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 • Hair  • Haircare Guides  • My Home Hair Colour Fails (and What I’ve Learned from Them)
Some of the most common home hair colouring mistakes and how to fix them

My Home Hair Colour Fails (and What I’ve Learned from Them)

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Before being old enough (and lucky enough) to be able to pay an actual trained professional to colour my hair, I used to use a whole variety of methods to dye my naturally brunette hair everything from blonde to dark red.

Memorable highlights (possibly the wrong word in every sense) include turning my hair orange (so, so orange), lightly singeing my skin when bleach crept onto it, and ruining a shirt after swimming once with freshly washed, dyed red hair, which suddenly dripped colour all over, leaving me looking like an extra from a horror film for the rest of the day.

One or two experiments actually turned out alright. The rest did not.

Here’s what I learned before I finally gave in and started leaving it to the professionals (as well as some advice from the actual professionals).

Don’t trust the picture on the box

In my early days of trying to achieve blonde, I used to excitedly peruse the haircare aisles of Boots looking at the pictures on hair dye boxes, utterly confident that my own attempts at home colouring would achieve the exact same results.  I think it goes without saying that they didn’t.

Because what I hadn’t understood is that my own natural hair colour, any other dye I already had on there, and even how porous my hair is would play a part in how it turned out.


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Laura Pucker, the founder of Pucker Up Beauty, explains, “To choose the right box colour, consider your current hair colour, and desired result, and consult the ‘before and after’ images on the box.”

Professional hairstylist Andrea Cottin goes a step further, suggesting, “Choose one shade (or number) lighter than the one you desire as most box colours trend darker.”

While Sophia Tang, the founder of Nako Cosmetics and Zeralabs agrees, “I made the common mistake of choosing a box dye that was too ambitious for my natural hair colour. I aimed for platinum blonde from a dark base without professional help, resulting in a less-than-desirable orange tint. This personal blunder taught me the critical importance of understanding one’s current hair colour and the realistic outcomes of box dyes.”

So for that reason, I learned to leave any major colour changes for the hairdressers, with box dyes better for smaller shade tweaks.

Preparation is Key

Another mistake I often used to make in my eagerness to look like a completely different person was totally failing to do any preparation at all before attempting to transform my colour.

On one occasion this meant that I was three-quarters of the way through dyeing my (at the time quite long) hair much darker before I realised I actually didn’t have enough colour to finish.  This led to a frantic (and sadly unsuccessful) dash to comb the dye I did have through my hair.  Again, the result was not ideal.

The lesson here, therefore, is that especially if you have particularly thick or long hair don’t be afraid to get some extra product.

Cottin agrees, explaining, “It’s very important to make sure you have enough colour to cover all of your hair. If you know you have thick hair, or if your hair is past your shoulders it’s wise to invest in an extra box.”


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Other important preparation tips include using a barrier cream to protect any skin that the dye might come into contact with, reading the instructions *before* you have colour all over your head and are hanging upside down over the bath, and having a mirror handy (or preferably a friend) to make sure you get all the bits at the back.

Cottin confirms, “It’s best to apply colour to relatively clean hair. Prep your hairline with a barrier cream such as petroleum jelly so as not to stain your skin. Once you have mixed your colour, apply it straight away.”

It also helps to put the dye into a bowl with a brush (like the professionals do) rather than relying on the bottle applicator the dye comes with, as well as to make sure to use old towels you don’t mind getting dirty as well as wearing an old t-shirt.

Pucker adds, “Before dyeing, do a patch test, protect your skin with petroleum jelly, brush your hair thoroughly, and wear old clothes.”

Cleveland Clinic also advises conducting a thorough patch test before dyeing your hair to avoid a potential allergic reaction.


Toning Shampoos Are Your Friend

Especially when bleaching darker hair lighter, and even when you’ve done everything right, the results can often be a little warmer (read: orange) or cooler than expected.

This is where a toning shampoo really helps out. Based on the concept of the colour wheel, toning shampoos contain pigments that are opposite on the colour wheel to the shade you are trying to remove. So orange tones are countered with blue, while yellows are toned down by purple pigments.

Tang explains the importance of a purple shampoo. “Discovering purple shampoo was a game-changer for me after my first successful blonde transformation. It helped maintain the cool tones of my hair, avoiding the brassiness that often plagues lighter shades.”

Normally used around once a week (although it really depends on how much toning your hair needs and overdoing it can give blonde hair a purple or slightly darker look), you can either buy a separate purple shampoo and conditioner, or you can use purple drops which colour any normal hair products you have.


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I personally love these, mainly because it cuts down on the number of products I need to buy, but also because you can control the amount of purple you add depending on what your hair needs.  My favourites are IGK’s Mixed Feelings Cooling Blonde Hair Drops (£25 for 30 ml, Space NK).

When it comes to hair that has simply gone just way darker than you expected though, you can use a shampoo that contains sulphates (looks for SLS or SLES on the ingredients list, the ingredients most commonly used to produce a foam) to wash hair two or three times in a row before leaving a final shampoo in the hair for around 10 minutes.

Tang recommends looking for a dedicated clarifying shampoo to improve its colour-removal efficacy. “A friend once turned to me in panic after her hair dyeing attempt went several shades darker than expected. Together, we used clarifying shampoo and patience to gradually lighten her hair to the desired colour,” she remembers.

Cottin also offers an unexpected colour removal hack, sharing, “A few washes with dishwashing liquid should remove some of the unwanted pigment.”

There are also dedicated hair colour removal products too, just look for one with conditioning ingredients to moisturise hair.

Bear in mind that both of these methods can dry hair out though, so make sure to condition thoroughly afterwards.

Alternatively, if it’s still too dark, you can always bite the bullet and go straight to a hairdresser who can strip the colour out of hair and re-colour, although this process can be expensive and risks damaging hair.

Colour Protect

On the rare occasion I actually did successfully dye my hair the colour I intended, I often let myself down within a couple of weeks by refusing to use products to protect it.

When hair is wet its cuticle swells allowing hair colour to wash out, fading it with each wash or transferring colour onto clothes etc, and sometimes giving a dull effect.

Sulphate shampoos often speed up that process by removing the oil layer that protects the hair cuticle and keeps colour in, so look out for formulas that are sulphate-free.

Sophia reflects this experience, explaining: “After experiencing rapid colour fade with my own dyed hair, I switched to sulphate-free shampoos and conditioners, which significantly prolonged the vibrancy and health of my colour-treated hair.”

Reducing the frequency you wash hair can also help prevent colour fading, so try to throw in some dry shampoo every few days instead.

Meanwhile, UV light can also fade colour, per NCBI, so it’s worth using colour protection shampoos and conditioners which often contain UV shields to protect hair.

Pucker says, “To maintain colour-treated hair, use sulfate-free, colour-safe shampoos and conditioners, avoid heat styling, and apply a deep conditioning treatment weekly.”

If you don’t want to sacrifice the defrizzing/curl-defining/moisturising benefits of your regular shampoo and conditioner though, I really recommend dipping a toe into the world of custom hair products with a brand like Function of Beauty’s Shampoo and Conditioner, which uses custom ingredients to treat up to five personalised hair concerns, including dryness, frizziness, shine, and colour protection.  There’s even a purple option for blondes.

Alternatively, and without having to replace a whole existing haircare routine, is adding in a UV-protecting spray. I really enjoy IGK’s Thirsty Girl Coconut Milk Leave-In Conditioner, which also contains hyaluronic acid to soften hair while UV protectors shield it from fading.


The Takeaway

While I still believe colour is often best left to the pros, there’s definitely quite a lot you can do yourself to help make sure you get the colour you want.

Doing a lot of research on your own colour and how another shade is likely to take to that, as well as prepping thoroughly before dyeing, and then protecting hair afterwards should all help to make colouring go a little smoother.  If in doubt, ask your hairdresser for some tips while getting your next trim and before cracking open the hair dye.


Meet the experts

Laura Pucker is the founder of Pucker Up Beauty.


Andrea Cottin is a professional hairstylist and expert contributor at The Hairstyle Review.


Sophia Tang is the founder of Nako Cosmetics and Zeralabs.


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Sally Underwood is a journalist, *serious* beauty fan, and Editor-in-Chief of Live That Glow. Formerly Editorial Director of one of Europe's largest newspaper groups, Sally has been a beauty obsessive since her teen years spent dragging her long-suffering (but immaculately-groomed) friends around every beauty counter in London. She now leads Live That Glow's editorial operations.

Expertise: Skincare, Body care
Education: University College London

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