I must be a hair masochist, or maybe a slave to beauty, or maybe I never learn. But I’ve dyed my hair at home more times than I can count, and I have yet to come out of the bathroom with a salon-worthy color all on my own.
But I keep doing it. Partially because I’ve worked in the beauty industry as an aesthetician and feel like I am just so close to finally figuring it out, and partially because there’s a little teenage girl inside of me who can’t help picking up a box of hair dye at the drugstore whenever I’m in the mood for a change.
I need help.
My latest pathetic hair dye attempt was the amazing internet ombré trend. All the celebs are doing it. Certainly it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to lighten the ends of your hair at home? I’m sure you can see where this is heading, and thank the Lord above that this story did not turn out as bad as it could have. I was gun-shy, so I bought boxed dye that wasn’t light enough to make a difference. I spent a few hours slathering chemicals on my head and then — nothing. What a letdown.
Dyeing your hair at home is not for the faint of heart, but it can be successful. The trick is not to go rogue — like I do — and think you’ve got it all figured out just because you pinned a cute hairstyle on Pinterest. Listen to the brave hairstylists who have gone before you and save yourself from a botched dye job.
It’s time to stop making these “big, huge” mistakes if you want your at-home color to come out right:
1. You go to extremes
The ’90s called, and Shirley Manson wants her hair back. I kid, I kid, but I can’t tell you how many times I have tried to change my look with a $10 box of dye in my hand. Stephanie Johnson, licensed hairstylist and makeup and fashion photographer in Dallas, confirms the obvious: Trying to make a drastic change (like my ombré fail) is a bad idea. She says, “It may be tempting to go for that home ombré kit or the box that has the pretty model sporting the bright red, but more often than not, that big change will land you in a stylist’s chair spending big money on a color correction. Unless you’re someone who has some training in the science of hair and chemical color, I don’t recommend the extreme changes alone.”
2. You choose the wrong tone
Here’s the big problem with the cornucopia of color found on every drugstore shelf across America: It creates a false sense of trust. If you’re anything like me, you think that because you can buy it and dye it at home, almost any color should be flattering. But that’s where you’d be wrong. Box dyes are sold in one (often harsh) color, while a professional knows how to mix colors and tones in a way that is most flattering, says Julie Featherman, stylist and owner of Juju Salon & Organics. She continues, “So many of the advertised tones in boxed dyes are extreme. Women select ‘gold’ and end up with orange casts; ‘ash’ makes the color too dark; ‘neutral’ just doesn’t exist. To achieve this at home, one would have to buy a few boxes and know how to mix correctly.” To avoid this embarrassing clash, consult with your stylist or find out how to choose a hair color that matches your skin tone here.
3. You don’t know the rules
Rules? What rules? Turns out there’s both an art and a science to coloring your hair, as Johnson pointed out. Her golden rule that could save your hair from demise is that color doesn’t lift color. This is something the professionals know but very few laywomen understand. “That means that if you have previous color — let’s say a chocolate brown — and you are checking out that lighter brown or copper red, that new color that you put all over will not lighten that previous chocolate. Actually, it will layer over it and make it look darker, while those virgin roots are brought up by the color, leaving you with copper roots and dark brown to black mid-shaft to ends.”
4. You buy nonpermanent
Non-permanent means it isn’t permanent, so what could possibly go wrong? Featherman calls this one of the biggest misconceptions in the biz: Most box dyes on the shelf are still permanent, no matter what the label says. “Even though the color may fade with this selection and the gray becomes translucent, the color itself continues to coat the shaft of the hair. This affects the outcome of the next color application because the residual color and tones are literally still ‘on’ the hair,” she explains. Know that any box color you choose is a major commitment, whether it’s advertised as temporary or not.
5. You get emotional
This is only funny because it’s true: Breaking up, moving or getting fired is enough to make any sane woman crazy. Just don’t take it out on your hair. What may seem like a good idea after a few glasses of wine will only turn into fire-engine-red regret in the morning. Johnson explains what really happens when hair dye and emotions mix: “That black box color is not going to do anything but land you in three months of highlight appointments to get it back out. Home hair color (especially the darker ones) are hyper-pigmented to provide as many results on as many heads as possible. Getting that out later will require multiple appointments.”
6. You don’t apply evenly
Call this the worst hair dye snafu of all because you’re not going to find out until it is too late. The big difference between dyeing at home and dyeing in a salon is the coverage. Featherman says, “Applying color to your own hair with a bottle practically guarantees uneven coverage. This usually occurs at the crown and occipital. This is most noticeable on women who are trying to go lighter in shade and/or blonde.” At the very least, enlist the help of a friend who’s got your back or consider a professional if you’re trying to go a shade lighter.
7. You dye too often
Most of us turn to the at-home dye when we don’t have the time or money to head to the salon for a touchup. But saving a few bucks at home creates a new problem, and it’s called overlap. Touching up your hair at home can be successful when you dye the outgrowth only, a task that often requires professional training. “Overlapping color causes hair to become brittle, and this often leads to breakage. This also leads to really dark ends and lighter ‘roots,” explains Becky Sturm, hairstylist and founder of StormSister Spatique. Long-term touchups at home are risky for this reason, but the outlook isn’t completely bleak: Here are the easiest hair colors to maintain, meaning less at-home overlap.
8. You use bleach
I’m going to do you a favor and wrap this up nice and neat with the biggest home hair dye no-no of all: Don’t ever use bleach. For the love of God (and for the love of my fried hair that broke off in clumps in high school), just don’t. Johnson says bleaching hair should only be left to the professionals because it is not a one-step process. She explains, “Brunette to blonde is a trying process, and oftentimes, ladies end up thinking that head full of bleach will do the trick. Not so. There are tones to be considered, as well as previous color, lifestyle, habits and more that a professional will ask about. Most every lady has tried to do this themselves, thinking they could get rid of that dark hair in a snap and finding themselves with candy corn (white roots through gold yellow down to orange) hair. Don’t do this to yourself. Leave blonding to a professional.”