Incredible, head-turning hair color doesn't have to cost a fortune. When you go to a salon, you're paying not only for expertise; you're getting a customized color that works with your cut, or a color design with special effects, like hundreds of tiny highlights. These aren't the only ways to make a color great!
Be a Model
First, if you want a trendy, shimmery color and are afraid to do it at home, look for salons that have "model" nights for haircolor. Call top salons in your area (they're the ones most likely to do a lot of training), and ask about model nights or color-apprentice training. Let them know what you will and won't do, and ask the cost. (Often, it's free to you.)
Some salons in the bigger cities like New York and Los Angeles act as manufacturer training centers and hold color classes every week. All major city salons hold training for which they need models. You can also track down distributors for professional haircolor-when they sell products to salons, they often hold educational events for which you can be a model for free. Even beauty supply stores sometimes have special events like this. Ask your stylist where he/she gets training in color, and if there are any local "hair shows" coming up.
Act Like an Ad
Often, salons want to show off their work in reception-area "look books." If you have a digital camera, offer to let the salon use it to photograph your before and after haircolor, if they do the color for free.
This works best if you can show off your look to fellow high-school students or colleagues, or offer to put the photos up on your own website and credit the salon for the color work. (Salons that have their own digital cameras probably won't bite, but might give you a discount of you do the sort of color change they want-you can always ask.)
Help Someone Learn
Another way to get great color for next to free is to go to a local beauty college. Beauty schools all have salons where students get practical experience, under the guidance of a pro. Women in major cities know this, but in smaller towns, students often complain that the only "customers" they get are 85-year-olds who want their gray tinted blue.
Chances are you can get great color for $10-just don't demand anything too complicated, like 3 different colors and bleached pieces underneath.
Do It Yourself
To do your own fabulous haircolor, choose a major brand like L'Oreal or Clairol. These companies have plenty of research behind them-and help hotlines. Start with a semi-permanent color so you don't get stuck with results you don't like for too long. Semi-permanent colors fade away over time. Carefully choose a color that's just one or two shades lighter than your own. Then, get on a hair care regimen before coloring-the better condition your hair is in, the better the results you'll get. Condition daily and deep condition weekly for a couple of weeks. Get a trim. Test your hair by pulling a single strand until it snaps. If it stretched a few inches first, it's fairly healthy. Once hair is in tiptop shape, buy your color and take your time! Read all the directions first and follow them carefully. If you have friends help, don't get carried away chatting and ignore your color. Check one another's color after the recommended processing time and help one another rinse it out completely. Home color works best for brunettes or those who want warmer or redder hair. Semi-permanent products will not lighten hair. If you want a slightly lighter color, use a permanent shade and don't try to lighten locks too much. If you want a particular shade of blonde, you should be a medium blonde (or lighter) to start with. Otherwise, go to a salon. Henna can give you some color change; temporary colors can create fun looks-just don't use them over bleached hair. Another way to get striking color is to use a styling gel or creme that has color in it. It adds red or gold tones and creates fabulous shimmer. Just be sure to wash your hands right after using it. And if you insist on going the "natural" route, you can get subtle changes with a chamomile rinse. During the summer, vinegar and tea rinses will lighten hair even more if you sit in the sun.
But while a centuries-old solution was to add honey and spread out your hair in the sun, removing the honey was another issue all together. With products from gels that contain mica chips, to drug-store colors that add tone and highlights, to salons and color companies that need your hair on which test colors and color techniques, there's no reason to end up shampooing a thousand times to remove a home color remedy.