Color Your Hair at Home Tips from a Non-Professional Hair Junky

The first time I colored my hair, I was about 12 or 13 and I added highlights via Sun-In. Remember that product in the early days? It’s still around, but I haven’t used it in many, many years. It turned your hair a lovely shade of clown orange but made you feel like you were one of the beauties of summer.

Fast forward to the age of 45 and once again I decided it was time to highlight my hair, but this time to cover the gray that is coming in snow white and thus shows up very obviously against my medium brown hair. The only solution is to dye every few weeks to re-cover the white or to highlight and thus camouflage it. I decided to highlight at home. Yes, I should know better, but I still haven’t learned my lesson.

In my mind, my hair was going to be beautiful with these very thin platinum blonde highlights, similar to the picture above. Of course, it would be an added bonus if I could look that young again, too, but the boxed highlighting kit only promised easy brush-on highlights.

Now, I’ve colored my hair enough that I know that you must lift color in stages. First you take out the brown, and then red, orange, yellow and finally you get that pretty platinum color. The problem is that it is hard to get to that color without completely frying your hair when you’re doing it at home. Actually, I’ve had beauticians fry my hair, too, so it is just hard to get that color at all from medium brown or darker.

Orangutan Orange

orangutan orangeNow, I really thought my hair had lightened to a lovely shade of golden blonde. I knew I wouldn’t get the platinum on my first try at home, but blonde was the goal for the highlights. I rinsed the bleach out and started to blow dry my hair.

It had a decidedly orangutan-orange cast to it. Instead of looking like the beautiful model above, I looked more like this guy to the right. Oh boy!

Fixing the Mistake

This isn’t my first hair rodeo. This isn’t my first highlighting mishap. In fact, even though I know much better, I recently put ash brown over my daughter’s blonde hair and turned it green. That one required an emergency trip to the hairdresser to lift the brown back out and thus most of the green cast.

So, with that fresh in my mind I knew better than to put just any color back over the highlighted hair. One of the first things that beauticians learn about color is that there is a color wheel with opposites. It is all a balancing act and while an at-home, untrained individual can’t hold a candle to a professional colorist, not all of us can afford or want to pay for a professional coloring job every single time we get our hair done. If you get your highlights touched up every four to six weeks, you’re spending $800-$1000 a year on hair coloring. On top of that, some colorists aren’t so great (if you find a good one, keep her!) and you pay all that money and hate your hair.

By contrast, I can do the same thing at home for about 1/4 to 1/3 the cost. I just don’t want it to look like I did it at home, or like maybe someone who was five years old decided to add color to my hair and her favorite color is orange.

Anyway, here are the basic color fixes in a nutshell.

  • If your hair is orange, you need to add some purple or violet tones. Personally, I think it advisable to stay away from reddish tones (golden brown or reddish brown, for example) at this point. Some stylists may disagree with me, but for my own hair if I add more red to orange it gets really orange-red.
  • If your hair is blonde, never ever add ash brown to it. It will turn green or gray and it will be a very ugly color that is hard to fix. It almost always requires a visit to the salon to get that tinge of color out. You have to add the red tones back in before going brown, so do it in stages. Do a medium strawberry blonde, then perhaps a light golden brown and finally go to your brown color.
  • If your hair is green, some people say to add red. You can try it. Go for an auburn or reddish brown. Personally, I’ve not had luck at home with this. The only thing I’ve ever been able to do to fix this is to visit the salon and get them to put on a toner or to lighten it more and thus lift out the green cast.
  • Try to only go a shade or two lighter/darker than your natural hair color at a time. If you have colored more than a couple of times, you’re probably stuck with that color for a few weeks or so. Do too much to your hair and it will become very damaged and/or start to fall out.

How I Fixed My Orangutan Hair

I had already highlighted my hair, which is a bit damaging. I knew that I had one more shot to fix it or I was probably stuck with orange, green or whatever color hair for a few weeks or an expensive visit to a salon. Fun!

So, I thought it through very carefully. I didn’t want to put a reddish or golden brown on my hair because it was already reddish and I wanted to tone that down. However, some strands had developed more and were definitely blonde (yes, I just needed to leave the highlighter on longer, but I didn’t). If I added an ash brown to tone down the red, the blonde would turn green or gray. Not the look I was going for.

I also knew I didn’t want my hair back to a medium brown. The white/gray is just showing through too much against that color. So, I finally settled on L’oreal in a light brown (neutral). The result turned out pretty good. I kind of like it. My hair is a bit lighter, so I think the white will blend in as it starts to grow out. You can still see some of the shading of the highlights and there are some copper pieces mixed in but it is toned down and doesn’t look so much like I’m getting ready to attend a clown convention.

Don’t Be Scared

lori hair color

My hair is not styled and it is rainy today, so excuse the frizz, but this is the color I wound up with. I kind of love it.

Honestly, you can save a bundle by doing your hair at home. There are times when I go to a hairdresser to have it shaped up or colored, but I usually am not happy with the results and return to doing it myself. I have a basic shoulder length bob with layers around my face and straight bangs. I am never happy with how they cut it and how it styles after. I truly am happiest with how it looks when I cut it myself.

Don’t be afraid to color your own hair. So what if you mess up the color? You can always run to a professional and have it fixed. You can also easily fix it yourself at home. And, if you have to live with green or orangutan-orange hair for a few weeks, is it really the end of the world? It gives you a story to tell and something to laugh about later.

You  may wind up with a color you really like, like I did. Also, going a shade lighter than my normal color (from medium brown to dark brown) gives me a little courage that I might even go a shade or two lighter than that. You never know, one day I may just embrace the white hairs of wisdom and go totally blonde.

Share your experiences about coloring your own hair below. Nightmare? Best choice you ever made?

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Crabby Housewife

Crabby Housewife

Lori is a full-time housewife and writer, living in the Midwest with her husband of 27 years - they have two daughters. They have a house full of pets and her house is never quite perfect.