How to get back to my natural color without losing hair
September 21, 2008 7:24 PM   Subscribe

HairFilter: How do I get back closer to my natural light brown after going from bleach to red to dark without my hair falling out?

About a month ago, in a moment of stupidity, I used a hair bleaching kit from a natural foods store on my then undyed light/medium brown hair that had natural highlights. It turned our horribly uneven.
I immediately went and used a color remover to try to tone down the yellow, but it didn't do anything.
The next day I used Garnier 100% Color (permanent) dye in "Mahogany Red Brown." Well, with my yellow/white hair, I got Strawberry Shortcake red.
I already had a box of Natural Instincts (semi-permanent) that I'd bought a while before but not used yet. It was a dark brown shade, so I used that about 3 days after doing the red. Now I have dark reddish purply brown that looks almost goth/emo teen with my short pixie 'do. I was hoping it would fade more back to the red over time since it's semi-permanent, but I guess with my hair being processed, it's here to stay.

I know that the best options are to go to a professional or let it grow out, but I can in no way afford what a pro would charge, and as it grows out with my light roots, it looks like I'm going bald at my part.

Any expert DIY dyers (or professionals) who have any tips on how to get back to light brown without my hair falling out? I have fine hair, and it has felt more brittle since my dyed adventures.

Should I use a color remover kit again to try to get it back to the blonde, or at least to red before trying to dye it again. Or should I find a dye that is meant to lighten dark hair? I've had little luck finding light/med brown dye shades that are meant for people with dark hair. They all seem to be for people with light hair going darker.

This is the 2nd time I've ever used permanent dye on my hair (the first time being at the age of 14), so I'm totally clueless on how this stuff works, as evidenced by my current shade.
posted by fructose to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total)
One cheap meantime solution is to use Prell, which is very bad for color -- or good for stripping it, depending on your point of view. Hairdressers tell people with color treatments not to use Prell, because it will strip out the color. This isn't an immediate, dramatic effect, mind you, but it is a way to chip away at the dye job.
posted by Countess Elena at 7:39 PM on September 21, 2008

In order to lighten you will need to lift with bleach. Bleach lifts the pigment, and as you have discovered, no amount of "color remover", praying, wishing, or hoping will reverse it. You've stripped the natural pigment out of your hair, forever, until it your natural color grows in.

It is always dangerous to lighten hair at home. Some people can get away with coloring grays at home, by depositing pigment instead of lifting it, but it's always unwise to lighten yourself. I'm saying this for every Metafilter user out there. Don't lift pigment at home. Don't bleach. Don't "highlight".

You can't "dye" dark hair lighter. Bleach makes dark hair lighter. Bleached hair is a like a porous sponge. Bleaching is damaging. The darker colors will go on unevenly as you have also discovered. Sometimes color sticks like glue. Color does fill the cuticle but it should be left to professionals. Sometimes color washes out easily because the color has nothing to "grab onto" since the natural pigment has been stripped. I'm thinking you have filled the cuticle with the red and the brown is sticking on like glue.

I know you say you cannot afford to go to a professional but I would try to make it happen. You're spending ten dollars a pop on color and color removers and in the process you're making things worse. If you attempt to lighten again at home, you're looking at more damage with unprofessional, and most likely disastrous, results.

Do whatever you need to do to see an experienced colorist. Tell her exactly what you did.

It's good that you have a pixie cut. Hopefully a professional can get it looking good again and you can let it grow out.

Good luck.
posted by Fairchild at 7:55 PM on September 21, 2008

After my own dye misadventures I ended up having to bleach my hair to get the colour out before I could re-dye it something close to my natural colour. Using a colour-remover kit took out very little colour and left me with very brassy-orangey looking hair.

Obviously going the bleach route has its risks, but my own very dry curly hair came out of it none the worse for wear. Maybe I just got lucky though and--as I'm not a hairdresser-- this is merely an anecdote not a recommendation.
posted by sarahw at 8:00 PM on September 21, 2008

I see where you said you cannot afford a professional stylist/colorist. What about contacting a local cosmetology school? This would be a much cheaper alternative. Think of the money you'll save buying more products to try and self correct and it'll be taken care of.
posted by 6:1 at 8:49 PM on September 21, 2008

You have 2 choices - either go to a professional and have them bring your shade back to your natural color, or wait for it to grow back in and deal with it looking cruddy for a few months. Personally, I would vote for going to a professional. In light of your recent adventures, I would recommend that you stay far, far away from the home coloring kits - you're more likely to burn the crap out of your hair yourself than you would risk with a professional with pro colors.

Step away from the box sister!
posted by The Light Fantastic at 10:00 PM on September 21, 2008

I've been dying my hair with all sorts of box dyes since I was around twelve. However, with the number of hair-damaging changes you've made to your hair (the bleach, the hairdye remover, and both the semi and the perm dyes are all damaging), even I wouldn't attempt to change this any more at home. In fact, if I were in your position, the only thing I would do myself would be to dye it a permanent, non damaging black (Bigens hairdye powder is my favorite) to stop myself from touching it any more. Really, you should go to a stylist for this one. I'd bet money that your hair is extremely fragile right now, and might not be able to take more abuse.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 11:56 PM on September 21, 2008

Or should I find a dye that is meant to lighten dark hair? I've had little luck finding light/med brown dye shades that are meant for people with dark hair.

Oh, and that's because the drugstore dyes are only meant to be used to change your hair a shade or two from the current color. That's not to say they wouldn't work to make more drastic changes, but as you've learned, these changes can be unpredictable and hard to anticipate without some extensive trial and error or training in these things.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:03 AM on September 22, 2008

As a first step mix up some bleach powder with shampoo and apply to the dark stuff ten or twenty minutes should take out the majority of the artificial pigment/dye without lifting you hair excessively,( if you must, add some developer to the shampoo bleach mixture) , the hair should be orange and yellow, condition your hair with a protein type conditioner now.Select a natural or dark ash demi permanent shade one shade lighter than your light brown hair try a level six, look for a blue violet base, ash shades can grab on lighter hair, if the result is too light add some level five light brown , better to be a shade too light with warmth controlled than an opaque ashy medium brown IMHO. as a professional I would strand test the final color before doing the whole thing. One more thing "hair color will not lift hair that has been colored"
posted by hortense at 12:33 AM on September 22, 2008

If you can wait it out, when the dark color washes out you might end up with a nice brown close to your natural shade. Your sequence was exactly like what I did--bleached, then red, then dark dark brown--and after the final dye had started to wash out, the color was so close to a natural brown it was kind of ridiculous. On the other hand, I think I'd waited a little bit longer than you have in this situation, so it might be best to just go to your hairstylist (be sure to tell her you bleached your hair yourself!).
posted by timoni at 1:41 AM on September 22, 2008

Okay, how brittle is your hair feeling? Is it just a bit rough or is it like cotton-candy?

You don't necessarily have to go to a salon, but you will have to do some major steps in order to get it back to the brown.

First off, condition, condition, condition. Head to your local beauty supply shop, and buy a tub of cholesterol. Yes, really. It works wonders on bleached hair. Slap handfuls on it on your hair, wrap your head in a plastic bag, wrap a towel around that, and spend the day sitting around the house. Wash it off after a few hours, and you'll see a difference.

Secondly, stripping hair colour -- the hair colour removers rarely work, and just make things more troublesome. Seconding the Prell, but you can also pick up cheap anti-dandruff shampoo for the same effect. Every time you wash your hair, wash it twice. They don't say lather-rinse-repeat for nothing!

Do the first two for a few weeks. Your hair needs time to recover.

Finally, buy a permanent hair colour that matches close to what your hair colour was. Read the boxes, and look for the ones that say they're meant for dark hair to lighten up. L'Oreal's Feria generally works well.

Dye your hair, and keep an eye on your roots. If they're annoying you, buy a semi-permanent in the same sort of shade and touch-up every few weeks.

I actually don't recommend going to a beauty school for hair colouring, unless you want to be told "You can't. You can't. You can't." and then have them dye your hair even darker. I tried it once, and it was a major fail.
posted by Katemonkey at 4:36 AM on September 22, 2008

I know you're unhappy with your hair in the state that it's in now. I did something similar to you a few years ago when I decided it was a good idea to bleach my dyed-black hair because I wanted to dye it pink. Yikes. I had gradient hair that started at the top as reddish brown and faded to neon orange. NOT PRETTY. I, like you, immediately wanted to take it back to black, erase everything I had just done, but I knew if I tried to put another chemical on my hair, it would destroy it. So even though my hair belonged in the 80s, I waited 2 weeks. I slathered conditioner on my hair (I preferred the Dove Intense Moisture, and I would seriously use half a cup of conditioner everyday. I went through a bottle each week).

After two weeks, my hair was decidedly less straw-like, and I dyed my hair back to black. It wasn't the same at all, but it wasn't neon. Good luck :)
posted by kerning at 9:45 AM on September 22, 2008

Talking to a hair-professional friend of mine, her advice is one of two things: one, yes... go to a pro and they'll be able to do what you pay them to do. That is, a return to normalcy. However, her advice - given that you've already stressed your hair so much and can't really afford a professional, is to ride it out and let your hair repair itself. Which, strictly speaking, won't really happen, BUT in the meantime you can wear some funky hats or something. Honestly, her advice is that the short-term embarrassment is probably not as bad as the long-term damage that you might do to your hair.

Personally I'm kind of interested to see what Strawberry Shortcake Red looks like. =) Any chance of it ending up on flickr?
posted by indiebass at 2:47 PM on September 22, 2008

Once, an excellent professional colorist accidentally put Ronald McDonald Red Stripes highlights in my blond hair. (Bad batch of color from an otherwise reliable brand.)

Here is what she did to make me stop crying.

First, we spent the day washing my hair with some serious stripping shampoo. She didn't use color lifting because about 75 of my hair was my natural color and color lift would have destroyed that. By the end of this process, the color was about 50% less OMG than it had been but my hair was brittle.

Next, she picked a group of highlight and low light colors that were between my natural color and Ronald McDonald.

Finally, she did very fine highlight/lowlights weaving in the group of colors. All of these colors were pretty neutal to tone down the brassy color of stripping out the red. When she was finished my hair still had a soft strawberry blond cast, but it was ok.

After that I spent several weeks babying my hair - less frequent washing, gobs of conditioner and no heat styling.

The lesson here is that even a professional probably can't get you right back to your natural color. Instead, they'll try to blend the problem into your hair in a way that looks attractive. If a visit to a professional isn't in the cards, you really can't duplicate the highlight/low light process. You can do the gobs of shampoo and a color depositing conditioner. Not a color enhancing conditioner! Color depositing - ARTec and John Frieda both make one. (You'll need to register at makeup alley to use those links, but it's free.)
posted by 26.2 at 2:40 PM on September 25, 2008

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