You don't need a beautician to address customer complaints on hair color.

If you didn't notice the photo accompanying my column, I am an American with a disability -- I am "Hair Color Disadvantaged." It started when I was 16 when some of my black coloring mechanisms stopped working and the hair grew perfectly white. The older I got, the more the black coloring shut down. As many friends point out, it is better than being "follicly" challenged. (That's bald for those of you not familiar with politically correct language.)

Today, when I look in the mirror, a stranger in white hair is looking back at me. But lately, when traveling to various parts of the country, my pure white hair starts to turn yellow. That happens to other people with the same hair color condition. Add to that the number of times I receive phone calls regarding blonde hair on women turning green, or hair color treatment becoming faded or mousy. Everyone wants to know: "Is it the water or the shampoo?"

I decided to ask one of the experts on the subject matter to get some answers: Debby, the woman who has cut my hair for the past 10 years. She's good. Debby knows her hair. So as I sat down for a haircut, I raised the question, "What turns my pure white hair yellow, and what turns blonde hair green, etc?"

That was all I needed to ask. At that point, she took over the conversation, explaining all of the intricacies of hair. To start off with, hair is affected by both water and shampoo. Sometimes the water will change the color of your hair. Shampoos are not as bad as conditioners. Conditioners will have a greater propensity to alter the color of your hair.

Hairy Situation

It turns out that hair is a wonderful item; it will absorb many substances, all of which can change its coloring. Debby said that the one substance that plays havoc on hair more than anything is cigarette smoke. She pointed out that if I am in a room full of smokers, my white hair will be yellow by the time I leave. Another good reason for giving up smoking for those who have not yet quit.

As for my travels, the pollution in the air in certain parts of the country will also affect the hair coloring. But, let's get back to the impact of water.

As everyone knows, chlorine is a bleach, hence, it can bleach the hair coloring. Chlorine is also in the water, thus too much chlorine in the water can bleach out part of the hair. Public water in the United States that is treated with chlorine has very little residual chlorine in the water when it comes out of the tap. Therefore, there is little concern with public water supplies changing the hair color.

Of course, in pools and spas, the chlorine content is elevated. Hence, hair color does change when exposed to extended periods of time in a pool or spa.

The green hue that can appear in blonde hair may also be related to the amount of copper in the water. Typically, the amount of copper is minimal. Therefore, there should not be a problem. Higher copper concentrations in the water sometimes appear with in-house water treatment systems.

Splitting Hairs

As my chemist son points out, water is the most difficult substance to control by the chemist. It is always changing. Of course, he is viewing water through the eyes of a pure chemist. He would like water to remain in constant chemical balance.

Many of the modern in-home water treatment systems use a combination of filters and treatments. You will often find a carbon filter or carbon treatment unit in these treatment plants. Carbon is known for two things: 1) it will remove the chlorine from the water, and 2) it will add taste to the water.

Every time I hear a comment that water has no taste, I just start laughing. Carbon is responsible for improving the taste of many waters.

The problem with carbon that is rarely identified is that it makes the water highly corrosive. While it may taste good, the water also becomes aggressive to the piping components. If the water distribution system is piped in copper tubing, the water treated with carbon will pick up more copper molecules as it flows through the pipe. Too much of the copper molecules and blonde hair starts to turn green.

Some blonde-haired people have returned from a resort vacation in Mexico with green-tinted hair. Yet the only swimming they did was in the ocean. Many of these high-class resorts have water treatment plants. This is a selling feature to attract American tourists. (Much has been written about the water in Mexico and "Montezuma's revenge.") With in-home water treatment, you can feel safe drinking the water. But, you may have to suffer through the change in hair color.

Pro Approach

One of the options that can be offered for in-home water treatment systems is the piping of the water distribution to the showers in piping material other than copper. The system can be piped in PEX or CPVC. Or the runs to the shower have to be short in length.

Another option I suggest to those suffering problems due to water is the use of shampoos and conditioners that are designed for light color and white hair. Many have a rinsing agent that is blue to rinse out the green or yellow coloring. Too much conditioner and the hair has a blue hint.

While it may seem strange for a plumbing contractor to be recommending shampoos and conditioners to customers, many times it is the cheaper alternative to changing the water distribution system or water treatment system.

So, when you hear a complaint from a customer regarding hair coloring, don't just blow it off. It can be the plumbing. It can also be a number of other factors. To some, hair color, or lack there of, is a serious concern.

You are best off being able to explain all of the possible scenarios. If they think that it is the water, you can have it tested for chlorine content (and other possible bleaches) and copper content. If the concentrations are too high, look at the entire system for alternatives to removing the questionable substance.

Don't be afraid to suggest that they also consult with their hairdresser, beautician or barber.