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Dyeing on a Dime: Do-It-Yourself Hair Coloring

You can’t stop thinking that you would look fabulous as a brunette, but shelling out $75 to the hairdresser to test your theory isn’t practical, unless you want to eat Spaghetti-Os for a week. To the collegiettes™ on a tight budget, updating your look without breaking the bank is possible. Behold the beauty of hair dye in a box!
It seems so simple. If you follow the directions on the back of the box, you should get great color. Right? Right. So how come at-home hair dye gets such a bad rap?
Dyeing your hair at home is a meticulous task. People often leave out details and don’t do their research before they experiment, leaving them with undesired results.
With advice from celebrity stylists, hair experts, and collegiettes™ like you, Her Campus has created a guide to dispel the negative connotations about dying your hair at home, complete with helpful tips on how to get that color you’re lusting after. It can be done, ladies!
How To Choose a Color
The hair dye aisle can be intimidating with so many colors to choose from. Before taking the trip to your local drugstore, do some research so you don’t end up choosing the wrong color. Ally Nicholas, a junior at the University of Illinois, recalls a momentary lapse in judgment: “I dyed my friend’s hair and it was supposed to be blonde but her hair was too dark and it ended up turning orange.”
Most salons offer free consultation appointments where a stylist will let you know what she recommends for your hair. If you get your hair done professionally, don’t be afraid to ask your stylist what brand of dye she recommends and what color she suggests to match your current dye. After all, they are the experts.
Before beginning the dyeing process, visit a beauty supply store that has a color palette to define your natural color. Choose the color that best matches your roots (make sure to stand by a window with natural light.) The color that you dye your hair should never be more than two shades darker or two shades lighter than your natural hair. And don’t bet on the color of the hair on the box, read the description on the side and check out the chart that will predict how your current color will react to the box color.

Here are a few helpful tips to keep in mind when picking a dye:
If you have fair skin: Avoid really dark colors that can wash you out. Instead, choose rich tones like honey blonde, or a warm, light brown that will compliment your skin tone.

If you have tan skin: Medium skin tends to look orange-y when paired with hair colors that are red or copper. Try different shades of brown or a dirty blonde and think about adding highlights to liven up your color.

If you have dark skin: People with dark skin are usually advised not to choose very light shades of color that can make their complexion look flat. Try adding red tones or dark brown low-lights to really dark hair to create dimension.
What to do if you want to go darker than your natural color:
Natasha Sunshine, celebrity hairstylist and founder of Byu-Ti salon, says that it’s easier to go darker rather than lighter. “Light color tends to show up in different shades on your roots than the middle of hair and the ends.”

If you have weak hair or hair that has been permed or chemically straightened or is damaged, your hair is more likely to hold onto color. Choose a shade that is a little lighter than your intended color if you plan on going dark. Most at-home hair veterans believe your hair will come out truer to the color on the box when you’re going darker, rather than lighter.
What to do if you want to go lighter than your natural color:
Experts suggest choosing a permanent dye if you’re going lighter because it will hold to your hair better. Permanent dyes don’t rinse out and usually require a root touch up every 4-6 weeks.

If you’re going permanent, choose a color one shade lighter than your intended goal. Most box colors end up darker. Sherri Jessee, celebrity hairstylist and industry expert, suggests choosing a dark blonde formula if you want light brown color.

It’s easier to go platinum blonde if you have natural blonde tones in your hair. If you’re naturally dark, you’ll need to get a product that has maximum strength. Try Clairol Nice ‘N Easy for dark blonde to black hair (maxi strength). If you’re using regular blonde dye, you’ll need to use a product that will completely strip your hair of its color before dyeing, otherwise the blonde will hold in some places better than others. You can find these products at your local beauty supply store but it’s recommended that you visit a salon if you’re going for this big of a change.
What to do if you’re just not sure which way to go:
Try a semi-permanent dye. Semi-perms deposit color only on the surface of each strand of hair and enrich your natural color. The dye begins to fade after six to twelve washes.

What Brands Do the Pros Recommend?
Choosing the brand of hair dye can be overwhelming when you have so many options.  Choose a brand only after researching online, asking advice from an expert at a salon or beauty store or talking to friends that have dyed their hair at home. 
Cori Goldberg, an independent hair stylist, has been coloring hair for eleven years. She recommends L’Orealproducts because of their rich color formula.                                                                                                                       
Kiyah Wright, colorists to stars like Tyra Banks and Jennifer Hudson, suggests Clairol Pro’s Jazzing semi-permanent color that can be used immediately after a relaxer because the product adds “sizzling, vibrant color or rich, deep natural hair colors.”
Before You Get Started
It doesn’t take a team of stylists to get great color, but you might want to consider enlisting a friend to help you get those hard-to-reach spots on the back of your head.

Before you get going, experts suggest doing a piece test. A few days before you plan on dyeing your hair, part your hair at the ears and choose a piece in the middle of your hair. Test that piece of hair with the dye to make sure you don’t have a chemical reaction. Experts also suggest doing a skin test to check for an allergic reaction. Put some of the dye on part of your skin a day or two before you color to make sure you’re skin doesn’t react negatively to the dye.

So you’ve got the right box for the job, you’ve done the tests and you’re ready to go. Here’s a list of the things you’ll need and some helpful tips to ensure you get the color you want:

  • Hair dye kit: Usually includes gloves, instructions, a bottle of formula, and a bottle of activator.
  • An old t-shirt: To wear so you don’t ruin your clothes
  • Old towels: To make sure the furniture around you won’t get dyed
  • Paper towels: To wipe off any excess dye that may have gotten on your face or neck during the process
  • Vaseline: To apply to places you don’t want to get dyed like the back of your neck, ears and forehead.
  • Hair clips: To separate your hair into sections.
  • Scissors: To cut the number off the box so you can remember your dye color after throwing away the kit. You’ll also need to cut off the top of the activator bottle in some cases.
  • A paintbrush/toothbrush: To distribute dye on your hair if the box doesn’t come with an easy applicator. If you have short hair, a toothbrush will work well (just don’t use it on your teeth later!).
  • A timer: To monitor how long you keep the dye on your hair.

It’s important to have all of this beforehand so you’re not running around during the process, when time is so sensitive.
The Process of Dyeing

  1. Follow the directions on the back of the box and don’t improvise any of the steps. Remember to cut the number of your color off the back of the box to remember for next time.
  2. Before you begin, apply a thin coat of Vaseline on your forehead, the back of your neck and your ears to avoid dyeing them. Throw on an old t-shirt so you don’t ruin any of your clothes and make sure you have plenty of time scheduled out to dye your hair. If you’re in a rush, you’re more likely to skip a step.
  3. Cover anything in your bathroom you don’t want to dye with old towels.
  4. Your first step will be mixing the dye and the activator together and shaking them up. When you mix products together, don’t forget that the chemicals begin to react as soon as they are mixed, so don’t let them sit and apply them immediately to your hair.
  5. Many at-home hair dye boxes come with a brush that makes the application easier, but if yours doesn’t, use an old paintbrush (or toothbrush) and begin applying the dye. If you’re going dark, start at the front of your hair, where it’s usually the lightest, and work your way backwards. If you’re going lighter, begin at the back where your color is naturally darker. Jessee recommends separating sections of your hair when dyeing, and “to help prevent damage, do not overlap your application.” This means that once you put the dye on one part of your hair, don’t re-apply.
  6. After painting on the color, set the timer to determine how long to wait before rinsing your hair. Most processes will last anywhere from 10-25 minutes depending on the length and thickness of your hair, but check to see what the box recommends to be accurate. When the timer runs out, rinse your hair of the dye in the sink or under the shower until the water runs clear.
  7. Use the conditioner from the box once you’ve rinsed your hair and let it sit for as long as the directions say. Don’t wash your hair for a day or two to avoid drying it out. Angelo David, celebrity stylist and founder of the Angelo David Salon in New York, advises, “do not skip the conditioner. This will make sure the color is locked in tightly, while keeping your hair shiny.”

Tip: You may want to invest in toning shampoo if your hair has a tendency to get brassy after a few weeks. Experts also suggest using shampoo and conditioner for color treated hair  because ammonia in hair dye can damage your hair.

Other Ways To Get Great Color
If you still don’t trust yourself with the application process and would rather leave it up to the pros, Jessee shares some tips on how to get great color when you’re pinching pennies:
Model Nights: Top salons have model nights where colorists train. A senior colorist oversees the appointment, approves all choices of the student, and always supervises the nights. This can be free or a small product charge.

Cosmetology Schools: At cosmetology schools you can have students do your color at a cheaper price than the salon. Jessee recommends Paul Mitchell, Erick Fisher and Taylor Andrews as great cosmetology school choices.
Hair Shows: Most hair care manufacturers do advanced education and participate in hair shows. You can get your hair cut and colored by top educators. Some perks include complimentary products or monetary incentive for participating.
Ally Nicholas, college student
Cori Goldberg, professional hair colorist
Sherri Jessee, celebrity hair stylist
Kaya Wright, celebrity hair colorist
Natasha Sunshine, celebrity hair stylist, founder of Byu-ti salon
Angelo David, celebrity hair stylist, founder of Angelo David Salon

Caroline Finnegan is a rising junior in the College of Media at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign studying news editorial journalism. She is the Contributing Editor and Weekly Columnist of  U of I’s branch of The Odyssey, a Greek newspaper, as well as the leader of ceremonial services and ritualistic practices of her sorority Kappa Alpha Theta. She is currently working for a music promotions company and at her mom’s clothing store. Caroline hails from the Windy City and prefers everything Chicago style, including sailing on Lake Michigan, Jonathon Toews (and the Blackhawks), Wrigley Field and of course, Oprah. Some of her favorite things include: biographies, New Orleans. singing cards, and elephants. She aspires to become a writer for a television show like Saturday Night Live, or her favorite, Modern Family. Next Spring, she plans on studying in her Grandpa’s homeland of Italy.