Explain it like I'm a 5 year old with graying hair
September 19, 2017 9:40 PM   Subscribe

I have literally never dyed my hair except for getting red semi-permanent lowlights or tints from a salon now and then. Never gotten a full dye (not sure what it's called, but I mean vs. highlights or tints) nor have I ever even used permanent color.

The last few salon sessions have been disappointing, because I now have a fair amount of gray in my medium/light brown hair and the lowlights aren't covering it. The results from last two highlight sessions, in fact, were too subtle to detect, which was irritating given the time and nearly $200 I'd spent at the salon.

My hair is fine and thin, medium/light brown with a little bit of a natural red highlight, which is what I accentuate at the salon sometimes. It's getting grayer lately though. Now, I really want to get rid of the gray, which is mostly in my bangs.

I also don't really want to spend 2 hours at the salon, which is how long they are scheduling me for as I await next week' appt., if I can avoid it. I really don't have time to do 2 hours during business hours this particular month and I would like to have the hair done for a conference next week.

So I was thinking of buying a box and doing it myself, dying it some kind of rich/auburnish brown all over. Is this an OK idea? I'm nervous. In fact, I'm nervous about dying my hair at all with the permanent stuff, whether at home or in the salon. Not just about what it'll look like. I'm also nervous about how much I hate chemicals near me, and I know that part's more intense with permanent dye than what I'm used to with semi. Even with the lowlights I hate the smell, it burns my eyes, it feels like it's getting into my eyes, I feel kind of freaked out by the whole thing. I'm just chemical-phobic in general. I use baking soda to clean my oven for example.

SO.... here is where I would love suggestions!! I really want to get rid of the gray in my bangs, not feel too worried about caustic chemicals near my face, not have my hair look flat-toned like shoe polish from the wrong kind of box dye, and hopefully not spend hours at the salon if possible.

If it is actually possible to get rid of the gray myself from a box and have it look good, I would love the names of the best brands that have more dimension/complexity.
I would also like some tips on how you make it an easy process to dye your own hair at home and feel safest if you also hate chemicals.

Thank you!
posted by flourpot to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (28 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
If your hair is light brown naturally going for a much darker shade would make it more difficult to adjust the colour later so if the sole purpose is to get rid of greys find the box closest to your natural colour. Personally I have coloured my hair with box colours for years and I always just went for whatever shade I liked, applied and the main challenge was to make sure you don't miss a bit. They all seemed to be pretty much the same at the end of the day.

I never worked out how to do dimension and subtle graduation myself which is why I now go to the salon and they do that for me. So if you just want to blend in your greys buy a box, any box, and get cracking. I believe some may be less smelly than others so that might make a difference for you. If you want the more professional finish bite the bullett and invest the time and money in the professional finish.

As an aside, is the appointment with the same salon that gave you the non permanent treatments that were getting less and less effective? Did they explain that the treatments were no longer your best option or just kept doing them until you said no more after the last time? Because they should point out that the process is no longer the most suitable approach, not just take your money. If they haven't done that I'd look for a different salon.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:00 PM on September 19, 2017

Get a friend to help. Dying your hair alone is an exercise in frustration.

I have no help with brands or details about coloring grey - I dye my hair, but I dye it teal, and bleach it out first. I let it slowly fade until I'm tired of the difference between what's growing in (brown) and the pale sage-green, then I bleach the roots and re-dye. I have very little experience with natural dye colors. (My husband used to use henna and a couple of other red-ish shades, so I've seen a bit. But no idea on removing grey.) Husband does the actual work of bleaching and dying for me - once or twice, I've done it alone, but it takes longer and is more stressful.

2 hours is, unfortunately, what you can expect it to take. If you do it at home, you can put that during the evening or weekend, of course. Definitely get help - reaching behind your head to try to get all the hair evenly covered is nearly impossible, and if you haven't worked with plastic gloves and vasaline around your hairline and over you ears, it's going to be even more frustrating.

You have the option of getting a bottle/packet of dye, and doing a small section of your bangs, and seeing how that works; if it's terrible, you go to the salon and have them fix it; if it looks okay, then you find a friend to help apply it for you.

Side thing: I've been using Ion Color Defense conditioner on my bleached/dyed hair for the last several years, and it works better than anything else I've ever found.
posted by ErisLordFreedom at 10:00 PM on September 19, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you have never dyed your hair yourself, in an impatient rush before a conference is not the time to begin experimenting. This has the potential to go really wrong if you don't know what you're doing, which you don't.

If you must do this at home, get one of your friends who has been dying their own hair since they were a teenager to do it.

Better yet, see if you can go to the salon outside of normal business hours. Otherwise, wait until after your busy month is over.

There's a reason it's a two hour appointment, the reason is that this is not something you can easily do at home in a few minutes with absolutely no experience.

The process is time consuming and requires skill.

You mention that you are nervous about the chemicals, but you are already getting highlights. What is it about grey coverage that makes you more nervous than highlights? They use chemicals as well! If you can pinpoint what worries you you can look for ways to either address or accept your concerns.
posted by windykites at 10:02 PM on September 19, 2017 [20 favorites]

I do however agree that you should find a better salon. It doesn't sound like the current one is treating you well.
posted by windykites at 10:05 PM on September 19, 2017 [2 favorites]

I really don't have time to do 2 hours during business hours this particular month and I would like to have the hair done for a conference next week.

Make the time and don't do it at home for your first time before you have to do a conference. Pay an expert. Doing it at home will not necessarily take less time (will likely take more), and is more likely to turn out not how you want or expect. Bring your phone/files/other work prep to read while at the salon, because you will have time while you sit under the heater and/or your stylist is doing fiddly things with foil and a brush.

If you don't like or trust your stylist, ask around (your friends etc., swear to god no one I've ever encountered has found this a weird question) if they have recs.
posted by rtha at 10:14 PM on September 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Box dye is better than it used to be. I tend to avoid Clairol because it disappointed me years ago, but professional hairdressers have complimented me on the results of other mass-market brands.

Here's what you need to know:

- If a brand doesn't promise decent grey coverage, look for another brand

- Assume any brown or red-brown shade is darker than it claims to be; look for something that approximates your natural color, then go a level up (e.g., if your heart says Level 4, go to a 5)

- You sound like maybe an "autumn"? I know, barf, but there's truth in this: opt for warmer shades. Avoid anything "burgundy" or "ash" if you're one of us. The natural orange will just come screaming out in a week anyway...do not fight it.

- Baby-fine, straight hair resists damage fairly well IME. YMMV; I'm also that person whose hair seems happiest if I shampoo, condition, and blow dry it every damn day. Recessive genes are weirdo genes.

- Definitely enlist a friend to help with the parts of your head you can't see. Do not neglect the hairline or temples. If you find that your rejuvenated shade makes your eyebrows look translucent by comparison, Just For Redheads makes a good brow powder for that.

Here's why I'm championing box dye against the better angels of everyone else's nature: if you're like me, and you work long hours, you'll be tempted to put off touch-up appointments for far too long. I don't like how I look when I do that, and I don't like taking time off work when it's busy, either.

I touch up at home every two weeks or so, because my regrowth really is that fast -- if I were a more honest woman, I'd have looked like Bonnie Raitt by my mid-twenties. (But without her beautiful texture!) For me, it's a whole ritual -- I have a couple drinks, lock the washroom, crank my playlist, and then I sing and dance around for the next 20 minutes, wearing nothing but a mess of stinky goo on my head. I find it so much less stressful than shelling out hundreds of dollars for some lady with 3/4" roots to interpret "auburn" differently than I do...

If you were talking about a radical departure from the shade you were born with, I might advise differently, but grey coverage? Pffft. You've got this.
posted by armeowda at 11:08 PM on September 19, 2017 [11 favorites]

> I touch up at home every two weeks or so,

Here's the thing, though: If you have experience in coloring your own hair, more or less regularly, you'd have a thread full of people recommending brands and techniques. We've had housemates who colored their own hair and the hair of their friends, and sometimes we'd come home and the bathroom looked like a unicorn got murdered, but the person's hair looked great because the person doing their hair color had experience coloring hair. But you've got a Public Speaking or Appearance Thing coming up soon, so if nothing else, you want your hair to be unremarkable, yes?

I dunno. I've never colored my own hair, I'm going all salt-and-pepper, and when I do get it colored I go for "that's not hair" colors, so I have a person for that. Maybe if I just wanted to stay near my own natural (dark brown/nearly black) color, I'd do it myself. But if your main constraint is time, it's really not going to be shorter doing it at home, and the outcome will be more uncertain. If you want to experiment with doing your own color maintenance (I know lots of people who do), save it for after your conference.
posted by rtha at 11:27 PM on September 19, 2017 [4 favorites]

I think you should go to a salon if this is before a big work event, but since it sounds like I might have similar hair to you: why lowlights? My hair is light brown and the gray is lighter, so highlights/balayage/that kind of thing tends to hide the gray with less overall dye. Bonus, something like balayage won't have a harsh line as you grow it out so you don't have to go as often.
posted by jeweled accumulation at 11:32 PM on September 19, 2017 [3 favorites]

Chemicals used to make hair permanently dark are often different to those used for highlights, specifically PPD which some people can have a severe reaction to, so you should patch test on your skin first.
posted by KateViolet at 12:11 AM on September 20, 2017

You may want to consider looking into "Henn-digo" -- which is the process of using henna and then indigo over it, to obtain a darker coverage over grays and whites.

The percentage of henna powder and indigo powders can vary the tone obtained from a warmer brown, all the way to almost black.

Henna and indigo are both natural products (be sure to purchase from reputable sources, usually professional henna artists), and can strengthen your hair in the long run.

(As with all hair products, it is a good idea to do a test run on your own hair samples, so start saving your hairbrush collections of hair for this.)
posted by Jade Dragon at 2:50 AM on September 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

No, don't do it at home before a big event. I speak from experience, had to get a friend with hair color experience to rescue my hair ( think striped skunk) at the last minute. Try another salon with more flexible hours, get it done professionally this time, then go from there in the future.
posted by mermayd at 5:54 AM on September 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

Look into Lush's henna. I use just a bit of it to dye (highlight out - the henna works more strongly on greys, so it's like turning the grey into highlights) the greys. It's a natural product and fades on its own. It's a little messy, but totally doable on your own. Lush has forums full of advice.
posted by Dashy at 5:58 AM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Dyeing hair at home is easy for people who don't care about chemicals and have excellent fine motor coordination (and lighting and mirrors in the bathroom.) Right before a public appearance is not the right time to learn how to do it, though. But afterwards, yeah, just get a friend to show you.

For this week, are we just talking about some greys at the temple?? You know they make hair mascaras for that, right? They go on like mascara and do the job. I'd stop by Ulta today at lunch before you get too worried about this, grab one for a few bucks and see if it might suffice.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:03 AM on September 20, 2017 [2 favorites]

Another alternative to consider; particularly for an insanely easy and inexpensive, highly temporary (until your next wash), non-harsh-chemical solution to try before your upcoming event:

EVERPRO beauty Gray Away For Women Concealing Spray

I own this, and have used it to excellent effect between salon visits. As your fringe is your main concern, I truly believe you cannot go wrong trying this spray, until you make a more informed decision on the best coloring method for you. Hope this helps!
posted by Amor Bellator at 6:15 AM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

(Adding that the spray comes in all shades, and can be found in any drug store if you'd rather not go through the link posted- it was just an example so you could see the product itself. :) )
posted by Amor Bellator at 6:24 AM on September 20, 2017

I was recommended by my hair dresser to use Ion semi-permanent hair color. I use a 1:1 mix of 10 developer to a dark blonde creme. Then I comb it through with a wide tooth comb. Its good for a few weeks and fades as the weeks go by so I don't have such a noticeable skunk stripe down the center of my head. ionathome.com for details If not I also like Natural Instincts which is another semi-permanent color by Clairol
posted by PJMoore at 6:29 AM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

If you are just wanting to dye a small area like your bangs I'd get a root touch up kit instead of a full kit. Get a set nearest your natural hair color and follow the instructions, just cover your bangs & surrounding area so it blends in nicely to your natural color. The Root touchups blend in easier cover, grey, only take 10 minutes on your hair to work & don't make the huge mess coloring all your hair does. The main problem is to make sure you get a good match to your natural color and to make sure any edges are soft so it blends into your hair.

Other idea would be too get a semi permanent for your whole head or even a tint. It won't last forever but can fade away the look of the greys & make them look like highlights instead and give you the reddish auburn tone you're after. Leave it on longer than the instructions say though as grey hairs are coarser than normal hair & repel color (the bastards).

Having said all that, just before a public appearance is the worst time ever to start experimenting with hair color & you might like something like a root cover up spray or powder you can wash out easily.
posted by wwax at 7:50 AM on September 20, 2017

No one has time to go to be a hair salon for two hours during normal business hours ever! If your salon doesn't offer evening or Saturday appointments, just find a different one that does. I see a stylist every 5 weeks for my color and my appointments are always in the early evening or bright n' early on Saturday morning. I don't what kind of coloring to recommend, but a good stylist can walk you through those options. I guess I'm just saying: don't settle for your current salon if they're not meeting your needs!
posted by pinetree at 8:15 AM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

I have my hair colored to cover grey. I started out doing it myself and then went to the salon. It comes out vastly better when the salon does it and is much easier and much less messy.
posted by interplanetjanet at 8:16 AM on September 20, 2017

I have a ton of gray hair, and I'm headed to the salon on Saturday for two hours so that I can get it all covered. Right now, I'm rocking a calico look with silver roots. It's not attractive.

I used to use Nice & Easy from a box. It was the only dye that could cover my very resistant gray hair. My color would look pretty flat until a few shampoos lightened it a bit, but I got very good at minimizing the mess at home:

- Go topless and use a very dark towel
- A handheld shower head helps a ton if you're leaning over the tub to do this
- Don't wash your hair the same day you're dying it
- Put a thin layer of hair conditioner on the skin at your hairline. This will prevent your skin from getting dyed along with your hair. It will not be 100% effective.
- Don't use the whole bottle if you don't think you need it
- Wipe up the drips as soon as you see them

As long as I'm employed, I will pay someone else to do this for me because I hated the process. Can you skip the hair drying and styling and just get color at the salon? My stylist charges for these separately, so if I was pressed for time, I could ditch the 45 mins of blowout time.
posted by gladly at 9:03 AM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

These answers so far are so great! Thanks so much everyone (and please keep them coming.)
* Has anyone tried Hairprint, which claims to be 100% nontoxic, not a dye, and able to change your hair back to its previous pre-gray color through SCIENCE (some kind of protein process?) I just read about this but not going to try it before using some of the advice here before my conference.
posted by flourpot at 9:16 AM on September 20, 2017

It's getting grayer lately though.

Can I suggest just... not dying?

Look, I get it. I'm 35 and have dyed my whole life (always at home). I used to dye it all sorts of fun colours, but from about age 25 on I pretty much only dyed it my "natural" colour, minus the grey. Unfortunately I was having to dye more and more often to try to keep ahead of it, try to make my grey roots less noticeable, but it was getting harder and harder, and the damage to my hair, scalp, and pocketbook were not minor.

Anyway, earlier this year I finally gave up the ghost, accepted that I have my father's "go grey early" gene, and have just stopped dying. Dying out grey hair is a war you are NEVER going to win, and the longer you put it off the harder it will be when you finally decide to admit defeat, so I decided to do it now, while I'm young(er), so that the transition is less in-your-face and before a full on "skunk line" develops.

My natural hair is growing in for the first time since I was 16, and it has been an experience.
- Turns out my hair isn't naturally dark brown, it is much lighter and more red. Fun!
- It also turns out that while I have lots of grey scattered throughout, my temples is where the bulk of my grey hair lives, creating a bit of a "bride of Frankenstein" look when I pull it back, but I'm cool with that because goth/punk is sorta my style.
- I have more grey hair than my 68 year old mother.
- My 'virgin' hair growing in is really soft and healthy. I'm digging it.
- I've had way WAY fewer scalp psoriasis flare up since I've stopped dying. Actually, I haven't had ANY since I stopped dying.
- I've come to embrace all aspects of my hair, including my natural curl that I have forever fought against and hated. Being able to rock my natural curls and be happy about it is a big deal for me.
- Cost savings! I was having to dye every 3-4 weeks, and that adds up fast.

Me before starting to transition: 1, 2
Me today: 1, 2

You can see, especially in the second "now" picture, that I am rocking a biiiiiiit of a skunk line type thing, in part because of the grey, but also because my hair is a lot lighter and redder than I thought, but over all the transition is going well. And I don't think I look way older now because of it.

Anyway, that's my suggestion....
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:18 AM on September 20, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've been using this semi-permanent stuff and it's great. It's not nearly as harsh and chemically (totally unscientific term) as others I've used. My hair is soft and shiny. the color lasts a couple of months if you don't wash it too often. I find it easy to apply using the included brush, a comb, and a bowl.
posted by mareli at 9:51 AM on September 20, 2017

I have dyed my own hair many times and been happy with the results. I've done it alone in front of a mirror, no problem. In my experience the hardest part is getting the roots whike keeping it off your skin; more than once I've ended up with a ring of color along my browline for a couple of days. I don't personally care about that, but you probably do so be aware that that's something to be careful about.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 11:41 AM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

At my salon the base color without highlights, lowlights or any kind of additional thing is called "single process".
posted by fireandthud at 1:09 PM on September 20, 2017

It's generally true that you get what you pay for, and you can (and usually will!) get better results from spending two hours with a professional in a salon than you will for $8 in your bathroom at home. That said, sometimes time and/or money are short, and I think a lot of the people above, some of whom are doing complicated double processes to get vivid aqua hair or whatever, are making this sound harder than it is. Buy a box of Nice & Easy root touch up - the box with a little brush in the front window. Paint it onto your bangs and roots in the bathroom mirror, wait ten minutes, and hop in the shower. You won't ruin your hair, and if you like your hair and just hate the gray, you'll very probably be satisfied with the results. If you aren't, you can still go to the salon! Worth a shot.
posted by moxiedoll at 6:22 PM on September 20, 2017 [1 favorite]

Quick and dirty: given that you're limited on time both at the salon and before the conference, what if you skip doing your whole head and instead just get some highlights near your face and in your bangs? It wouldn't take as long for the stylist to apply just a few streaks.
posted by vignettist at 7:25 PM on September 20, 2017

I don't have any gray so I can't address that point, but I've been using L'Oreal Coleur Experte for about the last 5 years or so and it works great. It's a two-step process, overall color and then highlights, but sometimes I wait a few days or longer before doing the highlighting portion and my hair looks okay. I was also getting fed up with going to salons, paying way too much, and having my hair either look like they hadn't done anything or like I could've done a better job myself at home (I color/highlight to get rid of the flat dishwater blonde look of my hair -- 7.1 Dark Ash is my normal shade, and the base color is extremely close to my natural color). I think it looks really natural and as long as you follow the package, it's pretty hard to mess up. Once or twice I've cheaped out and bought the single-color types of hair, and they just look really flat (shoe polish is a great way of describing them). Coleur Experte can be hard to find in stores, and the range is down to about 10 shades at this point. You'll also want to be sure to choose a Warm or Natural shade if you go this route, as those emphasize the red in your hair.
posted by jabes at 9:58 AM on September 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

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