I love a beauty bargain as much anyone else. My favorite mascara is L’Oréal Paris Lash Paradise, which I buy at my local Target. Wet N Wild Photo Focus Eyeshadow Primer works miracles on my hooded lids, and one tube lasts close to an eternity or at least for quite a long chunk of time.
Hair color is a bit trickier though. That is something that I have learned is best left to the professionals. I may have taken an AP art class in high school but sadly that does not make me a qualified “professional.” In the spirit of DIY, which seemed to have inhabited my body for a brief time circa 2010, I attempted to color my own hair with box dye and subsequently fried it. Lesson learned, I’ve since then spent the money to go a wonderfully talented stylist who colored my hair to perfection and gave me the best cuts.
However, after enough time passed, all it took was a lapse in judgment during a moment of weakness for me to revisit that old idea to test if coloring my own hair was still, in fact, a bad idea (not unlike reconnecting with an ex-boyfriend). I had vowed to never do my own hair color again after the previously mentioned crispy, orange-colored fry sesh of 2010, but seven years had passed and subsequently, all the cells in my body had renewed — none of which knew of this vow, apparently. History repeats the worst versions of itself sometimes: suddenly you’re going through a breakup, then you’re unexpectedly transitioning careers, and then you’ve booked a trip abroad to reunite with an old “friend” to see if there might be a potential romantic connection…and then you decide to once more attempt to dye your own hair.
It was a weird point in my life. Had I been just dealing with one of those things, I’ve got to hope that I would’ve had the wherewithal to stick to my no-at-home hair-dyeing-ever-again policy. However, this was a perfect storm of transitions, hope, heartbreak, and financial desperation. Plus, there was wine and questionable support from girlfriends. I’d just gone through a breakup and it was difficult. So, I did what every woman is implicitly told to do after a tough split: “Go on a trip, get away, pamper yourself, get your groove back, eat, pray, love.”
So, I did. I booked a trip to Costa Rica. This was also a time that an old friend had gotten back in touch with me and said he was spending the summer in Central America and would meet me in Costa Rica. Was this going to be the thing? Was my groove to be reacquired below the equator?
But wait, there’s more. Because I had apparently ordered the deluxe helping of life events, right after I booked that trip, I received an amazing job offer. Things were quite the rollercoaster of moments. However, the time lag between ending my current job, starting the new one, and fitting in a trip abroad was a financial nightmare. Even though all of the changes happening were exciting, my anxiety was kicking into overdrive and I convinced myself that everything in my life was going to go wrong unless I could dye my hair a fresh blonde shade. A plane can’t crash if you’ve gotten your platinum blonde redone, right? You’ll immediately fall in love and everyone will like you, right? This is my brain on blonde.
I needed to feel confident and grounded and I wanted to see a version of myself in the mirror that I knew, but that need, unfortunately, did not fill my salon budget. My funds were drying up fast and professional hair color is expensive. So, after a couple glasses of red wine, rehashing major life changes, and encouragement from a girlfriend, we decided that together we could totally achieve box dye blonde perfection.
We could not have been more wrong. My hair turned out a cartoon yellow, the color of banana Runts. It was a highlighter yellow — the school supply, not the makeup product. My hair looked like it just walked off the set of Harmony Korine’s Spring Breakers. I couldn’t show up for a trip abroad to see a potentially romantical friend figure I hadn’t seen in over nine years with banana yellow hair. I couldn’t show up to a new job and try and pass as a professional like this. If hair is supposed to be your best accessory, mine was more criminal than Birkin bag. I was strapped for cash, though, and kicking myself for not just going the salon route in the first place.
I found an old Savings Bond I received in high school for graduating honors and cashed it in for the amount it had matured to in order to float me through this hair emergency and the Costa Rica trip. What have I come to?
I called my salon the next day and explained what my hair had become. They literally gasped and said, “Oh no, let’s get you in immediately.” I wore three different kinds of black sock hats for days until my appointment. It’s important to recognize and celebrate your strengths and ask for help when you know there are things you cannot do alone. That’s life and sometimes it takes a village to fix an at-home hair-coloring disaster — or it takes Hannah from Salon U in Chicago. She’s the best.
I walked in the salon, embarrassed and ashamed. I took off my sock hat and revealed what I had done. The way the stylists in the salon looked at me made me feel like a puppy dog, and they were the owners who just came home to find me going through the trash can. I had to remind myself that I am an adult woman who really should know better than to attempt hair changes like this, but an adult woman all the same. My colorist later said she thought, “Woof, that is gold, isn’t it?” when I came and sat down. She ended up doing a tightly-packed full foil and toning in between to reduce the orange. It took over three hours to return my hair to a shade somewhat close to what I previously knew and loved. It also took a big chunk of money, but I felt like I knew myself once more.
Life transitions can sometimes feel like two steps back and maybe one step forward, rather than the other way around, but take it from me — you do not have to change your hair as your life changes. (But if you want to anyway, that change shouldn’t come from a box you buy at the drugstore.) The urge is strong, believe me, but sometimes it may not be worth it, monetarily or emotionally.
I will definitely remember this moving forward, though: spend your money on the beauty treatments you know are worth it to you. Also, no man is worth this amount of chemical distress, but Costa Rica is gorgeous.
More hair-coloring homages:
The history of hair color: