Anyone who has ever dyed their hair a bright color has probably experienced some hesitation at first. After all, hair color, although not as permanent as something like a tattoo, is still a much bigger commitment than trying out a new lipstick. Oftentimes, there’s a slow build to a bold dye job. When I was in junior high, I DIY’d my own California-girl highlights with Sun-In from the drugstore. Looking back, I’d say those highlights were like training wheels before jumping into the bubblegum-pink, spiky pixie cut I sported just a few years later (it was the late ’90s, y’all!) to the pink-and-platinum look I have today. If you’re a hair-color virgin who wants to experiment but is still commitment-phobic, I’ve got good news. There are many ways to dip a toe into the bold-hair-color waters before transforming into a full-on bleached babe.
“Colored shampoo, conditioner, and hair chalks are all temporary color options,” says celebrity hairstylist Guy Tang. “That said, colored shampoos and conditioners will last longer than hair chalk.” His favorite products are colored conditioners, like the one from his haircare line, Mydentity MyRefresh Color Depositing Conditioner ($24), because “you get color and hydration from the product.” Gregga Prothero, master stylist and founder of Gregga LA, is also a fan of color-depositing conditioners, with one caveat. “To really get this to show, your hair must be lightened to a pale yellow to platinum blonde or have natural platinum, white/silver hair. These color-depositing conditioners can last from one to eight washes depending on how pastel or vibrant you want the color to be,” she explains.
For first-timers who have highlights, Tang suggests trying a lighter color over them. “That way, it is just a hint of color and will wash out with ease if you don’t like the results,” he says. “Also, just trying the product on just a couple of pieces of hair, instead of the whole head, is a great alternative. You can take a few pieces from the nape area of the hair that is highlighted and place the color there. And you can always add more.” Another option from Prothero? Trying on a bunch of wigs. “That way, you can test out and see if that particular color is flattering on you. Another can be extensions with fashion colors; these can be placed around your hair and add pops of color,” she says.
My hair is naturally dark brown, and I have a memory from high school (post–Sun-In era) when I bought blue dye thinking that all I needed to do was put it on my untouched hair. The only things that were successfully dyed blue were my ears. But before you think that you must have blonde or lightened hair in order to have fun hair colors, think again. Tang’s #MyRefresh line has highly pigmented colors that can help people with dark hair achieve a hint of color. “This is a great way to try out a color,” explains Tang. “If they like it, then they can go to their stylist to achieve a brighter version of the shade.” There’s also a brand-new temporary holographic color from Schwarzkopf Professional called Colour Alchemy that works on dark bases, according to Prothero. “You apply it directly to your hair. There’s no development time, and it comes out in one wash,” she says. The colors are reminiscent of peacock feathers and scarab beetles. (FYI: This is a product you have to get from your stylist, but it sounds worth it.)
When it comes to mistakes that hair-color newbies tend to make, Tang says the biggest one he sees is not using enough product. “It is important to use a generous amount of product so that you cover every strand well to ensure even saturation of the temporary color,” he explains. “Don’t be afraid of using a lot of product! In the world of coloring, less is not more.”
Prothero adds that another common mistake goes back to it being a temporary hair color and washing your hair immediately after getting it colored. “Wait at least 48 hours before washing your hair. Using extremely hot water to wash your hair will cause the temporary color to fade out faster as well,” she warns.
Ready to experiment with your hair color without commitment? Keep scrolling for 11 must-try products, including suggestions from our experts.
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