The first time I ever colored my hair was in fourth grade. I had a babysitter who was in hair school and decided she was going to practice doing highlights in my hair (with my mother’s permission, of course!). She gave me big chunky highlights, similar to Kelly Clarkson, circa 2002. The highlights looked so bad, my mother took me the next weekend to have my hair colored back to my natural color, dark brown. Over the next few years, I had my hair professionally colored in various shades of brown and occasionally some caramel highlights, but it wasn’t until my eighth grade year that I figured out what I really loved — drastic change.

My mom let me color my dark brown hair a natural red, similar to Lindsay Lohan in Mean Girls. The attention I got was tremendous. I loved it! It was then that I started changing my hairstyle in drastic ways. I would dye it all black, put a huge blonde stripe in the middle, bleach only my bangs, or cut off 10 inches. I started to experiment with unnatural colors when I was 15. I bought some very semi-permanent dye from Walgreens and colored my bangs a firetruck red. And here, my obsession was born…

It’s been more than ten years since those bright red bangs, and I think I’ve had an unnatural color in some part of my hair ever since. Over the years, I’ve learned some important things about coloring your hair unnatural colors. Some were learned from trial and error (BIG ERRORS IN SOME CASES!), and some were taught to me by my aunt and my best friend of ten years who are stylists.

The following list is by no means meant to turn anyone away from coloring their hair. I love having brightly colored hair, and I think everyone should do it at least once. My goal is to provide you with the little bits of information that you won’t find on Pinterest.  I am not a professional stylist in any way, but here are some things I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way!) in the 10 years I’ve been coloring my hair unnatural colors:

1. You’re probably going to have to bleach your hair.

Unless your hair is naturally platinum blonde, chances are you’re going to have to bleach it. Most unnatural colors are semi-permanent, which means they will not lift the color of your hair any lighter than it currently is. It’s only depositing color. So if you try to put purple semi-permanent dye over your dark brown hair, it will not work. Your hair needs to be very light in order for it to show up and stand out. Pastel colors are very popular right now. In order for you to achieve a really nice and true pastel color, your hair needs to be as light as possible. Any hint of yellow that can be masked with a darker color, is going to tinge a pastel color. This can require that you bleach your hair multiple times, sometimes causing a lot of damage.

2. This is going to be a process. It won’t happen overnight.

Bleaching is extremely damaging, therefore, your hair needs to be in the best possible condition. Because of the damage caused by bleaching, you’re going to have to be prepared for it take a while. You may have to bleach it a few times (waiting a while in between sessions!) before it is the right shade of blonde. This is very hard on your hair. I would suggest that you stop flat-ironing it, or curling it a few weeks to a few months in advance. Use good conditioners and stop coloring it for a few months before you want to start the process of bleaching it. The healthier your hair is, the less dead ends you’ll have to cut off after bleaching it.

3. Have a professional bleach your hair for you.

I highly recommend going to a professional to have your hair bleached, whether you’re wanting your whole head bleached or just a small chunk. I was fortunate enough to have an aunt who would bleach it for me when I was in high school, but after learning some things from her, I started bleaching it myself. I can’t tell you the number of times I totally destroyed my hair. The bleach damaged my hair so badly that it would completely break off a few inches from my scalp or feel gummy and stretchy–NOT what hair is supposed to feel like. If you’re comfortable enough with doing the semi-permanent colors yourself, then go for it. I always do mine myself. And after you do it a few times, you get the hang of it and you won’t always end up with purple ears and a pink neck. With the growing popularity of unnatural hair, I think a lot more salons are offering a selection of colors. So if you’re not comfortable doing it yourself, have a professional do it for you.

4. Invest in some awesome (and sometimes expensive) products.

Once you’ve bleached it, and even colored it, you’re also going to have to be gentle with it. You’re going to need to use special products and shampoos to help heal your hair and make it healthy again. Ask anyone I’ve gone on vacation with. I have an entire bag dedicated to hair products because I am not as willing to cut my hair as some people are. If you’re okay with cutting off the “dead” parts of your hair after you’ve bleached it, then by all means, do so. It will definitely make your hair healthier and the color will last longer. If you’re not so willing to cut off the bad parts, definitely invest in some nice products. They may be expensive, but trust me, it’s worth it in the end.

5. It’s going to fade.

Once your hair is bleached and you’ve colored it, you’ll have to be prepared for upkeep. It’s not going to stay that perfect shade of purple or blue. Depending on what color you choose to go with, you may have to color it every other week. Some colors fade and still look nice, but some colors fade and look terrible. I had fire truck red hair that faded to a really ugly coppery orange that I had to color every other week. But, I once used a purple that faded to look like I had purple to pink ombre hair. It was really pretty, but it wasn’t what I wanted, so I ended up coloring it once a month.

6. Wash your hair in cold water.

How do you feel about cold showers? Washing your hair in cold water is one of the best tricks I’ve discovered to slowing the fading process. I don’t know the reason behind why it works, all I know is it could honestly be the worst part about having unnaturally colored hair. But again, it’s totally worth it.

7. Some colors will never come out.

Okay, so maybe not “never.” But certain colors just never seem to come out. It will fade and won’t be that great shade that you had when you first colored it, but it hangs on and turns a horrendous color. You’ll end up with a weird shade of green, or a faint pink tinge. Unfortunately, the only way I’ve discovered to getting rid of this is to either have it bleached again or put a darker color over it. I refused to color my hair dark again now that I’ve gotten it blonde, so I’ve tried many, many different ways to get rid of the color. I’ve tried using dandruff shampoo, and Dawn dish soap mixed with baking soda. I’ve even crushed up Vitamin C tablets in my shampoo. While this does fade the color some, I’ve found that it mostly just dries my hair out really bad, leaving me with crunchy seafoam green hair.

8. Prepare for color to get literally everywhere.

There’s no way to avoid it. Color is going to get everywhere. For me, because I do my own color at home, it’s all over my sink. I have an old towel that showcases each and every color I’ve ever colored my hair with its stains. I’ve also learned that black towels are the best investment. When you first color your hair, the first time you shampoo it will inevitably be a mess. (Make sure to use gloves for a week or so!) My poor shower has been every color of the rainbow, but thankfully, there is this amazing thing called bleach that they put in shower cleaners. DEFINITELY INVEST IN THIS. I find the Clorox Bleach Gel Cleaner does the best job of getting the color off the tile and the Clorox bleach pens work wonders on the grout. Not only does color get on your shower, but also your pillowcases, hands, neck, and I’ve even stained the neck of a few light colored shirts. There’s just no way to avoid it: unnatural hair colors bleed. Everywhere.

9. You’re going to get a lot of attention, and some of it isn’t so nice. 

As I mentioned earlier, when I first started coloring my hair I liked all of the attention I received with drastic changes I made. People comment on my hair at least once a day. Sometimes, my friends will take bets on how many people will say something that day. (The other day I was shopping and five people talked to me about it!) With that being said, most of the time it’s positive. “I love your hair color!” “Wow! Great hair!” But sometimes people do say things that aren’t that nice. Someone will make a joke like, “Did your hair dresser mess up?” And I usually just respond with a laugh and say something like, “Ya know, I went in asking for brown! I don’t know what happened!” Maybe that person was just trying to be funny, and not in any way cruel, but sometimes it doesn’t come off that way. I’ve always been the type of person that doesn’t really care what people think about me. I am unique and I love that about myself.

10. Use your colorful hair as a learning opportunity.

As much as the negative comments can sting, the positive comments are really what make it worth it. I love nothing more than hearing a little kid say, “Mommy! Her hair is blue!” I always make sure to smile at them. Sometimes I’ll ask them what their favorite color is and tell them that maybe I’ll do that color next. I feel like sometimes there is the negative stigma that people who look edgy or don’t follow societal norms are bad or angry people. I’ve always tried my best to break those stereotypes by being as bubbly and outgoing as I can. I try to always have a smile on my face and treat everyone with the same amount of respect as I would expect to be treated with. Maybe I surprised that older couple that I helped load heavy groceries into their car because my bright red hair matched my bright red lipstick. Or maybe that man wasn’t expecting me to pick something up that he dropped because my hair was the same color blue as his UK shirt. But my point is, that your hair color by no means determines the type of person you are, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Don’t let anyone deter you from coloring your hair an unnatural color because of some silly negative stigma.

If you’re thinking about coloring your hair a bright, unnatural color, I say, go for it! The most common thing I hear is, “I love your hair! I would love to do that… but I don’t think I could pull it off.” My response is always, “Of course you can pull it off!” And in my opinion, anyone can. If you want blue hair, then color your hair blue, and rock it!

Here’s a list of some awesome book characters with unnaturally colored hair:
Nymphadora TonksHarry Potter series, by JK Rowling
Ramona Flowers and Knives ChauScott Pilgrim vs. The World by Bryan Lee O’Malley
Emma, Blue is the Warmest Color by Julie Maroh
Lady FireFireby Kristin Cashore
Karou, Daughter of Smoke and Bone by Laini Taylor
Hayley, The Impossible Knife of Memory by Laurie Halse Anderson
ClementineEternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind by Christopher Grau
BertieEyes Like Stars by Lisa Mantchev

Ally Doerman has worked for the library for 9 years, currently in Teen Services. She spends most of her time thinking about Harry Potter and waiting for Colleen Hoover to write a new book.