Ombre Your Hair in a Public Bathroom (and Other Beauty Tips For the Couch Surfer)

Maybe I was a teenage squatter taking way too many pills, but my hair was going to be perfect.
Publish date:
December 18, 2012
hair, couch surfing, hair dye, ombre

I half-assedly ran away from home when I was 17. It wasn’t a dramatic sudden departure, there was no single breaking point, no terrible fight or door slamming. I went to a friend’s birthday party and just kind of never came back.

I would come home here or there to retrieve things, but the amount of nights I actually spent in my own bed kept decreasing until I just didn’t at all. Since my mom thought I was at my dad’s and my dad thought I was at my mom’s, I took the opportunity to get a bit lost for a while.

But just because I was living out of a suitcase and crashing at the (often roach-infested) apartments of anyone who would have me didn't mean I was willing to look like a mess.

When I felt like my life was completely out of my control, and the meager leavings of stability I had were quickly slipping away, I turned to my appearance as the one thing I could still shape.

Maybe I was a teenage squatter, taking way too many pills, and in love with someone more than 10 years older than me (who also had a girlfriend), but goddamn it my hair was going to be perfect.

I like to think that I’m far away from that place now. And while I’d like nothing more than to leave those feelings behind me, the beauty tips can stay because they totally worked and I never got arrested.

Dying Your Hair in a Public Restroom

So one day you may find yourself without a real bathroom to call your own. When I decided to put cranberry ombre into my black hair (I did this last year, but I also did it in HS before it was popular because I’m really cool and stuff), I did it in the bathroom of an Au Bon Pain.

  • You will need: bleach (or color remover), travel size shampoo and conditioner, dye, Febreeze, and plastic gloves.
  • First, make sure it’s a time of day that the establishment you’re using as your personal beauty salon is not terribly crowded with people who want to use said bathroom. Rule of thumb: if you anticipate being interrupted frequently, choose another place. This includes most Starbucks in larger cities, though there are exceptions. There was one Starbucks that we used as our own private bathroom when my friend threw illegal parties in the boiler room of her apartment. They happily accommodated a parade of obviously intoxicated teenagers, but this is not the norm. It’s much easier if you’re doing an ombre than if you’re doing your roots, because you can just dip the ends into sink.
  • Bleach (or use hair color remover on) the place you’d like the color. Use the highest strength product they have, because it will develop faster. If you are using bleach, stick the hair under the hand dryer to speed up the process even more.
  • Leave it on until you reach the color you’re looking for. Rinse your ends with the shampoo, stick them under the hand dryer for another minute, douse the room with Febreeze like you just had food poisoning, and leave the bathroom. Making this a two-part excursion will keep you from arousing suspicion since you will be in the bathroom a shorter amount of time each time. While you’re waiting for your ends to dry, order some coffee and pretend this is all perfectly normal. Sometimes people just walk around with wet hair, OK?
  • After the ends dry, return to the bathroom and throw on your color. When you are shopping for dye, it’s best to get whatever kind says it’s “high lift” or “for dark hair” (even if you don’t have dark hair) because it will permeate your hair faster. If you’re stuck using dye that isn’t high lift or you’re worried it won’t take quickly enough, wear a shirt you don’t care about and sit in the coffee shop with the dye on your ends for a few minutes. Sticking it under the hand dryer helps a bit, too.
  • Rinse with the conditioner. Cleanse the sink to get rid of evidence. Dry under hand dryer. Febreeze again. There you have it. It’s not pretty, but your hair will be.

Some other tips for the practically homeless:

  • If you’re moving from place to place a lot and don’t have much money, load up on samples! Lush is the most sample-friendly place for skin care. They will load you up with an entire mini skin-care routine, complete with soap, face wash, toner, and moisturizer. They also carry shampoo. You can also give yourself a mini facial in a public restroom. Visit a few different locations so you can get as many samples as you can. For makeup, go to Sephora. Sometimes they will give you shitty sample sizes, so if you can afford it it’s best to stock up on little plastic containers and take your own samples from the testers. If someone sees you doing it, play dumb.
  • If you’re leading this sort of life, chances are you can’t afford manicures. Carry a little nail file with you at all times. File them round instead of square because this requires much less maintenance and the rounded edges will not break as easily. Paint your nails a sparkly color, chips will not show up as easily and you can always just throw another coat of glitter on top. You can get a decent quality sparkly nail color for 99 cents in Walgreens. During the holidays, they sell little gift sets of several nail polish colors for like 3 bucks.
  • Can’t afford your usual acne medication? Band-Aids can kill zits. Swear to God. Cut the adhesive off, stick it over a zit and sleep with it overnight. It will dry the fucker up.
  • Get some hand cream, some baby powder and some Vaseline. You can use it for many different things. Hand cream can tame uncooperative hair, be used to moisturize your body, and even heal dry, chapped lips. Vaseline is also helpful for dry lips. You can use it to civilize your brows, remove eye makeup, or wear it beneath makeup if you have very dry skin. The baby powder can be used as dry shampoo and also translucent powder. It can even replace deodorant if you’re really desperate.
  • When in doubt, throw on lipstick. If you’re being nomadic and suddenly have to show up somewhere looking decent, the best quick fix is a lipstick. Carry a few brighter ones with you so you can look more put together in minutes even if you aren’t wearing other makeup.
  • Learn to braid! Couldn’t wash your hair? Braid. Have to walk around with wet hair? Braid. Haven’t had a hair cut in god knows how long? Braid.

It’s better to, you know, not find yourself in this position, but shit happens.

No matter what crazy things are going on in your life, you’re bound to feel better and more ready to face the day if you look good. I managed to get my shit together and go back to high school, but I still am living with a relative and it’s not a permanent arrangement.

I don’t know where the future will take me, but I know I’ll look good.