Don't panic—here’s how to undo a dodgy dye job.
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You’re standing in front of the mirror with a pair of plastic gloves, a box of permanent dye, and a list of instructions. What could possibly go wrong?
Well, a lot of things. Even if you’re a seasoned colorist, chances are that if you’ve executed a hair color experiment, you’ve experienced a hair color fail. But don’t worry—it’s going to be OK. Once you’ve come to terms with it (post-screaming, swearing, and crying), it’s time to remedy the mistake. We teamed up with Jeremy Tardo, celebrity hairstylist and Clairol Color Partner, to round up every possible at-home hair color misstep. Whether it’s a quick fix or something to disguise the mess until your next salon appointment, here are our top tips to help your hair get back to tip-top shape.
1 You left your color on for too long.
You’re watching a particularly riveting Netflix show and lose track of time. “If you leave your color on for too long, there is potential for extra deposit of pigment to occur. You can’t make your hair too light by leaving a tint color on too long (unless you’re bleaching), but it can make your hair darker than intended,” says Tardo. “Apply a clarifying shampoo or any strong cleanser—even a kitchen soap will work—to remove the surface layer of color from the hair. Then, shampoo two to three times and use a really good deep conditioner.” This will wash out some of the pigment before it sets in, and the color will continue to naturally lighten over time with recurrent shampoos.
2 Your hair looks brassy.
Does your color look too yellow or orange? No sweat—this is actually one of the easiest hair mishaps to fix. Follow up with a purple shampoo, like L'Oreal Paris Everpure Brass Toning Purple Shampoo ($6; walgreens.com), to tone out unwanted hues. Brassiness can return over time due to factors like hard water and sunlight, so repeat the application whenever you see those orange hues sneaking in.
3 Your color came out uneven.
You followed the dye leave-on instructions to a T, but when you wash it out, your color looks more like reverse balayage than single-dye. There’s a simple explanation for this: The heat from your scalp gives extra energy to the processing of hair color, which makes the color take one shade lighter at the roots. “You can try using one shade darker (ensuring the tones are the same) and applying just on the roots. This will darken that area one shade without changing the tone,” says Tardo.
To prevent this from happening next time, apply hair color on your ends before getting to your roots. If you’re just doing a root touch-up, apply color to the new growth first, says Tardo. “This prevents over-pigmenting the rest of the hair which has already been colored. You want to get the uncolored roots to match the rest of the colored hair. Then, you can add color to the ends for the last few minutes as a refresher.”
4 You overdid the gloss.
Gloss is a wonderful thing—it can refresh color between dye jobs and give it loads of shine. However, if a gloss is left on too long, it can alter your shade and get too dark. Fortunately, glosses are temporary and will lighten up with shampooing, says Tardo. The more you shampoo, the faster it will lighten, so don’t worry too much. Just go in with a light hand next time and don’t treat it like a daily conditioner.
5 You stained your sink and/or skin.
At-home dye jobs can be messy and accidentally splatter on the face, hands, and surrounding sink area. If your bathroom is looking like a dye crime scene, start by spraying the sink with a bleaching agent and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing. Your skin can be cleaned with a bit of rubbing alcohol and a cotton pad.
6 Your brows don’t match your hair color.
This might not be a mistake at all (if you want to rock bleached hair with dark brows, you do you), but as a general rule, brows look best one to two shades darker than your hair color. “A little bit of makeup or a root powder is great for matching your brows to your hair,” says Tardo. Try a sprinkling of Clairol Root Touch-Up Temporary Concealing Powder on your roots, or use a tinted brow gel or corrector, like Makeup Forever Aqua Brow ($23; sephora.com).
7 Your color looks too one-dimensional.
Let’s say your color came out the way you wanted, but your overall look just looks a bit...flat. “Styling your hair with movement (like waves or curls) will help to create shadows and light between your strands, giving a more multi-tonal illusion,” says Tardo. For a more long-term solution, ask your stylist for a subtle balayage or strobing. Until you can make it to the salon, Amika’s color sprays ($50; loveamika.com) let you highlight, lowlight, and accent your hair temporarily. Mist the darker shade on the ends for an ombre effect, or use the lightest shade on your crown to reflect light and make your hair look fuller.
8 Your hair feels really dry and crunchy.
Two words: deep conditioning. A solid hair mask can help return hydration that’s been depleted during the dye process. After you've washed out the dye, grab a nourishing hair mask, like Living Proof Restore Repair Mask ($38; ulta.com), and leave it on your locks for 10 minutes. Continue the treatment two to three times a week until you feel like your hair’s moisture levels have been restored.
9 You just hate the color (hey, it happens).
If you want to undo your dye job entirely, Tardo recommends reaching out to a colorist or salon that you like via email or Instagram before diving into anything extreme, like re-dying your hair. “Sometimes there is an easier fix than you might think. Most hair artists have more free time than usual on their hands at the moment, and they may be happy to give you pointers.”
Color removers can help too. Color Oops Hair Color Remover ($12; ulta.com) can be used immediately following any hair color application to gently remove unwanted pigment and restore hair to its previous color process. It works by shrinking and neutralizing the hair dye molecules, allowing you to simply wash them away. For a more temporary fix, try a colored dry shampoo, like Batiste Tinted Dry Shampoo ($10; ulta.com).