A few weeks ago, on one of my Saturdays off, I settled into my favorite stylist’s salon chair and asked her to work some magic on my hair. After several years of growing out the dry, damaged hair that came from constant bleaching, dyeing, bleaching, and self-pinking, my hair was back to being healthy and strong, and I was ready to risk it again with some unnatural coloring. I wanted purple ombré, and I was so excited.
…Until seven hours later, when she unveiled a very distinctly brown mop of hair on my head. Don’t get me wrong; the new cut was gorgeous, but the purple was the color of mud. I can only guess that she was used to working with thinner, lighter-colored hair, and the way she tackled my stubborn black Asian hair was ineffective.
I was so sad, and went home in low spirits, and then decided… I’d done it before and I’d do it again. I could dye my own hair.
And here’s how you can do it too.
Photos by Whitney Runyon. Used with permission.
What you need to bleach:
• * Asians or others with thick, dark brown or black hair: Volume 40 developer — I picked up a bottle of Salon Care
Everyone else, Volume 30 developer (unless you are already white-blonde; then you probably only need 20)
• 1 packet of bleach — I’ve always used Quick Blue
• a pair of vinyl gloves
• Dye Brush — I just picked up whatever was at Sally Beauty
• various household items — a plastic cup you don’t care to drink out of again, sheets of foil, old plastic grocery bags, old clothes you don’t mind ruining, 2 mirrors (ideally so that you can see the back of your hair by using both), a comb, duck bill hair clips
What you need for dye:
• Bottle of hair toner– I swear by Special Effects
• Bottle of hair dye of your color choice — for me, I picked a bottle of Special Effects Deep Purple, and when I used to dye my hair pink I used Special Effects Atomic Pink. If you’d like to check out real people’s dye jobs with various Sfx colors, check out Amphigory.
Get dressed in your ratty old clothes and spread out your bleaching tools on the counter. Separate your hair into about 8 different parts and use the comb to tease it heavily, clipping the finished parts out of the way with duck bill hair clips. What you want is for the hair to not be straight when you apply the bleach because if you apply in a straight line, it’ll just look like you dipped your hair in the bleach and you’ll have a line right across. When you tease your hair, the line of bleach you paint on will turn into a soft fade after you’re done and you’ve straightened your hair out again.
You’ll want to mix half of the bleach packet with the developer, with ratios as instructed. I usually let the mixture sit for a minute or two and let it foam a little. People in salons always paint the bleach on the hair with their brush, then fold the hair up with foil, but I’ve found that really ineffective. Foil leaves air pockets or something, so the bleach dries too fast for my thick hair to really get the benefit of the chemistry. I always wrap my hair in pieces of plastic grocery store bags so that the hair and chemicals stay wet. I then put foil around my entire head to keep the hair from falling out of place. I look like a crazy person waiting for the Martian landing, but it gets the job done.
Check on your hair while you’re bleaching. The thinner your hair, the faster it’ll lose color (and the faster it’ll break if you’re not paying attention!).
For me, since I have stubborn Asian hair that is very dark and very thick, I did three passes with bleach. (The first pass took about 1/2 the bleach packet; the second pass took 1/4 and the third pass used the last 1/4.) This took about a week.
Pass #1 was an overall bleach job from around my temples, down to the tips. When you’re done with this first pass, your hair should be a lighter brown or a brassy orange.
Pass #2 was around my ears down to the tips. When you’re done with this second pass, your hair should be brassy orange or yellow.
Pass #3 was on the tips only. When you’re done with this third pass, your tips should be blonde and feeling really horrible and dry. Yes, I am advocating that you damage your hair like crazy for this to work.
If you’re a lighter brunette,I’d recommend only 2 passes — you’re already starting with a light brown color so you don’t need to lighten it up like I did. And if you’re blonde, you probably only need to do the tips to get them white.
Imagine getting an awesome purple crayon. You have a white sheet of paper and you start to color on it. The color is vibrant and gorgeous! Now imagine that the paper you’re drawing on is a sheet of brown construction paper. The purple is muddy on the sheet, right? You want your base to be as bright white as possible to get the most vibrant color. By making the tips of your hair blonde and the rest of it light brown, you’re setting up the dye (which will be applied uniformly) to show the brightest at the tips and fade out as it meets your regular hair color near your scalp. You can see the result below (sorry for the Samara impression in that left image):
After you’re done with your bleach job, apply Toner with your cleaned brush to dry hair. Toner can hang out for a while until you feel like washing it out. Sfx Toner is oddly purple colored in the bottle and on your head, but it’s basically stripping the yellow from hair to get it closer to white as possible. This is a step you can probably skip if you don’t feel like buying any extra accessories, but for me it was a big deal because it’s so difficult to bleach my hair to white. It’s just that stubborn.
Wash the toner out, but don’t!!!! condition. You want your hair to be as damaged as possible to soak in the dye. Apply your dye to dry hair. Deep Purple is so dark — almost blue-black — that I cut it with some of the Toner so that it was a little less rich. I used to do the same with Atomic Pink so that it was more of a frosting-pastel-pink than the shocking electric pink that it is straight out of the bottle. Soak your hair in the dye for a while (I usually wait 30 minutes to an hour) and then rinse with cold water.
The bad part about dyed hair is that you track color everywhere. My towels, pillowcases, doorknobs, and keyboard have little tints of purple on them. It’s difficult for me to wear white or light shirts and I can’t get into pools for fear of leaking dye everywhere. But after a while and a few washes, the constant dye-bleeding will slow down and it’ll just be a part of your life :)
I feel amazing with my purple hair. I missed having funky-colored hair! I feel more like myself :)
The great thing about ombré is that it doesn’t take a lot of upkeep. With a full head of hair, you’re always re-bleaching and re-dyeing the roots, but with a fade like this all you have to do is make sure that your color isn’t too weak, and Special Effects is so long-lasting I can’t see myself worrying about a color reapplication for a while yet.
All the beautiful photos of me were taken by Austin photographer Whitney Runyon; posted with permission. (If you poke around her site a little bit, you’ll see a full session of me on her blog, with more shots of the hair, if you’re curious!) All of the gross photos of me were by me and my iPhone :) Links to Amazon are affiliate links.