When I was in high school, I didn’t see my natural hair color for about three years. Even though my school prevented “unnatural” hair colors in the dress code, I still found myself hunkered down in my bathroom pushing the boundaries of that rule every couple of months. That enthusiasm for hair color continued through college until, against the recommendation of a colorist friend, I got a little too crazy. I’ll spare you the gory details but let’s just say my only solution was a very short buzz cut.
I tell you this not to discourage you from dying your hair but as a warning. At-home hair dying is a process—pun intended. When done right, it can look amazing, but it can also go very, very wrong. There are plenty of reasons to dye your hair: you have a few more gray hairs than you’d like, your hair is looking dull, you want to rebel against the man, you’re just damn bored, the list goes on. But if you’re going to take matters into your own hands and do it at home, you need to know what you’re getting into. It is possible to get a great dye job in the comfort of your own bathroom. Here’s everything you men need to know about dying their own hair at home, straight from the mouths of the professionals.
The Best Hair Dye Colors For Men
Let’s start here: it is not weird for guys to dye their hair. In fact, plenty more guys dye their hair than you would probably assume—and we’re not just talking about the obvious ones like Zayn Malik or Bad Bunny. If you want to dye your hair, we fully support you. The first step in any successful dye job is understanding what color you want to dye your hair. If you’re going for a platinum bleach job or a candy colored neon hue, that’s a whole other process (more on that later). The majority of men that dye their hair, however, want a more natural look—either to make their hair look brighter or to camouflage gray hair.
“It’s almost like trying to hit a bullseye with a dart,” says colorist George Papanikolas. “If you go too light, that’s going to make it look orange, but if you go too dark, then it’s going to look really inky and harsh.” It’s generally recommended to not go more than two shades darker than your natural color or one shade lighter. To make hair lighter requires more “lift,” an industry term for removing natural color from hair. Since at-home hair color is not customizable, lighter colors will contain more ingredients like hydrogen peroxide, which could leave your hair with orange or brassy tones.
The other thing to consider up front is how long you want it to last. You may assume that all hair dye is permanent, but there are actually different levels. Permanent color will fade but never wash out. It’s best for a complete change or to completely cover all the grey hairs on your head. Semi-permanent and demi-permanent dye will eventually wash out. Demi-permanent hair color will last you about six to eight weeks and gradually fades with each shampoo. Semi-permanent color can only deposit color (meaning you can only go darker) and washes out more quickly than demi-permanent. Semi- and demi-permanent dyes are ideal for camouflaging, but not completely covering, gray hair and, according to Nathan, is great for at-home dying beginners because it will eventually fade out.
How To Dye Your Hair At Home Like A Pro
Now that you’ve chosen your color, no matter what it is, dying your hair on your own usually follows all the same steps. Box color, like the kind you see at the drugstore, is designed to be “one size fits all,” says Phoebe Nathan, a colorist at Blackstones in New York City. “You take the developer, you take the color, mix it, apply it, done.” There are a ton of varieties out there, so before you start always read the directions (we’d recommend reading them twice to make sure you really understand everything). Then follow these tips below to minimize error. And if you’re still lost, consider booking a virtual consult with a colorist who can answer your questions and guide you through the process.
Set Yourself Up For Success by Prepping Your Hair Coloring Space
“The number one pitfall during application is not being prepared,” says Deb Rosenberg, lead colorist and AVP of Education for Color & Co, which offers customized hair color online. “Make sure you have everything you need in front of you, like a timer and gloves, and that you have a good space to work.” She also recommends dying shirtless, so you don’t stain your clothes, or at least wearing an old button-front shirt you don’t have to lift over your head. Most of all, she says, make sure you have plenty of time to work. Rushing through the process is not going to make it look better.
Your Hair Should Be Clean Before You Dye It, But Not Too Clean
Make sure your hair is completely dry, but don’t shampoo your hair the day you color it, says Papanikolas. “Wash it the day before and don’t put any styling product in. You want the natural oil on your scalp.” Natural oils act as a protective barrier to not only shield your scalp from irritation, but can also prevent the color from penetrating too much. Nathan advises even shampooing three days before if you can and if you’re especially concerned with product buildup, use a clarifying rinse like Malibu Hard Water Wellness Hair Remedy.
Apply a Stain Barrier Before Dying Your Hair at Home
One of the biggest differences between at-home hair dye and professional hair dye is that the one you use at home is usually less viscous, which makes it easier to spread with your hands, but can also drip down onto skin more easily. Before you start, apply Vaseline or Aquaphor around your hairline to act as a barrier against any dye drips. “Don’t forget the tops of your ears, behind the years, and the back of your neck,” says Rosenberg.
Now You’re Ready to Apply Hair Dye
Only open the dye after these first steps are complete and you’re totally chilled out. Read through the instructions one more time. Some hair dye kits require mixing and some don’t. Put on your gloves and begin to mix, if that’s what yours requires. Then start applying it to your hair in sections. Typically you should start in the front and work your way back if you’re going full-coverage and back to front if you’re doing a gray camouflage situation. If your hair dye kit comes with a brush, you can use that, or you can use your hands. “Don’t be afraid of using a lot of product to really pat it down because it’s going to minimize the chance of you missing a spot,” says Nathan, who also recommends using a double mirror to make sure you thoroughly cover the back of your head. Some at-home box brands are designed for people with long hair, so if you have shorter hair, you may not need to use the whole bottle, but always make sure you get a good saturation before you stop. “Don’t be shy,” says Nathan.
Let Your Hair Dye Sit for the Recommended Amount of Time
Different colors require the dye sitting on your hair for different periods of time and, unless you’re a trained colorist, you need to “follow the instructions to a T,” says Nathan. “If it says to leave it on for 25 to 30 minutes, do that.” Wipe the color off one small section of hair once the lower end of time is up. If you like the hair color, you can stop. If you want it more saturated, wait for the rest of the time. If you have gray hair, which doesn’t take dye as easily, “leave it on for the longer side of what the instructions say,” she says.
Your hair texture may play a part on how long you let the product sit as well. “Fine hair takes color faster,” says Rosenberg. On the flip side, coarse or dense hair may take longer for the dye to penetrate. To know how long the dye may take, try a small test area like on the nape of the neck to see how it goes. Most at-home hair dyes these days work on a variety of hair textures, says Papanikolas, but there are special dyes for certain hair types. Black guys may want to look for products that are tailored to their hair, for instance, to cut down on possible errors.
Lather, Rinse, Repeat (Maybe)
Once the timer goes off, jump in the shower to rinse the dye out of your hair. The instructions will advise you whether to use shampoo or not, but a good rule of thumb is this. If you used permanent color, shampoo your hair after it’s been thoroughly rinsed. This will help remove any excess dye, which could keep working and leave streaks or spots (if you’re bleaching your hair, definitely use shampoo, otherwise the bleach will keep bleaching). If you’ve used semi- or demi-permanent hair color, don’t shampoo, since this color fades with every subsequent wash. Once your hair is dry, if it’s a little darker than you hoped for, you can jump back in for a shampoo to fade it a little bit. Whether you’re shampooing or not, follow your rinse with a conditioner to close the hair cuticle and help control dryness and frizz which can sometimes come from dye.
Most at-home hair dying follows those general steps. But depending on what you’re trying to accomplish, you may need to slightly tweak how you use it.
Tips for Gray Blending at Home
We get it – not everyone is ready to embrace the whole silver fox look. Camouflaging grays is one of the most popular reasons guys want to dye their hair, according to Papanikolas. Sure you can completely cover them up with a permanent dye on your whole head, but if you don’t want to get rid of all of them completely, your best bet is a technique called gray blending. It involves semi- or demi-permanent hair color which “just deposits, and doesn’t lift, so it’ll probably get the closest to your natural color,” he says. He recommends using this color to “spot treat” areas like the temples where groups of gray hairs show up quicker and leave the top alone.
Look for a dye that’s specific to grey hair, like Just For Men Easy Comb-In Color, which is semi-permanent but also slightly stronger to since grey hair can be resistant to dye. Instead of starting at the front of your head, Rosenberg recommends starting in the back. She says it will create a more natural look. “Leave it on for five minutes and wipe off a little piece to see what it looks like,” she says, because the longer the dye stays on our hair, the darker it will get.
Tips for Hair Bleaching at Home
Going platinum bleached blond is a big trend right now and is a required first step to getting any bright, colorful hue, but it’s a whole other animal to dying your hair. That’s because it has a lot to do with the length of your hair, timing it perfectly, and can damage your hair quickly if not done properly, says Nathan. The good news for guys is that the shorter your hair, like if you have a buzz, the easier it is to bleach. “The heat from the scalp processes the bleach quicker,” she says, which means if your hair is longer than half an inch, you have to start at the ends and work your way in, which is complicated. If you have dark or longer hair, it may take multiple applications of bleach to achieve the look you want (dark hair become orange before it looks bleached) and you can’t do them back to back because bleach is highly damaging. If you have short hair and you want to bleach it, use a bleaching kit specifically designed for home use. If you have dark or long hair, Nathan advises waiting till you can see a professional or, at the very least, setting up a virtual consult so a professional can walk you through the process.
Tips for Dying Your Hair a Bright Hue
To dye your hair a super bright trendy color like pink or blue, first you have to bleach it (see above). Bleaching you hair removes the natural pigment so that your new candy color can be as bright as possible. Second, you need to wait a few weeks. Bleached hair is majorly damaged, so turning right around and adding more dye is a recipe for disaster. Instead, spend a few weeks focused on deep conditioning and repair (scroll down for those tips) before going back in with the dye. Once your hair is ready, you’ll follow the same steps as above, just with a dye the color of Skittles.
Tips for At-Home Highlights
Men can highlight their hair at home, but like bleaching, it’s way complicated. “It’s a gamble and I personally wouldn’t recommend it,” says Nathan. If you’re feeling adventurous, choose a dye that is one shade lighter than your natural color and “use a tool like a small paintbrush” to gently paint the dye on where you like it. Don’t use one of those caps where you pull hair through or try to do something fancy like use foil the way you see in a salon. “Paint incredibly fine highlights into your hair so it reads more natural,” she says. Then, let the dye sit on those strands for the proper amount of time and rinse it off as usual.
Tips for Dying Your Beard at Home
If you’re especially concerned with grey coverage, you may be wondering about your beard. Some dudes see more gray in their beards than on their head and it’s tempting to take the dye down to the whiskers while you’re at it. A word of caution: don’t. Unless it’s specifically designed for use on facial hair. That’s because hair dye isn’t usually tested on facial hair; it could potentially be irritating to the skin and may not work as well on coarse facial hair. It’s also runny, says Rosenberg, and “you don’t want to risk it dripping” like into your mouth. To dye your beard, use a specific beard dye like True Sons or Just For Men Mustache & Beard and keep in mind that you’ll need to touch it up more often, like every 10 or 12 days, says Papnikolas, “because your beard grows really fast.”
How to Maintaining Your Dye Job
The final step of every dye job is keeping it fresh. I mean, you just put in all that work, do you want it to literally go down the drain? Didn’t think so. First things first, adjust your shampoo schedule. “Don’t shampoo every day,” says Rosenberg. Even permanent color will fade with each shampoo. She recommends trying to go at least every other day, more if you can, and use only conditioner on days when you’re not using shampoo.
Switching your shampoo and conditioner is a must, too. Traditional shampoos contain harsh cleansing ingredients called sulfates, which can strip hair color quickly. Instead, use sulfate-free shampoos and conditioners. When in doubt, look for products that are specifically formulated for colored hair. Depending on what color you’ve dyed your hair, you may also want to use a shampoo that is specifically designed for that color. Blonde shampoos have purple tint to offset orange tones and brown shampoos have green tints which neutralize redness. These will help keep the color looking fresh as well as prevent fading.
Since dying your hair can dry it out and cause damage, no matter what kind of hair you have. If you have curly or textured hair, you may want to switch to a cleansing conditioner instead of a shampoo, which will keep hair extra moisturized even as you clean it. Nathan recommends also doing regular deep conditioning masks to help replenish the natural oils that keep hair healthy. She also recommends a bond building pre-shampoo treatment to help repair any damage to your hair.
Last but not least, be prepared for regular upkeep. “Guys have to be committed to a monthly schedule of maintenance,” says Papanikolas, especially if you’re using semi-permanent dye for blending grays or have shorter hair, which grows out more quickly than long hair. Just don’t dye your hair more often than that; I can tell you first hand, fried hair is not a good look.
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