Notes on having weird colored hair

A lot of people ask me about my colored hair. It's a lot of fun and a great icebreaker. As someone who used to not like their hair, I'm amazed at the number of positive comments and questions I get from strangers. These are answers to some of the questions I hear most.

What surprised you when you started coloring?

It is so much fun! I love it every day. It makes me happy, especially when I forget about it and pass a mirror. I thought I would get tired of it after a few months, but it still makes me smile.

It makes lots of people happy. I get lots of compliments and questions from total strangers. The stare you get from little kids is fun, especially when they keep pointing at you while you walk past.

It's broadly socially acceptable. This varies depending on people's age, where you are, etc. For sure, colored hair, piercings, tattoos, and such are more acceptable in urban areas.

When it's fresh, the dye molecules fill in the microscopic pores in the hair and make it very smooth and soft. It's so much fun to touch and play with. (Note: Do not touch someone's hair without permission.)

It's fun to say hello to fellow color enthusiasts when you meet them.

I get it done professionally because I don't want to get bleach in my eyes. I usually don't like people touching me much, but I have grown to enjoy the process and the attention.

Is it permanent?

For the most part, yes, to the degree that hair is permanent at all. I keep my hair cut short and it grows fast. My hair is, at most, 9 weeks long.

What made you decide to color your hair?

I have always thought it was neat, but it was not socially acceptable for a long time.

I used temporary dye a few times to go to Burning Man. I was surprised at how socially acceptable it actually was. It was fun to wave at other people with color - or the same color! My non-Burner friends in Reno loved showing me off to their friends.

Surprisingly, it was a great sales tool. A potential client wanted to meet with me before Burning Man, but after I had already dyed. They decided to "hire the guy with the blue hair. He must know what he's doing since he can get away with having blue hair."

I have asked employers about it over the years and got favorable replies (most of them had blue in their logo). I hesitated coloring it for years. Eventually, some of my younger cousins started receding or thinning. I decided if I was going to do it, I better do it while I could.

Not that I needed her permission, but I also talked about it with my girlfriend. I didn't want to embarrass her when introducing me to friends and family. Fortunately, her response was, "live your best life, dude!"

Basically, all of the reasons I had not done it before went away. It became socially acceptable, I'm in a solid relationship and job so not worried about "leaving a bad first impression" (although, often, it is a very positive first impression.)

I dyed it the first time in a shop sink and decided to keep doing it as long as I felt like it and stop when I was ready. I have no long-term plan to one way or the other.

How do you get it that good? What do you use? Do you bleach your hair?

It took me several months to figure out the right combination of things to get it to work. There are many types of hair and many factors that contribute to it working or failing. Your hair is likely different. It's possible that it won't work at all for you. In the future, it might not work for me.

Some hair is very porous, and some is not. I'm told that if you try to float a hair on water, porous hair will soak up more water and sink. In my case, hair doesn't soak up dye very well. The most potent dyes start fading within a day or two and are usually gone by day 10 or 12. This was fine when I wanted to color it for a holiday or Burning Man; but was a hassle when I decided I wanted to do it full-time.

I have a professional bleach my hair every other haircut. In addition to lightening my hair, the bleaching process opens more pores for the dye to bond. It also gives the hair a somewhat translucent quality that makes it look bright in the sun. It bleaches well with a single dose of hydrogen peroxide. My hair is naturally a greying dirty blond. After bleaching, it is a very light straw yellow.

From there, I use Manic Panic Professional. It comes in a toothpaste tube. I buy it from Amazon. Manic Panic makes a couple of different formulas. Some last longer than others or fade differently. My current "blurple" color is 2 parts purple, 1 part blue. It takes about 30 grams. It turns out a little more blue than a Crayola Violet crayon... #333399, if you are familiar with RGB Hex colors.

It fades a little each day and gets a little more purple or lavender as it does.

I do get roots as my natural hair grows. Since my hair is short and grows fast, I don't bother trying to fix them. About two months after bleaching, I'm ready to cut most of the color off, bleach the new hair, and color it. It might be harder to deal with if I let my hair grow longer. At about 10 weeks, it looks sprayed on. That's not the effect I'm going for, though I continue to get compliments.

It is fun watching how fast my hair grows. Pulling it back to show the roots is a fun way to answer when someone asks me what my natural color is.

I never had any piercings and had the same hairstyle for most of my life. One day I realized I had done something that changed my body. It wasn't forever-permanent, but it was an exciting feeling that I did something I couldn't easily undo.

Do you do your eyebrows?

I used to color my eyebrows. It takes real dedication to go that far and it gets attention.

They were hard to maintain because they grew so fast. My eyebrows are also lighter in color than the rest of my hair and don't hold dye as well.

Finally, I was concerned that I was skirting the line with coulrophobia (fear of clowns). It was a little too much color.

How does it affect your job?

At the moment, I'm in a job where it is not only acceptable but is slightly an asset. I don't really meet with customers or the public, and it's very casual dress.

This isn't the case for every job I've had. People do have preconceived notions about others - myself included. It's natural to wonder what else might be different, good or bad. If I were having surgery, would I want the anesthesiologist in scrubs or the one wearing a studded leather jacket? Neither of those really tells us if they are a good anesthesiologist.

There is the risk that I may need to drop the color in a hurry. If I had to change jobs, meet with some other important entity, testify in Congress, or something I might need to go "natural" quickly. I've never tested that. I don't know if I can bleach it back to blond or silver or if it will get stuck at pink. If a bunch of people's jobs depended on it and we can't reverse it, I'm prepared to buzz it. I have roots within a few days, so shaving it completely would be unnecessary.

Do you ever have negative experiences as a result?

I haven't, but some people do. It seems unfair that age, gender, and ethnic differences affect how some people treat colored hair. It is a fashion choice, though. The reality is that some people have those kinds of feelings, much like they would about piercings, tattoos, modern hairstyles, etc.

Occasionally someone will ask a lewd question inquiring if I dye all of my hair. One or two people have asked "why would you do that to yourself," but they were pretty receptive when I answered their question.

Some people have a presumption that you might be into the party/rave/drug scene, but I think that assumption comes more from the "complete package" of a person. I'm pretty nerdy and not otherwise dressed "alternative," so I think it balances out.

I think it's more common for people to worry about the assumptions that others might make than for strangers to actually make a negative assumption.

In my day-to-day life, I've received nothing but compliments - and lots of them!

Does the dye get on other things?

At first, yes. I do have black towels and pillowcases. Before I started bleaching, I had some that ran and damaged a biking jersey. I also leaned against a wall and left a small spot. I wrapped the headrest in my car with plastic.

Since I started bleaching, I haven't noticed any contamination.

If you have a plastic bathtub, a small amount may wash out and stain the plastic. A little Soft Scrub Bleach gets it off.

What are the risks?

Hair is a natural product. Everyone is a little different. It might damage your hair. It might not turn out the color you want. It might fade in a way you don't like.

Repeated bleaching will damage your hair, split ends, and make it break.

You could have an allergic reaction.

You could have regret.

In the end, it's usually temporary. If you are thinking about making a more permanent change like getting a tattoo, it can be a good way to test the waters.

Any advice for kids who want to color their hair?

Some of the chemicals are dangerous, especially if you get them in your eyes. If you do it on your own, make sure to read and understand all the instructions. Have some way to wash your eyes in an emergency.

Your biggest challenge will be getting approval from your parents. They are right to be concerned about a lot of things. Will the dye damage your bathroom? Does your school's dress code allow color? What will their parents think? What will neighbors think? What will people at church think? What if you have a reaction to it? What if you don't like it? Your parents have to handle all of these situations as a result of your decision, so have some respect.

This is an excellent opportunity for you to work with your parents as an adult. It might not be possible to satisfy all their concerns. Many of their concerns are outside their control. Compared to driving, going to college, dating that strange person, or getting a pet, this is a low-stakes decision.

Show that you can handle your other responsibilities. Often older people associate alternative fashion with "losers." Flip it around by getting great grades and being the most excellent person you can be. After all, you represent everyone else that colors.

Don't make it an all-or-nothing proposition. It might be easier to dye a "natural" color, just do it for the summer, or only do the tips so they can be trimmed off if you need to reverse it.

Good luck!