Five Tips for Your Quarantine Home Hair Dye
Step away from the box dye. Slowly.
I've spent the greater portion of my adult life looking like Rainbow Brite's tattooed cousin, and -- thanks to my consistently thin budget -- I've done all the color myself.
Before we get started, let's be clear: there is a reason your upscale salon charges upscale prices. Your high end hairstylist is not just experienced at creating the perfect color, they've studied (and mastered!) chemical processing, balanced ratios, and -- literally -- the internal structure of your hair in order to do so.
But sometimes you're broke.
Anyway, for the love of all things holy, wear gloves.
1. If you're gonna be bright, you gotta be bleached.
I can't count the number of dye reviews I've read that center on getting a less-than-vivid-result when applied over dark hair. And as a natural brunette, I sympathize, but here's the deal: your hair is a canvas, and the dye is absorbing into that base color. You're never going to get neon pink hair by layering it over dark brown.
There's no shortcut to this part. Unless you're blessed with perfect platinum as your starter shade, you're going to have to bleach.
I know. Your stomach just dropped. Relax, and repeat after me: my hair is not going to fall out.
The good news -- unless you're trying to achieve a pastel tone, you may have to bleach less than you think! Darker tones like red, purple, etc, require way less of a platinum starter than baby pink. If you know you're going for one of those shades, there's no reason to over-bleach.
With that being said, yes, bleach damages your hair. So does your curling iron. It's the price we pay to be pretty, my dear.
I'll cover more on home bleaching later, but for now, the basics:
- Start with dirty hair. The oils will do their best to provide a natural level of resistance to damage. I try not to wash my hair for the three days leading up to a good bleach.
- You need conditioner. In-shower conditioner, leave-in conditioner, the works. It's a must. You can also opt in for coconut oil as a hair mask here, as long as you're prepared to make a mess.
- Olaplex. Uberliss. These products are literally worth articles all their own, but the base knowledge: their products are formulated to protect and replenish the bonds that hold your hair together. You're weakening those bonds with bleaching. These aren't mandatory, but if you can afford the splurge (Olaplex runs about $28/bottle from Sephora), pick up a bottle of the leave-in at very least. It's worth it.
- Avoid box bleach. Did you read that? Read it again. The price of one-box convenience is that it is in no way tailored to individual needs. What you're getting is overkill in the form of hair-frying levels of developer, bleach powder of questionable origin, and conditioner that has never helped a single person's hair recover. Make the trip to your local beauty store. Really.
- Choose the right developer. This part gets confusing. Ten volume will (at most) lighten your hair by half a shade, making it the least likely choice for a full bleach job. On the other hand, forty volume will probably seem tempting -- but remember that promise that your hair won't melt? Yeah. That promise goes out the window if you bring home 40 volume developer.
If you're standing in the beauty supply aisle, and you feel overwhelmed, ask for help!
2. Tone it down (if you need to).
What box dyes won't tell you is that bleach isn't actually meant to produce a wearable shade. It lightens your hair color, and working with the result then becomes your problem. Chances are, your bleach job left you yellow. Or orange. Or, if you're really batting a hundred, both. At this point, you have regrets. You're reaching for the black box dye, and you're definitely mad at me.
Let's take a breath.
Sometimes this isn't a problem: your target color is dark enough to cover evenly, or you're looking for depth in tones anyway. In that case, skip right ahead!
Other times, you'll need to decide if you need a toner: remember, blue and yellow make green. Green hair is great, if you're trying to dye your hair green. In my experience, however, people with green hair that did not persay want green hair are very upset about it. If you aren't sure, get your color wheel out. Purple shampoo or toner will soften your yellows. Blue toner will get rid of orange.
I personally swear by Wella's toners, particularly T14 (for blue tones) and T18 (for purple).
If your dream hair is pastel, the truth is, you probably need to bleach more than once. And more importantly: you should not do this immediately. This is called double processing. It upsets the hair gods, and chances are, if you didn't use forty volume developer but are going to melt your hair off, this is where it happens.
Do I double process? Yes. Shamelessly. I also have magnificent, thick, coarse, Korean-hybrid hair that takes damage like a prizefighter. You may not. Do as I say, not as I do.
The responsible road to pastel hair takes weeks, if not months. Will your hair look great for the entire duration? Maybe not. But we're in quarantine. Embrace it.
3. Welcome to cold showers.
Few things will fade your brand new color faster than those lengthy self-care hot showers we're all enjoying. Hot water opens your hair follicles, releasing all the color you just worked so hard for directly into the drain. Cold, on the other hand, will help that dye hang on as long as possible.
Shower pro tips:
- Don't wash your hair every day. Honestly, you shouldn't be anyway. Your hair produces its own oils, and it values them. I wash mine two or three times a week, and supplement with dry shampoo. Scout's honor.
- Avoid clarifying shampoos. Clarifying is a nice word for "floor stripper" in the shampoo world. It will do its damndest to peel the color.
- Refresh with conditioner. Between full dyes, you can cheat by adding a touch of dye to your conditioner. It's a great way to extend the life of your color!
4. Be a brand snob.
Okay, okay: you can find anything at Walmart. You're not wrong. But put down the Splat. You deserve better. A quality dye won't just last longer, it will bleed less (your pillowcases will thank you), condition your hair, and even fade more deliberately. It's probably a few bucks more a bottle, but trust me. The extra three dollars make a difference.
Here are some fantastic, pigmented options:
- Manic Panic. An oldie but a goodie, and it won't hurt your wallet. (Our Sally's carries Manic for $7.99 a jug) My favorite Manic shade by far is Electric Lizard -- a neon green that's the pride not only of Manic's line, but my favorite neon across the spectrum thus far.
- Arctic Fox. Available at your local Hot Topic as well as Sally's, Arctic boasts a major lineup of colors from pastels to pure black. Arctic Fox applies easily, mixes well with its friends for custom tones, and they've put significant effort into ensuring that colors fade pleasingly (Purple Rain, a super rich purple, specifically fades to pink, then silver).
- Pulp Riot. You'll have to pull a favor for this one, because Pulp Riot is only available to salon professionals, meaning someone with a cosmetology license will need to pick it up for you. That same someone is probably going to scold you for the home bleach job. Sorry, Mom.
- Good Dye Young. This one actually isn't one of my personal favorites: with my hair's texture, it's very difficult to apply. However, a lot of users find it vibrant and conditioning, so I've included it for those of you who might have thinner, more cooperative hair. (It does, however, smell incredible, and the color names are unbeatable, with shades like Steal my Sunshine and Ex-Girlfriend)
- Uberliss. If I have to recommend a single brand on this list without hesitation, it's Uberliss. Remember the bond strengtheners? Uberliss provides those in your dye. They're rapidly expanding their color line. It's not the most inexpensive, or the easieset to apply, but the benefits are fantastic and the results I've had are worth it.
5. Embrace the unexpected.
Sometimes great plans and good intentions just don't get you there. If your color result isn't exactly that Instagram trend you were after, don't worry. We've all been there. The best part about your hair?
The minute you wash it, it's already fading, and you're literally making more hair. As we speak.
Now go live your Rainbow Brite dreams.
Disclaimer: I am not a hairdresser. I will not protect you from the wrath of your hairdresser. The road to my hair success was marked by a lot of mistakes, accidents, and remedies. I'm writing this article with color remover on my head.
About the author
Laura Presley is a firm believer that magic is real and birds are not. She lives and works in Ohio with her husband, their brood of wildlings, and their excessive number of rescue animals.