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my own personal masterpiece (in L’Oreal Excellence, cuive d’or 7.3)

It’s that time of month again — my other monthly curse. The problem of what to do about my roots rears its ugly head again. A really ugly head with two stripes of roots in shades of red, as well as brown and grey. My hair is starting to resemble an archeological dig in that the layers reveal a rich history.

We’ve already established that I’m not returning to the cute little hair salon nearby. The truth is, I’m hesitant to hand over such an important job to a stranger ever again. If someone is going to screw up my hair, I want it to be me. If that makes me a control freak, so be it.

The closest I’ve come to dying my hair by myself was when I was 16 and I got one of those highlighting kits at the drugstore. My mother spent an hour with a crochet hook, painfully pulling out strands of my hair from the holes in the shower cap thing before I freaked out, changed my mind and abandoned the project despite the pain I’d already endured.

But this time, there can be no turning back, I’ve got hideous roots to cover.

So the next logical step is to find the right hair color, which requires a trip to a big grocery/everything chain like monoprix, eclerc or casino. The drugstores here are tiny and don’t carry a great variety. Often they don’t even carry hair color. There are no Duane Reades, Walgreens or CVSs here.

I figure while I’m there, I can also pick up things like dental floss which is surprisingly hard to find.

I do a little research before I go. To see if any particular brand of hair color is hailed by makeupalley users. Turns out, the only one that gets a good rating is discontinued. This is not promising. I’m on my own here. And my course is fraught with dangers. Sure, there’s bad color, but there’s also the possibility of damaging or frying my hair. I find the thought of Armageddon far less frightening.

I face a daunting wall of hair color products. All sorts of shades that are just slightly different from the other. And while the differences between the colors may seem small, one wrong hue can ruin your life.

There are brands I’ve never heard of like Schwartzkopf which I decide against because the German accent scares me.

When you get right down to it, I’d rather trust my hair to a French company because they invented the word “salon”, forgodsakes. They must know what they’re doing.

Which leaves me with L’Oreal, Garnier and Posay A woman with bedraggled looking hair takes a box of Posay and it’s narrowed down to two. I finally decide on L’Oreal Crème Excellence because I don’t like the looks of the girls on the Garnier cartons—a little too hookerish for my tastes. Now we’re getting somewhere.

Choosing the shade is the true test of nerves. Every time I think I have the right color in my hands, I begin to tremble and start having second thoughts. Is hair color like perfume in that the same scent can comes out differently on different people? What if this lovely golden caramel color on the girl on the box turns out candy corn orange on me? Maybe I should go darker…it would be kind of a French thing to do. And maybe that would cover mistakes…or make them worse. No, lets not try anything drastic for a debut effort. I try matching my hair with the colors on the box, but it’s difficult getting my hair at a distance that I can actually see it. It also doesn’t help that the names of the colors are in French…I know d’ore is gold, but what the heck is cuivre? Isn’t that an eating utensil? I feel like I need to lie down. Ugh, I feel clammy and icky and sweaty. I hope I’m not having a stroke. Or is it a hotflash? Or just anxiety? And who can blame me? This is a life altering irrevocable decision. Well… for three weeks anyways.

By this time, I’m sure the cashiers think I’m either insane or a shoplifter. Feeling no more enlightened than I was two hours ago, I tell myself it’s just hair and grab number 143, blond d’ore, I don’t consider myself blond, but the color of the girl’s hair on the cover looks about right.

On my way to the cash register, I remember to get the dental floss. But when I see the options, I’m plunged into indecision again. The large roll, the medium roll the waxed or unwaxed, J&J or the cheaper generic kind…thank Dieu they don’t have flavored or I’d still be there. Generic waxed medium is the verdict..

I have to avert my eyes from the lip gloss aisle or I risk falling off the wagon. I’m a glossaholic…I can’t resist buying a new lip gloss whenever I see one. I’m always sure that the one I’m buying will be the answer to all my prayers with the perfect balance of color, emollient, shine and taste. Even when I think I’ve found it, I’m immediately on the lookout for the next one. I’m a total lipgloss whore. When they started coming out with lip plumping glosses, I knew I was going to have to leave the country. I’ve been clean since I’ve been here in France which is quite an accomplishment when you consider how many new, untried lip glosses there are for me to be tempted by here. It’s excrutiating. I remain strong.

I pay and send out a short prayer: I’m sorry I was pissed at you yesterday, but please let this be a decent color and please don’t let me screw it up. Do whatever you want to the Middle East, but please spare my hair.

Back at the house, I’ve got instructions, the various little bottles, the rubber gloves and the box spread out before me. Here’s something that hadn’t occurred to me…the directions are in French. I panic briefly until I realize that it’s French for idiots. And with the helpful little pictures, I can pretty much piece it together. It looks pretty cut and dry. Nevertheless, my hands are shaking, and consider this might be a good reason to put it off another day. I mean should one really dye hair with shaking hands? I tell myself to shut up. It’s not like I’m performing a circumcision here. And frankly, judging by my roots, I don’t have a moment to waste.

I hold my breath, put on the gloves and dive in, mixing and applying it to mes raciness. I try to remember how Brad’s assistant, Lexie used to run the nozzle over the parts in my hair and rub it in.   I try to imitate her. Then I wait.

I stand in front of the mirror the entire twenty minutes watching closely (my nose must be about two inches from the mirror) trying to figure out what the dye is doing. I’m unreasonably calm. The color of the dye is going from white to a kind of brown color. I don’t really know what’s going on underneath the dye, but I do know that looking at it doesn’t give me the sick feeling I was trying to stave off at the hair salon last month.

The big test is when I rinse it all out. When I do, it looks fine.

The really big test is when it dries. Which it does and it looks fine. No, come to think of it, it’s not fine, it’s FABULOUS (to quote Brad). I dyed my roots and they match the rest of my hair, my hair looks healthy, and shiny, the color is very nice and I did it all by myself. In France!

I feel powerful, deeply talented, courageous and strangely liberated. It’s hard to explain, it’s like all these years, I thought I’d be totally incapable of dying my hair and it turns out, I’m capable. I’m actually pretty good at it. Much better than those chicks who charged me 52. Euro.

It was Vincent Van Gogh who said “What would life be if we had no courage to attempt anything?” I should really take that to heart. Maybe there are other things I can do that I thought were impossible. I consider the implications. Imagine all I can accomplish! The new things I can try. The joy of potential future successes. Hey, maybe tomorrow I’ll get a highlighting kit.


For more hair care experiences in France:

fear of dying (grappling with getting my hair dyed in France)

back to my roots (getting my hair dyed in France, a horror story)

24 Responses

  1. Great blog…Thanks for sharing 🙂

  2. I started coloring my hair about a year ago, just to lighten it up since I wasn’t getting outside as much as I had been. I’m not that picky about color or brand, I usually buy whatever is on sale that’s pretty (unless it’s not one of the main brands… Garnier, L’Oreal…). To get over the nerves, I just keeping telling myself, it’s just hair!

    Last time, I swore I had dyed my hair orange! Then I dried it and it had turned out so pretty.

  3. I meant to link that above post to my personal blog – The Southern Belle Blogs at http://www.thesouthernbellecooks.com but for some reason, it logged me in.

  4. Home hair dye is a wonderful thing. I’ve been dying mine at home for years. Sometimes you do end up with some….interesting….shades, but all in all, it’s always fixable! Every time I go to the stylist for a cut, everyone always tells me how much they love my color. Little do they know I spend $10 every 6 weeks! Your color looks great though! Good job.

  5. Great post! You so accurately describe all that goes through head and heart when dealing with hair (love the plastic cap/crochet needle for highlights remembrance). I just went for the monthly touch-up last Thursday (Ruby Rush was my choice of adrenaline). I can’t deal with it anymore, though. Went from highlighted blond to red on 11/30/09. After two expensive trips to a professional, I took matters into my own hands with just-as-good results but the maintenance is just too much for me. Every time I read the “allergy warning”, I have visions of a trip to the ER – luckily, in those visions, I always make it to the ER in time. So, I am embarking on the long road back to my other, low-maintenance hair color but thank you for letting me know that I am not the only one so – temporarily – consumed by the process.

    • Thanks, kk. I can’t help noticing how great your hair looks in your avatar. You’re very brave to go back to your natural haircolor. I fear that far more than an allergic reaction and a trip to the ER.

  6. It’s a daunting decision and task, even with English instructions… good job! By the way, I love France… love Van Gogh… and now I love your blog! Glad I found it today.

  7. I’m addicted to hair dye and I would suggest Perfect 10. Kinda expensive…but does a wonderful job. The color you came out with also looks very pretty! 🙂

    • Thanks! I haven’t heard of Perfect 10, I’ll have to look it up. But if it’s expensive, I’ll have to aspire to it, since I’m considering downgrading to food coloring or easter egg dye for cost efficiency reasons.

  8. It’s amazing the emotions that the simple act of hair-dying can bring out! I’ve always had really blonde hair since I was a child and never dyed it for fear of what might happen! I remember going to the hairdressers in about March 2008 to have highlights added because we had had a few dismal summers where the sun which would normally illuminate my hair had simply disappeared. It turned out great but I hated not having the control over my hair and the outcome, even if it was just hair!
    That was the first and last time I ever let the hairdresser do color. If I was ever going to have it highlighted again I would definitely do it myself!

    Great post!

  9. Good post. I started home hair color last year – saves about a billion dollars. Have now moved to temporary gloss as the ammonia literally gags me. Good job!

  10. Girl, I have been coloring my hair myself for absolutely years!! (Good job based on the photo by the way!):o)
    trick is, when you find a color that you llike- stick to it! I like L’oreal myself… once you start coloring it yourself- you’ll never go back!…lol…

  11. Love Van Goh, France and hair dilemmas. Thanks for sharing.

  12. I colored for a while – then it just started to get annoying to touch up – too expensive to have salon do it – so I went natural – surprisingly I really began to love my hair color 🙂

  13. After over 20 years of coloring, the last “touch up” caused a PPD reaction. My hair is varying shades of (colored) blonde and I went with a brown dye for some lowlights. Quelle faute! The higher PPD concentration in the darker dye caused a violent reaction, and now I can’t ever color again. Worse, I have cross-reactions to all kinds of formerly innocuous stuff, like orange peel and car tires.

    Love the way yours turned out, and my gray roots are jealous!

  14. I color my own hair and have never been to a salon to get it colored. I usually choose Clairol products and have been using light blonde shades for several years. I just don’t leave them on for long periods of time.

  15. Beautiful job with the hair it really does look healthy and shiney.

  16. What an interesting and open account of the thought and emotions of the home Colour process, from the picture posted of the finished Colour application i would ask are you quite Grey around the hair line.
    My reason for asking is the depth looks a little thinner this is fine maybe even softer around the face. problems with over the counter colour are the chemistry of the product with continued use.

    These colours are designed for all over application issues arrive when after a few applications the ends are one colour the roots very different the roots will take the colour mid lenght’s and ends may start to look muddy due to the fact that you have excess colour build up.
    Your hair after a period of time when wet will feel caustic and rough this is caused through lack of moisture in your hair and the Ph is compromised.
    for more information i have a blog and have articles on home colour and issues around deal with Grey hair.
    Beware the 10 min colours they are harsh.
    This is a huge issue for so many women yours was a great article to write and bring up.



  17. Good job on the dyeing. But, for what it is worth, Schwartzkopf is the best color you can get. I used to sell the stuff. In the States, we can’t get it over the counter. It is salon only. Schwarz means black, Kopf means head. So, to further turn you off to the product, yes, it translates to Blackhead. Awesome.

    Love your blog and have it linked to mine…

    • Thanks! I might have to try the schwartzkopf someday. What is it about Germans…they can make anything sound scary. But now that I think about it, they probably make good hair color.

  18. I found your site from the WordPress.com page which has several sites that are strong enough to make the page. Your site is wonderful and beautiful.


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