Craving a change just to feel something? Let one fleetingly peachy-haired Vogue editor attest: Temporary hair color can help.
“If you feel like you want a change at the start of new year, but you don’t want to commit to permanent color, using a temporary or semi-permanent dye is a great way to experiment,” says Alex Brownsell, co-founder and creative director of British salon Bleach London. What’s more: A wash of more vivid or fantasy color will not only remix your look, but make you feel like a wayward 17-year-old all over again. “During lockdown, people began bleaching and coloring their hair on their own like a desperate teenager with a box in a bathroom,” explains Douglas Cornwall, also known as Discolorist, master colorist at Treehouse Social Club. “The Zoom-based realities that replaced many work and school realms no longer hold restrictions on appearance. That sense of freedom has ushered in the desire to be colorful while the rest of the world is murky.”
Whether you’re looking for a subtle tweak or, as Cornwall puts it, are in “one-day fantasy seeker” mode, here’s an expert’s guide to at-home temporary color.
Begin With the Type of Temporary Dye You Want
Generally speaking, there are two primary categories: Temporary hair color, which comes in many forms, from gels to conditioning masks, and semi-permanent hair dyes. “Temporary colors are your quick wash-in, wash-out colors that fade after a couple of shampoos,” explains Brownsell. “Semi-permanent dyes are less high maintenance, lasting around 6-8 weeks depending on the vibrancy of the color you choose, how frequently you wash your hair, as well as the condition and porosity of your hair.” For beginners, direct dyes are easier to comprehend because typically “what is in your bowl will look like what’s going to be in your hair,” says Cornwall, adding that another advantage is that they often are formulated with conditioning and shine agents built in, as well as a base color that adds a “smoky or dusty element” to give it a more lived-in feel.
If you want to take a more low-risk approach, consider henna hair dyes or softer, pre-diluted tones and color kits. You can also spike your conditioner. “Adding a drop of whatever direct dye you choose into a bowl of plain conditioner is a great way to put a toe in the water,” says Cornwall. “It will dilute the intensity and will give a soft hint of the tone.” For those that are a little gun-shy, Brownsell recommends trying a pastel semi-permanent dye (Bleach London’s Rosé and Awkward Peach are the most popular) or a color-toning shampoo for more subtle results.
Consider What’s Realistic Given Your Base Color
As a rule of thumb, typically the lighter your hair, the brighter and more vivid a color will be, i.e. achieving bolder color is easier for blondes versus those who are brunette, redhead, or raven-haired. “For semi-permanent bright and pastel shades, you’ll need to apply to a light, bleached blonde,” explains Brownsell. “If you have dark or virgin hair, these colors won’t develop true to color or show at all. First you need to lift the hair with bleach, and follow with a toner to create the perfect canvas for color.”
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For first-time dyers, Bleach London offers comprehensive at-home application guides to help decode the process as well as keep the hair protected from damage. This is especially important for curly and coil-y hair, which is more delicate and thus more vulnerable to the drying effects of bleach. If you don’t want to bleach your hair, there are a slew of products that can help you work with what you’ve got. “For so long only bleached heads or natural blondes could play in the realm of fantasy colors, but some brands like Overtone offer colors specifically formulated to show up on brown and dark hair,” explains Cornwall. “Deep purple for brown hair and the orange for brown hair are two epic shades to give a shot for those nervous to let bleach touch their hair.”
Choose a Flattering Shade
Think of your base color as the foundation of your final result. “It’s like a fabulous canvas on which to enhance with whatever you please, akin to makeup over gorgeous skin,” says Cornwall. When selecting a color for a client, he considers what colors and tones will be most flattering to their skin and eye tones. “A shade of pink with lavender will create an alluring draw for blue eyes, while a sunset pink adds a wash of warmth to skin like your own personal golden hour filter,” explains Cornwall. For a more natural-looking effect, a go-to trick at the Bleach London salon is using a hint of golden color, like that from Bleach London’s Just Like Honey Super Cool Color with a dye to add a more diffused, filter-like effect. “If you use it by itself, Just Like Honey creates a soft golden color on blondes, but you can try mixing one part Awkward Peach with three parts of it for a subtle peachy filter on blonde hair,” Brownsell says. Another thing to consider when choosing a shade is that warm colors (pink, red, orange, yellow) fade better and quicker, while cool colors (blue, green, violet) will stick around longer.
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While it’s natural to feel apprehension, don’t be afraid. Remember—it’s not forever! “Even with temporary hair color, people are afraid that it always comes out aggressively bright and punk,” explains Cornwall, noting that a litany of brands have softened direct dye tones into sophisticated blends. “You could see these tones worn in any setting, with any costume from jeans to gown,” says Cornwall. “They almost mirror naturally occurring shades of gemstones.”
Preserve and Boost Your Color
After using a semi-permanent dye, you’re going want to keep your color as bright and saturated as possible. The most effective way to do so is using color-safe hair products. “As with all delicate hair colors, the detergents in your shampoo are the culprits for fading pigments,” explains Cornwall, who recommends his clients avoid harsher sudsy products and opt for a natural hair cleanser, like Act & Acre’s Hair Cleanse shampoo, which effectively banishes dirt and grime and keeps gentle tones in tact. Another thing to keep in mind is that water can interfere with hair color, too, and reducing washes will help prolong color. “You would be amazed at what a simple chlorine filter on your shower would do for your hair and skin,” says Cornwall. “I recommend that especially for older buildings or anywhere with heavy minerals in the water.” For Brownsell, another important step is toning your hair color to get rid of brassiness—especially for naturally blonde or bleached hair. “Even if you’re already a light or bleached blonde, toning will remove brassy or yellow hues to create a clean blonde for your color,” she explains. “If there’s a lot of warmth in your blonde, the undertones will turn pinks to peach, or add a green hue to blues and purples.”
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If things don’t go perfectly, don’t be discouraged and keep at it. As Cornwall puts it: “There’s this notion of rebellion linked to supernatural hair colors and a certain confidence comes with that spirit. We all love a rebel!”