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Dying your hair is a surefire way to express yourself. Rainbow hair in particular is a look that literally anyone can try, no matter their age, identity, or even hair length.

Creating rainbow hair isn’t as easy as you might think. Before you get fully on board with the idea, there are a few things to think about.

Assess your risk for damage

Take a look at your hair.

If your hair is dark, you’ll need to bleach it. Bleaching removes the existing pigmentation so that the rainbow shades can take hold.

One 2011 study showed that bleaching can damage hair strands. If you’re a frequent dyer, your hair may not be in the healthiest state to begin with.

Products that don’t require excessive hair lightening do exist, but these dyes typically don’t last as long.

Set your expectations

Realizing what’s achievable is important.

Oftentimes, what you see on Instagram has been heavily edited. These colors may not be as vibrant in real life.

The overall dying process takes time, too.

Depending on how dark your current hair is, you may need to schedule multiple bleaching and dying sessions.

Giving your hair a break in between these appointments is key to reducing damage.

Gather inspo photos

So you know what you want and what’s possible. Now it’s time to find photos of the cut and colors you’re aiming for.

The brighter the color, the more money and time it’s likely to cost you. Bold hues may also be harder to maintain in the long run.

It depends. If you already have light-colored hair, bleaching may not be necessary.

But if your hair is toward the darker end of the color scale, rainbow shades aren’t likely to show up without the help of peroxide.

The length of time you want to keep your new color plays a part, too.

If you’re trying it out for a few days, Good Dye Young’s Poser Paste won’t require bleach. But any long-term color changes are likely to need a blast of peroxide.

Lightening your hair at home comes with its risks. Leave it on for too long and you could burn your scalp, as demonstrated by a study in Clinical and Experimental Dermatology.

The safest way to do it is to visit a salon.

But if you’re set on doing it at home, consider investing in Olaplex’s three-step kit, which claims to keep hair healthy during the bleaching process.

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You have the freedom to choose whichever color (or colors!) you want. No rules are set in stone, but some shades may suit you more than others.

If your skin has warm undertones

It’s a sensible choice to pick a color that’s the opposite of your skin undertone.

People with warm undertones, which are usually in the gold and yellow realm, are often suited for cooler shades.

Think blues and purples like Manic Panic’s Semi-Permanent Hair Color Cream in Bad Boy Blue or Joico’s Color Intensity in Amethyst Purple.

If your skin has cool undertones

Cooler skin has pink and olive undertones, making warm hues like pinks, oranges, and yellows ideal.

Try out Arctic Fox’s Virgin Pink Semi-Permanent Hair Color or Manic Panic’s Semi-Permanent Hair Color Cream in Psychedelic Sunset.

If your skin has neutral undertones

Neutral undertones suit almost any color. But a green dye like Lime Crime’s Unicorn Hair in Jello will definitely stand out in the crowd.

If you want to try out a trending color

According to Pinterest, lilac hair is set to dominate this year. Joico’s Color Intensity in Lilac lasts for up to 15 shampoos.

Other on-trend shades include smoky pink, peach, and neon colors like Jerome Russell’s Punky Color Cream in Bright Yellow.

If you want to try out a trending hair style

You don’t have to dye your entire head of hair. Dying the ends or bangs is just as effective.

So is a partial buzz cut. You can choose to shave the side or underside of your head and add standard rainbow stripes or a standout pattern.

Layers are much less obvious. Simply keep the top layer of your hair natural and dye the bottom one for a hidden treat.

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The type of dye you choose depends on whether you want your rainbow hair to last for months or only for a few washes.

Pastes, creams, foams, and sprays

Temporary dyes will only last until your next wash. They tend to be for personal rather than professional use.

Mofajang sells a range of bright pastes that double up as a styling wax. If a spray is more your thing, try L’Oreal Paris’ Colorista range.

Unfortunately, foams tend to only come in natural shades, so you’ll be hard-pressed to find a rainbow hue.

You won’t need to bleach your hair before applying a paste or spray.

It’s also worth noting that the end result can be pretty unpredictable, so be prepared to hop in the shower if things go awry.

Temporary and semipermanent dyes

Semipermanent dyes will last for around six to eight washes and tend to be gentler to hair. The technique is straightforward so you won’t need the help of a pro.

It’s worth noting that temporary dyes won’t lighten hair. An International Journal of Trichology study states they only cover the outer hair shaft with color.

Schwarzkopf Ultra Brights and Manic Panic are two semipermanent dye ranges that offer a whole host of colors.

Permanent dyes

Permanent dyes won’t actually last forever, but the dye molecules do alter the hair fiber structure after being mixed with hydrogen peroxide.

This means you shouldn’t have to think about retouching roots until at least four to six weeks after dying. The overall color may begin to fade after around 28 washes.

It’s difficult to find permanent hair dyes for personal use, so plan to visit a hair salon for best results.

This isn’t recommended by manufacturers.

The best approach is to buy extensions that match your desired hair color, though this may be easier said than done with rainbow hair.

If you do want to dye a wig or extensions, always test the dye on a single strand first.

Normal hair dye can be used on real human hair, whereas synthetic hair will require a synthetic fabric dye or something similar.

Usually, attempting to lighten the color of your extensions will end up in disaster, so avoid using bleach if possible.

If in doubt, seek professional help.

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If you need a haircut, get it done before you dye

If you need to use bleach, you want your locks to be in tip-top condition before you start playing around with your color.

Book an appointment for a fresh trim before dying. It’ll ensure that your rainbow ‘do looks as fresh as it possibly can.

Research and purchase your products

You may need to buy

  • gloves
  • dye brushes
  • mixing bowls
  • hair processing cap
  • newspaper or other surface cover
  • lightening powder
  • developer
  • protein filler
  • dye
  • toner
  • color bonding treatment
  • deep conditioning treatment

The list of products you’ll need might look intimidating, but they’re all pretty simple to use.

A lightening powder will control the bleaching process, lightening hair to your desired shade. You’ll need to mix this powder with a developer.

Developer contains hydrogen peroxide. It’s available in 10, 20, 30, or 40 volume formulations. The darker the hair, the higher the number you should use.

Protein filler will ensure even application of hair dye. Opt for a clear or neutral one for this kind of dye job.

The all-important dye comes next. Toner goes on after the bleach and dye and helps correct the color by changing its tone.

Toner is especially beneficial for yellow, orange, or red shades. It can also help create pastel shades.

Color bonding is a relatively new step in the dying process. It’ll help strengthen dyed hair. You can also use a deep conditioning treatment like Arvazallia’s for a similar effect.

Consider enlisting an assistant

Dying longer hair can be tricky, so ask a friend to help you out. This also applies to any creative rainbow technique you want to try!

Set up your space

Now comes setup time. Cover any surfaces with newspaper, lay out the products, dye brushes, and mixing bowls, and change into an old outfit that you don’t mind getting dye on.

Don’t forget a pair of protective gloves!

Prepare your hair

Brush or comb your hair to remove any knots. Clip long or thick hair into four sections to make it more manageable.

Finally, apply petroleum jelly to your hairline to help prevent dye from transferring onto your skin.

Bleach, if necessary

Most products will come with instructions. These usually involve mixing a specific amount of lightening powder with an equal amount of developer in a bowl.

Always do a patch test beforehand to see how the product affects your hair and skin.

If all goes well, apply evenly to your hair using a dye brush. Leave on for the amount of time suggested.

30 minutes is usually the max. Any longer than this and you put yourself at risk of scalp burning and excessive hair damage.

A slight stinging or burning sensation typically isn’t cause for concern. Rinse the product out immediately if you begin to experience severe discomfort.

Space out your bleaching sessions

If you need to go from a dark to light shade, you may need to bleach your hair more than once.

Spacing out your bleaching sessions will help reduce your risk for brittle or broken hair.

Most hair types should be good to go after a week-long breather. But if your hair is particularly damaged, you may have to wait four to six weeks.

You can apply a deep conditioner to nourish hair in between bleaching sessions.

Wait until you’ve reached your final shade before using a filler or toner on bleached hair.

Apply the dye

Although you can freehand, using a dye brush will help with precision.

Apply the dye to your roots before combing the color down to the ends. Leave the dye on for however long the manufacturer recommends.

Rinse, style, and clean up

To remove the dye, simply rinse out until the water runs clear.

Then, add toner and any other finishing product, and dry and style your hair as normal.

If you have dye on your skin, try rubbing it off with more petroleum jelly or makeup remover.

For dye stains on surfaces, try mixing a cup of baking soda with half a cup of water and apply it to the mess.

Color shouldn’t transfer onto clothing and bedding, but keep pillows and clothes dark for the first few days just in case.

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Find a stylist

Some professionals may have little or no experience with the rainbow look. To find the best local stylist, use sites like Yelp and Instagram. Don’t forget to ask for photos of their previous work.

Set up a consultation

Bring photos of your dream hair to your initial consultation and be upfront with your stylist about your hair state and routine.

It’s also worth talking about post-dye maintenance to see if you’re fully up for the rainbow life.

Prepare for your appointment

So you’ve decided to go ahead. Wash your hair a minimum of 24 hours before your appointment.

Certain shampoos can irritate the scalp, and dye may cause further irritation.

You could be in the salon for a few hours, so don’t forget to bring some form of entertainment (and a phone charger!) to keep you occupied.

If you have an allover head of rainbow hair, you can style it any way you like. But for a more artistic and striking pattern, try weaving your vibrant locks into a braid.

More subtle looks have a few options. Tie your hair up in a ponytail or more elaborate updo to reveal a hidden rainbow layer underneath.

If your color is at the ends, a milkmaid braid will allow it to take center stage. And if it’s all through your bangs, tie up your hair to really show off those shades.

Rainbow hair won’t last long if you don’t look after it. Prevent premature fading by taking note of the following tips.

  • Restrict shampoo use. Washing your hair every day can dull bright colors. Instead, shampoo every five days or so, and use dry shampoo on the days in between.
  • Wash hair with cooler water. Hot water opens hair cuticles, slowly removing pigment from the dye. Colder water will keep cuticles shut.
  • Change up your products. Swap your usual shampoo and conditioner for a color-safe or color-enhancing product. Aveda’s Color Conserve Shampoo and Conditioner and TRESemme’s Color Revitalize Shampoo and Conditioner are two such options.
  • Invest in heat protection. The American Academy of Dermatology states that heat can have a detrimental effect on heavily dyed hair. If using heat tools is unavoidable, apply a protective barrier, like ghd’s Heat Protect Spray.
  • Watch out for the sun. Excessive exposure to sunlight can encourage fading. Thanks to UV ray-protecting products like Alterna’s Bamboo Beach Summer Sunshine Spray, you can still sunbathe. Alternatively, wear a hat.
  • Avoid chlorine, if possible. Chlorine, a chemical often found in swimming pools and hot tubs, can bleach or fade hair. Most of the products that shield hair from sun rays also protect against chlorine effects.
  • Deep condition once a week. Nourishing products like TIGI’s Bed Head Color Goddess Miracle Treatment Mask can add shine and vibrancy back into your rainbow ‘do. Apply once or twice a week to damp hair and leave on for around 30 minutes before rinsing.

So you just aren’t feeling the rainbow look any more. Know that there’s a better and less damaging way to go back in time than resorting to bleach.

  • Let it fade. If you want to say bye-bye to your rainbow hair quickly, do the exact opposite of everything you’ve been doing to prolong it. Stop using color-protecting products and start washing your hair more often.
  • Don’t mindlessly dye. The color wheel is a real thing. Attempting to change one color to a shade on the opposite side of the wheel will result in a muddy brown look. Certain color changes, like green to blue and red to orange, should theoretically work. So should changes that stay in the same tone.
  • Go brown. Adding brown to the rainbow dye can neutralize it, but only if you pick the right tint. Red hair will require a green-toned brown, for example.
  • See a professional. Even the most seasoned of DIYers find the dye removal process tricky. A professional colorist will know how to remove vivid hues without jeopardizing the overall health of your hair.

Rainbow hair is a fun look, but it does require a lot of commitment. Every part of the process, from dying to maintenance, will take time and effort to achieve.

Always speak to a stylist before going ahead with anything drastic, especially if you’re unsure.