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Whether you’re bored, feeling adventurous, or wanting to finally unleash the rebellious teenager you silenced for seven years, you may be thinking about dyeing your hair a bold and loud color. But bleaching and dying your mane professionally can be expensive and doing it yourself can lead to disastrous results and/or a damaged scalp.
What’s a guy in need of a drastic appearance change to do, you ask? Color specialist Heather Bassano, owner and lead stylist of Manuka Salon in Naples, FL, has all the answers.
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“Ironically, I’m speaking to you as I’m waiting for my client to arrive and today we are correcting her at-home bleach job,” she tells AskMen. “While I always recommend going to a professional for any lightening service, I also understand the impulse to change hair color at a moment’s notice. If you’re determined to do it yourself, I can share how to do it as safely and successfully as possible.”
Here are Bassano’s top tips on dyeing your hair from start to finish, including ways to protect your head during the laborious process.
Before committing to something permanent, it’s recommended that you test temporary spray-ins to see if the color vibes.
“This is a great place to start if you’re feeling impulsive and want to see if a funky color is for you,” advises Bassano. “They generally wash out with one shampoo so it’s not a huge commitment.”
In addition to sprays, she recommends brands like Punky Colour, Viral, or Keracolor that offer color-depositing shampoos and conditioners that can easily color lightened or highlighted hair.
“You can use these until you get bored and then use a regular shampoo to fade out the color,” she notes.
Like skin tones and eye colors, the shade of your hair is one of thousands that make you uniquely you. That being said, it’s important to first categorize your general “hair level” to determine where it falls on a gradient scale. Since darker-haired individuals will need to lighten or lift their hair color multiple levels before it can take on something more vibrant, this chart below will show you where you currently stand and where you need to go to achieve a desired outcome.
It may be self-explanatory, but applied color will look different depending on the level of your hair. This doesn’t mean that you need to reach a level 10 to impose a significant color change — some dyes can bring fantastic results to darker shades, but you do need to know what you’re getting yourself into. For reference, here is a wonderful “Paint by Numbers” chart from Pulp Riot that details what different colors will look like when applied to different levels.
“If you’re starting with dark brown hair, you may have to lift multiple times to reach your desired result,” warns Bassano. “Each fashion color requires a different level of lift to be visible, so if you have dark hair, you’re probably only going to reach a level 6-8 on your first lift. Because of this, you may want to start with a red, violet, or dark blue shade that can come out at this level. But if you’re going for a lavender or silver color, you’ll have to lift to level 10, which will look like the inside of a banana.”
You don’t have to completely bleach your hair to achieve fun colors, though those with dark hair will most certainly have to lift their levels to impart the most drastic of changes.
“Fun colors typically take best on bleached hair but may show up on light blonde hair especially if it’s a little sun-kissed,” says Bassano. “Being naturally light really does help when bleaching because it only needs to bump up a few levels to reach that ideal level 10.”
When it comes to what’s on trend, Bassano says it’s entirely up to the client and what is a reflection of his or her personal style.
“There are so many amazing shades that make your hair feel as if it’s its own accessory. Lavender and silver are still popular, as well as rose gold…which I love,” she says. “You can mix those with silver to get a dusty version, too! I’m also currently loving neon colors like coral, blue, and yellow. Don’t shy away from being bold and use this opportunity to take risks.”
If you’re eyeing that level 10 to get the most vibrancy in color and you want to go all-in with the bleaching process, Bassano’s has excellent tips for any amateur.
“I just searched Amazon and most bleach kits come with 30 or 40 volume developer. Developer is the hydrogen peroxide that you mix with the powdered lightener. This is way too high for on-scalp lightening,” she warns. “Please do not use this! If you have a Sally Beauty nearby, you can easily purchase a powdered lightener and 20 volume developer. You’ll want to purchase a color bowl, non metal whisk, gloves, color brush, and shower caps, as well.”
“They’re typically a 1:1 ratio with powder to developer,” she says. “I sometimes prefer slightly more developer for on-scalp lightening and kind of go by consistency when mixing — something a little thicker than melted chocolate. A slightly runnier consistency will give you better saturation so you don’t have uneven lift and end up with cheetah spots.”
“You can start anywhere on the head and generously apply from scalp to ends, taking quarter-inch sections,” notes Bassano. “You can work it through the hair to make sure each section is completely saturated. More is more, so, like I said, generously apply the lightener. You can always mix more.”
“Put a piece of tin foil over your head and then put on a shower cap to insulate the lightener,” she suggests. “Just be sure to watch it carefully and check frequently to see what level you’re at. When the desired level of lift is reached, rinse your hair with cool water, which feels amazing. Then shampoo, preferably with a purple one that can also be purchased at Sally Beauty, and condition with a moisturizing conditioner. Be sure to really massage it into your scalp because it can get dry from the lightener.”
“I love the brand Arctic Fox. The colors are fun and the formulas are vegan and cruelty-free,” says Bassano. “Follow the instructions on the label, which typically entail brushing the color into dried, lightened hair, leaving the color on for about 30 minutes, and then rinsing your hair in a sink with cold water.”
Those brave enough to attempt the lightening and coloring process at home must, first and foremost, listen to their bodies.
“Every person reacts differently to lightener,” says Bassano. “A challenge you may face is scalp sensitivity. In this case, I’d recommend going with a lower volume developer. If your scalp is burning badly, rinse off the product — it’s just not worth it.”
Over-processing is also a concern for those who make dying their hair a bad habit.
“When you’re checking your level of lift, you can also do an elasticity check by pulling on a strand of hair to make sure it still feels strong,” suggests Bassano. “If it feels spongy or breaks off with a little tug, it is likely over-processed. But if you love your blond hair and still want to retouch it, be careful to just apply to the new growth and not to overlap on previously lightened hair.”
Lastly, she adds this piece of advice: “Never underestimate the power of good, high-quality products. Blond hair loves a nice repair shampoo and conditioner. That three-in-one bottle or bar of soap is not going to cut it!”
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