Lydia Hearst by Elias Wessel

I had a request on Twitter for a post about how to achieve two tone hair color. Ask and you shall receive a blog post.

I’m an unabashed lover of hair dye. It’s a perfect way to change your mood, get a pick-me-up, or adjust to a lifestyle change. And best of all, if you hate it, you can simply dye over it or bleach it out.

I have a specific love for unnatural hair color. I’ve been a purple, pink, green, red and raspberry headed fool, and found I’m most happy when my unnatural color is blended with blond.


my current concoction

Before you start: unnatural color is like a highlighter on paper, it shows up most brilliantly on white paper, and on darker papers it may just give a sheen. It is recommended that you start out with bleached or a very light blond. There are ways to DIY bleach your hair, but honestly, I wouldn’t risk it. I always get my hair bleached professionally. Yes it’s more expensive, but I don’t have to worry about getting all the spots on the back of my head or my color being uneven. If you have an amazing friend whom you can pay in food or doing their hair, then by all means, but by yourself you may end up blotchy, and the unnatural color, unless it is extremely dark, will show those blotches.

You will need:

  • hairbrush
  • comb or pick to separate sections
  • clips or hair bands to hold sections
  • vaseline or lotion
  • color or colors*
  • rubber gloves (optional, but will really save your hands from taking on the hue of the dye)
  • color brush (optional. I do not use one, but if you want your lines extremely precise, it will be helpful)

Achieving a two tone look like my hair requires layered hair. If you hair is all one length, you’re not going to get the same dramatic effect, but you will get this neat “peeking out” of color.

*A note about color: This can be done with unnatural colors or boxed color from the store. Boxed color you will have to mix, but most unnatural colors come ready to simply brush on. There are several brands, and you’ll have to find which has the best color for you. There are several people who swear by Special Effects, and while I enjoy the brilliance of their color, it bleeds a lot, so I have stopped using it. Beyond the Zone is a cheap, cheap dye, and I’ve found it doesn’t last very long and is not that brilliant, but if all you want are those really light bits of color, it’s perfect. I just found out about N’Rage, and after trying their aquamarine color, it is bright but really difficult and clumpy to use. My standby: I love Manic Panic. It mixes well with other colors (I generally mix my colors to get the perfect shade I want), stays on well on my hair, and most importantly for me, does not bleed on my pillow or clothing when dry. (Almost all color will bleed when wet, and reds are the worst).

Decide how much hair you want to be dyed. If you want a standard place, I would start with a line at the top of the ears all the way around the back. If you’re trying for a three tone look, start the first color there and then section off about an inch and a half above that for the second color (right below the crown).

I didn’t do this or my current color, but in general I like to grab a piece from the underside of my bangs (fringe) and draw a thin line to connect with the color underneath. It’s a fun splice in the front, but you can go without.

Take the parts you want to remain light and section up, securing with clips or ties on top of your head. If you’re doing three tones, pin up the upper section to color on top of the head but separated from the very top.

Cover your neck and ears with a little vaseline or lotion so you don’t dye your skin. If you’re doing a section of the bangs, protect your forehead as well.

Take out your color, gloves and brush. If you’re concocting your own mix of colors take a small bowl and mix until you get the desired color. Otherwise you can leave the color in the container.

Now, color! I tend to not have a very methodical way of doing it. I like to just dip my fingers in the pot and, starting from the roots and moving toward the ends, covering the hair in one inch sections. You can take and foil the hair up in sections if you want to use heat, but I don’t find it makes much of a difference. Whatever your methods, make sure all the hair is thoroughly covered in dye paying special attention to the ends. Once you’re sufficiently soaked, pin up the dyed section.

If you’re doing three tones, it is a good idea to cover the just colored section with foil or wrap it in plastic simply to protect the next section. Wash your hands in the gloves, and your brush if using. Take down the next section and color like you did the first, then pin up.

Then wait. If you’re using a traditional color, pay attention to the box. If you’re using a vegetable dye color, the longer you leave it in, the better. I normally leave my color in for an hour and a half or so (the perfect time to watch a movie while you wait!).

Rinse. This is the most difficult part of two tone hair. Rinse just the colored section with cool water until the water runs clear. With some more intense colors, like blues and reds, this may take a long time and never really run clear. Just make sure the entire section has been thoroughly rinsed and then protect your skin and clothing with a towel to dry it. Three tones, do the same rinsing each section separately. Dry the colored part first, then pin up and dry the blond part. Then style!

Unnatural color takes a lot to keep up with. At least the first few times you wash it, you’ll want to separate and wash the sections separately in order to keep the color from bleeding. After that, you can wash it all together. I find most colors fade really nicely, and I like how they become more muted, but to keep it vibrant, you’ll want to touch it up every two or three weeks.

Happy hair dying!

Other tips from lovely dyed ladies:
How to Dye Your Hair Rainbow Colors by Michelle
Ultimate Guide to Unnatural Hair Colouring an old-school Gala post

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