We asked top colourist Melanie Smith of London’s Josh Wood Atelier to spill her secrets for sorting a bad dye job, at home or in the salon, in just one day
We’ve all wished we could wave a magic hair dye-erasing wand at some point. Whether you’re a hair colour chameleon who likes a switch-up on the regular, or you’ve had a one-off disaster that you’re looking to fix pronto, sometimes the fading process just needs to be fast-tracked.
But do DIY hacks (read: baking soda and vitamin C) really work? What about the hair dye remover kits that promise to strip things back to a clean slate in a flash? We asked Melanie Smith, creative master colourist at London’s Josh Wood Atelier, to spill all.
“The safest route for correcting a dye job is to call in the professionals and visit a colour specialist in a salon.
“You need to be very honest about what products you have used on your hair. This information can really affect how the colourist will remove the artificial colour.
“This can vary from a deep-cleansing shampoo right through to artificial colour remover. Sometimes this will need to be followed with another colour service to reach your desired shade,” Smith tells Stylist.
Prefer to take the at-home route? “My first recommendation is always to use an anti-dandruff or deep-cleansing shampoo that’s high in sulphates (SLS). If your hair’s gone too dark or vibrant, this will loosen the colour.
“Do three to four shampoos in a row then, for the final one, leave the shampoo in for 15-20 minutes with a shower cap over the top. Rinse then follow with a deep conditioner or mask,” explains Smith.
It makes sense – we’re advised to use zero or low-sulphate haircare to lock colour in for longer and this simply takes the opposite approach. It’s why you’ll often hear people recommending high-sulphate clarifying shampoos (or even Fairy Washing Up Liquid that has sky-high SLS!) for hair dye removal.
High street hair dye remover kits are an option, too, according to Smith. “These do work, especially if you just need to lift out colour that’s gone too dark. It starts getting more complicated when you want to add or take away ‘tones.’ In that case, you should see a professional,” she comments.
And the DIY methods that claim to remove unwanted hair colour naturally? Despite having the world’s best colour maestros on speed dial, Kim Kardashian West revealed she lightened up her own zingy pink hue by leaving on a concoction of vitamin C tablets mixed with shampoo for 20 minutes.
“This definitely works! We use vitamin C in the salon to lift out colour that has gone a little dark or to remove colour build-up. But watch out for any tricks you’ve come across involving baking soda. The results are minimal and you’ll often get a very uneven finish,” Smith reveals.
Whichever method you opt for, weekly intensive conditioning treatments, as well as moisturising shampoos and conditioners, are essential. “Any kind of colour removal process will cause a level of damage so you’ll need to take care of your hair afterwards to avoid brittleness and breakage,” adds Smith who rates Josh Wood Everything Mask, £15, that takes just five minutes.
Here’s our pick of the best colour removers and shade-tweaking toners on the market…
Revolution Pro Hair Colour Remover
This pack promises to zap permanent, semi-permanent and temporary colour that’s been done either in salon or at home. Free from ammonia or bleach, it works well – just forgive the slightly ‘eggy’ aroma.
The kit’s conditioner is packed with nourishing baobab oil, so hair’s left unbelievably silky and conditioned.
As with all hair colour remover kits, there are a few key tips to follow. Always perform a skin patch test first. Then do a strand test to see how your hair will take the remover.
Once it comes to applying the product all over, pop a shower cap over the top to prevent certain areas drying out and leaving a patchy finish. Then rinse super-thoroughly to fully wash away both the remover and colour pigment.
L’Oreal Paris Colorista Hair Colour and Dye Remover
The semi-permanent L’Oreal Paris Colorista Washout Hair Dyes are our go-tos for vibrant multi-coloured hues with 19 shades to choose from. They’re designed to last for one or two weeks, washing out gradually with each shampoo. But if you’re in need of some fast fading or your colour’s lingering (blue, purple and green tones are most prone to this) you’ll want to make a beeline for this nifty kit.
Suitable for ombre, natural or bleached blonde locks, it comes complete with two lightening sachets and a developing cream to banish remaining traces.
To max the effect, use the range’s L’Oreal Paris Colorista Washout Shampoo, £6.99, first. Neither come with an accompanying conditioner but hair’s left surprisingly soft and shiny – not totally stripped.
Bleach London Washing Out Liquid
If anyone knows about colour-switching hacks, it’s the brains over at Bleach London. The product range accompanies the chain of hip London salons (the world’s first to focus on colouring rather than cutting) masterminded by hair whizzes Alex Brownsell and Sam Teasdale.
This clever liquid, used in place of your ordinary shampoo, speeds up the fading process for semi-permanent colour. It couldn’t be easier to use – simply lather it up into wet hair, massage right through to the ends, leave it to soak for ten minutes and rinse thoroughly with warm water.
Repeat then follow up regularly with Bleach London Beer Treatment Mask, £9.99. “The mask acts as a filler, penetrating the hair shaft and helping to ‘push colour’ out of the hair,” says Sapphire Driver, Bleach London brand manager and colour expert.
Superdrug Colour Rewind Hair Colour Remover
Designed for use with permanent and semi-permanent hair colours, this is another bargain ammonia and bleach-free option (albeit with another slightly eggy sulphur scent) that still gets the job done.
It works best for dialling down deep, dark browns (as opposed to fluoro neons) tending to transform them into a mousy brown or coppery, strawberry blonde depending on your colour history.
Colourless Hair Lightener Go Blonde
This brand offers a variety of different hair dye-erasing formulations including ‘Pre Colour,’ ‘Max Conditioning’ and ‘Max Effect’ alongside the peroxide bleaching variant.
While we’d always recommend seeing a professional salon hairdresser for a bleaching service, as at-home kits go this one is pretty impressive.
Promising to reach up to nine shades lighter, it comes with a soothing shampoo designed to help care for your scalp and tresses.
As with all colour or colour removal kits, you might need to opt for two packs for full cover if your hair’s long or thick.
Colour B4 Frequent Use Hair Colour Remover
This best-selling range has three different variants with a pick to suit everyone. Choose ‘Regular Strength’ if you have light brown or fair hair or if you only occasionally colour your hair. ‘Extra Strength’ is designed for erasing dark colours or excess colour build-up. This ‘Frequent Use’ option caters for those who regularly colour their hair or suffer from particularly dry locks.
While the other kits in the line-up come with an activator, remover and conditioning buffer to finish, this boasts an added bottle of conditioner. Loaded with nourishing Argan oil, it lends hair hydration and a mirror-like gloss post-treatment.
Scott Cornwall Colour Restore Iced Platinum
If it’s a just a subtle colour tweak you’re after, a hair toner is for you. These use the concept of the colour wheel whereby opposite colours cancel each other out.
They’re the hair equivalent of colour-correcting make-up – just as you’d tone down blue under-eye circles with an orange concealer or use a green primer to counteract red skin.
If your ‘do is too yellow or brassy, plump for a toner with blue or purple pigments. Looking excessively red-hued? Choose a toner with a green veil. The Scott Cornwall range has something for all including this blue tinted cream that restores icy, cool tones in around 20 minutes.
IGK Hair Mixed Feelings Leave-In Cooling Blonde Toning Drops
These innovative custom drops offer another toning technique – perfect for erasing unwanted yellow or golden hues. They work on all kinds of blondes including platinum or brunettes with blonde highlights.
Create a bespoke tone-switcher by mixing the concentrated purple pigment with your favourite haircare products from shampoos and masks to styling serums and leave-in conditioners. The more drops, the more super-charged the toning effect.
It’s truly game-changing for frazzled tresses that find removers or other toning products too drying.
Main image: Getty Images. Others: Courtesy of brands