The Power of Colour

It's estimated that up to 80% of us colour our hair at some point in our lives – either to add a bit of pzazz to dull mousey brown hair, give hair a bit of illusionary fullness through colour depth or cover dreaded greys.

And most of us still get the job done professionally because we’re uneasy about using home hair colourants – especially permanent and semi-permanent ones – which is understandable when you think how central hair cut and colour is – it speaks volumes about us and it’s the first thing people notice when they meet us.

Most of us have been there – umming and ahhing at the pharmacy counter over whether we're choosing the right colour for our natural hair/skintone or clothes, whether the dye we use will ruin the condition of our hair – forever – or put years on us.  Uncertainty about home colourants prevails despite the advances made with formulas in recent years.

The keys to successfully colouring your own hair lie in identifying a shade that works well with your natural hair colour (so one that doesn’t give brown hair a ginger hue or turn blonde green) and flatters your skintone, and deciding on the type of colourant: temporary ones, which last a wash, and semi-permanents, which have smaller molecules than temporaries so penetrate more of the hair shaft and fade after a few weeks, allow you to dip a toe in with colour; demi-permanents – like permanents but which use an alkaline developer rather than ammonia, so won’t lighten hair – and permanents, which grow out with your hair, are more of a plunge and best done when you are sure about the shade.  

Once that decision is made, it’s time to think about your color.  And there are plenty of choices here because home colourants have come a long way since the days when your mother was faced with a stark choice of bottle blonde a la Jean Harlow or Liz Taylor brown.  

Start this research with your skintone.  As a rule of thumb, what are known as 'cool' skintones are pale with pink, blue-red or no obvious undertones.  If this seems to describe you, and your hair is fair, choose a hair colourant like platinum or cool ash blonde; if you are a brunette with this skin colouring, choose wheat to chestnut brown.  Avoid red shades – they will do nothing for your natural colouring, trust me.  Medium to deeper ‘cool’ skintones generally have olive undertones and are best flattered by dark browns, deep burgundy reds, or even blue-black colourants (careful not to go too Goth though – it’s easily done).

'Warm' skin tones usually have peach or golden undertones.  Lighter ‘warm’ skins –peaches and cream or golden tan –coloured skin – look best with lighter hair colours that have a warm undertone like beige blondes, strawberry reds and pale golden brown.  If you have a richer ‘warm’ skin tone you are likely to have more yellow-red undertones, and will suit complementary richer shades like deep honey blonde, chestnut brown or copper red.

The best of the new home hair colourants don’t damage your hair – a worry which puts many off using it; hair feels soft and shiny after use, which is a plus because you should avoid conditioning after colouring anyway to allow dye to take hold.  Always do a strand and allergy test according to the manufacturer’s instructions before using a new brand though.

Colour care: maintain your head-turning colour

  • Chemically treated hair needs looking after: choose shampoos and conditioners with neutral to acid pHs (these are usually labelled 'pH-balanced' or contain citrus fruit, milk or beer extracts).  Alkaline products can disturb the cuticle, reducing shine and causing colour to fade; slightly acidic shampoos, by contrast, make the cells of the cuticle lie flat, keeping moisture in hair, increasing shine and prolonging colour.  
  • To help colour last between applications, try a colour-enhancing shampoo and/or conditioner that falls into the above bracket.  These work by depositing a small amount of pigment onto hair.  Or use a leave-in conditioner to limit lots of rinsing.
  • Ultraviolet (UV) light can dramatically shorten colour life as the colour lightens quickly and dark hair may end up distinctly gingery.  UVB rays also destroy the sulphur bonds that maintain hair strength.  So when you’re in the sun wear a hat, coat your hair with a leave-in conditioner or comb a specially formulated, alcohol-free, water-soluble sunscreen through hair and rinse it thoroughly after swimming.