It’s been a long time since my original dive into the world of rainbow hair. Almost four years, as a matter of face. Though I’m still just as in love with my unnatural head of hair as ever, a lot of things have changed over those four years. Like, the entire process. The first time I went pink, it was at the hands of my best friend Christine. She did a fabulous job, and it was super fun to hang out with her and drink wine and be girls while she did me up, but that’s a lot to ask a best friend to do every eight to nine weeks.
The second time I dyed my hair was only about six weeks later. (Because thing I learned? Pink, though fabulous, falls the fuck out after about two weeks and leaves me with kinda washed out orange. Not cute.) I was determined to do it myself, like the fierce, independent woman I am. So I rigged a mirror on a bent coat hanger and hung the lot from the molding on our bathroom door (so that I could see the back of my head) and dove in, brandishing my brush like a sword.
And I would like to go on record saying that technically, I did dye my own hair pink, and it came out fabulously. However, I also happened to dye most of the bathroom pink in the process, a predicament about which Kyle was not pleased. After several hours of the two of us scrubbing furiously at the linoleum (and the sink, and the toilet, and the tub, and the mirror,) Kyle announced that I was never dying my own hair again. But even as he said it, he saw in my eyes that going back to my natural dishwater blonde would break my heart.
And thus began Kyle’s tenure as my colorist. It was slow at first, and there were some hard lessons learned along the way. (Like when Stephanie suggests that you wear gloves while applying bleach, you should probably listen. Took two weeks for his fingerprints to grow back.) But he’s faithfully re-colored me every eight or nine weeks for four years, and we now have the process down to a science.
The process of freshening my (in its current incarnation, purple) hair-do in reality begins a few weeks before I ever subject myself to the brush. Sourcing my dye has actually been the hardest part of the process. I use Manic Panic’s Amplified formula, and lately I’ve been bouncing back and forth between Deep Purple Dream and Atomic Turquoise. (Blue-based colors tend to last longer and fade nicely.) For a while I’ve lucked out and been able to get it at Hot Topic, who not only has by far the cheapest prices but offers me the opportunity to feel like the world’s oldest human being every time I walk in. But if they sell out of (or stop carrying) my desired color, it’s quite the hunt to find it for a reasonable price. I swear to god, sometimes I think it would be easier to source red mercury than my goddamn hair dye.
The big day is hair dying day, also known as The Day of Perpetual Bathrobes, also known as The Day I Take Four Goddamn Showers. I like to start early, because start to finish, dying my hair is an eight to ten hour process.
I know. It’s a commitment.
We set up in the living room, because it’s the space with the most real estate in front of a tv. A $5 shower curtain goes down to protect the floor, though honest to god, Kyle’s gotten neat enough that it’s almost not necessary. But you know…paranoia. Better safe than scrubbing dye out of a rug. Kyle’s office chair rolls out for him and I get a pillow covered with a towel on the floor. And the rule is that since Kyle’s the one doing the work, the tv gets tuned to whatever he wants.
Bleaching is first, and not my super favorite part of the process. It smells, it itches, and it likes to inspire a repeating chorus of “All your hair’s going to fall out!” à la “You’re gonna shoot your eye out!” But it’s entirely and unfortunately necessary. Hair won’t accept dye without being bleached, so I suffer through. The good news is that it’s over quick. Over the years, Kyle’s turned into a goddamn machine with that brush, and he can knock out my roots in about 20 minutes. (We don’t bother bleaching my full head ever, even when I switch to a new color. Too much damage and it’s really not necessary. I just make sure that I only move one color over on the color wheel [like blue to purple to pink vs blue to pink.]) I sit with the bleach for ten minutes and try not to scratch (though a tail comb is really handy for that,) then I shampoo the bleach out.
What follows is by far my abso-fucking-lutely least favorite part of the entire dying process. Worse than the bleach, worse even than the part involving actual physical pain (more on that later,) is combing my hair out after the bleach. I hate it because after the bleach my hair is a damn wreck and nearly impossible to detangle. It’s straw-like, it’s sticky, it’s course, and just generally gross. This is definitely the point when I’m semi-convinced that this will finally be the time that I ruin my hair and everyone who’s been secretly jealous will smile smugly and say, “I told you all that dying wasn’t healthy. And now you’re bald.”
After an hour or so of drying time (because you can’t dye wet hair,) it’s finally time to apply the actual dye. This is a much more labor intensive process than the bleach, which is okay because the dye actually feels pretty good. It’s like a magical cooling salve on my itchy scalp. A magical cooling salve that also happens to dye my hair purple. It probably takes the better part of an hour for Kyle to make his way through my head, meticulously checking that no spot is missed, but I don’t mind.
What I do mind a little is the last part of the dye application: the comb-out. This is the part where Kyle combs out my hair until the dye goes frothy, ensuring that every inch of my hair is completely saturated. And he really does try his best to be gentle, but…well, remember earlier when I talked about a step involving actual physical pain? My hair is still usually a little sticky and rough, so even with his best intentions, it can yank. I try to be strong and stay quiet, knowing that he’s doing his best, but sometimes I can’t help but squeak.
Finally, we enter the last (and longest) part of the process: the marinade. Once the dye is on, we get cleaned up and I spend the rest of the day sporting a super sexy shower cap. (I actually like to go with a double shower cap, because while I love my purple, the only place I want to see it is on my head.) I spend six hours under the cap, letting my hair soak up all that delicious dye and moisturizer. It bites a little, not being able to leave the house, but what’s one day of hiding from the neighbors and getting weird looks from the UPS guy compared to the 63 days of unadulterated hair-awesomeness that comes after?
At last, six hours later, I rinse the whole thing out. Well, it’s slightly more complicated than that. First Kyle gives me a quick rinse in equal parts white vinegar and water, which, due to the fact that I can never remember how long to nuke it for, is usually either too hot or too cold. Then I’m supposed to rinse my hair completely in cool water (ha!) until the water runs completely clear (or I’m bored.) And then there’s the third step to the rinsing-out process, which is where I panic that the dye is going to stain our white subway tile surround, even though it never does. (That step is important.)
The results, when compared to my post-bleaching hair, is damn-near magical. My hair is not only a deliciously dark purple, but it’s soft, shiny and feel really healthy. Even my stylist (who’s still a little miffed that I dye my hair at home instead of paying her to do it) can’t help but marvel at how healthy my hair is despite all the coloring.
And that’s it! The color in it’s original shade will only last about two weeks, but after that it will soften and develop beautiful natural highlights in blues and lavenders and pinks that will look lovely for another six or seven weeks after that.
And when my roots get out of control and my color finally blows out, I know Kyle will be there to make me colorful again!