Hair Coloring Techniques: Breaking the Base

Breaking the base involves dying your hair one shade lighter.

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You don’t put your entire makeup back on before you head to dinner -- you touch it up. The same is true for your hair. Sometimes you don’t need all your hair recolored -- just your roots that stick out like a sore thumb. When you have those roots touched up, it's called “breaking the base” -- which means more shine and color without the '80s-era Madonna roots.

Recipe for Success

Formulas for breaking the base can be like a prize-winning chef’s secret recipe. The general rule of thumb is mixing 3 ounces of liquid shampoo with 2 ounces of 20-volume peroxide developer plus 1 ounce of on-the-scalp oil bleach, according to HairFinder. Mix everything together and apply it to your roots. Wait anywhere from three to eight minutes -- or longer if you need to lighten more or less time if your hair needs to be just a little lighter at the roots. Once the process is complete, wash with warm water, then switch over to cool water. Roots? Not on you.


If you’re looking for a dramatic hair change, breaking the base isn’t that hair technique. But you can expect it to lighten your hair about one shade or so. You might find your hair looks brighter or fresher as a result. The bonus for you is that you don’t have to go through too much hair-color processing that can fry your ends or make your hair look straw-like. Instead, alternate breaking-the-base treatments with highlights -- an especially good idea if you’re going blond, since that can be a damaging hair process (too bad it looks so good).

Another Term

You call it breaking the base, but your mom may call it a soap cap. Since most formulations for breaking the base contain liquid shampoo, soap cap is another term for the hair-color process. Since the mixture does contain shampoo, you can work it into your hair (not just your roots) if you need a lift overall. Just ensure you follow the same warm water, then cold water rinse when you're finished.


Breaking the base isn’t always a super-easy procedure, according to Beth Minardi, owner of the Minardi Salon in New York City, in her column on This is especially true if your hair (or your client’s hair) has warm or brassy undertones. Lightening the hair one shade or so may not be enough to take away these unwanted hair colors. You may need to go ahead and re-highlight instead.

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