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The truth about home "dyes" like Kool-Aid and Sun In

Khloe Kardashian's honey highlights are what many try to achieve with products like Sun In.
Photo by Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images

Everyone needs a change once in a while, and quite often, it's our hair that seems to take the hit when we are in that mood. Whether it's a cut, a color, or just a style adjustment, a quick beauty update can alter our entire attitude... not to mention our image. And of course, if that change is inexpensive, easy, and can be done at home, that may make it that much more appealing. Home hair dye ideas such as Kool-Aid have become, and continue to become, more and more popular for these very reasons. But what effect do these "dyes" really have on your hair? Are they really temporary? Are they damaging? These are very important questions to have answered, because as with everything else in life, sometimes the price you're paying may not be worth the convenience.

We'll start with Kool-Aid itself. The basic idea is that you can mix up Kool-Aid and apply it to hair, and the pigments stick to your hair, creating a wild hair color such as dark purple or intense fire engine red. It's cheap, it's readily available, it's very easy to apply. But there are a couple of issues to be aware of.

First off, unlike actual hair dye, Kool-Aid has nothing in it that actually makes the pigments "stick." So the pigments may not stick at all, or they may fall of the hair strands very quickly- leaving your new hair color faded, light and/or weak. It's also not strong enough to cover dark hair, nor can it cover healthy hair strands. So if your hair fits in either or both of those categories, it just simply won't work. The hair that Kool-Aid will "stick" to the best is blonde (or at least light) hair that is damaged or naturally curly or frizzy. This is simply because the cuticle layer of damaged and/or curly/frizzy hair is open and has empty space for something like Kool-Aid to fill. Healthy hair's cuticle layer lies flat and is quite closed, with nowhere for the pigments to enter. As far as dark hair is concerned, the Kool-Aid just does not have the power to cover up dark hair with a new shade. That takes a more intense ingredient, like those in professional color products.

Kool-Aid is not necessarily damaging to hair, but it often leaves hair color looking faded, and it often does not simply wash out or "leave" hair. Many people discover that they have to cut the dyed hair off or color over it with a darker shade in order to get rid of it. Certainly a few things to consider.

Another of the more popular home color products is one that has been around for a long, long time- Sun In. Sun In is a product available at many drugstores and grocery stores, and it's a pretty basic concept. The product doesn't cover, darken, or really even "dye" the hair. It simply aids in sun-induced lightening. The idea is you apply it to hair and go sit in the sun. The Sun In is designed to speed up and magnify the lightening, hopefully resulting in a blonde shade.

Now, here are the problems. First, and in our opinion most importantly, Sun In contains ingredients that can- and do- react extremely badly with many professional products, including straighteners, relaxers, perms, and hair colors. Hate to say it, but I have seen a client's hair turn bright purple and then fall out after she wasn't totally honest about her history of Sun In use, and was having a professional relaxer applied in the salon. Obviously, results like this are absolutely devastating. So if you're going to use Sun In, do not have any professional- or other- chemicals applied until the Sun In-affected hair has grown out or been cut off (six months for short hair, two years or longer for long hair.) Also, always, always, always be honest with your stylist about your hair history. He/she isn't asking you consultation questions to judge you, they are asking so that hair tragedies can be avoided and the results you want can be achieved.

Another problem with Sun In- it can be damaging to hair. The ingredients can be quite harsh, as can the pH levels. You may end up with extra frizz, extra split ends, etc., to go along with your lighter color.

Finally, and probably least important, the results are inconsistent at best. When using a product like Sun In, there's no way to know whether you'll end up with platinum streaks or an all-over caramel-colored hair color. It completely depends on your current hair color, your hair chemical history, the sunlight on that day, time put in, and other factors, so there's just no way to know for sure what you're going to end up with. Be okay with that before doing it.

In the end, we'd always recommend visiting a stylist whenever time and money allows. Professional products are the most expensive, but that's because of the technology used to develop and create them. They are always going to be better for your hair and will always give you the best, most consistent results.

But, as sometimes happens, if time or money does not allow, or if you just want to try one of these other products, go ahead. Just be sure to be smart about it and consider all the factors that could result in your failure or success. Good luck!

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