Why (and How) I Helped My Teen Dye Her Hair Purple

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I'm a strict parent; I expect you to keep your room clean, try your hardest, do chores around the house, speak to others with respect, cover up your underwear/bra straps, and accept "Because I said so" on the rare occasions when that's the only explanation I'm offering. Only one of my teens has a cellphone -- a "dumb" one, at that -- and she pays for her own texting. No one accuses me of being permissive. And yet, my kids are free to do pretty much whatever they like with their hair.

For me, this wasn't a tough choice. Ever since my first baby became mobile, others more seasoned in child-rearing than myself have reminded me to pick my battles. It always comes down to one question: Is this the hill I want to die on? And I've yet to find the hair situation where I feel like it's important enough to take a stand. Heck, I'm not sure I've ever really been tempted. Kindness is important. Respect is important. Pitching in is important. Challenging yourself is important. Hair is not important. Also, hair grows. Nothing you can do with your hair is permanent. And yes, discrimination exists and someday it may not be prudent to have non-conventional hair while looking for a job; if and when that time comes, my kids will have to make a decision based on more factors than what they like, but as kids, hey, it hardly matters.

This is why my son had long hair for years. He wanted it. My rules were simple: keep it clean and untangled and out of your face. People mistook him for a girl all the time. We all found it hilarious. Eventually he tired of it and now wears it short.

This is why my daughter has had very short hair several times in a sea of long-haired friends. Each time she's asked for a cut, I've obliged. "What if I hate it?" she asks.

"Then it'll grow," I answer. And it does. (Thank God. She loved one short cut, hated the other one. Both of 'em grew.)

Recently my daughter decided she wanted purple tips on her hair. I said okay -- not because I'm a Cool Mom, but because I'm a Leverage To My Own Agenda Mom: I suggested a list of goals (okay, various chores and homework type things) for her to meet to earn this privilege. She was game, and I have never seen work completed so quickly and cheerfully.

Together we researched dyes, methods, and DIY pointers on how to make sure we didn't wreck her hair. We knew that for vibrant color we'd need to bleach her hair, first, and I was very concerned about damage. After reading through various recommendations, we settled on Feria 205 Extra Bleach Blonde for the lightening (two points in its favor: reviewers indicated it was not likely to cause the dreaded orange hair brunettes sometimes get when bleaching, and it comes with a tube of really good, rich conditioner).

Next we started reading up on purple dyes, and let me tell you, if you ever wanted to find a more polarizing topic than politics, brightly-colored hair dyes are a great place to start. Theoretically there's no such thing as a permanent technicolor dye. All non-natural hair colors are sold as semi-permanents, and the online debates about Special Effects vs. Splat vs. Manic Panic vs. all the rest rage on. Depending on the dye you use, the color of your hair before dying, how often you wash your hair, and possibly even the phase of the moon, your semi-permanent color may last anywhere from a week to six months.

It was confusing, to say the least.

Fortunately, she wanted purple, and even more fortunately, we happened to stumble upon a nifty little factoid: There's a commercially available permanent hair dye meant to dye your hair red that comes with lots of warnings about how it should never be used on grey or blonde hair. Know why? Because it turns light-colored hair deep purple. Perfect! That dye, in case you want it, is Garnier Nutrisse 42 Deep Burgundy Black Cherry.

The day came and we set to work. I am not a hair professional (nor do I play one on TV...) and basically went off of a few YouTube videos and other information we'd found online. The bleaching kit says you shouldn't wrap your hair in anything while treating; the Internet says "go ahead and use foil, just know that it will speed up processing some." Fair enough. The nice thing about foil is that it keeps the bleach solution off your skin and body, which was pertinent here because we were doing tips, not the scalp.

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