How to avoid a home hair dye nightmare

How to avoid a home hair dye nightmare

The last time I saw my natural hair colour was approximately 12 – 13 years ago. I spent a fiver on a box of black hair dye and got my mum to help me apply it. 30 minutes later I looked in the mirror and burst into tears. I’d had dark brown hair for my entire life and the black mop staring back at me looked stark and one dimensional. I felt like a Lego person. My mum consoled me with promises that a hairdresser would be able to add highlights to brighten it up. It didn’t help.

Luckily, a mere 24 hours later, after a few compliments at school the next day, I was totally happy with my new raven locks and kept them that way for the next 18-ish months. Until I dyed it red, then purple, then blue black, then black, then purple, then red again, then orange-y red, then bleached it, then dyed it green, then pink, then lilac, then dark purple. I’ve dyed my hair a lot, is what I’m saying. And I’d estimate that less than 1% of those dying experiences have taken place in an actual salon, so you better believe I’ve had some disasters and lived to tell the tale. But, what is experience if not a life lesson? So consider me a home hair dyeing sage and let me share my knowledge with you...


I wrote that in capitals because it’s really that important. I’ve never had an allergic reaction to dye – because I do patch tests! – but I have had two major allergic reactions to nuts and I know how scary they are. For the sake of waiting 48 hours, it’s more than worth it. Check the leaflet, do the patch test as directed and, if you don’t feel a thing, you’re good to go!

2. Read the instructions

Different dyes have different instructions, so always check them first. On more than one occasion, I’ve assumed that the dye needs to be applied to wet hair only to find out, after I’ve stuck my head under the shower, that dry hair is best. I’ve also most definitely added the colour to the conditioner instead of the developer. It’s super annoying and totally avoidable, so have a peek at that leaflet before you start.

3. Buy two boxes

Unless you have really short hair, buy at least two boxes of dye. Let’s be honest, these brands want to get the most out of you as possible, so while they totally should provide you with enough dye to colour average length hair, they definitely don’t. Buy two boxes and save yourself having to make an emergency trip to Boots with half a hair do.

4. Be aware that the model on the box is a liar

She should have a speech bubble coming out of her mouth that says, “My hair is brought to you by the imagination of whoever designed this box. Your hair will not look like this, just sort of something a bit similar.”

5. Try semi permanent if you're unsure

Avoid an evening full of crying like me and opt for a semi permanent colour if you’re not 100% sure if you’re ready to commit.

6. Wear something old

I have a saggy old bleach stained vest in my drawer. It’s not a style choice; it’s my hair dyeing top. No matter how careful you are, there’s always going to be a rogue drop of dye just waiting to cause a stain, so avoid wearing your Sunday best.

7. Don't use the brand new towels

If you enjoy having a positive relationship with your parents, I would highly recommend you don’t pop one of those brand new, white fluffy towels around your shoulders while you wait for the dye to take. And the same goes for what you use to dry your hair when you’ve rinsed it out. If in doubt, use the shabby old one they keep for guests they don’t really like. You know the one.

8. Get a second pair of hands to help

From the second I get the dye out of the cupboard, my boyfriend knows he’s on call to assist at any given moment. He can see the back of my head. He can see where I’ve missed a spot. He is a disaster averter. Wherever possible, rope in your own disaster averter.

9. Or a second mirror

Can’t persuade a mate to help? Grab a second mirror so that you can check out the back of your head to see if you’ve missed a patch along the way.

10. Use lip balm to protect your hairline

Unless you have the steadiest hands on the planet, you’re going to accidentally apply dye beyond your hairline. No worries, just apply a layer of lip balm all the way along it before you start to create a barrier.

11. Have cleansing cloths or cotton wool pads on hand

Even when you’ve meticulously protected your hairline with lip balm, you’re not immune from dye splatter. I’ve had it on my ears, nose, shoulders and slap bang in the middle of my forehead and, trust me, it’s not a good idea to just leave it and take care of it later. Wipe splatters away as they happen or prepare to spend the next couple of weeks explaining what ‘that stuff all over your face’ is. You can use fancy specialist wipes if you like but I find that a dab of conditioner on a cotton wool pad does the trick.

12. Brush then comb your hair first

Knots = nightmare.

13. Work in sections

Although it’s tempting to just sort of plop the whole lot on your head and hope for the best, don’t. Section your hair and work from the back to the front, going from the top to the bottom of each section, to ensure full coverage. And if you want to get super professional, ditch the bottle and use a colour brush instead.

14. Have a spare pair of gloves to hand

We all (hopefully) know to wear gloves when we dye our hair, but it’s a great idea to wear gloves when you rinse it out too. I’ve spent long enough trying to scrub purple off my nails to know. Either set your gloves aside on a non-stainable surface while the dye takes or keep a spare, clean pair handy.

15. Don't be tempted to leave it on for longer

Leaving the dye on for longer than the stated time won’t make the colour better, brighter or more intense but it might frazzle your hair, so set your phone timer and stick to it.

16. Rinse, don't wash

When it’s time to rinse the dye from your hair, don’t go in with a palm full of shampoo. Just thoroughly rinse it with warm water until it runs clear (be warned, it feels like it takes AGES) then use the conditioner supplied.

17. Don’t panic if the bath or shower changes colour

It’s pretty hard to actually stain a bath; just give it a quick spritz with bathroom cleaner and wipe it down with a sponge. If there are any stubborn patches, give one of those magic erasers (which I think are actually magic) a go and breathe a sigh of relief. Perfect hair. Perfect bathroom. Sorted.

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