Conventional wisdom states that unless you really know what you’re doing, you should not attempt to dye your hair more than two shades lighter than your current color at home. You guys, it’s called conventional wisdom for a reason. Because it’s wise! And while I’m all for rebelling against authority, your own head is probably not the best place to do so. How do I know this? Because I tried to dye my very brown roots a very blonde shade in the relative comfort of my own home and lived to tell the tale, (after a night spent in orange-hued agony, that is).
A lot of people, including my boyfriend, my mother, my friends, and the poor colorist who had to fix my hot mess of a head have asked me why the [insert expletive of choice here] I would attempt do such a thing. The two easiest reasons I have to offer are as follows: one, I had dyed my hair myself a couple times in the past and it had turned out alright, so I figured I could probably handle it again. (What I didn’t take into consideration was how much longer and darker my roots were this time than before, and also how much lighter the dye I chose was.) And two, I was really, really poor and my roots were getting really, really bad.
But after having a couple of months to reflect on my supremely stupid decision to douse my head in dye on that fateful Thursday afternoon, I have surmised another reason. I think my “beauty don’t” was a major cry for help.
Suffice to say, I was not in a great place when this hair drama went down. As I mentioned earlier, I was, for a variety of reasons, flat broke. I was stressed about where I was going and what I was doing with my life, (and all those other fun questions that haunt us in our late 20s). I was not feeling great about myself, yet instead of openly acknowledging that reality, I instead opted to ignore the negative feelings, pushing them further and further away from my consciousness. The problem being, of course, that this is not a real strategy for dealing with life, and those feelings you’re suppressing are bound to push to the surface somehow. Little did I know that, in my case, it would result in the death of my blonde hair. Oh, and did I mention I had friends coming into town that weekend?
The so-called “mental breakdown haircut” is a widely acknowledged cultural trope. Britney did it, Amanda Bynes did it, and every character who has ever been dumped on a TV show has done it. While a crazy haircut is arguably less fixable than a bad dye job, I can attest to the fact that it is equally traumatic. And the realization that you did this to yourself sure doesn’t help. This is why psychologists and hair stylists alike will tell you not to make any major changes to your appearance during a strenuous time in your life. Unfortunately, it’s harder to heed this advice when you’re in a state of denial.
Back to my great hair emergency of 2017, (because I’m assuming you want all the gory details of what actually went down). Here goes: I purchased two complimentary blonde dyes from Duane Reade and mixed them together, because I had read somewhere on the always-reliable internet that this technique results in a more nuanced, less uniform color. This is definitely a thing, but, again, you have to make sure that the resulting color isn’t more than two shades darker than what you’re dying. I can’t stress this enough! And, to be fair, it probably wasn’t all that much darker than the color of most of my hair, which I have been dying to some shade of blonde since age 13. But when I slathered that mess on my dark, grown-out roots—you know, the part I was primarily trying to fix and therefore dumped the largest amount of dye on—all hell broke loose. I could tell that my brown hair, which has a predilection towards brassiness anyway, was turning orange. But I read somewhere else on the good ol’ internet that sometimes that’s a stop along the way to blonde and that I just needed to leave it on for longer. Reader, I left that color on my head for 50 minutes.
I wasn’t panicking yet. No, that would come later. I hopped in the shower, shampooed, used the little bottle of conditioner they give you, and threw on some purple toner for good measure, certain that would balance out the ginger hues that had taken hold at the top of my head. Spoiler: it didn’t. My hair. Was. Orange.
Okay, so here’s where the panic set in. I had, in a moment of freakish prescience that I should have paid far more attention to, purchased something called Color Oops, which purports to remove permanent and semi-permanent hair color in just 20 minutes. If this product in fact worked, it did not work well enough, and by the time my boyfriend came home from work, he found me in a cold shower, feverishly scrubbing my head to no avail.
I won’t lie, I thought about heading back to Duane Reade, buying a nice box of dark brown color and attempting to fix the mistake myself, but luckily, my mania was not that all-encompassing. No, it was time to turn this sitch over to the professionals. I made an appointment with the first salon I could find on Yelp that had an opening for 9 am the next day (because there was no way I was letting any of my regular colorists know about this nuclear-grade screw up), and showed up, vintage Pucci scarf covering my tarnished locks, practically begging for help.
And help they provided, but it came at a steep cost. $700, to be exact. Man, that number hurts to type. It hurts to even think about. But that’s what I paid to have my blonde-turned-orange hair—the same hair I had been hoping to save money by doing myself—fixed. And “fixed” didn’t mean returned to its former golden glory. Fixed meant going back to my roots—namely, the mousy brown color I’ve been dodging since adolescence. Lucky for me, the colorist who fixed my hair was both knowledgeable and non-judgmental. She explained that the only way to fix my orange disaster was to darken the hair, the same hunch I’d had myself (but that I’m very glad I didn’t give into solo). She was also able to place some strategic highlights around my face so that it didn’t feel so, you know, brown.
To be honest, I’m still adjusting to life as a non-blonde. According to those who know me, the new color suits my skin tone, but I don’t think I’ll ever fully love it because going brunette wasn’t a decision I made so much as the solution to one of the most epic, unnecessary screw-ups I’ve made in my adult life. Among the things I learned from my traumatic beauty experience: One, don’t trust everything you read on the internet (who knew “fake news” also applied to the beauty world?). Two, unless you attended beauty school, put down the hair dye. Three, people should probably have to undergo a minor psychiatric evaluation before being sold color-altering chemicals for their head. And, most importantly, don’t ignore your feelings, no matter how icky they may be to deal with, because those things can manifest in some seriously scary ways.
Thankfully, I always have the option to go blonde again. Just not without the help of trusted beauty professionals—and maybe even a good psychiatrist.