the cheap girl’s guide to dying your hair

since 9th grade and the incident of the plum-colored severe bob (shudder), i’ve been dying my hair at home. my mom’s theory was that since (at the time) she dyed her hair, i was old enough to decide what to do with my own hair. this mostly worked out in my favor. the horrid 9th grade moment and one summer when i went a bit wild with sun-in (dear jesus, my hair was orange) are the sole exceptions.

usually i do a color change when i’m bored or incredibly stressed. after an intense staring session with my mirror, i determined that mine’s looking a bit faded, and it was time to boost the color. well…boost it towards my ideal color, which is a reddish brown. red runs in my family, but my dad’s cousin’s daughter is thus far the only one in recent generations to get the kick-ass carroty curls. mine is a bit of an oddity in the family. both my parents have curly dark brown hair, my dad’s side of the family has curly hair, my mom’s side had dark hair. me? stick-straight hair that was blonde for a long time until i hit puberty. at that point, as happens for a lot of people, my hair darkened. in winter it can take on a reddish tint – not as dramatic as i dream of, but when the sun isn’t bleaching it, my hair can look pretty fabulous. come summer, i’m less enthused about my hair. it picks up highlights like nobody’s business, so the red-brown (more brown, honestly) color fades to mostly-brown with a good number of light streaks. sometimes this works. sometimes, i hate it. today, i decided to dye it red – knowing that the red would get picked up more in those light spots.

a lot of people i know are terrified of dying their hair at home. understood. so, i happily present (with photos) my guide to dying your hair at home.

the first and most important rule? pick a color no more than two shades darker or lighter than your own hair color. trust me. otherwise, the color never stands a chance of looking natural.

i always pick permanent colors – they wash out after a while, and fade more gradually, so i don’t notice a sudden change in color. by staying near my own shade, i’ve never had roots that look funky.

(note: i’m not sponsored by clairol in any way, shape, or form)

this is the color i selected – natural light auburn, in the clairol line nice ‘n easy. i’m a fan of this brand, as well as garnier nutrisse hair color (which smells like fruit, and has some great colors)

my attempt at a before shot. forgive me for the horrid lighting. just…this is my normal hair. this dye goes on dry hair. i actually worked out before i dyed my hair, so i took a quick, shampoo-free (important – otherwise you strip your hair of protective oils) shower, then dried my hair thoroughly before i dove in.

my supplies! hair dye will pretty much always come with three components. one and two get mixed together to create the colorant, three is a deep conditioner to use after you rinse the dye out. in this case, i poured item one (the dye itself) into item two (…no idea what that is, actually), while wearing gloves, then SHAKE SHAKE SHAKE until the mixture thickens a bit, and is nicely mixed up.

that is what it looks like after mixing – well, mostly, it started out a bit lighter and darkened as it sat (this photo was taken after i put the dye in my hair).

putting the dye in is pretty easy. the directions tell you to separate your hair into even sections and use the tip of the bottle cap to evenly disperse the dye, then gently rub it in from roots to ends. i ignore that because i’m lazy. i’ll do that for the roots, then squirt the dye into my palm of my hairs and work it through my hair. if you’re working with a lot of hair, it helps to have a friend do that for you. mine is still short enough that i can be totally certain every strand is solidly drenched. you’ll see i didn’t use the whole bottle – that’s fine! just make sure your hair is covered completely in dye. if you get any on your skin, wipe it off. it helps to put vaseline around your hairline (on the skin) – that protects against dye. this stuff has peroxide in it, so be careful. it also smells HORRIBLE and i had the fan running the entire time.

this got left in for about 25 minutes – i left it in for 20, to give myself time to get the shower to a reasonable temperature, and because experience has taught me that the full time usually gives a darker result than i want. if you’re  a hair dye virgin, do a strand test on some inconspicuous hair (most people select strands towards the front that aren’t on top) the day before to see how long it takes.

i set a timer and wandered the house in my bathrobe looking insane for 20 minutes. this is the beginning of that process.


a couple of shots from about half-way through. see how intense the red is getting? i was a bit alarmed, actually, but that’s just the skin on my scalp, not (a) blood or (b) the final color.

after 20, i turned the shower to warm-but-not-scalding, got a bit of water on my hair, lathered up as per the directions, and then rinsed until the water ran clear. once that happened, i put in a dollop of the conditioner they provide and let that sit for a couple of minutes. in that time, i discovered a honey body scrub that smells like heaven. seriously. delicious. then! rinse! dry! confirm that my hair is not falling out!


voila! i really like it (as you can see from my smug smile) – it’s the dark reddish-brown i prefer. a bit lighter than i usually go (if i dye my hair in the winter or fall, i go for a deeper brown). i suspect it will look red as anything in natural light.

so! that’s hair dying 101. it’s really not that scary, i promise. very easy to do, and this cost me less than $7, as opposed to around ten times that at most salons.