hair but i often switch it up between cool and warm tones of the same sort of colour depending on my hairdresser’s mood (thankfully his always matches mine) and I am wondering if double process has the same effect on dark hair. When i looked on my salons website they call it dual process blonding which makes me think that this can only work for blondes. Is this true or can i make this work for me?


Comment Avatar Michelle Villett
Wednesday, August 10/2011 at 5:35 pm

You can do double-process on any hair colour… it’s just a good technique if you want to warm up your base colour and then the highlights break it up so it’s not so solid. I feel like it’s a thing you need to specifically ask for though – most colourists don’t really push this technique since it’s more time consuming than doing either colour or highlights individually.


Thursday, January 5/2012 at 8:51 am



Thursday, May 10/2012 at 8:04 am

Your hair looks even nicer than ScarJo’s!! Love it!


Saturday, October 27/2012 at 9:49 pm

I used to highlight and do the toner. I’m blonde. It gets expensive. So I stopped and I just highlight. Though I’m still blonde, I feel like when I did both my hair was more natural looking and I liked it much more. With just highlighting I try and get low lights too so it looks as natural as possible. I wish things weren’t so darn expensive.


Sunday, February 10/2013 at 6:53 am

Please no more of that lipstick! To say the least, it dors not flatter you. Love everything else though,thanks for the great tips.


Tuesday, March 26/2013 at 6:53 pm

I actually disagree, I think that shade of lipstick is adorable on you. Your hair looks fabulous! I’ve had double process color, and I love the effect. For the people wondering about other shades besides blonde: it is excellent for building dimension into brunette shades (except jet black, obviously) and awesome for adding depth to red/ginger tones. I’m a dyed ginger, and I never thought I could have any kind of blonde touch my hair, but my stylist wove in some blonde, golden, and copper strands, after dying my hair a medium red, and the effect was stellar! Don’t be scared away if you’re not a blonde :)


Sunday, April 7/2013 at 6:48 pm

Love your colour! I am a hairstylist and I encourage many of my clients to do double process…hilites are meant to accentuate a beautiful base colour and if my client has a less than stellar base I try to steer them towards all over colour and hilites plus lowlites and a gloss over top all of it. Not because I want to make more money (honest)…cost is what stops most women from going this route. Too bad,because it looks so beautiful when done properly. Often times, I will just “break the base” by going 1 shade lighter, then hilighting. It’s a good compromise. Brunette women look great with double and triple process as well. Warm up her base to a nice rich chocolate shade and add caramel or toffee on top, maybe lowlite with a darker espresso shade…beautiful


Monday, May 13/2013 at 2:40 am

You really need a professional writing course and a standard English basic grammar book seriously in all kindness this so teen-like and you are not certainly one.


Monday, May 13/2013 at 2:44 am

By the way “Ashy” is NOT equal to grey hair BUT purplish blue tones/nuance; certainly you are very amateur sorry I expected a little bit more from this site


Wednesday, July 17/2013 at 9:25 am

Actually Justin, in hair colour ‘ashy’ refers to any cool tone. Yes, blue and purple are ashy, but so are green and grey. If your colour is cool, then it can be considered an ash tone.


Monday, June 10/2013 at 12:30 pm

I think your first pic looks “softer”. I’m not sure if its the lighting but the after picture looks like they over saturated the crown with red.
The process your talking about not only takes more time, it will give you more issues… It makes you a slave to double processing forever since as your hair grows out… You will get that tell tale line across the head unless the stylist perfectly matches your exact color.. Which I have yet to find one that does.
I’m teaching my new colorist right now how to place “natural” looking highlights and lowlights throughout the hair. It seems they are all taught to place blonde foil and then another foil of dark underneath that.. But unless you literally manually part the hair, you cannot see the lowlights! So, try showing someone who has done the same thing their whole career how to thin out the section you want to foil … 2x.. Using not a “chunky” blonde but a little thicker than “fine”. (As I like to explain.. With fine lowlights and highlights you end up getting a kaledescope of color in every hue!! The trick is not to chunk it up so that it won’t look striped! They also must be placed specifically so to look more natural so that the client has the option to let their hair grow and still look great! Always stay within 2 shades of both highlight and lowlight.
I don’t like reds.. They tend to turn brassy


Thursday, June 20/2013 at 12:47 am

Going in for a double process next week in NYC. Dropping $800 big ones on it. Yeah, it ain’t cheap, especially if you’re getting it done by a celebrity colorist perfectionista and that doesn’t include a blow out or cut. God, this better be worth it.


Tuesday, July 2/2013 at 5:42 am

hi, does the stylist do the all over colour first and then the highlights? I am a dark ash blonde/light ash brown and want to do an all over colour a little darker and then add highlights. Which order should it be done?


Thursday, May 15/2014 at 10:25 pm

As a stylist, and an amazing one at that- I have a few points of concern. First, you are complicating everything by labeling it. Double process doesn’t refer to just hilites and color, it is usually referring to bleach lightening then toning. Using a 20min.+20min process, or double 40vol. Toner. Anyway, in the industry- clients who assume they know so much, when in reality, you do not. The internet does not teach you trial and error over thousands of clients, nor the fundamentals we paid big bucks for back in school. You are probably traumatized (By the hating new stylists comment, and the comment about “not letting anyone cut your hair there” -after name dropping the salon) by a few bad hair cuts, so now you are fearful of trying someone new. I get it, but, your blog makes it seem like you have some sort of “expertise” because of your “years of research”. But to name drop a salon and say- you won’t let anyone there cut your hair? You have the most basic haircut there is. I know girls at great clips that could do better. And let’s hope the color on your camera sucks because to me, you have a very different color in your new growth area, than you do the rest of your hair. Some stylist along the way dropped the “double process” bs as a way to charge you more money. And you fell for it! Your ends still look over processed. When what you really needed was to tone down with deposit only demi in strawberry blonde, then lift and tone new growth to maintain your lighter highlights. As for the $800 commenter~ sorry! but you are paying for that stylists name! and even then they should be ashamed that they do not dry and style you. You can not be sure you have finished your color and cut job until you’ve finished it dry…there is typically a lot more point cutting left when you’re dry as well, and can see hair that needs to go at the ends, after that double process color! Ugh. Rookies. It bothers me that this blog comes up when I’m looking for double process vids to show examples of sectioning guidelines to others. Just, bad, bad misinformation here.


Thursday, May 15/2014 at 10:29 pm

A couple of errors. First~ in the sentence about the true meaning of double process! it should say 40vol., PLUS toner. But the blog refused my symbol. And double process color being better than highlighting is very misinforming. You are still getting highlights….even when you are changing your base color, you will still need highlights to achieve all of the results you’ve mentioned.


Leave a Comment