Going to a salon for professional highlights and hair coloring is expensive and time consuming. You can dye and highlight your hair with a $1 bottle of hydrogen peroxide (3%) at home. Just make sure to go slowly and read all the tips below to be safe. While a salon is THE safest way to dye your hair, it is possible to dye your hair safely at home. Of course, you could also dump a whole bottle on your head and come out with a terrible, blotchy dye job. So read these tips first!
I scoured the web to make this the most comprehensive post on how to dye your hair with hydrogen peroxide.
Is hydrogen peroxide safe?
- Permanent and demi-permanent dyes at the salon and drugstore contain peroxide and often ammonia, so you are putting some of the same chemicals into your hair that you would pay a professional to. The difference is that a beautician is trained in how much to use, how long to leave it on, etc.
- Peroxide in large quantities should not have prolonged contact with skin. Small amounts, however, are not harmful.
- Dye your hair safely by using an old towel, donning an old tee shirt, and wearing gloves (more prep tips below).
- Make sure you are using 3% hydrogen peroxide. Check the “active ingredients” label for a 3% solution.
What color will peroxide make my hair?
The way peroxide reacts to your hair is one of the biggest factors. If you go slowly and test strands to get the color you want, in most cases, the dye will make your hair one or two shades lighter.
Brown hair runs the risk of turning orange. Test a hidden sample first.
Dark brown hair –> likely going to turn chestnut brown. Too much may lead to an orangey brown so stop before it’s too late.
Medium brown hair –> likely going to turn to golden brown hair.
Light brown hair –> likely going to turn dirty blond.
Red hair –> likely going to turn an orange before moving onto strawberry blond.
Dirty blond hair –> likely going to turn light blonde.
Light blonde –> likely going to turn whitish blond (if your hair is already light blonde, why are you dyeing it????)
Should I go to a professional?
The answer is yes, if:
- You have damaged, permed, or color-treated hair
- You want to drastically change the color of your hair
- You hate the results of your DIY job
What you need to dye your hair with hydrogen peroxide
- An old tee shirt to wear
- Old towel to wrap around your neck
- Gloves to protect your hands
- Claw or butterfly clips to isolate sections of hair
- Toothbrush, cotton balls, sponge, or small brush to apply (for highlights)
- Clean spray bottle (for whole head)
- Aluminum foil (for highlights)
- Plastic shower cap (for whole head of hair)
- Bowl to pour small amount of peroxide into (for highlights)
- Hair dryer (optional – gentle heat speeds up the process)
- Cold water for a thorough rinsing after
- Deep conditioner
Prep your hair
- Stop any hair treatments a few weeks before you plan to dye your hair.
- Avoid using extra chemicals in your hair, like hairspray, gel, mouse, and especially stronger treatments like color jobs, straightener, perms, etc.
- No heat. Avoid heating your hair, including using a hair dryer, heating iron, curlers, etc.
- Shampoo and condition your hair, then let it air dry. Start when your hair is damp as you’ll get better results.
- Test a small section of your hair underneath several layers and leave it on for 15 minutes. Rinse with cold water and see if you like the color. Experiment with another discreet strand for more time in 15 minute increments until you get the color you like. Rinse each strand after you’re done.
- Get a buddy. If at all possible, get help from a friend. This will speed everything up (you don’t want one section of your hair to have peroxide in any longer than the rest). Plus, it’ll make applying the dye in the back of your head easier, and if you need a second opinion, voila!
How to highlight your hair with hydrogen peroxide
- Start SLOWLY. I repeat, start very, very slowly. Everyone’s hair will react differently so it’s best to take it slowly at first. If you dive right in and don’t like the color, you’ll either be really pissed at your hair for several weeks or be forced to go to the salon for an expensive fix.
- Tools. You’ll need a new toothbrush, a small bowl for pouring the peroxide into, and a comb with a parting tool on one end to separate minute strands of hair. You’ll also want 5-10 butterfly clips to section off your hair. This is the best way to get an even, professional-looking dye job without paying big bucks! You can unclip each section, then reclip as your work through your head.
- Avoid skin. Large amounts of hydrogen peroxide that have prolonged contact with skin can irritate or burn the skin. A few drips here and there, however, should not have a harmful effect. (Hydrogen peroxide is used to disinfect wounds, after all.)
- First application. Grab a new toothbrush and dip it into a small bowl of hydrogen peroxide. With a comb that has a pointer parting tool at one end, grab a few strands of hair. Err on the side of fewer strands of hair. Think of taking only a very thing wedge amongst your head of hair.You don’t want your dye job to look clumpy. And you don’t want drastic color changes, which will make your highlights look very unnatural. On second thought, maybe that is the look you’re going for. (See below for dyeing your entire head of hair.)
- Apply heat (optional). Heating your hair with peroxide in it will speed the process. This is optional and if you are not sure how the peroxide is going to affect your hair, I’d hold off on using heat.
- Rinse with cold. Cold water will do the best job of getting the peroxide out and won’t further dry out your hair. Air dry as heat will further dry out your hair.
- Repeat. Each day, follow the above steps to highlight your hair with peroxide. If you are doing your entire head (tips below) wait a week between dye jobs. Slow progress is better for your hair than an intense dye job, which can have disastrous effects on your hair color and quality.
- Enjoy the slow transformation of your hair color. You won’t get sandy blond hair overnight, which is a good thing. Depending on the starting color of your hair, past hair treatments including dye jobs or straightening jobs, and your hair texture, the 3% hydrogen peroxide solution will affect your hair uniquely. So a slow transformation empowers you to stop at any time if you’re unhappy with the results. See below for what color peroxide will turn your hair.
How to dye ALL of your hair with peroxide
- Prep. Read the steps in the section above “Before you dye your hair with hydrogen peroxide”
- Full head, slowly. Once you’ve experimented with very slow application to your hair and are happy with the way your hair reacts, dye your entire head of hair slowly with hydrogen peroxide Grab a small spray bottle and fill half with peroxide and half with water. Spritz your hair a few times every morning. You don’t want your hair to be wet or even damp. Just a few spritzes and that’s it. This is a quick and easy way to get an overall lightening effect but if you put too much in your hair, the peroxide will damage it. Since the peroxide spritz will cover your entire head, don’t expect highlights, but a lighter color everywhere. If you opt to put more than a few spritzes in your hair, see “Full head, fast.”
- Full head, fast. Grab an empty, clean bottle, mix a half cup of peroxide with a half cup of conditioner, then apply to your hair, taking care not to get any onto your face, hands, or skin. Use gloves. Watch this video (one of the better ones I’ve seen while researching this post) during which a girl mixes peroxide with baking soda, shampoo and conditioner, then rubs the gunk all over her hair to dye her entire head of hair a few shades lighter. The results are noticeable, and beautiful.
After you dye your hair with peroxide
- Condition. Massage rich conditioner into your hair. Don’t skimp! The dye will dry out your hair, and depending on how long you left it in, will really need special treatment. Leave on a bit longer than usual, then rinse.
- Skip washes. Shampooing your hair strips it of its natural oils, further drying your hair. Shampoo as infrequently as possible, and use dry powder shampoo when you need to clean it.
- Limit heat. Use a hair dryer, hot curlers, or a straightening iron no more than once a week. Your hair needs to stay as hydrated as possible during and after the dye process, so embrace air drying for now.
- Restore shine. Give your hair an olive oil treatment or a mayo treatment to get your shiny hair back.
- Olive oil treatment. Massage warm olive oil into your hair and scalp until your entire head of hair is moist with olive oil. Wrap your hair in a towel and let it sit for a couple of hours. Wash out with shampoo and conditioner, then enjoy your shiny hair!
- Mayo treatment. Like the olive oil treatment, you can make your hair shiny with a mayonnaise treatment. Massage 1/2 cups of mayonnaise into your hair (more if you have a LOT of hair). Wrap your mayo-y head in a plastic shower cap, then grab your hair dryer and apply heat until your head is warm (a few minutes). You can also pull on a wool cap to heat up your hair. Once warm, turn off your hair dryer and let it sit for at least one hour. The very warm mayonnaise makes your hair very shiny.
Other natural hair dyes to lighten your hair color
- Lemon. If you’re unhappy with the way peroxide reacts to your hair, or you want a more natural method of highlighting your hair, try squeezing lemon juice into your hair and sitting in the sun. This is a slow, gradual process to lighten and maintain a lighter hair color. Squeeze in enough juice to make your hair very damp, then sit in the sun for one hour. Condition or use one of the restorative treatments below as the juice will really dry out your hair. Repeat regularly.
- Cinnamon and honey and olive oil really do work!
- Henna (no surprise there!)
- Chamomile or black tea
- Baking soda
- Apple cider vinegar
- Lots of sunshine!
Other uses for hydrogen peroxide
Lightening your hair is just one of 25 uses for hydrogen peroxide that we found. It’s also great for cleaning kitchen counters, soften callouses, and freshen musty towels. We were so interested in how to use hydrogen peroxide to whiten your teeth that we wrote an entire post on it.