The Art of Dyeing Hair - and Saving the Towel Content from the guide to life, the universe and everything

The Art of Dyeing Hair - and Saving the Towel

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The reasons for dyeing hair are many and varied. You may find that odd grey hair slipping in around the temples or elsewhere, and in some cases the grey hair will have appeared in little spots or streaks in various places on the head. You may want to turn your hair a funky colour for the party of the century or alternatively, you may need to get rid of the funky colour before starting work/school after a break. Perhaps you prefer that youthful blonde of many years ago to the salt and pepper look of recent months.

All the above reasons for dyeing hair are valid, and at no time will anyone make a judgement about you or your lifestyle for needing to dye your hair in a hurry. However, other members of your household may get a bit miffed if the best towels in the linen closet keep ending up various shades of grey, brown, yellow, pink or green, so in the interests of harmony in the home and before embarking on the adventure that is hair dyeing, please read this entry.


The first thing to consider when you have decided to dye your hair is where to do it. At this point many will just make an appointment with the hairdresser. This option is to be encouraged because hairdressers not only have all the necessary equipment at hand, but also have the actual hands-on experience required to get it right every time1. The down-side to this option is the cost. While this varies greatly depending on where you live, it will inevitably cost much, much more than a home dyeing kit. The other down-side is the time it takes. Sitting in a hairdresser's for around three hours is not usually an option for a busy mum, student or bashful gent2.

The most popular option, for those of us with better things to do, is the home dyeing kit, which can be purchased from chemists and supermarkets across the land. This option is relatively inexpensive and can be carried out in the privacy of your own home at a convenient time to suit your lifestyle.

Buying and Testing the Dye

Firstly, purchase your dye. Depending on the purpose of the exercise your dye may be something close to your natural hair colour, a colour that you've always wanted to be (gentlemen supposedly prefer blondes), something that does not appear in nature, or some unique combination of the above. Whichever it is, take some time and care to read the packaging - here you will find advice on what colour the dye will produce if used on your natural hair colour and how long the colour will last under normal conditions.

It is really, really important at this stage to be honest with yourself. If you already have a colour in your hair it will probably be necessary to 'strip' that in order to produce the desired result with your newly-purchased product. So be honest and do not attempt any shortcuts which will inevitably end up in disaster.

Assuming that you have followed the manufacturer's instructions and carried out a strand test3 you are ready to proceed. It is necessary here to consider where and when you are going to attempt to dye your hair. Many a good dye job has come to a sorry end with the arrival of uninvited guests, inopportune telephone calls and major family crises, so it may be worth while letting family/friends know that you will be unavailable for the evening.

Dyeing Minus 30 Minutes

Now is the time to 'clear the decks' for your special 'me' time. Unplug the phone, and convince your significant other that they should spend some time with their parents or friends. Make sure any children are staying over with friends or are soundly asleep in bed. Switch off your mobile phone and lock the doors. Check that the oven is switched off, and any 'mood' candles are extinguished.

You are now in a position to get all the necessary equipment in place. Now you will need to consider the age-old question - What shall I wear? Some research has indicated that this is very much a matter of personal preference, but wearing nothing, while a popular choice, does not sit well with everyone. Just your old underwear is the more modest take on the 'as little as possible' option and at least you are unlikely to ruin your best undies with dye splashes. By far the most popular choice is an old T-shirt in accompaniment with an old towel, or a cheap towel bought specifically for the purpose - the addition of a bin or rubbish bag, cagoule or shower curtain on top of the towel is optional4.

Just when you thought you were ready to go, it's worth taking a look at your bathroom. If you have carpet or a wooden floor you may consider covering it with some sheeting5 to save it from splashes. You may also want to remove any fresh towels, face cloths, or anything else which may be subject to staining. One Researcher has actually rigged his bathroom with adequate hooks which can support an old shower curtain to take the splashes of dye that his wife generates and thus save the paintwork. If possible keep a pack of baby wipes nearby your working area, as they can be very useful in wiping spillages of dye. If you are satisfied that you have carried out an adequate risk assessment and implemented suitable risk management precautions, you are ready to begin.


Make sure you have read the instructions at least twice, and have to hand all the necessary equipment supplied in the box, plus an extra old towel which will be explained later. You may now begin. Getting the dye on the hair can be a bit of a struggle, but if possible, position yourself in front of a mirror and coat your hair in the chosen substance in sections. Make sure you have the area you want to dye covered - then watch the clock.

This is the point where most things, if they can, will go wrong. You should not be tempted to leave the bathroom and wander around the house looking for little jobs. You should not switch on the television to watch 20 mins of a half-hour show. You should not just nip online to answer your emails and check in with h2g2. You should not ring your mum/best friend for a quick chat. All of these things are at the top of a slippery slope which will inevitably lead to the dye being left on the hair for too long. They can also lead to dye stains on the sofa, various throws, wooden floor, carpets, keyboard, phone or anywhere else you happen to drip on your tour of the house. The best plan is to stay put and watch the clock.

When the alotted time is up, rinse your hair. This is another part where a lot of problems occur. You should have, before beginning, had the bathroom cleared - completely - of all the 'good' towels, because when rinsing you will reach for whatever comes to hand. The old towel you have around your shoulders should be sufficient, but it never is. This is where the second old towel comes into play - use it for wiping your eyes and drying your hands. Rinse until you see the water run clear, then rinse again, in fact keep rinsing until you can rinse no more. You should now have rinsed most of the dye from your hair and it is now time to condition.

When you have completed the conditioning phase rinse thoroughly, which you should by now know means rinse your hair until you can't bear any more rinsing. It would seem that the rinsing thing is the key to keeping the dye from staining towels and indeed pillow cases - if you can get this bit right you're doing well.

Now is the time to collect your hair in the old towel to towel-dry. You can also use this time to mop up the bathroom spashes from the tiles, bath, washbasin, toilet, cistern, mirror, showerscreen, floor, and of course your eyebrows, ears, neck and fingers6.

The Aftermath

When you have dried and styled your hair you may be surprised by the results - on many levels. If you have followed the instructions above, your home at least should be relatively unscathed, and your towels clean. You may also be delighted with the colour you have achieved, if so - well done!

Alternatively, you may be shocked rather than surprised, and the best advice available is - stay calm. The dye may well have been labelled permanent and you may by this stage be unwilling ever to cross the door again, but stay calm. Researchers report many variations on the dyeing disaster, from interesting and patchy to tie-dyed, from brittle and broken to burnt. There is also the physical toll in burnt and inflamed skin around the eyes, ears and of course scalp. There are many remedies available for such problems - though unfortunately, none of them will be available at 10.30pm on a Sunday evening.

Today's fashion for bandanas and hats is a blessing at times like this, and this may be your salvation for the next day or possibly two.

The best option is to make an emergency appointment with a hairdresser7 at the first opportunity. Be prepared to pay top dollar for this appointment, but if your dyeing experience has been that bad it's probably worth it.

And Finally...

The towel or T-shirt you use will end up being a reddish, greenish, greyish, brownish sort of colour and should never ever be seen in polite company. This soiled garment is best kept at the very back of the airing cupboard along with the dog's towel and various car maintenance or house-painting clothes, well away from prying eyes8.

1Well, almost every time.2Research has shown that dyeing is not solely a pastime for the female of the species and men, of various ages, have been known to practise the art.3A test of a small strand of hair with the dye, to indicate if there are any major incompatibilty issues between your hair and the necessary chemicals of the dye.4One Researcher has advised that a two-handled carrier bag works very well if hung on the ears.5Sheeting of the sort used when painting a room.6The gloves you have been provided by the manufacturer will almost certainly develop a leak.7Most salons keep a vacant slot for emergencies.8You know who you are - the visitor who will look in the cupboards if left alone for a moment.

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