How do I dye my over-processed hair myself?
November 29, 2008 6:46 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking to start dying my hair at home. I'm considering semi/demi-permanent options and need more advice on what to choose. Previously having it done at a stylist. Color treated, previously bleached/highlighted, going-grey hair.

Long time ago, I always dyed my hair with whatever box colors I could get ahold of. Some crazy colors, some more normal ones. About a year and a half ago, I decided I wanted to go blond (from unnatural reds - though my natural color is a medium ash brown - I think, its been a while.) The blond seemed to do a number on my hair and I got sick of the roots and the cost of the upkeep. So I had my hair stylist dye it to a caramel brown color, which she did the last two times I had it done. I was thinking I could save some cash by going back to dying it myself.

The reason I was thinking of going semi-permanent is that its less harsh on my hair, and I could do it more often to deal with the roots and the grey hairs. I hate the faded look my hair gets after a few weeks anyway, so I think with a semi-permanent I can do it more often. I'm not sure about the grey coverage though. Some people say semi-permanents work well, some say otherwise.

I've been looking at Clairol Natural Instinct, but also checked Makeup Alley and L'Oreal Color Gems sounds interesting and has a higher rating. But I'm nervous about the lack of "for dummies" box/packaging.

My hair is definitely overprocessed, both from the bleaching and because I usually style with a blow dryer and/or flat iron (if i don't, it's impossible to manage). I wash it every other day-ish, though I often rinse it every day. My hair is medium/short, but I'm trying to grow it out to at least shoulder length.
posted by [insert clever name here] to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (13 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Really, it depends on what you want. Are you looking for something that will save you time (or money) in the short term, until you're ready to return to getting your hair done in the salon? Or are you trying to find a longer term solution that covers the grey or gives you options to change your colour without damaging your hair?

If it's the former, and you're considering semiperm colours, I'd consider just how damaged your hair is from the years of peroxide. You may have already had a discussion with your colourist about how he damaged cuticle on your hair will soak up dye and give you a much darker hair colour than you'd think from the colour on the box. If you are sticking to box dyes (from the drug store or from a beauty supply), you'll have to be willing to experiment with what colour you want and to be a little patient with the results. If your hair has been professionally coloured, your colourist has likely mixed several shades to give you the colour that you have. You will very likely not achieve the same result at home.

If you're concerned about the damage, talk to your colourist about hair treatments to help repair the damage, and consider your styling products and tools. I.e. how much heat are you using, and what are you using to limit damage?

If you are looking for a longer term solution, I can't say enough nice things about henna. It's cheap, it is semi permanent (lasts roughly 6-8 weeks), it conditions your scalp, and it gives a lovely, glossy shine to your hair. It also has the bonus of not leaving a dye line when your hair grows out. It just gradually fades in a very natural look. Henna doesn't always mean ginger/red hair. You can get brown, red, black, strawberry, chestnut brown - you name it. You can even get clear henna to just act as a treatment if you wish. The only thing you can't do with henna is to go a shade lighter than your natural hair colour... but that's true of any semiperm colour.

If you do decide to try henna, just keep in mind that some colourists don't know how to work with henna treated hair and might not want to work with it. It will be something you need to mention before you book in with a colourist. In this day and age, though, I've found it isn't hard at all to find a henna-friendly colourist.
posted by Grrlscout at 7:38 AM on November 29, 2008 [2 favorites]

I can vouch for Color Gems. Used it for years without damage and it added a nice shine. Application is simple, so don't worry about that. You just need your own mixing bottle, gloves, and conditioner (all cheap at Sally's Beauty). It's not great at coloring the gray (I had to switch to permanent b/c of that), but it does blend it in pretty well if you don't have a lot.
posted by villain extraordinaire at 7:48 AM on November 29, 2008

You should look at L'oreal Natural Match.

The one problem I always had with dying my hair at home was that it always looked a little too reddish for my taste. But Natural Match has four shades of each color. So for example, if you are going for medium brown (level 5), there is 5C or "cool," 5N or "neutral," 5W or "golden," and 5R, which has red. I personally always use the cool shade, and I think it looks very natural, though I would recommend buying a level lighter than you think you want. This level 5, for example, is pretty dark.

They have a lot of colors, as you can see here.
posted by waywardgirl at 8:24 AM on November 29, 2008

I use Clairol Natural Instinct. I'm not the greatest at makeup and other grooming activities, and I was able to do it. My hair is pretty healthy. I, too, was thrown by the no accessories with the Color Gems (good to know you can just get that stuff at Sally's). My hair is shoulder length; I wash it every other day, and I blow dry it straight. I color because I have some grey hair. I try to put more color on the roots/crown than on the ends, because I don't get my hair cut very often, and if I color uniformly, the ends get weird. My colorist that I go to occasionally (when I get my hair cut) says this is the way to do it for slow growing hair. I usually color every 10 weeks, but like I said, my hair grows sloooowly.

Semi-permanent is better for your hair. Permanent does last longer, and it covers grey better, but some of them have ammonia in them which can be bad. Grey hair can be pretty resistant to dye, so I would test out the semi-permanent first and see if it does the job. When I go to the salon for a hair cut and color (which isn't very often), the colorist uses permanent dye, but I trust her and her (expensive) hair products to not fry my scalp. I'm not nearly as good at home.
posted by bluefly at 9:10 AM on November 29, 2008

Really, it depends on what you want. Are you looking for something that will save you time (or money) in the short term, until you're ready to return to getting your hair done in the salon? Or are you trying to find a longer term solution that covers the grey or gives you options to change your colour without damaging your hair?

I'm trying to save money AND find a longer term solution. I don't have a lot of grey, but I do have a single stuborn shock white patch (thanks mom!) that while I can cover it for a while with a creative part, it does need to be colored to blend in.

You should look at L'oreal Natural Match.
I have been considering it. But I'm concerned that because its a permanent color, even though it doesn't have the ammonia, it has some other way of being harsh on my hair.
posted by [insert clever name here] at 10:18 AM on November 29, 2008

I'd try to go to Sally's or another Beauty Supply store to get the developer and shade to match what your stylist has been using (if you know the shade, of course). If your hair has been dyed with permanent dye, you'd only have to do the roots to match, not the entire length of the hair (which will damage it further). Then, I'd get some sort of hair gloss treatment to deposit slight color into your hair and leave it in slightly better condition.

While the permanent dye isn't good for your roots, if you're only applying it to undyed portions of your hair, it won't cause more damage than what you've already got.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 10:32 AM on November 29, 2008

I used Natural Instinct for years and I never thought it looked great. It always looked really dull and washed out (which, I guess it literally was), and none of the 4-5 colors of brown I tried ever looked anything but 100% fake. I am a natural medium ashy blonde with gray.
posted by tristeza at 11:28 AM on November 29, 2008

I actually love Natural Instincts. I've been using it for about 10 years to slightly darken, and in recent years, cover a few grays in my hair. My hairdresser actually encouraged me to use it, as it always makes my hair more shiny and healthy looking than normal. My hair is very thin and fine, and tends to absorb color more than most, so it usually lasts a few months before I have to re-color.

Permanent color dries my hair out and looks very fake, but the Natural Instincts always looks natural and improves the condition of my hair.
posted by tryniti at 11:50 AM on November 29, 2008

Stylists that are not trying to talk me into letting them color it have told me that L'Oreal Preference is the way to go. I also have had a problem with box-dyes tinting too red for my taste and have been told by the professionals to use a color with an "A" which has the ash color. I have been using the same one for a couple of years and it covers my grey (I don't have that much, but some) fairly well but that is the first to come through once it has been a few weeks.
posted by janelikes at 3:48 PM on November 29, 2008

I haven't had any luck, box or stylist, using a semi color to cover grey. The grey just pops right back out in a couple of weeks. I only have a few strands, but they're right at the crown, and come in brilliant shiny silver. *Sigh*

That said; when I did my own hair, I had good luck with L'Oreal products.

Henna can be lovely, but it makes it a real nightmare to go back to professional or box color. Most of those chemicals do not play nicely with henna.

If your hair has had a lot peroxide; as hard as this is to hear, your hair will not look right until it grows out, if you do the color yourself. Peroxide tears up your hair, and to get it smooth enough that it doesn't grab color in weird ways often means coating the shaft in such a way that the dye won't grab either. Colorists have tricks to work with peroxide hair, but it's a task that can be significantly above a novice home user. (Trust me, I've made that mistake.)

Peroxide hair also tends towards brassy, I don't know why red tones grab so much faster, but they surely do. Stay away from anything with R in the color if you're avoiding reds. Also keep in mind that the non-peroxide parts will grab color differently than the previously bleached parts. It can be really tricky to work with bleach as it is growing out.

If, however, you might consider extending the time between stylist visits, but still have your hair professionally done, then consider some of the shampoos/conditioners on the market that are aimed at specific hair colors. I use a product like that about every other shampoo, and it dramatically increases the amount of time I can go between appointments.
posted by dejah420 at 5:05 PM on November 29, 2008

I posted about home hair coloring after overprocessing a while back.
I can say from experience that the color on the box is not going to be the color that is on your hair if it's already dyed.

As much as it sucks, you may want your hair professionally dyed a color similar to your natural shade and let it grow out. Once you're starting from your natural ash brown (my natural color, as well), Natural Instincts is a good way to warm it up. It slowly fades over time so the roots aren't glaringly obvious while you're waiting to reapply, either. I used to do this every 6 wks or so.
[Then I decided to bleach my hair, then dye it "mahogany brown" to cover the wreckage (turned out pinky red), then dark brown (turned out REALLY dark brown, but has faded), so from all advice I've received, all bets are off on DIY until it grows out. If your hair is short like mine, this is a lot easier to do, though.]
posted by fructose at 8:17 PM on November 29, 2008

I'm trying to save money AND find a longer term solution. I don't have a lot of grey, but I do have a single stuborn shock white patch (thanks mom!) that while I can cover it for a while with a creative part, it does need to be colored to blend in.

Well... I'm not sure semiperm is going to help you too much with that. Usually it just coats all of your hair universally, like a colour filter. In other words, the white patch will look lighter than the rest of your hair, regardless of what colour you put on top.

I'll still sing the praises of henna, but you might not get the best result from it if you go with a darker colour straight away. You'd be better off starting with chestnut brown, for example, then stepping to chocolate brown. And you'd need to do a couple of henna treatments before it would properly "stick". But after that, it's low maintenance and cheap... but I can't emphasise enough what dejah420 said about being careful when/if you decided to go to box colours afterwards. That being said, I've been putting henna of various shades on my head for close to 15 yrs and have never wanted to change. There are natural ways to work with the stuff to achieve effects (even to add highlights) - you just have to be a bit patient with it.

Is there any chance you could have the colourist dye your hair as close as possible to your natural colour and then go with lowlights & highlights instead? It's less damaging and it would give you a kind of natural light/dark effect in your hair. Very kind to greys and would put your lighter shock in context. I've seen highlight/lowlight kits for sale in beauty supplies. You'll need a friend to help you make sure it's even...
posted by Grrlscout at 2:14 AM on November 30, 2008

I have about 40% gray hair and use L'Oreal Richesse, a demi-permanent hair color. It's for salons but I buy it on ebay to use between visits to a colorist who uses the same brand. It covers gray moderately well (better than drugstore brands did for me) and doesn't fade much. After touching up new growth for 20 minutes, we just comb it through and leave it for five minutes more. To me it looks more natural than permanent, though I get a pretty clear line at the roots because there's so little fading. It requires the proper L'Oreal developer.

I have a white patch on top too -- it looks okay, just not as dark as the rest of my hair.
posted by wryly at 1:28 PM on December 1, 2008 [1 favorite]

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