Everything You Should Know Before Coloring Your Hair

If you want to get wild and crazy with it, expect to spend a day in the salon with a fiery, burning scalp.


Do you want to cover up a couple gray hairs? Or maybe you want to change your hair color altogether? Either way, heck yeah, dude! But before you head to the salon or snag some box color from the drugstore, seasoned hair colorist Linda Mariano says there are a couple things you should know first.

Choosing the Right Color
“One of the most important things with men’s hair color is to not use an oxidative color, which is a color that has ammonia and peroxide, because that will tend to oxidize more and kick into the orange-y realm if it fades,” Mariano explains. Oxidative colors generally include more permanent hair dyes, as well as bleach and highlights, so just be on the lookout for ammonia-free or low-peroxide hair dyes (most of which are temporary or demi-permanent) or ask your colorist about them to avoid becoming a surprise redhead a couple weeks down the road. Permanent (oxidative) dyes also tend to be more damaging to your hair, since the chemicals are stronger and the mixture needs to be left on your head for a longer period of time, so temporary dyes might just be a better bet all around.

Speaking of which, know that going the DIY route and coloring your hair at home comes with inherent risks, something hair colorist Kristina Reed warned us about in a previous article:

“I’ve also had a few clients come in for damage control. They tell me they can’t go to work looking the way they do — it’s similar to teenage girls who see the color on the box and try to do it themselves. Sometimes their hair is so black or brown that we have to trim it in order to pull out as much color as we can.”

The box colors you can buy at the drugstore, which usually cost around $20 or less, also tend to be harsh on the hair and can often turn out different than the dude on the box, so again, stick with semi-permanent or temporary colors just in case. In general, Mariano also warns about going too dark, especially when attempting to hide gray hair. “If the man originally had black hair, he probably shouldn’t dye his hair black, because in three weeks, he’s going to look like Grandpa Munster,” she says, since any sprouting grays will be juxtaposed with the brand new black. Also, avoid washing your hair right before using box colors, as the natural oils on your head can help protect your scalp and hair from any potential damage.

Spending the Time
If you want a vibrant color, especially those lighter than your natural hair color, you can expect to spend a whole day at the salon. “If you want to bleach your hair out, even the shortest of hair can be a five-hour process if you have dark hair,” Mariano says. “Those aren’t easy projects, so you have to be really dedicated. What I often tell my guys is, they have to take it like a girl, because their scalps start burning.” Even if you have naturally brown hair, Mariano says, for example, you might have to bleach your hair two or three times to achieve a pure white tone.

Also, as I already mentioned, these more vibrant colors tend to be more damaging to the hair. However, since most men wear short hair — and can easily cut out any damage — Mariano says this is less of an issue than it is for most women with long hair.

Another thing to keep in mind: The thicker, coarser and dryer your natural hair is, the more pronounced the damaging effects of coloring it will be. As hair colorist Aura Friedman explained to The Fashion Spot, “When you go from very dark hair to very light hair, especially dry, textured, coarse hair, there is going to be some breakage, some damage. The coloring process will change the texture of your hair further. Coarse hair doesn’t originally have a smooth cuticle, so when you dye it, the cuticle is going to be roughened up even more.” On the plus side, though, thick, curly hair is naturally more porous than thin, straight hair, so it tends to absorb color pretty quickly, which means you spend less time in the chair feeling like you have a raging bonfire on your head.

Maintaining the Look
Mariano explains that spending too much time under the sun or in a chlorinated pool can and will cause your new hair color to fade faster. “Using a color-protective shampoo is helpful,” Mariano says. “You don’t want to use anything too harsh with detergent, because it’s going to fade that hair color. If you’re spending between $75 to $95 dollars to get your hair colored, you don’t want to use a $5 shampoo to maintain that.”

Keep Your Colorist on Speed Dial
Because hair grows out and colors fade, you can expect to see your colorist often if you hope to keep your new hair color bright and vibrant. As for how often you should stop back into the salon, Mariano says, “The average is about four to six weeks, though some can go eight weeks. Most of my men are in the four, five or six-week range, but I do have one that goes eight weeks.”

Welp, on second thought, maybe that regular old hair color isn’t so bad after all.