SOB! How to deal with a DIY dye disaster

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions – similarly, the road to the salon chair is littered with the evidence of poorly-chosen box dyes…

There are all sorts of reasons why people might reach for a box dye over visiting a salon to have their colour done. Perhaps they’re in a rush, housebound, or don’t feel the need to colour a handful of greys with a pricey dye job. But with colour seeing a momentous rise in the last few years, trying to recreate the latest Instagram trend can go horribly wrong at home. Want to save yourself some misery? We have expert colourists’ advice to avoid disasters like JT’s ramen hair.

Brass banned

Unless you’re aiming for a super-warm Butterbeer shade, unwanted brassiness can cause a dye job to turn your hair to Weasley-level orange in the blink of an eye. Going from dark to light isn’t an overnight job – something a lot of people fail to understand. Sarah Black, colour specialist at Linton & Mac in Aberdeen, sees this all the time.

“This usually occurs as a result of the hair not lifting enough, prior to dyeing. All hair – with the exception of naturally white and grey hair – is full of natural pigments, and these need to be stripped away prior to colouring, to ensure a completely neutral base.

This is particularly the case when lightening dark hair to blonde. If hair isn’t pre-lightened, which is often the mistake made when using a home dye, or the hair isn’t bleached enough to remove all the natural pigmentation, the resulting hair colour can turn brassy. This is usually the case in hair that is very dark to start with, or that has a lot of natural warmth in it.”

If you’re a bit cash-strapped for a full re-dye job, her advice would be to use “aftercare products that contain purple and violet pigments – which sit opposite orange in the colour chart and therefore neutralise brassiness – should be used to help counteract brassiness that may occur post-colouring”.

Green around the gills

Ashy shades might be in fashion, but it’s easy to tip over into green pondweed territory when you try to go too cool. Cooler tones have just as much ability to react as warmer shades – knowing your colour wheel is crucial before any dye job, particularly if you’re going solo. Lewis Parry, art director of colour-specialist salon Voodou in Liverpool, notes that “often if you try to go darker from bleach blonde you will get a green cast to the hair from not pre-toning with something warmer – especially if you use a cool colour with a blue base”.

Image: giphy

The solution? Similar to a brassy reaction, it’s all about correcting the tones. “Toning over it with something warm on the same depth can help to reverse that,” advises Lewis. “This is actually super common with people who do their hair at home because all the underlying pigment in their hair has been removed by the bleach and without a thorough understanding of the colour wheel you wouldn’t necessarily know how to put that tone back in.”

Tiger Stripes

Take some sections and slap on some bleach – highlights are easy right? Wrong, wrong, so very wrong. It takes weeks of practice to learn how to highlight hair correctly, never mind the additional training for more intricate balayage techniques.

Luckily, as it’s not all-over colour, these can generally be corrected by someone with proper training and technical know-how. Simon Schuetz, black belt colourist at Butchers Salon in London, would recommend having the highlights re-done, “as well as adding a lowlight to reduce the intensity of the stripes to create a more natural and blended result”. Definitely a scenario to seek expert advice for, unless you’re looking to audition for a Frosties advert…

Image: @butcherssalon

Know your Roots

A quick root top-up is easier said than done. The advantage of a colourist, standing over you in the chair, is that they have a much better idea of your root shade than you do! Whether its encroaching grey or darker roots, new colour simply won’t be absorbed the same way as the rest of your hair, and a one-and-done box dye can suddenly become a patchwork effort.

“Grey hair has very little, or no pigmentation, so the colour will take differently to this section of your hair,” Sarah Black explains. “Also, new roots mean less damaged hair – and as hair that is drier and more porous needs a different processing time, this can create a halo effect when applying an all-over colour to hair that has naturally grey or white roots. If you are tinting the hair with a home hair dye, stick to a root tint only, or for an all-over boost stick to a root tint and then follow up by massaging any leftover colour through the rest of your hair right before you rinse your roots.”

As with any dye job, a quick test is always worth the wait. “A strand test on a small section of hair from underneath will give you a better indication of how the roots and ends will differ when you apply the colour,” says Sarah. “Even if you don’t have grey roots it’s a good idea to dye your hair starting with the top section, front section and always at your roots when colouring your whole head a different colour. These areas will need longer to develop the colour, so start with these sections before combing through to the ends.”


Image: Madison Reed


Who needs instructions? We’ve heard so many stories of people using multiple boxes of dye to get the colour they think they want, or re-using semi-permanent shades without leaving the correct amount of time in between sessions. The result? The wrong colour which you can’t wash out.

“A good clarifying shampoo can help reduce some colour excess that’s built up – it won’t fully remove the colour but should help to remove some pigment. Head & Shoulders could be useful here but always use a deep conditioner afterwards,” advises Ceri Cushen, colour director at Metropolis Hairdressing in Kingston-Upon-Thames.

“I can’t emphasise enough how unpredictable home hair colours can be,” Ceri warns. “There’s a reason that professional colourists train for years – don’t forget that these are strong chemicals we are dealing with and while box dyes can be cheap to buy, the consequences can often be far more costly.”

Lisa Whiteman, owner of Whiteman Soho, sees these mistakes crop up over and over. “The main problem with home hair colour is that people look at the picture on the box and expect to achieve that shade. They don’t understand the colour wheel and so, when they don’t get the colour they want, leave the formula on for longer than they should trying to achieve it.”

When it comes to fixing a bad dye job, she points out that there is no quick fix. “Unfortunately, reversing the results of a bad home bleach isn’t possible, so you have to look at tackling condition instead. First of all, the ends often turn jelly-like when overbleached and the only answer is to trim these off. I’d then recommend a professional treatment like Goldwell BondPro+, which strengthens the hair fibre and encourages stability, to start to repair the damage. There is no quick solution – it’ll be a long process to return hair health. I’d also encourage avoiding excessive heat styling, swimming pools and sitting in the sun in the weeks after, while the hair is in such a fragile state.”