At Home Hair Color Theory

Many years ago, I dyed my hair a lot of different colors. I spent a lot of time on, which is a fantastic site, and learning what’s up. I was so enthusiastic about this that I became the at home hair color expert on But this was pretty short-lived. Why? Because instead of being asked about how to achieve beautiful blue, green, or purple hair, I kept getting asked the same thing over and over – I tried to dye my hair blonde but it turned orange! omg what do I do?!

Sigh. People just need to learn to read instructions sometimes, amirite? But let me break it down for you, along with all the other basic info about dying your hair salon-free.

Bleach vs blonde dye and how box dyes work

Bleach is something that, lack of my knowledge of chemistry aside, lightens hair. Of course we know this. But what many people don’t really know is that it is NOT a dye, and absolutely not the equivalent to dying your hair blonde. Bleach will strip color whereas dye adds it. Bleach doesn’t make your hair blonde so much as it makes it yellow. Starting from black, bleach will go through stages of red, orange, yellow, white, and finally bald. It works with heat, so this is why you need to start at the tips and work your way up gradually, otherwise the heat from your scalp, making the bleach process faster, will result in a fire effect which is admittedly pretty awesome looking. This is also why bleaching out green or blue, which are the opposites of red and orange respectively, is very hard. It gets lighter, but it’s tough to make it really go away. Bleach makes your hair porous, and the lighter it is the more porous it is, which is why bald follows white. You want to be very careful at the white stage, and make sure your hair isn’t already too damaged. Bleach is TERRIBLE for your hair (and burns like hell on your scalp), but sometimes necessary to get the color you want. Please use bleach responsibly, and you’ll be ok.

Bleach is necessary in achieving white or silver/grey hair. To get white, a weak lavender veggie dye (for example Manic Panic Virgin Snow, or any shade of purple heavily diluted in conditioner, like half a teaspoon/1 cup) is used after bleaching to the lightest shade you can (please don’t bleach to white, I will not be held responsible if you lose clumps of hair). This works because purple is the opposite of yellow so the two cancel each other out. Silver/grey is achieved by doing the same thing except with very weak blue.

Bleach also comes in different strengths, called volumes. There’s 20 vol, 30 vol, and 40 vol. 20 won’t do much, 30 is the most commonly used, and 40 will destroy your hair if it isn’t in good condition.

Dye on the other hand uses developer to lift your color like a bleach, and deposit the color in its place at the same time. But it doesn’t have enough developer in it to lift your hair more than two shades or so, hence the guides you see on the side of the box. If you try to dye dark hair blonde, it won’t be able to take it all the way there, and depending on the shade it could turn your hair orange or some other color you didn’t want, or just not do a damn thing at all. For dark hair to go blond you need to bleach first to lighten it to the level you want, and dye second. However this is kind of expert territory, and very easy to get wrong. If you intend to do this I beg you to go to a salon.

There are shades of blond. Strawberry blonde has a red base, golden blonde has a yellow base, and ash blonde has a green base. Yes, I said green. People have ended up with green hair.

One last note: Semi-permanent box dyes are much less damaging than permanent ones because they contain much less developer, if any. Their purpose is to be used to enhance the color you already have and fade after 30 days. However, if you intend to dye your hair quite a bit darker, it will last just as long as a permanent one, with a fraction of the damage!

How veggie dye works

Veggie dyes are natural conditioner-based dyes in bright cartoony colors that work by filling up the pores in your hair created by bleach and/or other types of damage. You need to start with bleach or very light dyed blonde hair for it to really get in and show up as bright as it’s supposed to. Used on darker or natural hair, it will show up in a much more subtle way, and will probably fade quicker too. Because veggie dye has no developer in it, you can mix colors to get the exact shade you want, and you can leave it in your hair indefinitely. Some people even cover their head in saran wrap and a towel and sleep with it overnight before rinsing it out! Keep in mind here that this color isn’t opaque, so when you’re dying one color over another it won’t show up in its purest form. Think of it as layering different colors of cellophane. Blue over red will show up a lot more purple than intended, and green over red, as I learned when I was 19, is just gross.

Coloring alternatives

Sometimes you just really don’t want to do the damage to your hair necessary to achieve the color you want. So there are a few ways of getting around this. This involves using extensions, so your own hair isn’t affected. The best way to do this in my opinion it to get a set of clip-ins. If you can’t find the color you want, buy blonde ones and dye them the color you want. “Human hair” is not actually human hair at all, but means that it behaves like it, despite often feeling like barbie hair, so as long as it’s labelled this way you’re good to go. You can also dye it in crazy patterns, such as stripes and leopard spots, and some people sell clip-ins like this on etsy if you don’t feel up to the work. Alternatively there are also what are called “falls”, which attach to a ponytail or pigtails. These are super fun to make and can also be purchased on etsy. If you want something more permanent than clip-ins, synthetic hair can be braided or micro-beaded into your own, and there are lots of sites selling hair for this purpose. Finally, there are a whole lot of alternative subcultures full of people who routinely attach things that are not at all hair into their hair, including wool, plastic, foam, and anything you can think of. If you’re more on the wild side, these can be a fantastic way to go all out and make your hair look like nature never intended. The creativity of these people astounds me.

So there you go! Go make yourselves gorgeous!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s