Formulation Tips: How to Become Great at Formulation

confidence behind formulation

As a hairstylist, you already know just how important it is to get your formulation right every single time. After all, a great formulation can be the difference between an “okay” appointment and a great appointment where your client leaves thrilled, ready to rave about your services to anyone who will listen.

But formulation can also be tricky, and all it takes is one poor result to seriously dampen your confidence in the area. Believe me—I know what it’s like first hand.


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When I first started working with hair, I was doing colors that weren’t coming out bad, per se. But they weren’t coming out the way that I’d pictured in my head, either. I thought back to learning color theory in cosmetology school, and even though I could do it behind the chair, I wasn’t connecting the dots with how it was being explained in the books. Those books simply didn’t mesh well with the way that I learned, which left me feeling like I was doing something wrong. 

But instead of giving up, I decided to ask myself: Why is this happening? Over time, by learning the science behind color theory in a way that worked with my own learning preferences, I was able to develop this understanding and become confident in my formulation abilities. 

Tips to Becoming Great at Formulation

Below are four tips that I used to become better at formulation, which you can use too!

Don’t feel like reading? Listen to Episode 20 of our Hair Goals Podcast, where I talk about my previous formulation struggles and how I moved past them!

1. Don’t forget about the hair’s underlying pigment.

Though it took me a while to figure out, I realized that one of the main reasons my color wasn’t coming out the way that I envisioned it would is because I wasn’t taking the underlying pigment of the hair into consideration when crafting my formulation.

All hair has an underlying pigment that influences the way it looks. When you lift multiple levels, this pigment winds up coming through in the end result. If you don’t take it into consideration when formulating your product, there’s almost no chance that the finished result will be what you envisioned. 

As just one example: If I wanted something to come out a golden blonde, it might come out a bright orange because I didn’t account for the hair’s underlying pigment.

By understanding how underlying pigments impact the process, you can adjust your formulation to account for those effects. In the end, both you and your client will be much happier with the end result. 

2. Try different color lines. 

One of the best things you can do to really further your understanding of formulation is to use different color lines.

Color theory, at the end of the day, is the same within every color line. But switching color lines can offer some benefits depending on what you’re trying to achieve. This is because each color line works slightly differently: They have different bases and different active ingredients. 

As a colorist, it’s important to be able to transition to other lines fairly easily so that you can take advantage of the right product for your client every single time. You might not remember the specific numbers and letter systems of each line, but that’s okay—there’s a color book for a reason! What’s most important is understanding how each line works.

3. Learn from other great colorists.

One of the best ways of furthering your formulation skills and building your confidence is to find other people who are great colorists and observe how they work. 

For example, if you work at a salon with a stylist who you envy for her formulation skills, ask her if you can shadow the next time she’s formulating. If you see her doing something and you’re not sure why, ask! This is how we learn.

Social media is another great place to turn. In my opinion, some of the best stylists are also the most open about their process: They want to help others become great at the craft as well. By following these people on social media, it’s possible to pick up tips and tricks and even develop relationships that can go far in helping you learn.

4. Choose your focus.

If you want to become great at something—anything—you really have to focus on it. This is true for balayage, foilyage, and yes, color theory and formulation. 

But remember, it’s hard to become great in every single area of the hair industry. If you’re passionate about formulation but not hair cutting, that’s okay! You don’t need to be an expert in every single part of the industry. Whatever area you’re attracted to, go towards that area.

Have you been struggling with your confidence when it comes to formulation? Building confidence in this area is the key to becoming a better stylist, empowering you to deliver the results that your clients are looking for. Sign up for the new Confidence Behind Formulation course with Christine, where you'll learn the fundamentals of color theory and real, tactical skills that will allow you to formulate with the confidence that you need! You can also sign up for our free Successful Smudging Masterclass by clicking the button below.

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