Dye your own hair

As we enter week seven of lock-down, we are seeing what our hair looks like without professional tending. My husband has stopped shaving, and coupled with his hair being longer than it ever is, this is quite the mountain man look. Sadly, my last hair cut was in January.

However, I am not sporting quarantine roots! I’m a low-maintenance gal, but back in high school I decided to go blonde. I began coloring my own hair because getting one’s hair colored in a salon seemed like the sort of thing I couldn’t afford. I suspect this is no longer the case (right? I actually have no idea what it costs) but I kept coloring my own hair because over the years I’ve gotten reasonably good at it. I certainly couldn’t do anyone else’s hair, but if I’ve dyed my own hair six times a year for 25 years, well, that’s a lot of practice.

I use L’Oreal Preference 9.5A.* That’s “lightest ash blonde” and the ash refers to the cool undertones. Some folks would do better with a warmer undertone; it’s important to figure this out if you want your hair to look natural.

The color “takes” better if your hair is unwashed, so this could be a good Saturday morning project. I mix the color and apply (with gloved hands) to my roots and the top  inch or two of hair generally. This needs to sit for 20-25 minutes. So far, this is all in keeping with the box directions.

But then — the secret! I create highlights by taking small sections of hair and putting the mix on them all the way down, and leaving this on for 20-25 minutes too. So these sections are getting the full lightening effect.

After 20 minutes, I put the mix on my whole head, leave it for 5 minutes or so, then jump in the shower to rinse it off and condition (L’Oreal includes a tube of conditioner; I assume most other home hair color kits include something similar). Over time as I’ve done this highlighting technique, different sections of my hair wind up slightly different shades, which makes the color look more natural, and in fact just like my 5-year-old’s: slightly sun-streaked.

I took on this project this weekend, so now even though my hair is way too long at least my roots are good! If you’ve been thinking of experimenting with home hair color, now might be a time to try. You’re not really going anywhere if you screw it up.

In other news: We went on two family walks this weekend, the second in the rain. Whoa, was there a lot of complaining about that one. I went on a 5.2 mile run on Saturday, but did not run on Sunday. After my 1100 day run streak ended, I haven’t felt the need to run every single day.

My husband outdid himself with dinner on Saturday night. Lobster tails, king crab legs, steak, and cheese fondue! Followed up with apple pie for dessert. We broke out the Stag’s Leap Chardonnay and it was a lovely feast.

*Fun fact: It turns out people shop for their usual home hair color shade by looking at the lady on the box. They recognize her, not the number. So if companies ever switch models, they have to put a little picture on the box of the previous model too, or risk mass confusion and customer displeasure.

28 thoughts on “Dye your own hair

    1. @omdg- I’ve been coloring my own hair for decades. ALL my pics posted anywhere are of L’Oreal Preference 9.5A!

      1. How is it that your hair comes out strawberry blonde/red rather than ash blonde? Is this just a matter of lighting? It makes me wary of doing this at home, if the color on the box isn’t what it’s likely to look like on my hair. How did you figure out this was the correct color for you to use?

        1. @omdg – on the side of the box, they have three different original hair shades, with an illustration of what the color will likely look like. Mine definitely looks like the “dark blonde” after results. So I’d say that’s pretty accurate. They also caution against going too far away from your natural color.

          1. Interesting! I love your idea of adding streaks. I’m sure that is part of why it looks natural. I still think you need to produce pics. 😜

  1. I tried it once and made an absolute mess that took months for the dye to go away. I was wearing blue black for decades.I now go with my natural hair colour since last year.

  2. *Also why it’s so irritating when manufacturers change their packaging at all! Normal people want to get in and out of the supermarket as fast as possible by identifying their favourite products in one quick, cursory glance, not stand around all day admiring the “new look” of the same old product (only in graphic designers’ delusions of grandeur!) or waste any of their 168 hours deciphering ill-conceived layouts and fonts that obscure rather than highlight the most relevant product information.

    1. @Gwyneth – I just find it funny, I mean I looked at the number/letter because that’s the way my brain works but I can totally see someone standing there in the aisle asking a clerk “no, it’s the blonde lady with the pixie cut!”

  3. I’ve been coloring my hair for so long I have no idea how much gray I really have. But I do it at home and I think I’ve got my technique down. The challenge has been getting the color.

    1. @Pamela – I ordered two boxes from Amazon, and then got one box at Wegmans. Apparently 9.5A is a popular enough shade that it is widely available…

  4. Before I run out and buy a box of 9.5a 🙂 can I ask what your base color is? Is it more of a light/medium brown?

    1. @Alison – yep, light/medium brown is probably how I’d describe it. I wouldn’t recommend at-home color for changing too dramatically. I don’t think I’m too gray yet and I imagine that dealing with grays would require more professional insight. Also, my hair is now blonde because it’s been blonde for so long so every time I’m coloring, most of my hair isn’t getting changed that much.

  5. I recently got a tip from the stylist that was cutting my hair…if you aren’t sure what shade to color your own hair, ask at somewhere like Sally Beauty Supply. The workers there can usually guide you towards the best shade for you. I did this back in January and ended up loving the color. I took a picture of the box back then too, which I’m especially glad I did because now I can re-order it from Amazon.

  6. I have almost always dyed my own hair. I paid a hairdresser to do it once and it looked awful. Another time a hairdresser told me it wasn’t possible to dye my hair bright blonde (I’ve done this a number of times though usually I go red). I seriously have no clue why anyone pays salon prices when you can do it at home for literally 10% of the price!

  7. I started coloring my hair 2? 3? years ago when I realized I could save both a big chunk of time AND money by doing it myself. I use the Madison Reed subscription service and am really happy with the results. The color selection guide hit the mark the first time out.

    Adding in some other kind of habit while my hair processes feels like graduate level self-care. I’ve done all of the following (though not at the same time!) a foot peel, sheet mask, sugar scrub followed by a bath, pedicure.

  8. Your hair looks great in your Instagram photos so clearly this works well for you! I tried coloring my hair using myself once in college and boy was it not pretty. It turned out yellow, and I mean like canary yellow (not blond) and damaged my ends something fierce. Ever since I’ve stuck with professional highlights.

  9. Right there with you. My hair grows fast- I go to the salon every 3 months for cut/color/highlights, and I do my base color every 3-4 weeks in between (I can’t justify the cost of cut -longish hair- and highlights every time. Darn genetics had me fully gray by 30!) I like your highlight tip- will have to try that this week!

  10. I miss my hairdresser horribly! I am coloring my own roots out of desperation (probably not very well, especially in the back because I have a LOT of hair) but I’ll leave the highlighting to the professionals. I’ve already decided to go copper as a post pandemic celebration when I can finally get my hair done properly again!

  11. I’m a medium brown, about 10% grey. A few years ago my mom’s excellent hairdresser colored my hair for me, and then, because I was about to move overseas, taught me what I needed to know to do it myself. I use *semi-permenant* (available from Sallys), and mix 2 shades, both lighter than my hair! My hair is about a 5N, with a decent amount of natural variation. She taught me to use 6N and 8N (blonde!!!), and mix them, to blend the grays away in a very natural looking way. I never would have guessed to grab a bottles that are so much lighter than my natural haircolor, but, for semi-permanant, this works really well and looks super natural.

  12. I dyed my hair on Sunday with L’oreal as well! I always do my own. Years ago I was doing funky highlights, and then just adding on some red tint, and now I’m doing all over deep red/burgundy as “highlights” for my grays. Its so easy and its nice “me time” to shut myself in the bathroom with an audio book or TV show while it sets. Our CVS is fully stocked—I had no problem getting it last week. I usually pick up 2 boxes when they have a buy one/get one 50% off sale. Twice in my life I’ve paid for salon highlights (before my wedding and for my 30th birthday/graduating residency present to myself) and it is VERY expensive ($150ish when I had long black hair that needed to be bleached before adding highlights).
    I’m not in ANY way trying to make mine look natural so that makes it less of an issue. Anyone who looks at me knows in one glance that I’m an Indian woman born with jet black hair, not this maroon color never seen in nature!

  13. My husband actually dyes my hair. It sure looks better when my hairdresser does it, but even without lock down it’s worth it financially and timewise. I should learn to do it myself though.

  14. Yesss! I’ve been wanting to do this ever since I heard you mention it on BoBW, but I was running or walking while listening and didn’t write down the brand/shade or note the episode number. I am waiting until my pregnancy is over in about 8 weeks, and then I’m going to try it out. I used to do my own highlighting from a box, many years ago, but it was a pain and kind of stressful…this I can do. I’m tired of spending time and $$$ at the salon every few months, so hopefully my results will be as good as yours – though I might go a shade darker.

  15. My husband colors my hair for me with henna. It deep conditions as well as giving my hair great color and shine. My hair reaches to my elbows, so it takes two packages to do a full length color treatment. After a henna color treatment, my hair feels so silky and my comb just glides through it. The henna can be messy and it takes two hours or more to get the color to set, but there are no toxic chemicals in it, hubby adds apple cider vinegar and coconut oil in the mix and it doesn’t destroy my hair like the box color would. My best friend had her hair destroyed getting her hair colored at the salon, it was so damaged that it was breaking off, she went from mid back length hair to only collarbone length. She was quite upset. My husband told her that with her fine hair, it cannot take the harsh chemicals. So she is now using henna as well and loves the results and her hair is grown back to the middle of her back now. She stops by to have my husband trim her hair when he trims mine as she likes her hair long and my husband does not get scissor happy and cut her hair too short like the salon stylist always did.

  16. Even before the pandemic, I’ve been streaking my hair with punky colors. The beauty of that is that it can be as irregular and erratic as I want, because that’s how it’s supposed to look. Plus if I don’t like it, it’ll wash out in 3-4 washes anyway. Also, I’ve been cutting my hair for a couple of years using a razor-comb I ordered from Amazon. I can produce the shaggy look I like (unless I go overboard, which I occasionally do, because I’m having so much fun with it!). I finally went to a hair salon in Baja last winter to get it cleaned up professionally. The stylist looked aghast at my hair, but it looked pretty good to me 🙂 By the way, what color is your hair naturally?

  17. I stopped coloring my hair about 2.5 years ago and am about 50% grey in front, with the rest being mostly black. I get more compliments on my hair now than when I was coloring it. I tried both at home and salon coloring and it was fine either way but when I had to start doing it every 3 weeks, I was not ok with the time commitment (even just doing it at home). I have even gotten a job in the tech industry which is notoriously ageist, with this grey hair! So this is one thing I’m super relieved about not doing anymore and it saves me both time and $. I think my mom is horrified I stopped, but like her, I started going gray very early (17 for me!) and I just got tired 😀

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