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Monday, October 27, 2014

More beauty on a budget: hair color

Most of you know that I cut my own hair (and surprise, surprise, I don't look like a cave woman!!!) I go in for a professional hair cut once per year (using a coupon -- with tip, I will only get a "real" haircut if I can come out for about $10 -- yeah, I'm a cheap old lady!) After giving myself a trim, I'll often get someone in the family to check and even up the back for me.

I've been wearing my hair plain old, ordinary, shoulder-length, for several years. So, a few weeks ago, thinking my hair needed an update, I followed my daughters, and cut bangs. Meh. . . just center-part bangs, nothing that I thought was anything special. But then, one daughter said I should sweep them off to one side, for side-swept bangs. Much improved!

Hair looking styled -- next up, color. I understand that many women love their gray hairs. Maybe when I have more of them, I will too. But for now, as I tell my sister, they just make the top of my head look dusty. Supposedly, stress = gray hair. Well, my head tells the story of the past few years of my life. A ton of grays came in.  So, for the past 3 years, I've been covering the grays with a semi-permanent color. I love it. It looks very much like my natural color, and fades slowly.

I do a few things to make hair color frugal. First, the obvious one, I use a coupon (usually $2 off) to buy the color when it's on sale (often for $6.99/box). So my net cost is $4.99. Not bad. And, I only color my hair once every 3 months. For now, that works for me.

But then, I do one other thing with the boxed color to save money. I only use half of the product at a time.

The brand I use comes in two parts, the developing creme, in an applicator bottle, and the colorant, in a squeeze tube. With a sharpie, I mark the half-way point on the developing creme bottle. I take the lid off, and pour the developing creme, roughly to that mark on the bottle, into a small glass bowl. Then I eyeball the colorant, adding half of that product to the developing creme. I mix the two together with a plastic spoon, and apply to my hair. The hair color can be split for two uses this way. I wash and save the plastic gloves that come with the box. The next time I color my hair, I simply mix the remaining colorant with the remaining developing creme in the creme bottle, as instructed. You cannot mix the two, then save half.

My cost per application, then, is about $2.50. I color my hair 4-5 times per year, so my total hair color cost is $10-12. Not bad.

I have found that most of the drug store brands of hair color have enough product to divide in half for two applications, if :

  • your hair is somewhat short (mine is shoulder length)
  • you are staying close to your original hair color, so that if any hairs don't get thoroughly saturated, it won't be detectable (the color I chose is similar to my natural hair color, but has a tad more red highlights)
  • you have relatively few gray hairs to cover (I have under 10% of my total hairs coming in gray)
I have also heard of women who have more gray hair, splitting their box of hair color into 3/4 and 1/4 of product. They use the 3/4 of product for original color, then at about 6 weeks, the other 1/4 portion as a touch-up for the grays which have shed the color and to cover their root zone. 

When I first began splitting my boxes of hair color I couldn't find much info on whether or not this was doable. So, I'm just putting this out there, as yet another person who successfully splits boxes of hair color, for two applications.



  1. I haven't started using hair color ... yet ... but the time is swiftly approaching. I'm still a "yanker" but something about the aging process, combined with stress, seems to be bringing in more grays. Some ladies look absolutely stunning with gray hair--I don't think I'll be one of them. Thanks for your tips. How do you match your hair color to the dye? I'm afraid of looking like I have a black helmet on my head ...

    1. Hi Kris,
      if you have very dark hair, the advice I've heard most often is to go just slightly lighter than our original hair color, to avoid that black helmet look. A good friend, with darker hair than mine, has been dying her hair a dark brown, instead of black, and it looks very natural. The other thing, once gray hairs start creeping in, they don't absorb dye as well, and kind of give me hair the look of highlights, after a couple of washings (I use semi-permanent hair color, the kind that washes out after a couple of months). And that keeps my head from looking helmet-y. I agree, past a certain age, it just looks fake to dye your hair totally black. It just never seems to go with mature skin tones. As for finding the right color, trial and error. I've been dying mine close to its original color for a few years, but now am thinking of mixing the next lighter color in with the darker one, to see if I like that better.

      Yanking works at first. So does a sharpie! For a few years, I sharpied the front grays whenever I had someplace "nice" to be.

    2. I never thought about a sharpie! Clever! I have thought about those mascara-like applicators--they are supposed to color the roots temporarily for people who are stretching the time between colorings. I mostly try to get the grays around my face and on the part-line of my hair. I have noticed a few more in the past 6 months and I've been reading up on DIY hair-coloring techniques. Right now I'm leaning toward the hair gloss products--they sound like they would do the trick for someone like me, at least until I get more gray. We'll see how it goes as time moves on ... this is my last year in my 40s and it's probably silly pride, but I'd like to make it till I turn 50 before I try to color my hair. :)

    3. Hi Kris,
      I actually started coloring my hair when I was in my late teens/early 20s, just for fun. I had a boyfriend who would show up to pick me up for a date, never knowing just which version of me would answer the door. One week a redhead, the next week brunette, another pure black. I kept him on his toes!!

      A sharpie lasts for one day, just so you know. It seems to rub off by the next morning, but it works in a pinch (and I always have a sharpie around)!

      There's a certain amount of vanity with me, too. For me, I'm in my 50s, but I love it when people think that I'm significantly younger. Someone just today thought I was early 40s (of course, this was someone in their 80s, so maybe everyone looks 40-ish to them). I'll take that!!

      My guess is that you look very young for your age.

    4. I would have guessed 40's as well. Your face looks so young!

    5. Thank you, Cat. But I really should update that photo, as I probably have more fine lines now!

  2. I resisted coloring my hair for a long time. Then I went to a family reunion and saw that every one of my cousins was doing it. So I gave it a try. However, I don't do my own. I have found someone who has a shop in her house, and does it for about 1/3 the amount that it cost in a salon.

    From someone who has more gray than you (heredity plays a bigger factor than anything else), I will say that it's much harder for gray hair to absorb color so it takes more color and fades faster.

    1. Hi live and learn,
      Yes, my grays peek out sooner than the rest of my hairs, after dying. I'm thinking of using some of the extra product to do a touch-up just on the grays, after a month.

      Sounds like you've found a good place to have your hair colored. The other advantage to having a professional color your hair is that you can do things like color, then add highlights, safely. Or, change your hair color more dramatically, without getting that orange-y look.

  3. I colored my hair for over 20 years until 2 months ago. I have crazy thick hair, though, so unless wearing a super short cut I needed more than one box per coloring. Also, I have had loads of white hairs for several years now (and I just turned 40 last December, so my roots needed done every 4 weeks, though I often stretched that to 6. One way I found to save was to buy the bulk quantities of color and developer at a beauty supply store, so I could mix exactly what I needed. Also, I purchased a bowl and haircolor brush there (total cost, $4 for both, I believe) which allowed me more control in application. The last several months, I had changed color a bit and went to using Revlon Colorsilk color ($2.99 a box at Target) which seemed to work every bit as well as the cheaper brands. Two months ago, though, I had had enough of coloring my hair...the time and money and the whole lot of it. I had tried several times to let it grow out natural but would get frustrated with the look of the roots. So, I got a buzz cut and am growing it out. Very white around my face but more salt and pepper on top and in the crown. Not the move everyone wants to make but I am personally glad I did it. I'll have to show you on fb.

    1. That should be the Revlon Colorsilk worked as well as more expensive brands, not cheaper.

    2. Hi Cat,
      Good luck with your new, natural "do".
      My grandmother colored her hair with the basic Clairol permanent dye, until she was in her late 80s. She bought her products as you did, through a beauty supply, and measured and mixed exactly how much she wanted. It worked very well for her. She had strawberry blond hair, and with such a light natural color, any incoming grays/whites just didn't show much.

  4. I pass NO judgement on those that color their hair! LOL I went gray very young. Found my first gray hairs on the day my second child was born and I wasn't even 20 at the time....yes, I started young! Virtually all of my gray hair is on the top but underneath and in the back not so much. I colored my hair several times but had no patience with the fast growing hair that produced the "skunk" look! So I've left my hair to its own whims. And I must say I'm very pleased with it. I don't think gray hair ages us nearly as much as wrinkles!

    One observation....once you begin coloring your hair it is very challenging to stop. You've not had a chance to get used to the color and when it comes in all at once it can be a shock.

    But remember ladies....No judgement from me! LOL

    Lili, as usual, you have found the most frugal way to do things. I tell everyone about your much inspiration. You have ideas that have never crossed my mind! Thanks for sharing.

    1. Oh Linda! That must have been such a shock to find those first gray hairs!
      A good friend of mine, with almost black hair, also found her first grays when very young. She still colors her hair (20 years later), and fights that skunk look, now.

      I think that on many women, once a lot of the hairs are gray, the natural look can be quite striking. And not as aging, as you say, as the wrinkles. I'm waiting to see what mine will look like in the next decade.


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