It's happened, even to the best of us. You used a store-brand box dye to change your hair color, and it didn't quite come out the way you were hoping. Sometimes, at-home box dyes can lead to minor mishaps like a color that's slightly too dark or hair that's feeling brittle. Other times, though, they can cause disaster in the form of hair that's totally uneven or even straight-up orange.
According to London-based colorist Leanne Chadwick, there's a reason those at- home hair dyes that come in a box can be so fickle. It mostly comes down to the developer, the part of the dye that opens up the hair follicle so that pigments can penetrate them. "You have one box dye that 'everyone' can use and achieve the same color, therefore, the strength of the developer will need to be strong enough to lift very dark hair, even if someone with really light hair is also using it," Chadwick explains. In other words, developers can't be customized to your specific hair color with a box dye as they can be in a salon. That's why at-home box dye kits come with far less predictable results and can lead to all sorts of common kerfuffles.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, only a select amount of hair salons are open in the country right now, which means seeing a professional to correct a box dye mistake isn't in the cards for everyone at the moment. If you've recently used an at-home hair dye and aren't a fan of the way your color turned out, however, there are a few things you can do to course-correct at home, according to colorists.
According to Los Angeles colorist Guy Tang, at-home hair color mistakes like this one are pretty common because the application process isn't as simple as box dye instructions often suggest. "You can’t just slap it on all over and go," he explains. "You must go section by section."
If you ultimately like the dye shade you've tried but need to even it out, you'll need to wait for a while before doing anything else to your hair. "To make even tones throughout the hair, you must create an even canvas from the start," Tang explains. To get that even canvas, he says you can either wait for the uneven splotches of dye to fade out, or you can wait to have it bleached out by a professional (bleaching already-dyed hair at home is way too risky).
You can speed along the fading process, however, pretty easily on your own. "If the tone is slightly darker in some areas, you can try to scrub those areas with a clarifying shampoo to lessen the visibility of the different tones," Tang says. If you can eventually achieve that even base, you can re-dye the hair — if your hair is healthy enough, that is.
"This [process] really depends on the health of your hair and how much your hair can handle," Tang says. "If your hair is getting harder to brush and feels more tangled and crispy, you must wait."
If you do end up re-doing your hair completely, make sure you have enough dye to fully soak all of your hair, because having too much hair dye is better than not having enough, according to Tang. "A big mistake I often see is that people are applying color to very large sections of hair and aren’t applying enough color for even color saturation," he says.
He advises separating the hair into "small slices" and applying color by starting at the roots and working the color down to the ends. If you have a hair-dye applicator brush on hand, make sure you use it. "[You can] really push the color brush into the hair to ensure the color application is saturated and even," he says. "The process may look tedious but it is what gives the best results."
Chadwick says the biggest rule of DIY hair coloring is to never attempt to remove dye by yourself at home, especially if that dye is darker than anticipated. Unfortunately, you can't lighten up a really dark dye job by simply dying over it with another, lighter box dye shade.
"People think applying color over already colored hair will make it lighter — this is not the case," Tang explains. "Color cannot lift color out of the hair." Though Tang, Chadwick, and other colorists would never recommend trying to completely remove or color over a too-dark box dye, there is a quick way you can soften up the pigments for a look that's less intense.
"All you need to do is try to reduce the color build up on the hair so your lighter color starts to show through from underneath the darker color," Chadwick says. To do that, you just need a strong clarifying shampoo. St. Louis, Missouri-based colorist Kristina Cheeseman always recommends Head & Shoulders Shampoo to clients who need an immediate fix but doesn't recommend relying on it for color-correction in the long term.
To get the most effective results from your clarifying shampoo, Tang recommends washing multiple times in a row with hot water. "Really work that clarifying shampoo into your hair," he says. "Doing this three or four times every time you shower will lift quite a bit of color out of the hair." According to Tang, you can do this immediately after your dye job if you want to. If your hair feels extra dry and delicate, however, he recommends waiting to do this until you can get it to a healthier state.
Chadwick also recommends using a clarifying shampoo to dilute dark box dyes but warns that it does come with its downsides. "This will make your hair feel dry, so ensure you have a really good conditioning treatment for after," she explains. "Davines Ol Conditioner is one of my favorites."
When using at-home bleach kits and blonde dyes, the hair can react by turning yellow or orange because of what colorists call the lightening curve. "The darker the hair on the lightening curve, the warmer the undertone that is exposed when lightening the hair," Chadwick says. "Box dyes will only lift a certain amount of levels, and lifting darker hair will result in exposing those warmer undertones."
To combat this, Chadwick and Cheeseman both advise turning to the color wheel you might remember from high school art classes. As Cheeseman explains, complementary colors — or colors that are on opposite sides of the color wheel — neutralize each other.
"To counteract yellow hues you need to use something that has violet in it; to counteract orange tones you'll need to use blue hues," she says. This doesn't mean you should cover brassy hair with a blue or purple hair dye. Instead, you should look for toning shampoos and conditioners that can control the undertone of your hair without turning it another color. Cheeseman loves the Matrix Total Results line, which includes blue and violet shampoos and conditioners. DpHue's Cool Blonde Shampoo and Conditioner is another favorite duo of hers.
Chadwick, on the other hand, swears by Fanola's No Orange Shampoo & Mask and No Yellow Yellow Shampoo & Mask. She recommends selecting one of these duos depending on how brassy your hair is, then shampooing and towel-drying before leaving the mask on for 40 minutes.
Another caveat of dyeing your hair with a boxed bleach kit is that it's possible to leave it in for too long and go lighter than you wanted. In this situation, most people's instinct would be to buy a slightly darker color and simply dye over it — but Chadwick says that can just cause further problems. "If your color is too light, try toning it down with pigmented conditioners," she recommends instead. "Davines does an amazing brunette pigmented mask, which would tone a light brown to more chocolate and a blonde to a bronde."
ishonest also recommends reaching for the Best of Beauty-winning Coloring Conditioner from Overtone, which comes in just about every hair shade you could ever imagine. You can use a brown pigmented shade to darken hair slightly, or you can reach for a wilder color like trendy pink or blue. After all, Cheeseman says being able to play around is a huge upside to accidentally dyeing your hair too light.
"Try new temporary colored conditioners — play with spring blush and peach tones," she advises.
Thanks to their strong universal developers, box dyes can leave hair feeling dry or damaged — and that, unfortunately, is usually where a professional must come in. "Once you've damaged your hair there isn't anything that will save [it] except a haircut," Cheeseman says. Of course, you likely do not have access to a salon right now and might not want to give yourself a haircut, either. Thankfully, there is one hair-healing treatment that Cheeseman and Chadwick both recommend in this scenario: Olaplex.
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