Release Your Inner
When I was a child, I use to pretend that I had a magic brush that would change the length and color of my hair instantly. I would wrap towels around my head and pretend to have long, colorful locks. I have always wanted my hair to look different, whether that be the pixie cut I got at twelve, the orange bangs I gave myself at 19, or the extreme asymmetrical haircut (shorter on the left side than the right) I sported at 21. When I graduated college, I found myself struggling with my image. I was going into education, and I knew I’d have to give up my uniform of bodycon sweater dresses, tights, and thigh-high boots. So, naturally, I decided to buy a professional wardrobe and dye my hair purple.
I’ve had some shade of purple off and on for two years, and I have learned a lot about the process. I’ve had it done at salons, which was not only expensive, but I didn’t get nearly as good results as when I just did it myself. I’ll share with you what I’ve learned so that you too can get the purple hair of your dreams.
My totally adult inspirations…
What You’ll Need
Start with the right materials. Sally’s is your friend. If you don’t live near a good beauty supply store, you can find the tools and products online. I cringe every time I watch a Youtube how-to video and see girls just slopping the stuff on their heads. If you want professional-looking results, get the proper tools. You’ll thank yourself later.
- Latex or vinyl gloves
- Stylist cape or an old t-shirt
- Plastic shower cap
- Glass/plastic bowl for mixing
- Application brush
- Developer (I prefer Wella 40 volume)
- Blue or purple lightening powder bleach (I prefer Ion or Wella)
- Plastic hair clips
- Cotton Balls
- Color-safe shampoo and conditioner
- Towel that you don’t mind staining
- Deposit-Only Dye: More on this Later
My hair dyeing kit
Got all your materials? Great! Let’s get started.
Lighten Your Hair
Do you currently dye your hair? Do you have dark hair (ie: darker than a light blonde)? Then you need to start by lightening your hair. Even if you want a darker color of purple, you need to have pretty light hair to get the color vibrant. Refer to a hair shade chart. I bring mine to an 8 to achieve the color that I have now. Decide on the shade of blonde you need to achieve. If you want pastel hair, it needs to be very light. For darker purples, the lighter your hair is to begin with, the brighter and more noticeable the purple will be.
Purple hair with bleaching.
Purple hair without bleaching.
- You should do a strand test. I can’t stress this enough. If you’re not used to bleaching, you should start with a test to see how your hair will hold up. This will let you know about how long your hair should process, how light you can get it, and how your hair quality holds up to bleaching.
- If the strand test went well, you can move on to the rest of your hair, now that you know what to expect. Use the hair clips to divide your hair into thin sections horizontally. I usually do mine in nine sections, but this will depend on how thick your hair is. Dividing your hair will make the application much easier and leaves less chance that you will miss a spot.
- Use a cotton ball to apply vaseline to your forehead, ears, and the back of your neck. This will protect your skin from the bleach.
- Mix your lightener in a glass or plastic bowl with a plastic spoon or your application brush. I prefer a 2:1 ratio of liquid developer to the powdered bleach. Mix it until it is smooth. Do not use metal spoons, bowls, or clips with lightener. It can cause an unintended chemical reaction.
- Apply the mixture to your hair with the application brush, releasing one clip at a time, moving from the back of the head to the front.
- Wait and watch. It typically takes me 20 min to get to the desired level, but the amount of time will be different for everyone. You should never leave bleach on your hair for more than 40 minutes. Watch your hair and do strand strength tests. To aid the lightening process, work the bleach into the hair rubbing it gently between your fingers. You may also apply heat to quicken the process. Don’t let the bleach dry out.
- When your hair is finished processing, rinse it in cool water until all traces of the bleach are removed. Then, condition your hair. If you plan on waiting before you dye it, you should deep condition. If you are going to dye it right away, use a normal conditioner and don’t leave it on longer than normal. Your hair might feel dry, but the dyeing process will give it some more life.
- Pat your hair with the towel then let it air dry fully before moving to the dyeing process.
Dyeing your hair
- The first step in the dyeing process is choosing the dye itself. I use deposit-only dyes, and you should too. These dyes cause no damage to your hair because there is no processing involved. The dye really just sits on top of the hair follicle. Some people refer to these as temporary dyes, and while they do fade fast, they are not truly temporary. They will definitely stain your hair. I have used Ion Color Brilliance, Manic Panic, and Arctic Fox. Of the three, I recommend Arctic Fox. It just seems to last a lot longer and get better coverage than the other two brands. You can buy it online (they don’t pay me to say this or give me free product: I just like the brand). Make sure that you buy enough dye for full-coverage. Sally’s will let you return extra unopened dyes, but you can also keep it around for touch-ups. For my shoulder-length medium-thick hair, I use 3 ½ tubes of Ion or 2 jars of Manic Panic or ½ bottle of Arctic Fox.
- Now that you’ve chosen your dye, it’s time to divide your hair with the clips. Use the same method as you used for bleaching: thin horizontal sections.
- Use the cotton ball and vaseline to again protect your hairline, ears, and neck. This will help keep the staining to a minimum. Keep it handy while dyeing, and should dye drip onto your skin, you can wipe it off easier.
- Mix your dye. One of the great things about deposit dyes is that they can be mixed freely within brands. Always opt for a little darker dye than you wish for your hair to be. The lighter the dye is, the less pigment it has, and you need to be able to cancel whatever color you already have after the bleaching. I also take the opportunity to scent my dye. While you could probably use a fancy essential oil, but I am a full-grown adult, and I mix in a packet of grape Kool-Aid, which smells awesome to me. (Note that the Arctic Fox already smells like Kool-Aid and probably doesn’t need it).
- Apply the dye to your hair from back to front with your application brush, releasing one clip at a time. Be sure to fully-coat the hair. Once finished, cover hair with the plastic shower cap and wait. How long? Well, I typically let it stay on for 2-3 hours. While you can see results in as little as 30 minutes, you will get better and longer-lasting coverage when you leave it on longer. Remember, deposit only dyes are not damaging to the hair. I have seen some girls leave it on overnight. I did that once, and it really wasn’t more effective than the 2-hour time period.
- Rinse the hair with cool water and apply a color safe shampoo. Don’t wait until the water runs clear, you don’t want to undo any of your work. Rub at the scalp, not the hair to remove the inevitable scalp staining. Then, condition hair and rinse with cold water.
- Style as usual and marvel at your new magical hair.
Maintaining Your Hair
Fashion colors like purple tend to fade fast. Protect your new color by learning to maintain it.
4 Weeks After Dyeing
- For the first couple days, the dye has a tendency to rub off on pillows and shirt collars. It also tends to bleed in water. One girl said, “I may look like a mermaid, but I certainly can’t get my hair wet”. I haven’t been in a pool, but I imagine there would be a cloud of purple following me.
- Wash your hair in cool or cold water. Warm water opens the follicle and will cause more color loss than cool water.
- Use color safe shampoos and conditioners. You can also mix some of your leftover deposit dye into the shampoo and conditioner for an extra boost.
- Limit how often you wash your hair. Dry shampoo has become essential to my routine, allowing me to extend the time between washes, which allows my color to last longer.
- Fashion dyes typically require reapplication every 2-4 weeks. This is a commitment if you want to maintain your color.
Reactions to Your Unicorn Hair
Purple hair is attention-grabbing. You will get comments. Some comments are good while others will be weird. You will get it from your cashiers, coworkers, and strangers on the street. I, personally, believe that if you’re going to go with purple hair, you should try to take people’s comments with grace.
Going to an all-night Prince party with my purple-haired sister. It runs in the family.
The things people say and the questions they have:
- Hey! Nice hair! Usually shouted from across the street.
- My job would never let me do that! How boring of them!
- Is your hair purple for Prince? I live in Minneapolis, where it’s all about Prince all the time right now. No, my hair is not a tribute.
- Is your hair purple for the Vikings? Minnesota. And no, not for the Vikings. Ninja Warrior is the only sport I recognize.
- Is purple your favorite color? Is your favorite color blonde? – Haha, no, I don’t say that. But no, purple is not my favorite color. I genuinely think it goes well with my complexion and eyes.
- Did you bleach your hair? Absolutely.
- How long does it last? About 2-4 weeks depending on how well I take care of it.
- How much did that cost you? Salons can set you back around $200 to lighten and color your hair purple. I spend about $13-$20 per application. The first time will cost more because you have more supplies to purchase.
- My 2nd-grade students: Why is your hair purple? It just grew out of my head like that! – If they seem incredulous, I will admit I dyed it. Which usually prompts them to say things like, “You should dye it blue next time.”
Have questions? Post them in the comments section, and I’ll do my best to answer them. Want a video? Say so, and I’ll film my next dyeing session.
Good luck, my fellow at-home stylists and future unicorns!
**** Obligatory disclaimer: I am not a professional stylist. I have been dyeing my hair at home since I was twelve, and I have often dyed my friends’ hair. I have been dyeing my hair purple for two years. These tips are taken from my personal experience and the advice of friends and other bloggers. I am not responsible for your hair results. Please be thoughtful, responsible, and careful whenever you dye your hair at home. ****