Home hair colour: The basics
"I'm an artist. With home colour plus the guidance of your own stylist and home-kit hotline experts, you can become the artist of your own appearance."
-- Brad Johns, the Clairol global colour director and colour director of the Red Door Salon at Elizabeth Arden in New York City
Ammonia -- opens up the surface of the hair shaft to allow colour molecules to penetrate to its core and, when combined with peroxide, acts as a catalyst to anchor colour inside the hair shaft.
Peroxide -- opens up the surface of the hair shaft, removes existing colour and facilitates penetration of new colour.
Permanent home colour
• Contains ammonia (or an ammonia substitute) and peroxide
• Colour coats and fully penetrates the hair shaft
• Permanently changes the original hair colour
• Will darken easily and generally lighten one level (going from medium blond to dark blond equals one level) or two levels from starting hue
• Will usually deliver full grey coverage
• Will not wash out, although colour will fade a bit over time
Demi-permanent home colour
• Has no ammonia; contains low levels of peroxide
• Colour coats and partially penetrates the hair shaft
• Boosts colour and blends greys in subtle highlights
• Will darken easily, and may lighten, but very little
• Washes out for the most part in about 24 shampoos, more if starting hair colour is significantly lighter
• Can be used to adjust or correct your demi- or permanent home-colour results
Semipermanent home colour
• Has no ammonia and either no peroxide or very little
• Colour coats the hair shaft; may penetrate slightly
• Can blend greys in or make them look like highlights
• Will darken but not lighten hair
• Washes out in about six to 12 shampoos, more if starting hair colour is significantly lighter
Temporary home colour
• Has no ammonia or peroxide
• Colour coats the hair shaft
• Will darken somewhat, but not lighten
• Washes out in one or two shampoos, more if starting hair colour is significantly lighter
The star product in most home-colour kits is the tube of rich, nutrient-packed conditioner. Conditioning cream is an essential part of maintaining your coloured hair's good looks, so manufacturers have increased the amount enclosed in the box (usually enough for weekly use until it's time to colour again) and come out with tubes you can purchase separately if you need more.
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"The biggest trend in hair right now is shine. The glossier and healthier your hair looks, the better."
-- Christopher Martin
Made in the shade
• "For brunettes, chocolate and coffee shades (such as espresso) are hot, and for blonds, it's baby blond," says Johns, whose celebrity clients include Natasha Richardson and Jamie King. "These colours are even hotter with fine highlights a shade or two lighter in the front and at the nape of the neck."
• Warm shades work for complexions with golden or yellow undertones.
• Cool shades work for complexions with pink or blue undertones.
• If you're not certain whether you're warm or cool, don't worry. "Most people look great in warm or neutral shades," says Martin.
• Stick within two shades of your natural colour if you want a natural look.
• If you choose a semipermanent or demi-permanent darker than your natural hue, it will take longer to wash out than it says on the box.
• Drastic changes, such as going from dark brunette to blond or vice versa, are tricky to do yourself. Call the toll-free number on the box for advice from a home-colour consultant. "Hair colour is about the journey -- it's best if you change gradually from one colour to another," advises Johns. "You want to keep your hair in its best condition, which can be difficult to do with dramatic colour changes."
Covering grey hair: Dos and don'ts
Yes, those pesky grey hairs come with colour challenges. Stiff, wiry and resistant to colour, they're often the bane of our beauty existence. Follow these dos and don'ts to get the best results.
DON'T go for intense shades if you're starting from grey -- the result will be far too vibrant and artificial looking.
DO go for neutral hues to counteract the dullness of grey. "Start with the hair colour you had when you were about two years old," suggests Johns.
DON'T choose colours that are pale or ashy; they'll make your hair look more grey.
DO go for permanent colour if you want to cover greys completely.
DON'T be afraid of trying a semipermanent formula instead if you're less than 50 per cent grey and roots are your biggest concern. "A semipermanent will warm up your skin tone, boost your hair colour, blend your greys and make you look youthful without looking like you've had a dye job," says Martin.
DO "leave a few greys around the face as highlights," says Martin. "They work particularly well with semipermanent colour, for a soft, natural look."
DON'T skip the strand test. Greys can be rudely resistant to colour, so you want to know how long you'll need to leave the colour in to get the shade you want.
DO cover the greys first if you're colouring to hide them.
Fixing colour mistakes
You can adjust your DIY results, but call that hotline number for advice first.
• Your colour came out lighter than you expected? "Wait 48 hours to see if it tones itself down -- it usually does," says Johns. "If it doesn't, choose a demi-permanent colour one shade darker than the one you just used."
• You've lightened but the results are looking a bit orange instead of blond? Look for a demi-permanent ash shade of the same level as your current colour.
• You're more yellow than blond? Cool the hue down with a neutral shade of the same level as your current colour.
• Your blond's gone a bit blue or green? Warm it up with a neutral tone one shade lighter than your current colour.
• Your brown hair has a blue or green cast? Warm it up with a red tone one shade lighter than your current colour.
• Accidentally gone too dark? "It's difficult to lighten something that's too dark," warns Johns. "It's much better to start with a shade slightly lighter than you think you need. But if it's too late for that and you've just done your colour, try shampooing right away two or three times to get some of the hair colour out -- and remember to condition after the last shampoo."
Martin adds, "Sometimes a small change will do the trick. If you wanted medium brown but got flat black, following up with a medium blond demi-permanent will give the colour a little more depth and a little more life."
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Before you colour
"With the right care, home colour can last as long as a salon job."
-- Christopher Martin
Always do a patch test 48 hours before you colour, even if you've never had a skin reaction to hair-colouring products.
Follow the instructions in the box carefully in regards to opening then resealing the bottles.
In a glass or plastic container and using a plastic spoon, deposit developer and colourant in the amount specified in your brand's instructions, then mix. Use a cotton swab to apply a bit of the mixture to the inside of your elbow and let it dry. Don't wash the area for 48 hours. Use the remaining mixture for the strand test.
Always do a strand test so you know how long to leave the colour on your hair to get the results you want. Even if you've used the same shade and formula before, environmental influences, such as sun exposure, time of year, previous colour or the hair products you're using, can affect the process. This is especially crucial if you're making a drastic colour change.
Dampen a half-inch-wide usually hidden section of hair with water, then completely cover it with the mixture left from the allergy test. Start your timer.
Follow the instructions in the box carefully regarding how long to wait before checking the results -- timing can vary depending on whether you've recently relaxed or permed your hair. If the colour isn't what you want, put the hair back in the mixture and check it every few minutes according to the instructions. When the test is complete, record the timing on your instruction sheet.
Tips for best results
• Read and follow the product instructions carefully, especially if you're new to home colour or new to the brand you're using.
• Don't wash your hair the same day you plan to colour. Shampooing can irritate your scalp, which will make it more susceptible to discomfort when you apply the dye. Colour two days after you shampoo.
• If you have superthick hair and lots of it, pick up an extra box of colour so you have a backup if you find that you don't have enough solution.
• Condition your hair with the after-treatment first if your hair is extra dry.
• Use a clarifying shampoo a couple of days before you colour if you're a swimmer, or if you've been colouring a long time and your hair lacks shine or the appearance of highlights.
• Apply a layer of moisturizer to the skin around your hairline to prevent stains from the dye.
• Visit the websites of your favourite brands -- you'll find step-by-step illustrated and video instructions, as well as tips and answers to frequently asked questions.
• If you have questions, call the toll-free hotline number on the box for expert guidance and advice.
• Choose a highlighting kit in a colour at least two shades lighter than your base, or based on your current hair colour "for a more natural look," says Johns. "Thin highlights are better than thick stripes, and fewer are better than more."
• "A few thin highlights around the face will give you a sun-kissed effect," says Martin.
• Keep colour about a quarter-inch from the scalp -- heat from your head can send the developer into overdrive and result in obvious, unattractive lighter stripes of colour along the parting.
WASHING TIP: Let colour take hold as long as possible -- don't shampoo within 24 hours of colouring.
PRO TIP: Martin recommends using the enclosed tube of deep conditioner as a treatment. "Instead of rinsing it out right away, wrap your head in plastic, heat it up with your blow dryer and leave it on for 20 minutes. I've tried this on some of my clients, and we found that it seals the colour in and keeps it vibrant until it's time to colour again."
Keep a hair-colouring kit
Keep your reusable supplies together in a handy container or basket you can pull out each time you need it. Contents should include:
• An old shirt and towel
• Cotton swabs
• A small plastic bowl and spoon
• A small pair of sharp scissors
• A roll of tape
• A clock or timer with an alarm
• A small tube of moisturizer
• The part of your favourite or most recently used box of colour that records the shade name, brand and hotline number
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Getting help for home colouring mishaps
We prove that the first important step of DIY colouring is calling the help line (closely followed by the strand test).
Editor-in-chief Susan Antonacci tries to go blond from dark brunette in a one-box step, and winds up with shocking orange hair. In an attempt to tone it down herself, she throws on an auburn shade -- and goes cartoon-bright ginger red. Back at the office, in mid-search for a hat, Susan takes a break to hear what the home-colour experts have to say.
An appeal to one help line yields a surprise: the friendly consultant, after asking several questions regarding starting colour, the formula Susan used and so on, concludes that Susan should head straight to a salon for pro assistance. We like that advice, but try another hotline to compare notes.
After a similar series of questions, an equally friendly consultant suggests a medium ash-brown permanent shade to tone down the ginger red. He walks Susan through situation-specific instructions to minimize her chances of going too dark, and in the process gives us a little helpful hair-colour theory.
Susan decides to give the home solution a try but nervously leaves the mix on for less time than the hotline expert advised. Still, she ends up with a considerably toned down light auburn, and can now get on with her day happily hat-free.
Before you start, call the help line for advice if...
• You want to make sure you avoid any pitfalls
• You want a drastic change, from light to dark or dark to light
• You want to adjust or correct your at-home results
• You want to custom-mix a shade
• Your hair is already highlighted
• Your hair is overprocessed, damaged or brittle
• You've recently relaxed your hair
• You are uncertain about anything or want additional tips
• Use colour-enhancing or colour-preserving shampoos and conditioners to prolong the intensity of your colour.
• When you notice your colour starting to fade, reach for a glaze or semipermanent formula that washes out in about six shampoos. Choose the shade that most closely resembles the colour you're trying to maintain.
• If you have lots of highlights, use colour-enhancing products that match the highlights when they're new.
• Deep condition weekly to maintain high, healthy shine.
TIP: Water is actually the biggest threat to your new colour. A few drops won't hurt, but when you're in the shower, don't stand under the spray for long. Shampoo right away, follow immediately with conditioner and leave it on until you've finished the rest of your shower.
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