Having seen the recent proliferation of bad hair dye jobs, especially among young males, I have decided to post a few pointers on how hair coloring works.

I realize it is not part of the male culture to ask other males on how to dye your hair successfully. And, of course, the male ego makes asking females about hair coloring absolutely prohibitive. But reading a write-up on the topic is acceptable as long as no one knows. So, go ahead, read on.

The strangest thing about it is that while males would like to dye their hair in a subtle way, so it is not obvious the hair has been dyed, most invariably end up with orange hair, which screams miles away: "Look, Everyone, I dyed my hair!"

Before you dye your hair, you should ask yourself: "Why exactly do I want to dye my hair?"

I once asked a young certified nursing assistant who came to work with orange hair why he did it. His answer was: "Girls like blond hair." Very bad reason, certainly for him.

In his natural state he was a very good looking fellow. He was of French descent. His natural hair color was very dark brown, almost black. His skin was dark (for a Caucasian, the Mediterranian type). His facial features were liked chiseled from marble. Indeed, he reminded me of the Greco-Roman statues of ancient gods I saw in Rome. In fact, he went by the initials A.J., and I used to tease him it stood for Apollo Junior.

If he could just take an objective look at himself, he'd know girls were finding him attractive just as he was. Not only was he good looking, he had a very pleasant personality. Everyone liked him.

The orange hair made him look somewhat worse because it detracted from his near perfection. Indeed, the girls, whom he thought preferred blond hair, were making remarks about it and fun of him. Behind his back, of course.

So, really, please, start by asking why you want to change your hair color. Make sure it is because you want to change it, not because you think someone else would like you more.

Now, suppose he had asked that question, and decided he wanted to change his hair color. And why not? Then he should have asked the second question:

"What color should I go for?"

Every single young man with orange hair, when asked what color he used, told me: "I just chose the lightest blond I could find."

Very Big Mistake!


Let's consider just what it is that the hair dye does. In other words, how it works.

Contrary to what many believe, the hair dye does not penetrate inside your hair and replace the color inside your hair with a new color.

Hair is virtually impenetrable. Think about it: If hair were easy to penetrate, every time you wash your hair, take a shower, go for a swim, some water would get inside your hair and eventually replace the pigments inside it. Your hair would become colorless and transparent.

But that does not happen. Just look at any person with shoulder length hair. The hair ends are of the same color as the roots (at least if it is not dyed, of course). So the part of their hair they may have been wearing for two years has preserved the same color as the new growth has.

Indeed, hair dye essentially is paint. It covers your hair with a different color on the outside. And the lighter the dye the more transparent (or at least translucent) it is. Hence, the final result, which is nothing more than a visual illusion, is a visual combination of your natural hair color and the dye.

Because of this, you can always go darker. Even if you're naturally platinum blond, you can go all the way to goth, and it will work because the dark dye will completely cover up your natural color.

Alas, it does not work the other way! You can go lighter, but only about two-three shades lighter. Anything more, and you end up with a very unnaturally looking color, and most likely a good shade of orange (or brassy).

If you really want to go much lighter, you need to bleach your hair (and then dye if necessary). That is you need to strip your hair of its pigmentation. There are chemicals, such as hydrogen peroxide that will pentrate your hair and bleach it.


Because your hair is virtually impenetrable, the bleach can only work by damaging your hair. Your hair will become brittle. Is that what you want? If it is, go for it, but don't say I didn't warn you.

The third question you should ask yourself is: "Will my new hair color match my skin color?"

You may think of your skin color just in the terms of race, e.g., white. But nobody has white skin, though albinos come close. Everyone's skin, regardless of race, is brown. It's just the amount of brown that makes us appear "white", or "black", or something else. In reality we are anywhere from very light brown to very dark brown.

To make matters more complicated, there is also a variable amount of red in our skin (and hair, hence the orange result). Not just in redheads, everyone. We redheads just have more of it than the rest.

The combination of these two colors produce a large amount of skin shades. To stick with my own race (since I am more familiar with it), white people's skin can be peachy, creamy, ashy, olive-like, etc. Your hair color should match your complexion (unless you want to make a statement, or are looking for a deliberate contrast effect - but in that case, make sure it is deliberate, i.e., you know what you are doing).

The easiest way of classifying skin shades is to cold and warm. If your skin is cold, you may want to choose a cold hair color. If it is warm, you may choose a warm hair color. And if it is very warm (such as pink), you may opt for red (though, in that case, chances are you already are red, and very proud of it unless you are a child, in which case you probably hate it).

How can you tell whether a hair dye is warm or cold? Most hair dye manufacturers make four kinds of hair dye as far as temperature is concerned: Cold, neutral, warm, and red.

The colds typically, but not always, contain the word "ash" in their names, e.g., light ash blond, ash brown, and such.

The warms typically contain either "gold", or "golden", or "honey" in their names, e.g., deep golden blond, or light gold brown, or honeycomb.

The reds contain words like "red", "reddish", "auburn", and "mahogany", e.g., light reddish blond, reddish brown, etc. Though, they often use other names, such as "flame", or "sunrise", mostly for marketing purposes.

By the way, if you choose a different temperature, you may need an entirely new wardrobe and accessories. For example, if you go red and your glasses are in a silver metallic frame, you need a new frame - gold. (Trust me, I'm a redhead, silver looks awful on us.)

And the neutrals? Well, they usually have none of the above, e.g., pale blond, medium brown, and such. Occasionally but not always do they have "soft" in their names.

By the way, every single hair dye manufacturer has a toll-free (in the US anyway) line to call and consult about what color is best for you. Just call them, tell them your natural hair color, your current hair color (if you have dyed already), your skin shade, and your desired hair color. If they try to dissuade you, that's because they know what they are talking about, not because they want to lose a sale! So, listen to them.

Still unsure? Dye your pubic hair, and, if you usually wear a shirt, your armpit hair and chest hair (if you have it). You'll see the result, and will be able to hide it from everyone else if it looks bad. Once you have found the right color, go for it, and dye your hair!