How to remove dye when you’ve had a hair colour fail

The important thing is to know what you’re dealing with. Proceed with caution, friends, because the wrong move can make everything a whole lot worse. The green-tinged stripes I was talking about?

They ended up a reddy-orange when I tried to stick an at-home hair dye over the whole lot.

Hair dye fails are a part of life, right? A rite of passage. An ascent into adulthood. The side effect of some optimistic experimentation. In years to come, you’ll be laughing it off – “remember that time I accidentally dyed my hair sludge coloured, whoops!”

At the time though, it’s pretty horrifying. Just within GLAMOUR HQ, the dye-fail stories are bountiful. Our web director, Bianca, took a picture of Mary Kate and Ashley to her family’s hairdresser pal and came home with orange hair. “I cried,” she says solemnly. “It was awful.” Our picture editor, Chelsea, ended up dying her mum’s radiator black at the same time as her hair. “It’s still there to this day,” she says.

“Sorry mum!” I’ve fallen victim, too, when a half head of highlights done on a budget went drastically tits up and I wound up looking like a mystified badger – the top half was a green-tinged platinum, the bottom, chocolate brown. So, you see, it can happen to the best of us.

We spoke to expert colourists Gemma Smidmore, colour director at Smiths Salon and Saffy Lett, colourist at Josh Wood, to get their professional advice on when (and how) we can remedy things at home and when it’s best to head straight to the salon to salvage the situation.

When should we go to the salon – what dye fails can we not deal with at home?

“Anything you consider a ‘dye fail’ should be fixed at the salon to prevent further disasters,” says Saffy.

“My advice is to go to the salon when stripping or changing your hair colour as these are very tricky jobs and can result in damage if not done correctly. Most stripping products contain bleach and bleach dissolves bonds in our hair so it’s best to leave it to the professionals,” says Gemma.

Why is it important to admit exactly what we’ve used on our hair to the colourist – do you treat different dyes differently?

“It’s important to know the history of the hair. A permanent colour will stay in the hair permanently, until it’s cut out or lifted out, so even if you haven’t coloured your hair in over a year, the colour is still there,” says Saffy. “Natural hair will react differently to colour treated hair and therefore the colourists will use different formulas and different processes to achieve the desired results. Henna is especially important to mention, as it reacts differently to permanent hair colour,” she adds.

“If you don’t go through the whole history of your hair it can result in old colour not being removed and the colour you desire not being achievable,” agrees Gemma.

What steps are taken in the salon to treat different dyes?

“Depending on the history of your hair, there’s different techniques, processes and products available to colour technicians to remove different types of hair colour, but what colour technician’s do is highly specialist – there’s no guidebook,” says Gemma.

“It depends on the starting colour and desired end result,” agrees Saffy, “but to give an example, if someone has very heavily saturated permanent colour, the colourist may use a deep cleansing treatment to soften the colour as the first step.”

When are we alright to take an at-home approach – e.g. if we’re dealing with an all-over colour/just trying to lift the colour slightly?

“At home you can only fix the colour tonally (e.g. warming it up or cooling it down). Or if the colour is too heavy you can soften it with cleansing shampoo. To rectify a big colour change we’d always recommend going to the salon,” says Saffy.

What would you recommend using and how/why do they work?

SLS shampoos can help with this too – they’re normally best avoided to prevent colour fade, but if you’re wanting to strip colour back subtly, they can help to accelerate the fading process. Fairy Liquid will get you a big frown of disapproval from your colourist (it’s exceedingly drying for hair), but if you’re in a pinch, it can help to lift out unwanted colour slightly – it can help to lift you from dark brown to a slightly lighter dark brown – but for wonky colour (like green tinges), don’t try to rectify this at home.

As for unwanted brassiness or cooler tones that you’d prefer warmed up – rather than removing them, you can nudge them in a more desirable direction. “Josh Wood’s Colour Shade Shot Glosses, £15, are a great entry point for ‘non scary’ home hair colour treatment, that plays around with the tone,” says Saffy. “They can be used on dyed hair or non-dyed hair, and they give your hair a treatment mask at the same time.”

What should we do after stripping the colour to repair our hair – any masks/treatments you’d recommend?

“After any colour service or after using chemicals to strip the hair, I would always advise home care,” says Gemma. “Philip Kingsley’s Elasticizer, £19, once a week delivers elasticity and leaves hair stronger and healthier with less breakage.”

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