Who doesn’t love a good sun-kissed ómbre look? Ómbres are great because while they can be damaging to your ends and/or a little complex to do yourself, there’s not a huge risk involved — if you ever screw up badly, you can always just cut your hair. You don’t get that sort of peace of mind when dying your hair root-to-end.
I’ve been ómbre-ing my hair myself for about the past four years. I’d never dyed or colored my hair previous to my first ómbre so it was a nerve-wracking experience, but now that I’m a veteran I’m confident enough with my technique to share it with others. Here’s my step-by-step guide. I do this about once every 3-4 months, since at this point my hair has grown out and I’ll get a trim or cut and lose the color at my ends.
Disclaimer: This is the process I use for my own hair and my own vision. Please make sure you’ve researched beforehand the techniques and products you can use to achieve the look you want. This is not meant to be a one-size-fits-all method, so please keep this in mind!
Step 1: Pick Your Poison
Most ómbres will require you to use bleach – not traditional hair dye – in order to get a noticeable effect. I also want to make clear that any sort of bleaching is damaging to your hair…after this process your ends will almost certainly be more dry, brittle, and unhealthy. Before you decide to ómbre, make sure you are aware that you’ll now need to take extra care of your ends (through the use of treatments, hair masks, etc.) if you want to keep them healthy. And of course if you’re unhappy with the result, you can always cut your hair.
The only product I’ve ever used for this is the Revlon Color Effects Frost & Glow kit. This sucker is only $6.98 at Wal-Mart and comes with most everything you’ll need to get going. Make sure you select the correct color for your hair…regardless of what product you decide to use, you’ll want to choose a color that’s no more than a shade or two lighter than your existing color. The Revlon kit makes this easy since there are only two options: one if you have blonde or light brown hair, and one if you have medium to dark brown hair. If you have black hair, you’ll want to reach for the second option while leaving it on for a little less than the recommended time, so the resulting ómbre isn’t too bright in contrast.
Step 2: Ready Your Supplies
First and foremost, make sure you’ve set aside an hour or two for your project. You want to account for the coloring/leave-in time as well as the time it takes to shower and wash everything out. Also, I recommend doing your coloring a day or two after you’ve washed your hair, since there’ll be more natural oils at this stage to protect your hair from the chemicals.
Before I start I make sure to have the following ready:
- Hair bleach
- 1 trash bag
- 2 large sheets of aluminum foil
- Gloves (if not included in your bleaching kit)
Brush your hair to get rid of any tangles. You’ll definitely get bleach on your clothes during the process, so I always wear a trash bag (if you have a smock, lucky you) by opening a hole at the bottom center of the bag for my head, and then opening holes in the corners for my arms so that the bag can be worn like a shirt. This is also a great look for date night.
Now, following the instructions for your product, prepare your product. The key to a good ómbre is to work in stages (by “stages”, I mean how many different sections you’ll be working on and timing separately). Since the whole idea is to create a gradual gradient of color that lights as you get higher up, different sections of your hair will need to have been bleached for different amounts of time. The very ends of your hair will have bleach left on for the longest amount of time (since this will be the lightest section), while the highest point of your ómbre (i.e. the point at which your ómbre and your natural hair color meet) will have held bleach for the shortest amount of time.
The number of stages it takes to do your entire ómbre will depend on the length of your hair, but you’ll want at least three. On average, you’ll do the ends of your hair first, then the middle of your ómbre area, then the top. Of course, this is assuming you’ve decided ahead of time at what point in your hair you’d like the fade to stop. See below for how I defined my stages (the lighter ends of my hair are the remnants of my previous ómbre):
Step 3: Color Away
Put on your gloves and get coloring! Split your hair into two parts, one on each side of your neck (as shown in above picture). Work in, using the tool included in your kit or your gloved hands, the product on the first stage/section of your hair on both sides. Make sure you’re not working it in with a straight line cut-off at the top – there’s nothing worse than an ómbre that goes straight across. To avoid this, you want to be a little “messy” at the point where your current section ends. Remember, those three stages you planned out are not hard lines at which you need to stop applying product…they’re just general guides, and you definitely need to be feathering in the bleach messily at these end points so that you create that nice fade and everything diffuses smoothly. If you have thick hair, make sure you’re really getting all of it – it’s easy to miss portions of your hair that are hiding in the back.
Once the first stage of your bleaching is done, fold sheets of aluminum foil around the ends of your hair, completely covering the portion of hair that has product in it. Leave it in for the recommended amount of time, reading the instructions for your product if you’re unsure – for mine, it’s about 5-10 minutes per stage. Make sure you’re frequently checking on your hair during this time; if you can already see a noticeable color, you should move on to the next stage. After about 8 minutes, I unfold the foil and get started on your next section. Use the same method to apply bleach to the middle stage, again making sure not to abruptly stop application at any point to avoid create a line of color. Cover with foil entirely the section that has product on it and wait another interval of time (again, 8 minutes for me). Now the last stage begins, and here it is absolutely critical that you are feathering in bleach “messily” at the point at which you’d like your fade to end. If you stop applying product abruptly at any point, there will be a very obvious line at which the ómbre ends and your natural hair begins, and you won’t be happy about it. Wait another interval of time. Then hop in the shower and wash your hair, following the instructions in your kit.
Now You’re Done!
Once your hair dries, you’ll get to see how your ómbre turned out! This process may seem scary at first, but once you’ve identified your personal “sweet spots” (i.e. how long you should wait per stage, where you’d like your color to fade), it’s a lot less daunting.
Hope this helps!