Have you ever tried to use at-home hair color only to have it not work for you? Do you have gray hair that is hard to color, especially with at-home colors? Here are some tips that may help you get the most from at-home hair color products. This is a long post but will be well worth the read.
My eldest brother, Roger, was a hair stylist and cosmetologist, and prior to his death years ago, he gave me some helpful hints. Here are some with regard to hair coloring.
Make sure that the hair color you choose is suitable for what you want it to do. Read the box. If you want gray coverage, you must use a permanent hair color. If you see semi-permanent or demi-permanent, the color will wash out in a certain number of washes. Some hair colors now just simply say they will last through X number of washes. That’s a semi-permanent color. Take that into consideration when purchasing color. If it says lasts through 28 washes and you wash your hair every day, the color will be washed out, literally, by the end of the month. This is great if you just want to try a new color without committing fully. However, if you want gray coverage, you will be disappointed. For me, semi-permanent color will literally wash out of my hair as I’m washing off the color I just applied. Permanent hair color will not wash out or come off; you will only see root growth. The color may dim, but the effect will stay.
If you use any hair-styling products, this can affect how your hair absorbs the hair color. Even if it’s just mousse or hairspray. Hair product residue can account for splotchiness/spots after you’ve colored. This is especially true for straightening, smoothing, or heat-protecting serums. Most contain some form of silicone. Read the ingredients listed in hair products. If you see anything that ends in “cone,” that’s a silicone based item such as silicone, dimethicone, or simethicone. Polydimethylsiloxane (or PDMS) is another term you may see. These all serve to coat the hair shaft, smooth, and seal it. Seal it?! That’s right. That goes against what you’re trying to accomplish by coloring your hair! You will need to do something that strips all product residue off your hair before coloring so that nothing remains to block color absorption.
Finally, let’s talk about gray hair. It’s that stuff that crops up on your head like a sneaky traitor bent on letting people know you’re just not as young as you once were (wink!). Some of us were afflicted with a family trait that causes premature graying. I have prematurely gray hair, as did my father and brother. In addition, that gray hair often seems to be tougher, coarser, wirier, and so resistant to color that you couldn’t get it to change colors if you sprayed it with spray paint! But you can!
In order to absorb hair color, the hair shaft has tiny scales that must open so that the dye can be deposited on and in the hair shaft. At the end of the process, a conditioner and smoother is applied to seal the color/dye in place. (It’s more technical than that, but it’s a general idea of how it works.) If you are going with a lighter color, you must also “lift” the color from your original hair, then deposit the new color, via dye, onto the hair shaft so that it absorbs. That same process is needed in order to get gray hair to absorb color and not be just gray. The chemical (peroxide) that causes this change is said to have a certain volume. You may see 10 volume, 20 volume, 30 volume, or 40 volume. This determines how much original hair color is removed or lifted when the chemical is applied. For example, 10 volume takes it up 1 level, 20 volume 2 levels, 30 volume 3 levels, and so on.
Most department store products contain 10-volume solution. Some contain higher volume and usually say so on the box. However, the wording may not be consistent. It may say volume. It may say level. It may say it comes out in X number of washes. My favorite hair color, Loreal Feria, lists “level 3,” which would correspond to 30-volume developer solution. That’s what I need for my stubborn grays. If you have hair that is normal, most hair colors will work for you. However, if you have hard-to-color hair or gray hair that is nearly impossible to color and you don’t want to have to go to a salon, here is a trick that may work for you to get the most lift so that the dye works as it should.
It’s likely in your kitchen cabinet, and it serves a dual purpose. Not only does it strip any residual hair care products off your hair, it opens up the hair shaft that it’s ready to accept and absorb hair color.
It’s baking soda. Yes, you read that right. Baking soda.
And slightly “dirty” hair. That’s hair that’s been washed in the morning, allowed to do its thing all day without hair products, and then colored at night…. Or washed at night and colored in the morning. You get the idea.
What works best for me is to wash my hair in the morning using baking soda with a diluted vinegar-water rinse then color it that night. I put the baking soda on my scalp, near the roots which have grown out, and massage the hair between my fingertips. The point is to really rough up the hair and rinse the baking soda out thoroughly. After that I use a generous solution of half white vinegar and half water to apply to the hair. Massage through, then rinse. The white vinegar and water neutralizes any residual baking soda.
This is going to leave the hair feeling strange and dry, almost sticky. This is good. It means the hair shaft is “open.” I recommend allowing it to air dry or dry quickly with a blowdryer and then put your hair up out of the way because you do not want to apply styling products.
A few hours later, I dye my hair. This allows some natural oils to seep out and protect the scalp. I apply the color to the roots only, let it sit, and then massage the color through the hair. Follow the directions on the box of color to complete the dye process. That’s it!
Be aware, though, that you might just want to color the roots. Hair that has been dyed previously already has a hair shaft that is open and will readily absorb color. This is why some people buy the same hair color and then occasionally get a surprise darker head of hair than usual if they apply the hair color to the entire head of hair from roots to tips.
I’ve seen some recommendations to add baking soda to your shampoo and scrub. That works okay, but oftentimes shampoos contain moisturizers and smoothers. These are the very things you were trying to get rid of, and this defeats the purpose of using the baking soda. You can use a slight bit of nonmoisturizing dish soap to make a paste and apply to the hair, but only do this when you’re ready to color, as dish soap is very harsh and strips the hair even more.
So there you have it! Using these techniques is not a fail-safe method, but it can help you get the color results you want to achieve, especially for hard-to-color or gray hair. It’s an economical way to achieve a style you want, get results that are consistent, and avoid an expensive trip to the salon.