Hair Dye

Friday, 4 February 2005 | Tags: , , ,

Hair colour can make you look younger, brighten your look, and may even thicken your hair. But should you pay just a few dollars and colour your own hair at home or spend many times more for a professionally done job at the salon? We learned from cosmetics experts, toxicologists and experienced users that it has everything to do with skill – and not the product itself.

The Basics

Experts agree that the main difference from one brand of hair colour to the next is in the colours.  You might prefer the shades of blonde made by L’Oreal or the red hues from Revlon.  Unfortunately the only way to find out for sure (the picture of the hair colour on the box is never the same as what you get at home) is to try various products.

Choosing a Colour

The most basic principle in narrowing your search for a hair colour is in choosing between warm and cool shades.  You need to determine whether your natural colouring – hair, eyes and skin tones – is primarily in the warm or cool range of tones.  If you can’t figure it out for yourself, ask a friend or your hair stylist the next time you’re in for a cut.


– Deep brown or black-brown = Cool
– Gold brown = Warm
– Gray blue or dark blue = Cool
– Green, green blue or turquoise = Warm
– Hazel with gold or brown flecks = Warm
– Hazel with white, gray or blue flecks = Cool


– Very dark brown = Cool
– Brown with pink undertones = Warm
– Brown with golden undertones = Warm
– True olive (most Asians and Latinos) = Cool
– Medium with no colour in cheeks = Cool
– Medium with faint pink cheeks = Cool
– Medium with golden undertones = Cool
– Pale with no colour in cheeks = Cool
– Pale with pink undertones = Cool
– Pale with peach or gold undertones = Warm
– Freckled = Warm
– Ruddy = Warm
– Brown or bronze when you tan = Cool
– Golden brown when you tan = Warm


– Blue black = Cool
– Deepest coffee brown = Cool
– Medium ash brown = Cool
– Deep brown with gold or red highlights = Warm
– Medium golden brown = Cool
– Red = Warm
– Strawberry blonde = Warm
– Dishwasher blonde = Cool
– Salt and pepper = Cool
– White = Cool
– Grey with a yellow cast = Warm

If you are mostly cool, you should avoid gold, yellow, red and bronze tones, which may have a tendency to make you look sallow and drawn.  Depending on your skin tone, the best shades are shiny raven-wing blacks, cool ash browns and cool blondes in shades ranging from platinum to icy white. 

Naturally warm people should avoid blue, violet, white and jet-black hair, which will seem to wash out your natural colour.  Depending on your skin tone (and preference), you might find these shades can enhance your look: deep chocolate, rich golden browns and auburn, warm gold and red highlights and golden blonde shades. 

There are various types of colouring options to know:

  • Semi-permanent (Level I) – also called colour stains or washes.  This will give your hair a gentle boost with no “roots”.   It’s really just a coating on the hair that washes out naturally over 4 – 6 weeks.  Semi-permanent can only darken – not lighten – and it doesn’t do a very good job at covering gray.  It is by far the gentlest option for hair and a good idea if you’re just thinking about getting into hair colouring.

  • Intermediate (Level II) – these are identical in formulation to Permanent (Level III) hair dyes, but they don’t contain as much peroxide or dye saturation so you get less change.  It will cover about 30% of gray.

  • Permanent (Level III) – these break down the hair cuticle and deposit pigment into the hair shaft.  Unlike semi permanent colour, permanent colour can lighten your  hair.  It accomplishes this by bleaching and depositing colour in a one-step process.  Permanent colour can cover gray more extensively.  It is more damaging to the hair and long term usage can result in permanent harm to your hair.  Being extra careful in your daily hair care regimen can minimize long-term damage done by dyeing. 

  • Highlighting, Streaking, Weaving and Foiling – Highlights can be added to hair by any of these methods.  It usually gives more depth and texture to hair.  You can add lighter or darker (called low-lights) to overall hair or just in specific areas.  This is a great option for the timid or the first time hair dyers.  A talented colourist can add two or even three natural looking colours into your hair for some beautiful effects.

  • Bleaching– Marilyn Monroe made it popular.  Usually this is a two-step process: First the hair is bleached and then the toner is applied.  Bleaching is very damaging to the hair (especially dark hair) and requires a lot of upkeep.  You’ll probably need to spend at least an hour at the salon every 2 to 3 weeks to cover up those dark roots.

Other considerations

For most people who are considering colouring their hair, the big question is whether to pay the big bucks for a salon job or a few dollars on the do-it-yourself drugstore brand.  What’s the difference between the two?

Cosmetics Guru Paula Begoun says there is no difference.  “They are identical.  The basic formulation is the same because the basic need for a peroxide, for a high alkaline ingredient, to open the hair shaft and get colour out and then colour in, those are standard, regardless of the product and whether it’s from the drug store or the salon.”

According to Begoun, the difference comes down to the skill of the person applying the product.  Many consumers aren’t as experienced as a professional when it comes to mixing colours and applying product.  With a little (or a lot) practice, you might be just as good as a professional!  Click here to read our tips on application.  Still, some people just prefer to leave this task to someone who does it for a living rather than dealing with a botched job at home.  Ask your friends for recommendations if you plan to go to a salon.


 We wanted to see if there is a difference between hair coloured at home and hair coloured in a salon. We gathered 3 volunteers to colour half their hair at a salon, half at home. 

Drug store brands we tested: 

Colour Results

  • We found it difficult to see the difference between home and salon colour jobs.
  • One of our testers, April, liked the salon better, she thought it felt better, and was worth the extra money.
  • Our other two testers preferred the home dye kits they could do themselves.

Our Top Pick

It’s really a personal choice. If you do it yourself, you may need to do a little trial and error with a couple of different brands to find a shade and application style that you like. You may also need to practice your application!

If you’ve decided to go the do-it-yourself route, follow these tips for the best job:

  • Do a strand test on a small section of hair to see if you like the colour and to make sure you’re not going to have an allergic reaction.
  • Wear gloves provided (and buy a few extra pair just in case)
  • Use the conditioner provided in the package.  It will keep hair looking healthy.
  • Use an old comb to evenly distribute colour.  Work the dye from the roots out.
  • Wear old clothes and use an old towel.  This stuff is dye and it will stain everything.
  • Follow the directions on the label.  It might seem obvious, but not everyone does it!

Maintaining Colour
The number one way to make your colour last is to take good care of your hair.  Avoid chlorine (pools) which will strip or dull your colour.  Wear a bathing cap or pour bottled water (which can lessen the effects of chlorine) on your hair before going swimming.  Also, use shampoo for colour treated hair and try not to wash everyday.  But keep in mind that no matter what you do, many hair colours can fade and roots will eventually show.  So once you start down the hair-dyeing road, it’s pretty hard to turn back!


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