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What to Know Before Dyeing Your Hair

There’s something about colours that are just really fun. I’m not sure what it is. Maybe it’s the idea of self-expression, or the burst of shades that you see when you look around! Colour is just so fascinating, exciting, refreshing and fun!

Coloured hair has such an interesting culture! You can do so many things with a box of hair dye and a few hours. Highlights, dip dyes, coloured streaks or a full head of colour— all of these things add a fun touch of personality to our everyday looks!

Although I wear a lot of neutral shaded clothes daily, I love to add little pops of colour into my day. Sometimes it’s a bright eyeshadow or a metallic lipstick. My hair is no exception!

Personally, I’ve had a streak of coloured hair for the past 4 years. I bleach that section once a year and cycle between colours like pink, purple and red. I basically look like Barbie’s little sister! Barbie’s sister, Skipper, has brown hair with a coloured streak in it, so my friends and I like to joke that I’m her! Since I’ve dyed my hair for so long, here are some of my insights about the magical concept that is coloured hair.

You might have to bleach it

Before you get too enthused about dyeing your hair, it’s important to consider how well a colour will show up over your natural hair colour. If you have hair darker than say, oak wooden paneling (essentially, if you have medium-brown hair or darker), then you will probably have a hard time getting colour to show up. Some darker colours, like purples or reds, may show up as a slight tint to your hair, and you can even find hair tints for brown hair from companies like Overtone. Still, for a truly bright colour, you’ll probably need to bleach it.

First thing to know about bleach is that it’s very easy to mess up! Bleaching is a process which essentially reacts to the melanin in your hair, which is the pigment that gives it colour. It is irreversible and uses chemical processes to oxidize the melanin, making it lose its colour. Although this process is really useful for those of us who want rainbows on our heads, it can be very easy to damage your hair. You should ALWAYS read the instructions on your bleach. Only use bleach meant for hair lightening and avoid bleaching over spots which have been previously bleached. The bleach weakens your hair, making it less hydrated and more prone to splitting or tearing. Bleach can only be dyed over, not removed, so if you don’t like your hair, you need to wait for it to grow out again. It can feel like a big process.

I have always used an at-home bleach kit, but I’ve also never had to bleach more than a small section of hair. If you are considering dyeing your whole head, I suggest getting your hair professionally bleached at a hair salon. If you are doing it on your own, make sure you read and understand the instructions, watch the time and keep the bleach away from your skin.

Your hair might not be the same

Now that we’ve talked about some of the risks of bleaching your hair, it’s fair to assume that any of these processes will leave your hair looking a little different. Personally, I haven’t had much of an issue with it, since I dye so little of my hair. However, many people who have bleached their entire head have experienced some changes.

First, the bleach tends to make your hair drier and frizzier than usual. A lot of at-home bleach kits include a tube of anti-brass conditioner, which is supposed to hydrate the newly damaged hair. Some people who bleach their hair have their natural hair colour change completely. Others may experience new textures when natural hair grows back. Others may just find it harder to keep their hair hydrated. Regardless of how bleach might affect you, it’s good to be aware of potential risks before you try something new.

It’s a lot of upkeep

Once you’ve dyed your hair, it can be really exciting! You finally have a bright hue on your head to look at every morning. Once I dye my hair, I find myself looking at it a lot, like “Wow! My hair is purple!” But after a few days, you will need to shower again, and with that first shower you might watch all your hard work go down the drain… literally.

Shampoo is an ultimate enemy of hair dye, and most semi-permanent dyes last less than a dozen washes! If you want the bright colour to stay a long time, you need to take care of it. This means you might have to limit your showers or switch to a more accommodating shampoo. Keep in mind that some semi-permanent dyes actually tell you not to use “colour-safe” shampoos. Semi-permanent coloured hair dye is different from permanent brown or red dyes, so they don’t always have the same standards.

Another way to ensure your hair stays coloured is to simply keep colouring it. With a small section of hair like mine, you might be able to touch it up every few weeks with minimal time or energy. With a full head of colour, you may need to get it done when you can or just let it fade naturally with time.

Finally, you may need to re-bleach your hair. If you’re dyeing full strands of hair, you may want to touch up your roots as they grow out. If you’re dyeing a section which is more hidden, or you’re trying a dip-dyed style, you might be able get away with touching them up once or twice a year.

This also may depend on length. Personally, I found that when I had long hair I was able to bleach it only once a year, since most of the growing brown parts were hidden under the rest of my natural hair. Once I cut my hair in December, I found the ratio of dyed hair to natural hair was now too even, so I bleached the rest of that section so it wasn’t so awkwardly half-coloured.

Some colours last a long time

With bleached or light hair, it can be really exciting to experiment with colours! Personally, I have lots of purples and pinks, but I’ve experimented with the rare blue and red, which I ended up quite liking! That being said, there are a lot of colours which may stain your hair for a long time. Based on personal experiences and those of the people I know, I can identify that the colours that overstay their welcome are green and red especially.

Although they fade as easily as the rest of the spectrum, these colours tend to stay for a long time before completely washing out. The result can be a really muted tint of colour for several months before returning back to the lightened hair. A few summers ago, I dyed my streak a turquoise/green colour. It didn’t quite pop out against my brown hair, but even after a few washes, the dye remained. For a year, I kept dyeing over it with my usual pink colours, but after a few washes, the moldy seaweed colour would begin to show from under the fading pink. It was a really faint green of course, but the colour lurked in the background until it was long enough to cut off.

Similar stories have been told of people who have lighter natural hair and have tried a bright red dye. These dyes finally fade after months, but until then, the hair remains an awkward reddish colour.

With all that said, go out and try it!

I hope you’ve learned a bit about hair colour from some of my experiences. Despite all the upkeep, it can truly be really fun to have a splash of colour on your head. It’s a way I love to express myself, and I recommend trying it if you’re curious (with some research of course). Colour is really fun, so I hope if you do decide to dye, it brings some adventure to your regular hairdo! Thanks for reading!

Rebecca So

Wilfrid Laurier '23

Rebecca is a third-year Communication Studies student at Wilfrid Laurier University, also working towards a minor in Creative Writing. She's been a writer for Her Campus since Winter 2020. In her free time, Rebecca can be found listening to musicals, playing video games with friends or contemplating various ways to develop the characters she writes about.
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