Color me cheap

Emily is 32 and lives in Boston with her funny boyfriend. She is a beauty school dropout who cannot stop cutting her own hair. She can be found obsessing about cheese and her cat at Pretty Crabby or talking about products endlessly at Tallulah Blue. She has not seen her real hair color since 1990.

When I was 15, I started using Sun In. That was all it took for me to become hooked on the cheap and easy hair dye in a box. Ever since I have been buying and trying every kind of dye you can get at CVS, Target, and the like. I have never had my hair dyed professionally. While I can easily justify spending $200 on a new handbag, it is really hard for me to spend that much on my head. I am not sure why this is. Maybe because it doesn’t last the same way a new leather bag does. After six weeks your hair has grown out and faded, but man, that bag is still so pretty.

In the 18 or so years that I have been dying my hair, I have found a few favorite dyes and now I am here to share them with you! You can learn from the times when my hair was so bleached out it was blue (true story) or when the brown decided not to hang around and it all ended up sort of orange and… splotchy. Please, learn from my mistakes. Your hair will thank you.

My favorites:

Garnier Nutrisse Hair Color – Sometimes I stray and use one of the below but I always find myself coming back to Garnier. It’s so easy and it has this Fruit Oil Concentrate capsule which you add to the dye and it all smells really good (mainly because the smell of the oil is covering the smell that most dyes have, ammonia). This is the one I used most recently, a brown which is not brassy or reddish (I try to stay away from red undertones because I am so fair and I can end up looking like an orange). I wish this one came with more conditioner though, it has a little packet so you have about enough for one use.

Cost: Between $6 and $7 Degree of Difficulty: Easy to Medium, three tubes to mix together. But nothing very tricky about it.

Loreal Feria – This dye claims it has “multi faceted shimmering color”! I don’t really know what that means (well, yes, I do. It’s like wearing sequins on your head, am I right?) but the color sure looks nice! I have found this one to last a long time and it also has a nice amount of conditioner which lasts for a few shampoos. I like Feria for when I go blonde in the summer, it is not as flat as some of the other blonds I’ve tried. I think because as well as taking the color out of your hair (bleaching it) it deposits a few different colors back on top – creating the afore mentioned “multi faceted” whosee whatsit.

Cost: About $10  Degree of Difficulty: Easy (Just two tubes to mix together, and then put on your head Voila!)

Loreal Couleur Experte – This is another one I use a fair amount. I also turned my mother on to this and she does it herself at home. This is the one you have seen in commercials and magazines with that freakish looking silver wand. (Seriously, does my hair dye also need to resemble a sex toy? Probably not.) That silver wand is one of the three tools you get to add highlights to your hair. First step is dying your whole head with the main color and then the second step is highlights.

The thing about the highlights is that they give you way too much of the lighter color. You should do what my mom does and mix it all together and then throw AT LEAST half of it away. No one (except perhaps Christina Agulara) needs so many highlights. The second tip I will give you is do the highlights SPARINGLY. Put much less than you think you need on your hair. I would suggest doing four small pieces of hair (evenly spaced along your part, or all towards the front) then rinsing the dye out and if you feel like  need more you can do more. Once you do too much, you cannot go back. Better to do less and add more later, the bleach will not go bad. You can even put it in Tupperware and put it in the fridge and go back and do some more tomorrow. At the worst, it will just seem like you spent a day at the beach. My what gorgeous highlights you have!

Cost: $15 – $20 Degree of Difficulty: Medium (Due to the tools, mixing and steps. But you can do it. Really. You can!)

Good luck! Your wallet will thank you and so will your head.

  1. Groovymarlin

    October 15, 2008 at 10:38 am

    I learned the hard way to use those highlights in the Couleur Experte very sparingly. The first and only time I used it, I ended up with a big reddish-orange splotch on the back of my crown. NOT attractive.

    I’ve been doing the base color then highlights for years, and you don’t need a L’Oreal kit to do it. I would just do my desired base color using something like Feria, then use a highlighting kit to add whatever highlights I wanted. I always have more success with highlights if I use the “cap and crochet hook” method. It’s pretty hard to make a mistake that way (as long as you are sure to pull the strands ALL THE WAY through the cap). Revlon makes a good kit that’s actually very inexpensive and that’s what I usually use to do my own highlights every summer.

    BTW Emily I looked at the photo you posted on Flickr and I do like the brown on you best, though the reddish color is nice too. :)

  2. styro

    October 15, 2008 at 6:52 pm

    I used sun-in until really recently. I have a dishwater blonde natral color with a lot of gray, and the sun-in did a good job of hiding the gray. I finally gave it up, but I admit it was a hard habit to break. Stylists were always like, “Girl who does your color, that shit is gorgeous.” lulz.

  3. Amy in StL

    October 16, 2008 at 11:51 am

    Box color always dries my hair out soooo bad. No matter what conditioner I use, I end up having fried straw hair. And I don’t go blonde. I just go up a level and go red. So, I quit trying to save money and just go get it professionally done. I used to love Feria’s reds though. They’re the best at lasting.

  4. kvv

    October 16, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    I use Natural Instincts from time to time; after Whoorls post on Feria, I thought about using that (I go a rich brown), but I’m sceered of roots! How do you deal with them?

  5. Lisa M

    October 17, 2008 at 5:56 am

    OH, Emily…you are the perfect person for my hair color dilemna. My coloring is almost exactly like yours (and I love the brown on you…shows off your gorgeous skin). I love the same brown on me, too, but the roots are too much to keep up with. You see, I have also been dying my hair since the early nineties, and now, (thanks mom) I have no natural hair color left…am all gray/white mix. Sad since I’m only 33, but that’s life.

    Anyway, what would be a good color choice that’s not too bright or brassy with my skin tone (very fair), but not ash (since that will look green on the gray) but doesn’t require maintenance color every 3 weeks for a big skunk stripe down the middle?

    Please help me hair color guru!!!!

  6. Emily

    October 17, 2008 at 9:07 am

    Lisa, have you tried using the dye and then also using something like a color glaze? I am not sure if that would cover the gray completely but it might help and keep you from having to dye your hair every three weeks. Another thing you can do is take any left over dye and mix it with your regular conditioner (or one you might use every couple days). This will refresh your color in between and possibly help with the roots issue.

    Also are you using a shampoo and conditioner for color treated hair? You can also trying washing every other day and that might perserve the color longer.

    The Nutrisse brown I mentioned above is a good one because it is not ash or brassy. If you don’t think that is a good one for you – email me. prettycrabby*at*gmail.com

    John Freida makes a color glaze for brown hair –

  7. Tara

    October 21, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Emily – thanks so much for this post! You inspired me to try that Chestnut color. (Yeah, I’m a sheep.)

    I have always avoided using anything with “golden tones” because I’m a cool blue-red (according to my Prescriptives makeup.) But I don’t like my hair with red tones – I feel it brings out too much red in my face. I also don’t like using any ash tones because I have a lot of grey.

    I guess I’ve avoided the “golden tones” because I don’t look good at all in yellow, and for some reason I thought “golden” would be too warm. I have no idea where I got that strange notion.

    I’m glad I took the chance. I really like the results with this Chestnut color. It gives me just a subtle bit of oomph, and it is not at all yellow or too warm. It’s very pretty.

    I have cool skin but warm eyes (golden hazel) so maybe that’s why I can get away with warmer tones in my hair? Whatever. I’m happy! Thanks!