Articles > Hair Color > How to Break the Base in Hair Coloring [With Formulas]
October 16, 2018

How to Break the Base in Hair Coloring [With Formulas]

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Smudging. Color Flash. Break the Base. Base Adjust. Breaking the Base. 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 our industry is that there’s never one single way of doing things, we have to start somewhere. That’s where BTC Member Jose Garcia from Jensen Beach, Florida, comes in. He’s perfected his own version of the base breaking technique and is here to help! So if you’re still wondering what the heck it is, listen up!



What Does It Mean To “Break The Base?”

“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,” says Jose. This way, your clients’ 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 result is healthier hair since 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,” says Jose. “It can be done during a client’s regular highlight appointment, as an add-on to a haircut, conditioning treatment or blowout service. Clients can literally come in during their lunch and get a quick base break and a blowout. Their color looks fresh and fabulous, and it’s a great way to bring in extra revenue.”


The Process of Breaking the Base in Hair Coloring

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,” says Jose, “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.


Base Breaking Formulation

For a base break, you should use a permanent lift color 1 to 1 ½ levels lighter than the client’s natural level mixed with 20-volume developer. (In some cases, 30-volume can be used for resistant hair, Jose says. However, a stronger tonal base (Ash/Ash) should be used to account for the stronger lift. Also, timing may be less than 10 minutes).


Since the processing time is cut down to only 10 minutes, a formula of Ash, Ash/Ash or Ash/Violet is strongly recommended to reduce the amount of warmth exposed during the lifting process. Remember to take into consideration what underlying pigment will be exposed at the target level to determine which tone will be chosen when formulating.


Example: Your client’s natural Level is 6. Mix up a color Level 7 in a tone of Ash/Ash since the underlying pigment at Level 7 is light orange.


How to Break The Base

Breaking the base can be done at your station or at the shampoo bowl. However, applying at the shampoo bowl can leave room for error resulting in banding or missed spots. Base breaking is a way to soften new growth, so generally you should only apply your formula to the areas that really matter (the hairline, partings or the two front quadrants). 


How Long Does Base Breaking Take

Begin timing as soon as you start applying your formula. The key is it to be done with this service in 12 to 15 minutes total. Take two to five minutes to apply and 10 minutes to process. The longer you process the color, the more underlying pigment you allow to be exposed. This is why it’s important to be quick in your application and only do the areas that are visually essential.


“Some products are sold as premixed base break colors,” notes Jose. “While these products are great, I believe that haircolor isn’t one size fits all. I prefer to mix my own customizable formulas to fit the specific needs of each client’s hair.”


Below are some of Jose’s favorite base break formulas using Matrix SOCOLOR Permanent Cream Haircolor.


Base Breaker Formulas

  • Natural Level 5 Base Break Formula: 1 oz Matrix SOCOLOR 6 Ash/Ash + 1/16 oz SOCOLOR Color Boost Blue + 1 1/8 oz 20-volume Matrix Cream Developer
  • Natural Level 6 Base Break Formula: 1/2 oz Matrix SOCOLOR 6 Ash/Ash + ½ oz Matrix Socolor 8 Ash/Ash + 1 oz 20-volume Matrix Cream Developer
  • Natural Level 7 Base Break Formula: ½ oz Matrix SOCOLOR 8 Ash/Violet + ½ oz Matrix SoColor 8 Ash/Ash + 1 oz 20-volume Matrix Cream Developer
  • Natural Level 8 Base Break Formula: ½ oz Matrix SOCOLOR 8 Ash/Violet + ½ oz Matrix SOCOLOR 10 Ash/Violet + 1/8 oz Matrix Color Boost Violet + 1 ¼ oz 20-volume Matrix Cream Developer

base breaker before and after hair photo


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