Hannah’s Guide to Dying Your Hair

My (broke) attitude in life is often why pay someone for someone when you can do it yourself?

(I’m also a control freak, so I don’t like putting stuff like my hair in others’ hands.)

This has not always worked out for me – but it’s also worked wonderfully on other occasions. One of the best examples of both of these outcomes is dying my own hair.

My hair dye journey started when I was 15. I’d always had this fantasy of being blonde, which I was kind of in denial of/was worried people would judge me for. So I spent the summer going increasingly lighter, trying to achieve a dark-blonde/light-brown, but this is what I ended up with:

I don’t even know where to begin with this photo.

It was brassy, unmanageable, and unnatural. But if you’re interested, here’s how I got here:

  1. permanent light brown/dark blonde hair dye (2 rounds): I recommend going to Sally Beauty Supply or a similar store, or ordering dye online, rather than using box dye. Make sure you get gloves and developer (30 is good for strong lightening) and follow the instructions for the dye to developer ratio. The brushes are good for the most even (and cleanest) application, but it also is possible to use a bottle and just coat all of your hair in it, until it feels like your entire head is a pile of goop. NOTE: lay newspaper and/or plastic EVERYWHERE. Hair dye is almost impossible to get out of floors, carpets, and tubs if it gets stuck there. If some gets on something, clean it immediately.
  2. professional highlights
  3. honey and lemon spray that I left in overnight multiple times (not sure how much this worked, but methods are described here)

Before I went back to school, I decided to go with something more “natural” – red. I got this professionally done.

That lasted about a month before I tried to go back to brown….except it turned out black. I got it done professionally, but turns out if your hair is really damaged and porous, the hair dye absorbs too quickly and can turn out darker than it’s supposed to.

I kept that until I graduated high school. And then I went on another journey to go blonde – this time, entirely by myself.

First, since my hair was dyed black, I did multiple treatments to try to strip the dye. Crushed vitamin C tablets and dish soap are actually a wonderful combination for pulling out dye. Harsher shampoos like dandruff and clarifying shampoos also work well.

Next, you’re going to need to bleach your hair. I wouldn’t recommend bleaching your entire head all by yourself. It’s very tricky and can totally fry your hair. If you’re not trying to go white-blonde, I recommend using a bleach wash (method described here), which is basically just mixing bleach normally (with 30vol developer) and then adding in equal parts shampoo, and coating your hair with it. It’s a much gentler form of bleaching, and can lighten even dyed hair a few shades.

At this point I ended up with an uneven light brown (full disclosure: because some of my hair was virgin hair and some of it was dyed, it was not very even). Your hair will probably need a good amount of TLC at this point, so I would give it a break for at least a week and deep condition it a lot.

Your hair might be light enough for you at this point – in that case, go back to Sally hair dye and get the shade you want. If not, I suggest highlights, especially balayage. This is a great way to transition into blonde hair. For this, you’ll want to use full bleach. L’oreal quick blue is a good one – or really anything at Sally’s. Mix it with the ratio of developer as laid out in the instructions. And then there’s a few methods for highlighting:

One is with foils – this is the traditional method that you see on TV. You’ll need a brush with a pointy end to separate very fine sections of hair – you’ll want to grab a tiny, thin section, and weave in and out so you’re only taking about half of it. Then you’ll put a bit of the bleach on some foil, put the foil underneath that half section, and paint over it all the way down your hair until all the hair is saturated, then fold it out. You’ll do this all over your head, taking more sections from the front and top layers. More detailed instructions here.

I prefer the second method – I had trouble getting the foil close enough to the root, and often ended up with hot roots that went outside the highlights. It’s also hard to do on yourself. My preferred method is hair painting/balayage – for this you’ll want to separate your hair into sections, just like if you were to curl or straighten it. You’ll need a mirror in front of and behind you so you can see what you’re doing all around. You’ll basically “paint” on the bleach with a very small brush in lines all the way down – if you’re doing balayage ombre, you’ll start a lot of the lines lower, and the bottom of your hair will end up almost completely saturated in bleach. Then you’ll lay plastic wrap over that layer and drop another layer down and do the same. I like this method because you have complete control of the placement of the highlights, especially around your fair. It also feels a little bit easier, and since you’re not going too close to the roots you don’t have to worry about hot roots. This is really hard to describe just in words/pictures, so here’s a video tutorial.

You will almost definitely need to tone your hair after highlights/the bleach bath. Violet counteracts yellow, while blue counteracts orange. I prefer wella’s color charm toner in t14 or t18 – a guide to them is found here. It’s basically the same as applying hair dye (as that’s what it is), but you might leave it on for a little shorter. It’s more to counteract tones than to actually color your hair. If one round is not effective, you can do another. You might want to touch up every couple months as it washes out.

I’d also recommend purple shampoo if you’re dying your hair blonde. This helps eliminate the need to constantly tone your hair, because you’re toning it in the shower. I have also used food coloring-conditioner mixes (which did not work), as well as food-coloring vinegar mixes (which worked too well) – I’d recommend sticking to a strong purple shampoo like Shimmer Lights or Joico’s.

I eventually went dark again – this is honestly pretty easy. You just use the initial hair dye method as described in the beginning of this article. The associates at Sally’s are super helpful, and there are plenty of hair swatches for you to check out. The most important things to remember are:

  1. at a beauty supply store, you need to buy both dye and developer – 10vol developer works for darkening, 20 or 30 (or in extreme cases, 40) are good for lightening
  2. permanent hair dye can fade a bit, but lasts forever/until it grows out; demi-permanent lasts a few months; semi-permanent lasts a few washes/a few weeks (even if you’ve only used demi or semi permanent, you may have a hard time lightening your hair – try a strand test first)
  3. colored dye (such as pink) will not show up on dark hair – you’ll need to bleach the section you want to color first
  4. dye will not lighten hair that’s already been dyed darker; you’ll need bleach to do that unless you can strip all the dye
  5. hair dye will only lighten your hair a few shades – you’ll need bleach to go lighter, or multiple rounds
  6. if your hair is damaged/porous, the colors will turn out a few shades darker than the swatches
  7. take care of your hair – do not color it too much in a row – and if you feel things are getting out of hand or you want to make a drastic change, always go to a professional

And that’s all, folks!

For reference, he’s some pics of me blonde:

I’m back to brown now, and I still miss it all the time. However, it’s a lot of upkeep. Blondes certainly do not have more fun when it comes to keeping their hair blonde.

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