Although most women consider time with their hairdresser sacrosanct, some of us are having fun experimenting with haircolouring at home. So if you suspect that blondes really do have more fun, or that redheads attract more attention, here’s your opportunity to discover if what they say about different hair colours is true. Here are tips for choosing a product that’s right for you.

There are a large variety of brands available and types of product to buy. Here’s what you need to know...

Permanent Vs Semi-Permanent

Generally, home hair colour falls into two categories. Choose a permanent one if you want to change your hair colour or cover grey completely. It fades gradually over time but never washes out completely. It darkens hair easily (thus the total grey coverage) and can lighten it a shade or two. With permanent colour, you see root regrowth.

The key ingredient is ammonia, which penetrates the hair’s protective surface layer of fatty acids, and forces open the cuticle (outer layer of the hair shaft) to allow dye to penetrate deeply. When mixed with peroxide (which removes existing pigment), ammonia anchors a new colour within the hair’s cortex (the layer under the cuticle).

Root touch-up kits, which cover regrowth to extend your time between full-head colour sessions, are also permanent formulas.

Standard at-home permanent colour takes 30 minutes. Examples: L’Oréal Paris Féria; Clairol Nice ’n Easy with Colour-Blend Technology; Garnier Nutrisse Cream; and Gosh Professional Cream Hair Colour.

Ten-minute formulas are an evolution in permanent home colour. Clairol Perfect 10 and L’Oréal Paris Excellence to Go involve permanent-dye chemistry that accelerates the ammonia action, then slows it after about 10 minutes. Both promise grey coverage, but advise an extra five minutes for stubborn critters. 

 

Ammonia-free Hair dye

In this category (sometimes referred to as non-permanent or demi-permanent), you can alter your hair colour or blend grey, but unlike with permanent, it fades away after about 28 washes.  (Because it washes out, you won’t get obvious root regrowth.) Along with being ammonia free, these formulas have lower levels of peroxide, so they penetrate the cuticle only slightly. For the most part, they just coat the hair for a modest colour shift. Examples: Clairol Natural Instincts; and L’Oréal Paris Healthy Look Crème Gloss.

Another option for livening up your hair? Glazes. A glaze is a colourless, ammonia-free process designed to make hair look healthier by ramping up shine whether you dye or not. Based on in-salon glossing treatments, it lasts for about six weeks. Examples: L’Oréal Paris Colourist Secrets Shine Gloss; and Clairol Natural Instincts Shine Happy.

 

Damage control 

Standard home permanent colour strips the hair shaft of its protective fatty layer, which can result in dull, dry, tangle-prone hair. The combination of ammonia and peroxide is the culprit. 

The chemistry of 10-minute permanent colour tempers damage; it’s designed to work at a lower pH level than standard products, so it leaves the fatty layer intact. 

To compensate for any damage, many home colour formulas are enriched with shine boosters. In fact, shine is a key hair colour trend, according to Nicole Dupuis, director of L’Oréal Canada’s Technical Centre, based in Montreal, “because it adds dimension, brings out the range of tones in a shade to make the colour look more natural, and even more healthy than non-coloured hair.” 

How do companies do it? By adding a combination of conditioning polymers and naturally derived ingredients such as grapeseed oil (in Garnier Nutrisse Cream), and hydrolyzed wheat protein (in Gosh Professional Cream Hair Colour). Ammonia-free products cause less hair stress, but are nevertheless shored up with conditioning ingredients. Garnier HerbaShine has bamboo extract to strengthen hair and kick up shine. 

As well, most kits include intensive conditioner to be used post-colouring. They have silicone (which delivers immediate smoothing and shine benefits) and moisturising ingredients like avocado oil, and safflower and coconut oil.

In the past, healthy-looking coloured hair was a contradiction in terms. But with new products coming out all the time, it’s not only a pipe dream, but an easily-achievable reality. 

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