How To Dye Your Hair A Bright Color At Home

Here's how to get technicolored tresses at home while the salon is closed during the coronavirus pandemic.

If you’ve ever stared longingly at the technicolored tresses on Instagram and tried picturing yourself with #unicornhair, now might be the time to embrace your sense of adventure. When you’re confined in almost every aspect of your life because of the coronavirus, dyeing your hair a candy-colored hue can give you a sense of freedom and expression.

Or maybe you’re just bored, like Hillary Duff and Taraji P. Henson, who have taken to Instagram to show off their vivid new quarantine hair.

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Dyeing your hair to match the My Little Pony color palette gives you carte blanche to take a risk — but take it with caution. To achieve the blindingly bright color you see on Instagram and TikTok, your hair needs to be light blond to begin with, or you will need to put your hair through a potentially damaging bleaching process.

You also need to use color wheel common sense when selecting your color. If your hair is a yellowish shade of blond and you want to go blue, you could end up with green hair. Rose gold could become orange, and so on. Keep your expectations realistic, remembering that many of the photos on Instagram are heavily filtered.

The good news is that vivid hair color dye is semi-permanent, which means it sits on top of your hair and could last anywhere from a few shampoos to a few months, depending on the condition of your hair, how often you wash it, and which brand of dye you use.

Before You Begin

Throw down some towels and cover all surfaces. You will need a small mixing bowl, applicator brush, gloves, Vaseline for your hairline and ears, and a good two or three hours.

Color Theory

“For brunettes, dark colors like purple, blue and magenta show up better than pastels,” said Connie McGrath, founder of Veer & Wander Salon and Apothecary in San Francisco. “The demarcation line isn’t as visible, so the color looks better when it grows out.”

McGrath likes pretty pastels for those with blond hair, especially if you have overgrown highlights and balayage. “Pastels blend beautifully with overgrown highlights. Apply the color all over and the lighter pieces will grab the color more intensely, giving you dimension.”

If You Opt To Pre-Lighten (Read: Bleach)

Yes, your hair will be electric blue, but at what price? “Lightening can be extremely damaging to the hair,” said Nicole Giannini, owner of Siren Beauty Space in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Be careful to keep the bleach at least a half-inch from the scalp and avoid bleaching over pre-bleached hair, which can cause major breakage.”

While most bleach kits are for professional use, Giannini likes Manic Panic’s Flash Lightening Bleach Kit, which comes with all the necessary tools and easy instructions you need. If you are only going to lighten a few pieces, Giannini recommended Radical Bleach Kit by Beyond the Zone. “This one is good if you’re just lightening a few pieces. It’s a nice small package so it reduces waste.”

In terms of artistic method, McGrath suggested the following bleach application: Take random pieces of hair, focusing more around the front, and back-comb the pieces (this diffuses the hard lines and gives you a more balayage-like effect). Then wrap the coated pieces in foil.

After you have achieved your desired shade, shampoo and bring on the color! Giannini recommended lightening hair to the shade of the inside of a banana peel to really make the color you add later pop.

Unleash The Color

Those with blond hair should apply color to damp hair, while those with darker hair should apply color to dry hair, according to McGrath. “Blond hair is more porous than dark hair, so dampening it protects it from taking on too much color,” she said.

Section out the pre-lightened hair and apply color liberally with the brush. “Then massage through with gloved hands to make sure every strand is evenly saturated,” Giannini explained. “You don’t want a spotty end result.”

Post-Color Treatment

McGrath and Giannini both stressed the importance of using a deep conditioner after you rinse. Giannini also swore by doing an apple cider vinegar rinse (1 part apple cider vinegar to 8 parts water) as your final step after conditioning to close the hair cuticle.

Slow The Fade

As certain as death and taxes, your vivid color will fade. Warm/hot showers, frequent shampooing, sun, and previous damage can all speed up fading. Make sure your shampoo is sulfate-free and use a conditioner and/or styling product with UV blockers to protect your tresses. McGrath also suggested putting some of your leftover color in your conditioner, which will brighten your color every time you use it.

Products To Try

1. Just as the name implies, Unicorn Hair by Lime Crime gives you the full fantasy color palette from vibrant brights to soft pastels. Choose their Full-Coverage collection for high intensity or Tints for more muted pastels. Find it for $16 at Lime Crime.

2. Turning light hair an ethereal pastel pink, Kristin Ess Temporary Tint in Rose Gold has been a top seller since it launched in 2018, but has seen a 300% increase over the past month, according to hair stylist and brand founder Kristin Ess. It’s more of a semi-permanent solution ― it sprays on wet hair and lasts one to three shampoos. Ess said she couldn’t have predicted this huge demand for rose gold, adding, “we are restocking as quickly as possible.” Find it for $12 at Target.

3. People with blond hair usually have all the fun when it comes to Rainbow Brite hair, but Overtone created an entire line of color-depositing conditioners exclusively for those with darker hair. Find it for $29 at Overtone.

Hair Color In Bright Hues