Six things you NEED to know before you color your hair

Hair dyeing is infinitely tempting for those looking to change their look, and also infinitely intimidating for the first timer. What kinds of dyes are there? Do you need to go to a salon? What’s a toner? Why does the shampoo need to be purple? There are so many factors to consider when getting your hair colored and it can be quite confusing to a hair color virgin. I was once a clueless noob, too, so I’ve outlined some tips from lightening, to dyeing, to maintenance to help you dip your tips into the wonderful world of hair coloring:

1. There are many ways to color your hair

First, you can deposit dye directly on your plain (untreated) hair. Certain dyes are “made” for dark hair, but what you’ll really get is a tinge of color you can only see in the sun; it will still look black in normal lighting. If you’re a super beginner and are afraid of lightening your hair, perhaps you can start with this. The effect is super subtle and usually not long lasting since dye doesn’t adhere well on unprocessed hair, but at least you won’t be able to see patchiness in the coloring!

Do you see the tinge of green? Somewhat like this but  way  darker and more subtle. (Original photo by Brook Cagle for Unsplash)

Do you see the tinge of green? Somewhat like this but way darker and more subtle. (Original photo by Brook Cagle for Unsplash)

Next, you can use dyes with developers already mixed in. This is what many brown-haired people do! The lighteners are blended into the color, making it a much faster and easier process. Most of the boxed dyes that you see in stores work this way. For people who color regularly, it might help to work with the same salon to help ensure color consistency. Or, you could take note of the exact shade number and product line, and make sure your new stylist is skilled in color matching. Still, the process involves chemical alteration and so the resulting dye job is considered “permanent”.

You can get some really lovely results but are mostly limited to browns. (Photo by fezbot2000 for Unsplash)

You can get some really lovely results but are mostly limited to browns. (Photo by fezbot2000 for Unsplash)

Lastly, and what I’m most familiar with, is pre-lightening hair with bleach before depositing the dye. It often happens that you’ll need to bleach your hair a number of times to get the desired lightness, so that color shows up correctly once it’s applied. The dyes are ‘“semi-permanent” as they wash away within weeks or months, depending on maintenance.

2. It can be quite damaging… and expensive

Horror story time: I once broke 50% of my hair in half! In December 2017, I had lovely grey hair that had been bleached four times. Then I found an Etude House dye that the sales assistants told me would simply wash off at the end of the day. I chose a lovely green shade, which actually looked nice. One problem though: it was actually a semi-permanent dye and didn’t wash off the next day! It wouldn’t have been such a big deal BUT I was going to attend a wedding that had a dress code, and my dress had already been purchased...in red.

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

Well, it was fun while it lasted.

 So, I panicked and had the color bleached out so I could dye it periwinkle. This is when I discovered my hair’s threshold for bleaching: the 5th pass is when my hair starts to break. Long story short, the outer regions of my hair were 50% shorter than the inner regions. Beautiful. Wonderful. And it took more than a year to grow out, too.

The point is: hair coloring is a chemical process that can have really disastrous repercussions. Many people do bleaching over the course of several days to reach high levels of lightness, or opt for treatments in between bleaching sessions with products like Olaplex to strengthen hair bonds. Ultimately, it all depends on your hair texture and risk aversion.

So I’ve learned that I can go for four passes with no treatments in between, since the colors I use have softening treatments in place. By the time I wash the dye away, my hair is soft once again. That said, note that bleaching can cost P2,000 upwards since it’s done in multiple passes. I’d say the average cost of hair coloring (with bleaching) is around P4,500. I usually have my hair bleached in the province since it costs P500 for multiple passes and opt for no treatment since my hair is thick. I pay another P300 for color application since I bring my own bottles, but my total still comes out to around P2,400. And that’s without all the maintenance after. Speaking of...

3. Maintenance is difficult!

The number one enemy of colored hair is brassiness. Any semi-permanent dye or toner (a chemical that turns the yellow bleached hair to different blondes like ash, strawberry, silver) eventually fades away and in patches.

Things to avoid:

Hot water makes the color fade fast, and may even cause color bleeding, so stick to cold showers. Avoid shampoos with sulfates, including dandruff shampoos, since those strip color as well. Alternatively, if you DO want to fade your hair, a clarifying shampoo can do the trick! 

I’ve also resorted to shampooing my hair just 2 to 3 times a week, and rely on dry formulas on off-days. A stylist also once told me to avoid combing while hair is wet since it becomes brittle and more prone to breakage. Wait until your hair is dry before you start styling it.

What you should do:

There are products available to gently fade the color in an even gradiation. An example is purple shampoos and conditioners, which neutralizes yellow and fixes brassiness. You’ll need to keep up with the washing, toning, and dyeing if you want to maintain your color. The problem is that these products aren’t always readily available. I usually have to shop online from resellers and settle for whatever they have. So far, the only thing I’ve seen here is the Keratin Blondie Shampoo from Personal Care Express (and supposedly in Landmark, but I haven’t spotted that myself). The costs can really add up, and purple shampoos and conditioners are usually drying and vary in effectiveness.

There’s also the problem of dryness. The bleaching process can yield walis tambo-like hair that often leads to tangles and breakage. Fortunately, there are more options for treatments! Even generic keratin masks, grocery hair capsules, hair oils, and DIY deep conditioners can help. You don’t necessarily have to go to a salon to get treatments, but many people attest to getting better results from professional hair treatments.

See, the top part is yellow green and it needed to be dyed! If you’re a perfectionist and not made of money, I’m not sure you’ll enjoy this part. If you’re crazy like me, you’ll find a way to make it work.

See, the top part is yellow green and it needed to be dyed! If you’re a perfectionist and not made of money, I’m not sure you’ll enjoy this part. If you’re crazy like me, you’ll find a way to make it work.

Budget options:

Now, before you get all discouraged about hair coloring, know that I’m a student with a limited budget so I’ve had to learn some workarounds! I buy my own dye to use for coloring, then mix the remnants with my conditioner. I then use this as a hair mask for 20-30 minutes once every two weeks. This allows me to color and soften my hair at the same time, for cheap! 

I also like using Eva NYC’s purple leave in mousse to smooth and condition my tresses,  because otherwise I wouldn’t even be able to hand-comb anything. Yes, damage is to be expected. But hey, I look cute, right? Right? Don’t answer that.

Got any more hair tips that I wasn’t able to cover? Do share them in the comments!