The Byrdie Boy Guide to Picking the Right Hair Color

May 18, 2022
By: Brian Levandowski

Switching between hair colors for men is as common as choosing a shirt for the day. OK, maybe the former requires a bit more work, but it’s right up there with fashion and accessories as a form of self-expression. For some guys, that means keeping a youthful look and dyeing their hair a color closer to their own to cover up grays, while for a growing number of others, the weirder and wilder the color, the better. “Hair is just another avenue for someone to express themselves and let their personality shine, and I feel like men are embracing self expression through their hair color more than ever,” says barber Alyssa B. “I love seeing men take risks with their hair more than ever before and broadening the definition of masculinity.” 
But no matter what your reasons are for wanting to dye your hair, there’s a lot to consider before taking the plunge—from what kind of hair you’re walking in with to how much upkeep you’re willing to commit to. Plus, there’s the ultimate question of salon vs. DIY. In addition to Alyssa B., we hit up colorist Aaron Bradford for his two cents on everything we should be taking into account before messing around with our manes. Read on for what our experts had to say.
  • Alyssa B. is a senior barber at Fellow Barber.
  • Aaron Bradford is a colorist at Cedric in New York City.

What Are the Types of Hair Dyes?

There are three basic approaches to hair colors for men:
  • Semi-permanent hair color sits on top of the hair and doesn’t penetrate the cortex, Alyssa B. explains, and as a result, it is less damaging than permanent color. A potential downside is that it doesn’t last as long as permanent. Fashion colors would be considered semi-permanent.
  • Permanent hair color penetrates the cortex and replaces your natural pigment. Over time the color fades, but it never fully leaves the hair. Permanent hair colors for men last much longer than semi-permanent but can be more damaging. Permanent hair color ranges from covering gray to a full-on bleach job.
  • Pigmented conditioners are newer to the scene, and unlike dyes, simply leave behind a touch of color without the use of traditional dyeing chemicals. While the color doesn’t last as long as permanent or even semi-permanent hair colors for men, Alyssa B. says they’re a great option for someone who doesn’t want to commit to a specific color for more than a few washes. 

What to Consider Before Dyeing Your Hair

There’s a lot to think about before throwing yourself into a colorist’s chair or picking up a box of DIY hair dye and going to town, and both of our experts were adamant about not skipping this part. 
  • Hair health: The health of your hair can have a profound impact on the quality and integrity of the finished result, Alyssa B. says, so if your hair is in bad shape and/or you’re not willing to step up your haircare routine afterwards, you may want to reconsider dyeing it. 
  • Hair type: Since certain types of dyes can change the appearance of hair, the hair you start with may not be the hair you end up with. “Anytime you color or highlight hair, the cuticle is physically and permanently expanded, which is why, especially after highlighting, you will have more texture or volume to your hair,” Bradford says. This means if you have thicker hair and go for a bleach job, you’ll end up with two to three times the density you had before. 
  • Current color: Bradford says that depending on the look you want to achieve, the process may take one or more applications. “The process for someone with naturally blonde hair will be entirely different than someone with naturally dark brown hair.” Thus, it’s important to discuss your entire hair color history with your colorist, even if you have virgin hair or have never color treated it before. “And don’t lie!” Alyssa B. adds. “Dyeing your hair at home with a box dye from CVS is much harder to remove or lighten than professional dye and can determine what color can realistically be achieved.” 
  • Skin undertones: At the end of the day, you can dye your hair whatever color you like, but if you’re going for a look that accentuates the rest of you, balancing your hair color with your complexion’s undertones can give you a more complementary combo. To determine your undertones, Alyssa B. recommends looking at the color of your veins. Blue or purple is indicative of being cool-toned, while greenish veins indicate warm-toned skin. And if you have a hard time discerning your undertone, it could be because you are neutral, meaning you have a mixture of the two. Cool-toned complexions are better suited to warmer hair colors, while warm-toned complexions are balanced by cooler hair colors for men. Neutral tones are most versatile because they generally allow you to have more shade ranges to choose from, Bradford says. 
  • Budget and upkeep: We’ll get more into upkeep later, but as a general rule, the more complex the dye job, the more it’s going to cost up-front, and the more it’s going to cost to maintain in the long run. “Always invest in good products to keep your hair healthy, and listen to your colorist’s professional opinion,” Bradford adds. 

DIY or In-Salon?

Alyssa B. and Bradford agree that when it comes to changing hair colors for men, a salon is always the better bet because so much can go wrong at home. Here’s a quick rundown of the pros and cons of each.

Salon Pros

  • Professional consultation: A professional stylist who is highly trained will help you every step of the way, from deciding on a hair color to what your at-home care regimen should look like, Alyssa B. says. 
  • Professional results: Bradford says going the salon route will lead to more even results, better tonality, healthier hair afterward, and—in case something goes wrong—access to more products to prevent a potential disaster.
  • Convenience: Alyssa B. sums it up: “Being able to walk into a salon and walk out a few hours later looking amazing—and with no mess in your bathroom and no color-stained hands—is worth it.”

Salon Cons

  • Cost: The only real con of getting your hair dyed in a salon is cost, as both the initial outlay and upkeep can add up, depending on the look you’re after. 

DIY Pros

  • It’s cheaper: Splashing out a few bucks compared to a few hundred is a big deal. However, if you feel you have the skills, an at-home DIY dye job can be a real money saver. 

DIY Cons

  • Less-effective products: “Hair dye that is available to the general public is not as high-quality as what your stylist would use at the salon,” Alyssa B. explains. She recommends steering clear of the drugstore and sourcing your DIY products from a beauty supply store (hello, Sally Beauty) instead.
  • It’s risky: When dealing with hair dyeing products, which can often be caustic, you’re putting both your health and your hair's health at risk, Bradford says. “Not all color results are fixable, and all it takes is one time to create irreversible changes.”

What Sort of Upkeep Can You Expect?

Bradford puts it plainly: “The more drastic the change, the more maintenance.” Both experts say using color-safe shampoo and conditioner is a must, and avoid products that contain parabens and sulfates. Also, Alyssa B. recommends washing hair less frequently to reduce fading, no more than twice a week, and using cold water to keep the cuticle closed and color intact. 
As far as color upkeep goes, overall color changes are the most difficult to maintain, such as from black to copper, and require monthly touch-ups. Fantasy colors also require a good deal of home maintenance, which can be boosted using a color-depositing shampoo between salon visits. Blondes, in addition to frequent touch-ups, should use a purple-tinged shampoo to prevent hair from going brassy, and if you’ve had a toner treatment, you’ll need frequent touch-ups to keep your color fresh. 

The Final Takeaway

Dyeing your hair can be the ultimate form of self-expression. Whether it’s a subtle change or an explosion of color that becomes your personal style, make sure you approach it with intelligence and do your homework, so you can love the result.