Dye planning

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Dyeing Unbleached Hair

Published on 5th May 2005

You don’t have to bleach your to use unnatural colours like pink, red and purple. Maybe your hair is too damaged to bleach, you aren’t allowed to bleach it or you just want short term burst of colour.

As mentioned many times before on this site, for the brightest, most vibrant results with unnatural direct dyes your hair should ideally be bleached or very light in colour. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t get stunning results without bleaching.

If you hair is dark you’ll have to use a darker shade for it to show up. Using something like a light purple or a pale blue on dark hair is going to do nothing but condition it. Darker shades of dyes such as Directions, Manic Panic and Special Effects usually contain more pigment which will help the colour show up and stay on your hair. These colours will add a slight tint or a highlight in bright sunlight to your hair. You should also be aware that these dyes work by sinking into the hair and so if your hair is natural it’s usually less damaged and the dye will find it more difficult to soak in. For this reason, the dye will probably last for a lot less time than stated on the bottle.

Here are a few suggestions on colours you can use. This list is not exhaustive.

Your hair is: Black/Dark Brown


  • Special Effects – Blue Velvet, Deep Purple, Blood Red, Burgundy Wine, Sonic Green.
  • Manic Panic – Deadly Nightshade*, Vampire Red*, After Midnight Blue*, Black & Blue, Enchanted Forest*.
  • Directions – Midnight Blue, Rubine, Alpine Green, Plum

Your hair is: Medium/Light Brown

Try: All Above +

  • Special Effects – Cherry Bomb, Electric Blue, Pimpin Purple, Candy Apple, Virgin Rose, Devlish.
  • Manic Panic – Infra Red*, Pillarbox, Purple Haze*, Plum Passion
  • Directions – Pillarbox, Violet, Atlantic Blue, Rose Red, Vermillion.

Your hair is: Dark/Medium Blond

Try: All Above +

  • Special Effects – Atomic Pink, Nuclear Red, Iguana Green, Hot Lava, Blue Mayhem
  • Manic Panic – Ultra Violet*, Fuchsia Shock*, Hot Hot Pink*, Shocking Blue*, Flaming, New Rose, Wildfire
  • Directions – Apple Green, Fire, Flame, Flamingo, Cerise.

* Available in gel form which I think is slightly better for use on unbleached hair.

Paler blonds can use most of the colours in these brands. Of course similar shades in other brands such as punky, fudge and raw should work just as well. You can see from that list that the lighter the hair the more choice in colour there is available. When combined with your natural colour these dyes may produce unexpected results (like golden blonds dyed blue could turn out green). Another side effect can be that the colour doesn’t wash out fast enough so consider it carefully beforehand and always do a strand and sensitivity test.

Here’s an example of some dyeing on natural hair.
Tony’s hair is naturally a medium warm toned brown. You can see he has a few flecks of bleached hair at the tips. We’re going to dye the whole lot Deep Purple by Special Effects. In preparation his hair has been shampooed and blow dried. We didn’t use conditioner as this can prevent the colour soaking in to the hair properly.

Natural brown hair

Here you can see how it turned out after leaving the colour on for about 45 minutes and rinsing. The natural hair is darker with a plum tint. You can’t really see that the tips of his hair that have been bleached are slightly more vibrant. I would expect the colour to last longest on these parts.

So it is possible to dye unbleached hair. The results may not be as predictable, bright or long-lasting but you can maintain your hair’s condition and still have something out of the ordinary. This technique is also a great way to refresh faded permanent hair colour.

Tony's hair now has a purple tint.

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  • Don't condition your hair before dyeing it.
  • Use a clarifying shampoo to remove product build up prior to dyeing.
  • Do a strand test before use.