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Hair Coloring Tips: The Dos & Don’ts of Coloring Your Hair

 It can happen to even the most confident brown-haired beauties among us: we go to sleep at night feeling proud to be sultry brunettes and we wake up the next morning feeling like we could use some Jen Aniston-style blonde highlights in our life. On the other hand, there are also those life-long blonde bombshells who wake up wondering why they can’t try a darker ‘do à la Jennifer Garner.

After dealing with our own fair share of hair dye disasters (you know that awkward moment when you discover that you’ve bleached your own hair to the color and consistency of straw? We do.), we at Her Campus are determined to save our fellow collegiettes from their own potential hair dye horror stories, so we’re here to fill you in on the biggest dos and don’ts of hair coloring.

DO use non-permanent dyes to experiment with your hair

College is all about trying new things – why not a new look? If you haven’t colored your hair before, you shouldn’t be afraid to start now. A celebrity hairstylist and owner and creative director of Angelo David Salon in Manhattan, Angelo David suggests that collegiettes who are nervous about making too drastic a change start with demi- and semi-permanent dyes. Because non-permanent dyes last for about four to six weeks (demi-permanents survive 10 to 25 washes and semi-permanents only last six to 12), you won’t have to worry about being stuck with a color you’ll dislike for years to come or having to deal with root touch-ups. Unlike permanent dyes, which break down the hair cuticle, pull out natural color, and put color back in, non-permanent dyes avoid damaging the hair by simply depositing color like a coating.

Unfortunately, demi- and semi-permanents can’t lighten hair, so for those collegiettes seeking the sun-kissed effect, David suggests “a bit of face-framing highlights that look natural. Some signature highlights around the face and at the top of the hair, they look like they belong there… almost like you’ve had that color since you were born.” While demi- and semi-permanent dyes are safe to apply with over-the-counter dyes, highlights should only be done by a professional in a salon.

DON’T bleach or highlight with over-the-counter hair coloring products

Sure, most of us can probably admit that we have a bit of a girl-crush on Blake Lively and her lovely blonde locks, but that doesn’t mean we should reach for that box of bottle-blonde bleach at the drug store! “I would NEVER recommend highlighting your hair at home,” urges Jessica Salerno from Ohio University. “I have seen too many girls try to do it themselves and it comes out looking awful and fried.”

David agrees. “[M]ost people tend to read just the box [of the over-the-counter-product], the front cover itself… They look at a blonde and they say, ‘Oh, I want to be just like her,’ but their hair is jet black. They’re not going to get the same results, so there’s the big room for error… This is what happens: most times people come in [to my salon] with orange hair because they didn’t lift up high enough,” meaning they didn’t strip enough pigment out of their hair with the bleach. Other times, David explains, “they come in with white, platinum hair that’s breaking. It’s rare that they know the amount and type of bleach or peroxide that they’ll need to put on their hair to get it to the right tone.”

Joanna Kingston from Merrimack College was a textbook example of the potential problems that arise from at-home lightening. “When I was in the sixth grade, those big chunky highlights were big,” explains Joanna. “My Mum for some reason thought we could handle it at home. Not only did I get streaky, chunky highlights, but they were [also] pumpkin orange! I was wearing bandanas for two weeks before a salon could process a corrective coloring on my hair!”

Skip the hair horror stories, collegiettes, and leave the lightening to the salon professionals!
DO know how often you’ll need to touch up your roots before you commit to a color change

Root touch-ups: they’re not just for ladies going gray. If you’re opting for a permanent color, bleach, or highlight, you’ll need to re-color your roots, and you’ll need to know just how much upkeep your hair will require. Since touch-ups can cost anywhere from $20 to $60 depending on the salon, it’s important to know that you’re choosing a color that fits your budget.

First things first: in order to know how often you’ll need to touch up, you need to know what level you’re at. Hair color is divided into levels of darkness to lightness, meaning that black hair ranks at level one and platinum blonde hair ranks at level twelve. According to David, if you’re a level six (dark blonde) who has dyed your hair to a level seven (medium blonde), you can last about six weeks before your roots become too noticeable. If you’re a level one and you’ve dyed your hair to a level nine, however, your roots will show much more quickly due to the contrast, so you’ll need to touch them up about once every three weeks. If you’ve opted for high- or low-lights rather than an all-around permanent color, your look can last for up to two to three weeks longer. #win!

To save yourself from constant touch-ups, ask your colorist to dye your roots just a touch darker than the rest of your hair, giving you an extremely subtle, short ombre effect that will make the contrast between your darker, natural color and your lighter, artificial color slightly less drastic so that your re-growth will go unnoticed for a longer period of time. You’ll win yourself at least an extra week every time!

DON’T choose a color and tone without considering how it will look with your skin coloring

Choices, choices, choices. When the hairstylist props a book of hair dye samples in front of you, or you wander around the pharmacy’s hair coloring aisle, it can seem like there’s an endless supply of options: fiery reds, rich browns, icy blondes… you get the picture. Unfortunately, the hair color that makes your friend look like a supermodel might not look so glamorous on you… in fact, it might make your skin look sallow or ruddy pink, or wash you out completely. Not hot. So how do you know which hue works for you? In order to keep your hair looking natural and to avoid a washed-out look, David suggests staying within two levels of your natural color when dyeing.

The work doesn’t just stop with the color, though. The undertones behind the color are what can make or break a dye job. You know those shimmers of color you see in hair when it’s under direct sunlight? Yep, you guessed it: those are the hair’s undertones, and you’re going to have to determine which undertones work for your skin tone. For instance, if you’re a dirty blonde looking to dye two levels lighter, you have to choose between ashy or golden blonde, and if you’re going darker, you’ll have to choose between icy, bluer tones or chestnut and strawberry tones.

“I’m a big believer in the idea that opposites attract,” says David. “Cool skin-tones call for warm tones in the hair to balance [them] out.” To tell if your skin is cool or warm, check out your veins in direct sunlight. If they look greenish beneath your skin, you’re warm, and if they look bluish or purplish, you’re cool. Then choose a hair tone on the opposite side of the spectrum. Ashy blondes fall under the cool category, as do browns and blacks with blue undertones, while golden blondes and any color that has a reddish or honey undertone fall under the warm category.

DO know your hair’s limits: its natural color, texture, and thickness determine your dyeing capabilities

Limits: collegiettes don’t have any, do they? Well, we might not be limited, but our hair certainly is. When it comes to dye jobs, our luscious locks are limited by everything from their natural color to their thickness. “People are at risk when it comes to hair dyes [if they] already have damaged hair [from hot tools], or super-fine hair, or want to go from a very dark, dark color to a very light color,” explains David. If you’re one of these unlucky at-risk ladies, you might be facing dried-out, breaking, or fried hair. In worst-case scenarios – and we’re talking about the truly tragic tresses here – collegiettes who severely chemically damage their hair can even experience hair loss. Eek!

Fortunately, Nicole Robert, a graduate of George Washington University who opted for the ombre look, didn’t reach hair loss-level damage, but she experienced damage nonetheless. “When you dye your hair blonde as a brunette [in a single salon session], it kills your hair,” Nicole says. “I will probably not do it again unless I can trust that the product won’t obliterate my already split ends. It takes me about fifteen to twenty minutes to get all the knots out, and the ends are absolutely dead. I’ll probably end up growing the ombre out so I can just chop it off and go back to having healthy and untouched hair.”

Why so much damage? David explains, “Bleach and high-lift colors [which pull pigment out of your hair to make it lighter] are damaging your hair, that’s what they do. You’re pulling all of the color out of the hair. There’s no background color, there’s no tonality to it; it just pulls the color out. By doing that, you’re breaking the outer and inner layers of the hair.” While very healthy hair can hold up relatively well under small doses of this kind of treatment, even the most lustrous, shine-a-licious, Herbal Essences-commercial-worthy hair can’t handle drastic lightening in a short period of time. Which leads us to…

DON’T try to make a drastic hair color change in a single sitting

So how can you avoid the dreaded “oops” moment – understatement of the year – when you discover your hair suddenly feels like hay? The best way to prevent damage is to take it slow.

David reminds us, “You just can’t do certain things in one sitting. Impossible. And if you do, you’re at risk. I always tell my consumer when they come to my salon that less is more. You do a little bit at a time.” A highlight here, a highlight there, and over the course of a few months or a year, you’ll find yourself at your dream color (without the pesky breakage that would have come along with it if you did it all at once).

Joanna has found that the slow and steady approach has helped her maintain her hair’s “silky smooth” integrity. “[C]urrently my goal is to have hair like Gwen Stefani,” she says. “With the help of my amazing colorist, we’re working towards that goal the more ‘healthy’ way… bleaching every other time and highlighting in between.”

Another bonus of taking the process slowly, even for those dyeing darker, is that you might discover along the way that you would rather stick with a happy medium between your natural color and the drastic color that you were originally aiming for. When it comes to permanent dyes and bleaches, you never want to over-shoot your target!
DO care for damaged hair with conditioning masks and frequent cuts

If you didn’t have the chance to read this guide before you coughed up a week’s paycheck for a damaging dye job or poured on the peroxide yourself, chances are you’re dealing with some split ends and dryness. Even if you haven’t seen any damage yet (yay you!), you should up the ante in your hair-care regimen to prevent dryness in the future.

Caitlin Fernandez, a hair dye veteran from Virginia Tech, says, “It’s super important to use color-treated shampoo and conditioner to protect your color and hair. One great additional product is REDKEN Extreme with Anti-Snap – they make a mask that you put on your hair for five to 15 minutes and it really helps restore it.”

David agrees. “Using a moisturizing shampoo or shampoos and conditioners [designed] for distressed and damaged hair is always great, and doing a once-a-week mask is important. That has to go on very, very clean hair, and I would recommend on towel-dried hair, which allows [the mask] to really penetrate the hair.” David also recommends avoiding hot tools like curling irons and straighteners. Over-washing your hair by shampooing every day is also a no-no; it strips the hair of its natural oils and causes the color to fade more quickly. Lather up every two to five days, depending on the oiliness of your hair and your lifestyle (hint: if you’re sweating up a storm at Zumba, you should probably treat your salty hair to some sudsy lovin’ more often). The Neutrogena Triple Moisture Deep Recovery Hair Mask ($6.99) and Frizz-Ease Strengthening Triple Crème Masque ($14.99) were some of the collegiettes’ favorite products, as were the Moroccan Oil Restorative Hair Mask ($40) and Moroccan Oil Treatment ($15).

The best way to get rid of damaged hair (and the best way to stop split ends in their tracks)? Cut it off! “I would recommend getting your hair cut after anywhere around six weeks, no more than twelve,” says David. “Most of the time, when it’s super damaged, it’s not going to repair itself. Coming in [to a salon] more often than less would be better.”

DON’T keep trying to fix a bad dye job on your own

Maybe you did it yourself, maybe you paid a professional to do it… whatever the cause, you realize that your dye job has gone horribly, horribly wrong. Now what?

“Go see a professional,” advises David. “If your hair’s screwed up, there’s nothing else to do… I’m a big believer in the at-home color business, [but] over-the-counter dyes tend to be very aggressive… [your hair] will get worse if you don’t know what you’re doing.” If the botched job was done by a professional, you should speak to the salon’s manager to see if you can get a refund – which many salons will grant if a colorist has damaged the hair – but don’t accept credit towards a fix-it dye job. If one of the salon’s colorists messed up your hair to begin with, you shouldn’t risk the same thing happening again; it’s time to find a new salon and hairstylist to salvage the situation. Ask your friends for recommendations; if your friend has a similar hair color and texture to your own and she’s happy with her hair colorist, chances are you will be, too. On average, hair grows at a rate of about a quarter- to a half-inch per month, so damaged or poorly dyed hair can take years to grow out fully. Do you want a bad hair day every day for the rest of your college career? We didn’t think so!

Baby steps, collegiettes! Keep these HC-approved hair dye tips in mind the next time you decide to switch up your ‘do and you’ll be well on your way to camera-ready color.

Do you have a hair coloring horror story? Tell us about it in the comments!

Kate is the Associate Editor of Her Campus. Before joining the staff full-time, Kate was the Campus Correspondent for the HC Skidmore College chapter as well as an editorial intern, Love editor, and national contributing writer for HC. In addition to her work with Her Campus, Kate has been a Sex & Love stringer and digital editorial intern for WomensHealthMag.com and an Inner Circle Trendspotter for MTV. Kate graduated from Skidmore College summa cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor of Arts in English and French. In her spare time, Kate is usually spotted writing fiction, playing tennis, reading pop culture blogs until her eyes hurt, baking cookies, or dreaming up her next travel adventure.
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