How to: Choose a Home Hair Colour

By | April 14 2009 | 15 Comments

hair dye

We’re firmly in the throes of a full-blown recession right now, and last week’s budget just hammered that fact even further home.

We need cheapo beauty solutions, people, and fast. If you can get it right, home hair colour is one of the areas you can save really significant amounts of cash, and last week Aphrodite told you about Garnier’s new Herbashine, an ammonia-free dye. I also recently wrote about Clairol’s latest launch, Perfect 10, a part of their Nice n’ Easy line – and there are many more options out there.

But. Er – what’s meant for what? And how do you know what sort of dye to choose? Right – lets break it down. There are a few types of home hair colourant, and they’re basically differentiated by the level of penetration of colour into the hair shaft. Starting from the top down, they are as follows:


Permanent hair colour contains peroxide and ammonia and will firstly lighten and then add colour back to your hair and effectively cover greys. For best results, you should stick to a new tone that’s within two shades of your real hair colour. While permanent colour can fade through UV exposure and washing with harsh products, it is what it says it is – permanent. So It’ll stay the same for as long as the hair exists on your head, meaning mistakes with this sort of dye are the hardest to rectify, and it also needs work to keep roots in check once they start to show. You will need to use special colour-care shampoo and conditioner afterwards to keep hair looking great, too.
BEST FOR: darker haired gals looking to go lighter, achieving highlights, those with a lot of grey to cover, and ladies who are committed to a lot of maintenance.
BUY: L’Oreal Feria or Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Perfect 10


Tone-on-tone or demi-permanent dyes come between the permanent and semi-permanent spectrum, and use low doses of peroxide to help colour soak into the hair shaft. But unlike permanent colour, the benefit is that they will wash out in about 12-18 shampoos, plus they’re a lot kinder to hair. So you can have the look of a new hair shade, without the hassle of permanent maintenance, because once it’s washed out, you’re back to your normal gruaig. Keep the colour looking great with the right care products, and you can expect to see 50% of greys covered with this method.
BEST FOR: Dark haired girls looking to cover the first signs of grey, and those with mousy brown or dark blonde hair who want a vibrant, brighter-looking mane. What tone-on-tone can’t do is provide highlights, so if this is what you’re after, you’ll need to use permanent colour.
BUY: Garnier Herbashine


Using a process that coats the outer shaft of the hair and dyes the top layer of the hair cuticle, semi-permanent colour gives results for four to six weeks. Great for trying out a colour for size before you go for the full-on permanent effect, it will also cover greys and can help you to go darker, but not lighter, as it contains no bleach. Downside? It can come off on clothes, bedsheets, towels – you name it. Stargazer in Flamingo Pink (applied over previously bleached-to-the-maxXx hair) was my colour of choice as a nipper, and it’s typical of these sort of products.
BEST FOR: commitment-phobes and pale-haired girls looking to add a bit of temporary richness to their hair. It will also add gloss and shine to any hair colour.
BUY: Garnier Movida or Clairol Glints


These sort of products are great if you’re a committment phobe or just want a bit of fashion colour without resorting to the whole bleaching and colouring shebang, which of course damages hair. The downside of these fellas is they’re not that apparent on darker hair and they won’t have any form of lightening effect. Typically they come in a sachet or as a mousse.
BEST FOR: only good for use on hair that’s not previously colour treated, you’ll get a nasty shock if you put something like this over bleached or highlighted hair.
BUY: Wella Shaders and Toners or Alberto Vo5 Colour Mousse


Not dyes as such, but glazes and colour-care shampoos are not to be overlooked in the whole DIY dyeing scheme of things, as they can ensure you keep your colour for longer. Nicky Clarke and John Frieda’s ranges are both good and well priced, and pro ranges like Kerastase, Wella and Schwarzkopf all do similar products too. I particularly like John Frieda’s Luminous Colour Glazes, which you use post-shampoo and conditioner for a shot of shine and to enhance your natural colour or prolong a dye job.


  • Wear your oldest, crappiest clothes
  • Use towels you’re not going to cry about if they get ruined. Hint – they probably will get ruined
  • Watch bathroom floors and walls as this stuff stains and is incredibly hard to get out. The big blob of brown dye in the middle of my other-wise pristine white bathtub is testament to that
  • Put a layer of Vaseline on your hairline and ears – nothing screams ‘hello, I just dyed my own hair, yes’, like a bright red forehead
  • Draft in a friend to help – pretty much essential for home highlighting, as they can do the back of your head and any awkward spots, and you can return the favour
  • If you hate the colour, immediately wash it out with washing up liquid or similar – the detergents in it can help to strip the dye
Hair, Hair colour, On a Budget, Tutorials ,

15 Replies to "How to: Choose a Home Hair Colour"

  • Diz says:

    I think the tone-on-tone and semi-permanent descriptions are the wrong way round? Semi permanents last for 4-6 weeks and certainly don’t come off on clothes and bedding! The also don’t wash out completely.

    Garnier Herbashine and L’Oreal Casting are examples. Casting is extremely good – I have used it for years and always get compliments on the colour (including from hairdressers).

  • Glitterkitty says:

    i deffo find that the Feria is the best permanent colour
    shine and condition afterwards is great

    i used a ‘nice & easy’ in desperation 2 weeks ago and ended up staying in the following night to redo my hair w the Feria :( in order to be the right colour the following night for the bigger night out.. my hair felt horrible after the N&E and then conditioner was manky..

  • charli says:

    Can you use any of these on ‘already highlighted but growing out’ hair?

  • baby in a corner says:

    with dying your hair darker, home hair dye is the way to go! its foolproof once you don’t go too many shades away from your original colour. I do my little sisters hair all the time! going blonde is a different story though! I would never consider highlighting my hair myself and people who dye their own hair blonde seem to go orange at the roots.

  • Bee says:

    Recently went from high lighted blonde to semi permanent dark. It costs 90e (including cut) in my hair dressers but have discovered that you can buy the professional colours in Terris sales for 10e. I just had to buy the product developer (Loreal luminesse) which is around 18e for a liter bottle (will last ages). All the instructions are in each products books (ie what ratio to mix colour and developer and how long to leave it on) and you can buy little bowls and brushes for next to nothing. Its so cheap and really easy. Would recommend it and because its semi permanent not as damaging.

  • firenze says:

    I’d like to second Charli’s question. I’m a mousy blonde and I currently have blonde highlights which are growing out. No problem normally, just go to the hairdressers, pay them an enormous sum of cash and hey presto, I’m blonde again.

    But the problem is that I’m temporarily based in China, and dying your hair blonde here is a major headache. Went to a branch of Toni and Guy in a large city here, and they obviously weren’t used to treating Western hair, and looked at my highlights in amazement, and complained that it would be much too much work to put so many foils in.

    After a long time under the heater the dye still hadn’t taken properly, so I ended up with some junior randomly applying heat to the foils with a hair drier!!

    The end result was that my roots have been dyed a slightly lighter colour – but they’re still definately roots. ‘Twas so bad my other half said ‘Oh’ with a disappointed look on his face when I first approached him afterwards.

    It’s not too bad at the moment, in that because my roots have been dyed a lighter colour, I do have the impression of being blonder, but when my roots start to grow out in their natural colour it’s going to look an unholy mess, as I’ll have a tri band affect going on.

    So I’m not sure what to do – grin and bear the mess, or get some hair dye sent over from home and try and fix the mess myself? I take baby in a corner’s point about orange roots, but quite frankly, mine are looking a little organge already…..

  • Krista says:

    I am a mousy blond too and get my highlights always done by a hairdresser (for an enormous sum of money). Earlier this year when I was desperately broke I got a friend to try L’Oreal highlights kit on me. The colour ended up really nice but you will need someone with lots of time to help you.

  • cat says:

    hi i have been dyeing my hair myself for years. i recently put in a nice and easy shade of blond and was complimented on my choice of colour by the hairdresser. needless to say i will be using it again

  • Kirstie says:

    Diz – yes, I meant 4-6 weeks, not washes. doh! Will amend. I used to dye my hair with semi permanent and it used to come off on stuff -could just have been the brand.

  • Flame says:

    Still being highly tempted to do my highlights myself soon!!

  • Cherry says:

    My hairdresser has always told me never to use home dyes, as they leave a build up on your hair the more you use them, even if they are just semi-colours, and once you go back to the hairdresser to get your lights done again its almost impossible to lift the hair colour until the home dye actually grows out of your hair.
    Now she may be saying this to keep business, but she has said it for years, not just recently, and truth be told, it took forever to get my own hair back to an even color with her after a dabble with home dyes for so long.
    So i never touch them now, even if it means suffering with re-growth for a few extra weeks.

  • DéiseGirl says:

    I finally gave in and started dying to cover my grey a couple of years ago. After a number of “wall splashing incidents” it’s now like a military operation – newspaper everywhere and disposable shower caps and use the bath with the handheld shower attachment for better control – using the walk in shower in the ensuite was absolutely destroying the grout. I use L’Oreal Casting creme gloss….find it grand, but probably went a shade too light the last time because in certain lights it has a faintly gingerish halo! I am not very demanding of my hair – it is very very dark brown and I just want to keep it that way for the forseeable future :-)

  • CB says:

    my most recent highlights are white and though they suit my apres holiday glow they won’t see out september!!! looking 2 colour my hair a light brown, what would suit hilighted hair best, semi or permanent??
    BTW, really helpful website, thanks:)

  • Christina says:


    To be honest, I think your hairdresser is talking c**p. There is a very limited number of ingredients you can use to change hair colour, and no matter what they tell you, the hair colour formulations in even the most expensive salon differ very very little from the ones you can buy in a box for 8 Euro. You don’t have to be a genius to work out why hairdressers will tell you otherwise, but no need for us to believe it! Of course, you may still prefer to have your hair coloured at a salon, but it’s simply not true to say that home dyes are formulated in a way which will damage your hair more than salon dyes. When you lighten your hair, you have already ‘lifted’ the colour out so the idea of having that colour again ‘lifted’ to reveal the natural colour underneath just doesn’t make scientific sense. Permanent colours are just that – permanent.

    I’ve been dying my hair blonde myself for years (I’m naturally mid-brown, but now probably at least 50% grey!) Last time I went to get my hair cut, the stylist remarked on how nice my colour was, adding that ‘strictly speaking of course, I shouldn’t be saying that!” When the hair dryer was in full blast, she bent over and whispered in my ear “Can you tell me the name of the colour you use?”

    Yes, you can get a bad result with home hair colouring, but you can also get a bad result with salon colouring too. The main difference that the latter will cost you at least five times as much….

  • Car says:

    for many years I’ve been getting my hair done in the hairdressers blonde highlights, last year I decided to go a warm brown also done in The hairdressers , after 6 weeks my roots are showing with grey, so I got highlights going through the warm brown it is lovely, thinking I would get longer than 6 weeks because it is very expensive .. Now I’m thinking of getting a box colour but scared in case it doesn’t turn out right.
    Can anyone advise me what one to buy and what colour…

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