I Love How My At-Home Ombré Cover-Up Turned Out

Instead of just riding your tired-ass ombré until the next Presidential election, why not switch it up with an at-home demi-permanent dye? I've got the tips you need.
Publish date:
August 25, 2015
hair color, ombre, DIY, at-home hair color, Box Dye, Natural Instincts

If my blonde ombre wasn’t so goddamn easy to maintain (maintenance includes: nothing at all), I’d probably have changed it already.

I’ve always had what people call "dishwater" blonde hair; cool-toned, ashy, maybe even mousy. So, at the tender age of 11, I started dyeing it. My mum has always been an obsessive home hair colourist, and while she half-heartedly objected to my first Atomic Pink attempt, she gladly purchased my first box of blonde dye.

Now, I absolutely adore my natural colour and all the variance that comes with it; it bleaches out subtly in the sun, and grows in darker and richer in the winter. I’ve played up my natural ombré by bleaching the ends, painting in highlights, etc., but I have been craving something a little less..."perky," for lack of a better word. I don’t want to look like I have more fun, but rather like I’m kind of over fun entirely.

An easy transition from a blonde ombré look is to go for a darker version; I’ve seen dozens of photos on Pinterest and Instagram of bright, punchy, fall hues replacing blonde ends, and it’s cute, but it’s not for me. I wanted something earthy, subtle, neutral, and maybe a tad ugly. I like ugly.

After weeks of thinking on it, I arrived unceremoniously at Natural Instincts in 5C, an ashy dark brown. I shamelessly ripped off Marci, but I DID get the colour of my dreams. I’m gonna go ahead and call it “Frosted Chocolate.”

Layering it over my ombré was a cinch: my roots went darker, and the short process on my length made for a subtler ombré without two dyes or two processes.

I get a lot of filthy dirty looks when I talk about my absolute love of box dyes; however, if you thirst for something new on a budget, a few tips and tricks will go a long way.

Get Enough Dye

The biggest issue I see with boxed dye is patchy results, and it’s easily the WORST, because now there are patches of your hair that have been processed, and any cover-up will reflect that. If you have thick hair, or hair past your shoulders, you will need two boxes of most dyes. (John Frieda is notorious for doling out minimal portions.)

Also make sure to use either your fingers or a wide-tooth comb to distribute it evenly, paying special attention to the nape and behind your ears.

Get the Right Tone

Not all box colours are forward about what undertone is in their colours; look out for words like warm, cool, ash, golden and so forth. Generally, you’ll want to match the tone of your natural colour for the most natural results, but be careful when you layer over old dye; you can end up with green-tinged brunette by layering violet and gold—it’s not a great look.

For a more dramatic result, try getting a contrasting undertone. I have light olive-toned skin, so if I go with a violet tone, it really pops against my skin.

Don’t Trust the Photos

If you go solely off the photo on the box, you’re gonna have a bad time. Not only are those colours often processed on virgin hair, they are also processed on a computer to brighten colours or make more striking images. Go online and see what other peoples’ results have been, ideally with a similar hair colour to yours. It’ll give you a good idea of a real-world result.

Keep it Simple

If you’re new to box dye, don’t use it to go drastically lighter. Darker? Go to town; the worst that will happen is you’ll end up with a metallic dye (Feria is famous for using these!) that’s hard to get out. But that’s life. You dye your hair, it’s a pain in the ass to remove, rinse and repeat.

Going lighter than a few shades from your current shade can be tricky, as results are dependent on the dye you might already have, the condition of your hair, and its resiliency. It’s pretty easy to bake it all into a stretchy, stringy mess, even out of a box.

Roots First, Then Ends

It wasn’t until I was in my twenties that I actually took the time to ONLY dye my roots; I just slopped everything on, let it cook for 20ish minutes, and then was surprised when my hair was fluffy, fried and unmanageable. I used to require at least five products to get my hair to behave at all because it was damaged as shit.

Start with your healthiest, most dye-resistant hair: your roots. I like to use fatty claw clips to twist my hair into about eight sections so I can get at my roots easily.

Consider Semi/Demi-Permanent Formulas

Other than some of the aforementioned metallic dyes, no dye is truly permanent; they just come with a higher volume of lift, and therefore last longer. Especially if you have a colour you are hooked on, look for a demi formula. If you want to be extra-gentle, look for deposit-only dyes (veggie dyes are in this category) instead. You’ll have to check a beauty supply or online, as they are slim pickings at drugstores.

Almost every dye on the market is double-process: lightens using 10- to 40-volume bleach, and THEN deposits a colour while the shaft is still malleable. Most demi- or semi-perm dyes top out at about 10 volume; Wella Colour Touch, Goldwell Elumen and Ion are all good choices.

  • Are you a home hair-dye wizard?
  • Have you had a disaster? Wonderful result? Show and tell, PLEASE!
  • Have you had a salon colour go wrong? It totally happens!