Clean-up Operation

They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. Similarly, the road to the salon for some clients is littered with the evidence of poorly-chosen box dyes…

There are all sorts of reasons why people might reach for a box dye over visiting a salon to have their colour done. Perhaps they’re in a rush, housebound, or don’t want to colour a handful of greys with a full-on dye job. But with colour experiencing such a trend boost in recent years (thanks social media!), trying to re-create adventurous Insta-ready looks can go horribly wrong at home. What can you do to save your clients from their self-inflicted misery?

Brass banned

Unless they are aiming for a super-warm Butterbeer shade, unwanted brassiness can cause a bad dye job to turn hair to Weasley-level orange in the blink of an eye. As you know, going from dark to light isn’t an overnight job – but that’s something that a lot of clients fail to understand. Sarah Black, colour specialist at Linton & Mac in Aberdeen, sees it all the time.

“This usually occurs as a result of the hair not lifting enough, prior to dyeing. All hair – with the exception of naturally white and grey hair – is full of natural pigments, and these need to be stripped away prior to colouring, to ensure a completely neutral base. This is particularly the case when lightening dark hair to blonde. If hair isn’t pre-lightened, which is often the mistake made when using a home dye, or the hair isn’t bleached enough to remove all the natural pigmentation, the resulting hair colour can turn brassy. This is usually the case in hair that is very dark to start with, or that has a lot of natural warmth in it.” Some simple colour correction can have their hair looking much less lurid in no time.

Image: The Parlour Hair Boutique

Green around the gills

Ashy shades might be in fashion, but it’s easy to tip over into green pondweed territory when trying to go too cool. Cooler tones have just as much ability to react as warmer shades – knowing your colour wheel is crucial before any dye job, something that consumers just might not fully appreciate. Lewis Parry, art director of colour-specialist salon Voodou in Liverpool, notes that “often if someone tries to go darker from bleach blonde you will get a green cast to the hair from not pre-toning with something warmer – especially if you use a cool colour with a blue base.”

Image: Cheryl Wischhover, Fashionista

The solution? Similar to a brassy reaction, it’s all about correcting the tones. “Toning over it with something warm on the same depth can help to reverse that,” advises Lewis. “This is actually super common with people who do their hair at home because all the underlying pigment in their hair has been removed by the bleach and, without a thorough understanding of the colour wheel, you wouldn’t necessarily know how to put that tone back in.” Educating your client about the colour wheel and equipping them with the right aftercare products should keep them on the straight and narrow, sticking with you rather than heading to Boots.

Tiger Stripes

Take some sections and slap on some bleach – highlights are easy, right? Wrong, wrong, so very wrong. It takes tonnes of practice to learn how to highlight hair correctly, never mind the additional training for more intricate balayage techniques.

Luckily, as it’s not all-over colour, these can be generally corrected by someone with proper training and technical know-how. Simon Schuetz, black belt colourist at Butchers Salon in London, would recommend re-doing the highlights, “as well as adding a lowlight to reduce the intensity of the stripes to create a more natural and blended result”.

Image: @butcherssalon

Know Your Roots

A quick root top-up is easier said than done. As a colourist, standing over someone in the chair, you tend to have a much better idea of their root shade than they do! Whether its encroaching grey or darker roots, new colour simply won’t be absorbed the same way as the rest of the hair, and a one-and-done box dye can suddenly become a patchwork effort.

“Grey hair has very little, or no pigmentation, so the colour will take differently to this section of hair,” Sarah Black agrees. “Also, new roots mean less damaged hair – and as hair that is drier and more porous needs a different processing time, this can create a halo effect when applying an all-over colour to hair that has naturally grey or white roots.” Avoid awkward halo effects by educating your client on how to maintain their roots between sessions so they don’t go reaching for the box…

Image: Madison Reed


Who needs instructions? We’ve heard so many stories of people using multiple boxes of dye to get the colour they think they want, or re-using semi-permanent shades without leaving the correct amount of time in between sessions. The result? A stained mess which won’t wash out.

Lisa Whiteman, owner of Whiteman Soho, sees these mistakes crop up time and again. “The main problem with home hair colour is that people look at the picture on the box and expect to achieve that shade. They don’t understand the colour wheel and so, when they don’t get the colour they want, they leave the formula on for longer than they should, trying to achieve it.”

When it comes to correcting a bad dye job, she points out that there is no quick fix, something you need to be honest about with clients. “Unfortunately, reversing the results of a bad home bleach isn’t possible, so you have to look at tackling condition instead. First of all, the ends often turn jelly-like when over-bleached and the only answer is to trim these off. I’d then recommend a treatment like Goldwell BondPro+, which strengthens the hair fibre and encourages stability, to start to repair the damage. There is no quick solution, it’ll be a long process to return hair health.”