Are you feeling a bit bored with your hair and fancy a change? Maybe you want to try something different, but don’t want to change the style or the length?
One of the quickest ways to switch things up a bit, is by changing your hair colour. And the good news is, you can do it yourself at home and save yourself time and money in the process!
Before attempting any natural hair lightening techniques, always test your chosen mixture on a few strands of hair first to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction or any irritation.
It’s also a good idea to test out any homemade mixtures on a small section of hair first to ensure you don’t have an allergic reaction.
Which hair dye is best?
Rather than choosing a shade that you happen to like and then applying it to your hair, it’s important you consider the overall ‘hair picture.’
I.e. will the colour that looks great on the model on the front of the box look the same on you? Will the shade suit your skin tone in reality?
Warm skin tones = warm hair hues
Warm hair colours tend to work well with warm skin tones. If you’re looking to go blonde, then make sure it’s more of a golden beige and buttery blonde. And if you’re itching to go brown, then make sure it’s more of a caramel or butterscotch shade. As for red, stick to golden copper colours.1
Cool skin tones = cool hair hues
On the other end of the spectrum, cool skin tones go together with cool hair colours. Platinum, beige blonde and baby taupe blonde are among the best blonde shades for cool skin tones. If you want to go brunette, then stick to dark chocolate and espresso-type colours. As for red, it’s perfectly do-able, but it needs to be cool red, e.g. merlot, burgundy or subtle shades of mocha.2
Neutral skin tones = hundreds of hair hues!
If your skin has neutral undertones, then you’re in for a treat, as you’re most likely to be able to pull off most hair colours! Pretty much any shade of blonde – from pale beige to amber blonde – will suit you. So too will most shades of brown and red – let the hair colour experimenting begin!3
When it comes to deciding which hair dye is best, it’s always worth doing some research on the ingredients.
This is because some hair dyes can contain irritants and chemicals that can negatively impact our body – e.g. this means we can have allergic reactions to hair dye – so it’s always worth spending a minute to check the ingredients list in the small print. As a general rule of thumb, try to clear steer of p-Phenylenediamine, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide and lead acetate.
How to determine your skin tone
Not sure what your skin tone is? Then it’s best you do the wrist test.
Take a look at the underside of your wrist where your veins are and see what colour they are. If they are blue/purple, then you have a cool skin tone. If they look more green/yellow, then you have a warm skin tone.4
If you’re still not sure, then focus on your eyes and natural hair colour.
People with cool skin tend to have blue, green, pale brown or grey eyes and naturally blonde, brown or black hair with ash tones.
Those with brown, amber or hazel eyes and hair that’s naturally auburn, brown or black hair with hints of red, copper or golden tones, are warm-toned.5
While we’re on the subject of eye and hair colour, check out these hair/eye colour facts:
- Dark hair is more common than light hair – more than 90% of people worldwide have naturally brown or black hair6
- Red hair is really rare – 1 to 2% of the population have it7
- So too is naturally blonde hair – 2% of people worldwide have naturally blonde locks8
- Brown is the most common eye colour – over half of the global population has brown eyes9
- Green eyes – are rare too, with only 2% of people being born with green eyes10
- Grey eyes are incredibly unique – so much so that 1% of people have them11
Still not sure about which colour to choose?
We hear you. If only we could just click our fingers and have the hair colour of our dreams….For some of us, changing shade is more of a transitional thing, especially if we’re going from dark to light or vice versa.
Two top tips for you:
- Try to stay within two shades lighter or darker than your current colour to achieve an end result that’s between your natural colour and the colour on your hair dye box12
- You can dye your hair when it’s wet. In fact, doing it this way means you’ll lose less dye and get more even results13
|Original shade||New shade||Difficulty|
|Red||Dark brown/black||Low (18)|
What colour should I dye my hair?
These shades have been flagged by the ‘in the know’ stylists as being among the ‘in’ colours20:
This ultra-white, almost grey shade has taken platinum blonde to a whole new level.
Caramel and auburn highlights are mixed together to create highlights without going too light.
As the name suggests, this is jet black, but here’s a tip for you. Don’t ask for jet black, ask for dark brunette if you want more of a natural-looking black.
Think lots of honey-blonde highlights that lift brunette hair without going too blonde.
How gorgeous does this sound?! Warm highlights (e.g. golden, honey, butter) are used rather than champagne or platinum hues.
Ways to dye your hair
If you’re having your hair dyed professionally, then your hairdresser will ask you how you want your hair to be dyed. How much or how little you want your hair dyed will inform how they apply your hair dye.
For instance, you can have:
A full head
This is where all of your hair is dyed.21
Top section or half a head
This involves just dying the top layer or top half of your hair (everything underneath will remain the same, so if your hair’s long enough to put into a pony, you’ll see the non-dyed colour below).22
Highlights are where slices of your hair are dyed, usually lighter to add more depth to your hair.23
Balayage is one of the most popular hair colour trends of the moment and involves hair being dyed using a freehand approach to give more of a natural finish.24 (Note – balayage is not the same as ombre. Balayage is the hair dying technique, while ombre is a gradient of colour).5
- Match your new hair colour to your skin tone for best results
- Choose to dye your whole hair or just one section
Nasty or nice? The ingredients in your hair dye
Greys peeping through or want a bold new look? Before reaching for the hair dye, check for any potential hair damaging ingredients on the label. Millions of us regularly colour our hair, whether that’s with an at-home kit or at the hairdresser's.
However, certain chemicals in dyes are irritants or could be bad for your body – in some cases provoking severe allergic reactions – so it’s a good idea to know what you’re putting on your scalp.
Handpicked content: What is an allergy?
What chemicals should I look for?
There are dozens of ingredients that help hair dye work its magic. But there are some potentially harmful chemicals that are quite common in hair dye.
The most common culprit that people react to is PPD, or p-Phenylenediamine, found in darker shades. Symptoms vary from dermatitis (itchy, red skin), to, in rare instances, life-threatening anaphylaxis.26
PPD is often used in black ‘henna’ tattoos instead of the natural ingredient. The NHS warns levels of PPD in this dye could be toxic, so these tattoos are best avoided.27 If you have had a black henna tattoo in the past you may increase your risk of allergy to PPD. If you have reacted to black henna or PPD containing hair dyes before it is best to avoid dyeing your hair. However, hair dyes containing PPD should be safe as long as you follow the safety instructions, including a patch test (see below).
You probably learned about this colourless, alkaline gas in chemistry lessons at school. It’s used in colourants as it opens up cuticles – a hair’s scaly outer coating – allowing the colour to penetrate. But over time, ammonia can leave tresses dry and brittle.28
In strong concentrations, ammonia causes severe burning. But even in low concentrations, like those in hair dye, it can irritate skin, lungs or eyes if you’re sensitive.
This is widely used in hair dye as it removes hair’s pigment, allowing new colours to be absorbed, from chestnut brown to hot pink.29
Concentrated hydrogen peroxide comes with potential risks if ingested or inhaled, and causes tissue damage if it comes in contact with skin or eyes.30
Even at the low levels used in hair dye, repeated use can leave hair parched and lacklustre. A study published in the Journal of Dermatology found exposure to hydrogen peroxide left hair weaker.31
Handpicked content: Hair: Get the gloss
Used as a colour additive for years, this works by combining with protein in hair to gradually darken your barnet over time.32 These days it’s banned in Europe, with calls to ban it in the US too.33
This is because lead is poisonous, causing serious health problems even in small amounts.34 However, trials by the US Food and Drug Administration found lead wasn’t absorbed into the bodies of those using lead acetate-containing hair dyes.35
How to be colour-safe
Always conduct a skin patch test at least 48 hours before using dye to check you’re not allergic, even if you’ve used that colourant before.36 If you’re visiting the hairdressers, request a patch test at least two days before your appointment.
If you’re dying your hair at home, follow the instructions on the packet for a patch test. Monitor your skin and health carefully; if you develop any redness, itchiness or burning, or you start to feel poorly, avoid using the hair dye.37
Even if your skin doesn’t react, avoid prolonged contact with hair dye chemicals; wear gloves while applying the dye, don’t leave it on your head longer than recommended, and thoroughly rinse it off.
What can I use instead?
If you think that you are allergic to PPD it is recommended that visit your doctor to be referred to an allergy clinic.38
You could switch to natural dyes such as henna, derived from the Lawsonia inermis plant, which has been used for centuries as a natural hair dye in countries like India.39 Or switch to semi-permanent hair dyes. Take care though – if you are switching to semi-permanent, consider avoiding Para-toluenediamine sulfate (also known as PTDS) as 40% of PPD allergy suffers also reacted to this dye.
If you think that you are reacting to the chemicals/irritants in the hair dye such as ammonia switch to vegetable-based dyes that are free from ammonia and other additives.
Don’t forget your patch test though, as you can still react to natural ingredients.
- Check the ingredients on your hair dye for chemicals such as p-Phenylenediamine, ammonia, hydrogen peroxide and lead acetate
- Skin patch test before you use a new hair dye
How to dye your own hair at home
Here’s our 5 easy steps to dying your own hair40:
Select a hair dye that’s suitable for you
Once you’ve decided on your shade and checked the ingredients, spend some time thinking about if you want a temporary or permanent colour change.
Patch test the hair dye
As we mentioned a bit further up, the certain ingredients may mean you wind up having a reaction to hair dye. Always carry out a patch test 48 hours beforehand.
Brush your hair and section it into four
Separate your hair it into four equal parts (two at the back and two at the front). This will make application much easier and allow you to measure out the dye properly.
Apply the dye evenly and in the right places
If you’re colouring all of your hair, make sure you go right from the roots to the tips. If you’re just doing your roots, you only need to apply the dye there. Then, leave it to take.
Rinse off the dye and condition your hair
Wash the dye out until the water runs clear and condition your hair. Ta-dah, all done!
How to naturally lighten your hair
Hoping to achieve paler locks without having to head to the hairdressers?
You’re in luck as there are numerous methods you can use to naturally lighten your hair, from lemon juice masks through to treating your hair with cinnamon.
What are the benefits of lightening your hair naturally?
While having your hair dyed or highlighted will instantly brighten it, most hair dyes are packed with chemicals which can be damaging to both your scalp and your hair. For example, dyes which make your hair look lighter will almost always contain bleach, ammonia or parabens.
Using a natural hair lightening technique instead will eliminate the risk of being exposed to these potentially hair damaging substances, plus it’s also usually much cheaper as you’ll likely have most of the ingredients you need already.
And the cons?
The most obvious disadvantage when it comes to methods that naturally lighten hair is that they won’t be as effective as simply dying it. Depending on the original colour of your hair, they may not even work at all!
Naturally lightening your hair can also take longer to achieve visible results. Instead of having it dyed by a hairdresser in just a few short hours, it may take a few weeks and multiple applications before you start to see any changes.
The best ways to lighten hair naturally
When it comes to how to lighten your hair naturally, there are a range of different options you may want to try. These include:
1. Lemon juice
This is a popular hair lightening treatment in the summer months and can be successful for some people if you’re after lighter tips or highlights.
Try mixing the juice of half a lemon with a cup of water and applying it to your hair evenly using a spray bottle.
Ideally, you should let the lemon juice mixture dry while you’re sat outside as it activates faster in sunlight. After a few hours, rinse it off with shampoo and then condition your hair.
1. Lemon juice
2. Natural henna dye
Henna hair colouring treatments are a fantastic alternative to more modern dyes as they contain no nasty chemicals which might dry out and damage your hair.
Henna – a dye made from the leaves of the henna tree – has been used as a stain for leather goods for centuries as well as for colouring clothes and henna tattooing.
2. Natural henna dye
When it comes to hair, henna can help lighten the tone of your locks or make them appear highlighted. You’ll need to mix it into a paste with water and then leave it on your hair for a few hours to see any results.
Many people claim this popular baking ingredient can actually be very effective at subtly lightening hair.
It’s often added to home hair lightening remedies and may help achieve natural highlights or make your entire mane look lighter depending on where you apply it.
You’ll need to mix about two tablespoons of cinnamon with half a cup of conditioner. This can then be liberally applied to your hair and left for a few hours before you rinse it out.
Natural hair lightening treatments aren’t without their faults, though. Many can make your hair feel a little bit dry, so it’s always a good idea to use a conditioning treatment or hair mask afterwards to soften and moisturise your mane.
How to remove hair dye
If you’ve grown sick of your current hair colour and are keen to either go back to your natural shade or try a brand new one, you’ll have two options to consider.
The first is to simply wait until the dyed hair has grown out and then snip it off.
The second, much faster option, is to remove the hair dye yourself.
Can I remove any hair dye?
Whether you can remove your hair dye at all will largely depend on the type of dye you originally used:
Permanent hair dye does what it says on the tin and can be almost impossible to remove without bleaching it. All you’ll be able to do is dye over the top of it, a process which doesn’t always achieve the desired shade and could also damage your hair
If you’ve opted for semi-permanent hair colour, it’s possible to remove it safely and easily if you have the right know-how.
Wash in, wash out dyes
For wash in, wash out dyes, all you’ll need to do is simply have a shower!
How to strip hair dye
If you’ve currently got a semi-permanent hair dye on your locks and are keen to switch it up, there’s a few easy methods you can use to remove it safely and quickly.
1. The vinegar method
What you’ll need:
- White vinegar
- Warm water
What to do:
- Mix equal parts vinegar and warm water together (the amount you need will depend on the length of your hair).
- Apply the mix all over your hair and the wring out any excess. You might want to put a shower cap on to keep your hair contained and prevent the vinegar mix from dripping.
- Leave for around 15 minutes and then wash your hair.
- Repeat again if needed.
2. The shampoo method
If you don’t like the sound of putting vinegar or vitamin c on your hair, you might see some results simply by washing your hair a few times. While shampoos containing sulphates are not usually recommended as they can dry the hair out, they can be very effective at easing the colour out of dyed hair.
For the best results, leave some on your hair for around 20 minutes.
After you’ve attempted one of these hair dye removal methods, make sure you condition your hair to replenish its moisture levels and help keep it soft.
- Dying your hair at home is straightforward – always follow the instructions
- You can naturally lighten your hair with lemon juice, henna or cinnamon
- Vitamin C, vinegar and shampoo can help remove unwanted hair dyes
Last updated: 10 March 2021
Author: Donia Hilal
- Joined Holland & Barrett: January 2018
- Qualifications: : Bsc in Nutrition, Registered Associate Nutritionist, Certification in Pre and Post Natal Nutrition
Donia started her career as a freelance nutritionist, later she joined Nestle as their Market Nutritionist to help support their healthier product range, before joining the team at Holland & Barrett in January 2018. Donia has 6 years experience as a Nutritionist and also works with clients on a one-to-one basis to support their goals which include weight loss, prenatal and postnatal nutrition and children’s health.
Donia has a special interest in; weight management, plant-based nutrition, pregnancy nutrition, special diets and disease risk reduction.
View Donia's LinkedIn profile.
Author: Donia Hilal