My personal blog as a 'grown-up' Goth and Romantic living in the Highlands of Scotland. I write about the places I go, the things I see and my thoughts on life as a Goth and the subculture, and things in the broader realm of the Gothic and darkly Romantic. Sometimes I write about music I like and sometimes I review things. This blog often includes architectural photography, graveyards and other images from the darker side of life.

Goth is not just about imitating each other, it is a creative movement and subculture that grew out of post-punk and is based on seeing beauty in the dark places of the world, the expression of that in Goth rock. It looks back to the various ways throughout history in which people have confronted and explored the macabre, the dark and the taboo, and as such I'm going to post about more than the just the standards of the subculture (Siouxsie, Sisters of Mercy, Bauhaus, et al) and look at things by people who might not consider themselves anything to do with the subculture, but have eyes for the dark places. The Gothic should not be limited by what is already within it; inspiration comes from all places, the key is to look with open eyes, listen carefully and think with an open mind..

Tuesday 12 September 2017

Expectations for Unnatural Hair

I didn't originally plan to write this, but after having recently changed my hair again (I will post about that tomorrow!) a few things have come up in regards to people's expectations of bright hair. As anyone who has been following me on my blog, or on Instagram knows, I have very bright hair. I have got a lot of compliments on my hair, both in person and online, which has included a few people who have said they'd like to get their hair done similar to mine... I also know that a lot of people don't actually know how much work is involved, or that not all hair styles are really suitable for all hair types. As such, I want to write about what actually goes into having hair like mine, and what expectations for bright and creative/artistic hair styles are reasonable.

First of all, my new hair! I now have a multi-green-turquoise transition for the bulk of my hair, with a purple and fuchsia pointed fringe. 

Purple fringe was originally cut in by my friend Melody, and I was hoping to get her to trim it back as it had grown long, but I had an issue with my ID card, and needed a new photograph that was up-to-date and was going to reflect what I looked like all term, and I had let my colours fade out and my fringe grow, my roots grow in (sometimes I let my hair rest), etc. so I needed to get my hair done quickly before the start of term. I was going to just re-colour it, and wait until my friend was back at her hair-dressing course to cut my fringe back in, but as I've been basically tying my hair up and wearing bandanas for about 3 weeks I hadn't realised just how in my eyes and scraggly it had got, so made the terrible mistake of cutting it back myself quite harshly, not just merely trimming 5mm of the ends or whatnot, and so it's choppy/uneven and asymmetric. I have managed to fix it quite a bit since this photo, but now my fringe is shorter than I'd like... I will wait for it to grow a couple of centimetres and get Melody to trim it properly (and hope she doesn't crucify me for ruining her work!).

Damaging My Hair
First of all, while my hair looks nice at first glance, it is actually quite fried and unhealthy. I've had the worst of the over-bleached, badly damaged hair trimmed out back in May, and my stylist had to cut out a good 4½ inches more than I'd have liked because of how much was just chemically and heat ruined nastiness. I have done my own hair for years, and to begin with I did a lot of things that really weren't good for my hair - leaving bleach on too long (once FAR too long because an emergency involving my sister occurred in the middle of me bleaching it - that resulted in hair that snapped off and chemical burns!), trying to bleach it too many shades lighter in one go, using too much heat styling on my hair, and things like trying to make a sudden switch from a dark colour to a bright, etc. I have naturally very dark hair, and while (allergies aside) dyeing it black myself for years did it no real harm, wanting bright colours out of my hair probably isn't a long-term sustainable thing, because of the amount of bleaching required to get my hair to a light blonde, and the continued bleaching of my roots - which, when done on my own inevitably gets on already bleached hair, however hard I try to only bleach the roots -involved in the upkeep. In order to get it looking good day-to-day, I do a lot of conditioning treatments, use oils, etc, but once hair is damaged it doesn't repair itself along the existing length, as it is technically dead material, and repairing treatments only really temporarily put smoothing coatings on the hair strands.

If you have naturally light blonde hair, getting bright hair is much easier, and much less damaging for your hair. If it's light enough, it won't need bleaching - especially if you're putting a colour over it that is sympathetic to the undertones (eg. bright green hair dye over pale blonde hair will probably pick up some of the yellows and pale browns to end up leaf green) and if it does need bleaching, it won't need as much bleaching to get it pale. If, like me, you have very dark brown hair, it takes a lot of bleaching to get it pale enough, and honestly I don't think it's a good idea to do that to your hair, having done it myself repeatedly and damaged my hair. I don't bleach my hair to blonde in one session - I do it in two sessions spaced out, which means it doesn't get prolonged exposure to one long cumulative reaction, and I also don't bleach all my hair out at once - that means no sudden colour changes! - I try to only bleach the roots. Getting my hair bleached professionally is out of my budget, but would probably mean greater damage limitation again, but with bleaching all you can really achieve is damage limitation because the colour stripping process is inherently a damaging one. Bleach does not cover your hair a colour the way dye does, it strips colour, natural or otherwise, from hair. It has two main components - an alkali that makes your hair more porous, and a peroxide that chemically reacts with the melanin in hair, and it is a harsh chemical.

I personally think it's much better to get hair bleached professionally if you can. Even using bleach to the letter with the instruction, you can have different results and problems, especially in relation to how naturally porous your hair is, oils, and very importantly, whether or not you've used home colouring on it before, especially permanent box-dyes as they can react badly with the bleach, or be very resilient to bleaching. I had a lot of trouble getting light hair after I had dyed my hair black for years with cheap(ish) dyes and had to grow the ends out.  I have utterly fried bits of my hair, got very uneven bleach development leading to weird patchy hair, and even had chemical burns (as mentioned above).

Two-Person Job

Secondly, I used to try and do all of my hair on my own. That was a terrible idea - first of all, I am not a hair-stylist, I'm an amateur with unusual tastes, and secondly hair dye is really works best with a second person doing it, to get it nice without patches. If I am bleaching my hair at home, I get Raven to help me by doing the back parts that I can't see clearly even with two mirrors and when it comes to colouring, I get one of a few friends who are experienced with brightly coloured hair to help me. This means I get an even colour, most of the time. Sometimes even after all that, my hair ends up patchy and I have to go back and fix it. Ombre (or really, 'gradient' because I have transitions between colours over all my hair being lightened, not dark roots and bleached lighter coloured tips) hair usually takes me more than one session of dyeing to get the transitions smooth and even! It is very easy to make mistakes with doing your own hair, even if you research your plans first.

Edit: With bleach it is important to work fast as it starts to react immediately, and you can still be putting bleach on one part of your hair while a different part is done! With the application, trying to rush it doing it on yourself is a good way to get uneven application and patchy hair, and possibly even bleach-burning bits of your hair, or getting it on your scalp or ears and getting chemical burns on your skin. I really think that even if you're bleaching your hair at home, you should get a second person to apply it.
When I first started doing interesting things to my hair, there wasn't the explosion in popularity of bright colours, and brights were generally mostly available as DIY options - I'm sure most professionals could, and probably did, do vibrant colours before then, but your average hair salon didn't advertise that sort of thing as an option  and it seemed like the hair salons that did were a bit specialist, and only available in big cities with large alternative communities. Now, as brights have become fashionable, even a small city like Inverness has places that will professionally do bright colours, so I really recommend going to a professional to get your hair coloured if you can afford it. They also tend to use different dyes, including better quality, more permanent ones (although there isn't a great range of permanent brights yet).

Being very visibly alternative and walking into a spaces that were mainstream-fashion centred, and in areas that are in general less accepting of eccentric styles, was somewhat daunting, especially for someone like me who is actually quite shy and socially anxious in person. While I have the confidence to ignore mean comments, and disregard other's opinions on my appearance in general, trying to persuade a hair professional that doesn't like alternative designs that yes, I really do want bright green hair, a pointed fringe, whatever else, is not something I really wanted to have to do. This isn't about ignoring professional advice on what my hair can and can't take (which, to be honest, I wish I had been given a long time ago, when I first started dying my hair vibrant colours!), but specifically about those who just think that the sort of things I want are weird, unfashionable, ugly, etc. Trying to find someone willing to do a pointed fringe was interesting, to say the least - the lassie that currently cuts my hair is an Goth studying hair at the same college building as I study architectural technology, and she put my pointy fringe in (and I couldn't make an appointment with her to get it tidied up before the start of university, so I did it myself this time... I regret it!). However, times have changed, and the availability of people willing to do more creative things has increased - especially if you find someone who likes having the opportunity to do something artistic and different once in a while!

Also, if you do things yourself, remember that there's actually a lot of skills and techniques in styling hair - for many it's the difference between able to do DIY home improvements and being a qualified tradesperson, but for hair. Just as you might be able to fix a ding in a wall with some filler and sandpaper, but maybe not plaster a whole wall in a way that is smooth and even, sometimes more complicated tasks are better left to someone who is trained and practiced, and if you do end up doing yourself, do realise that it might not work out right the first time. I've been regularly dyeing my own hair -with help!- for years (I started as a teenager, and I'm now nearly 30...) and I still can't get it as perfect and amazing as some of the salon-done examples I've seen. I've learned to trim my fringe, but on my fifth time keeping my fringe out of my eyes, I've still got a HUGE skill difference between how much better it looked the first time Melody (my friend who is a hair-dressing student) ever did a pointy fringe, just because Melody had a lot of experience and tutoring in cutting hair and fringes prior to the pointy one.

Internet Vs. Reality
Thirdly, there are definitely people who are only exposed to what my hair looks like on Instagram, here, Facebook, etc. and only see it in photographs. Even before the photograph is taken, I'll have probably spent a substantial amount of time getting my hair just right, brushing and combing it, styling my fringe, etc. etc. I also tend to take selfies within a week of my hair having been recoloured, so it is at its most vibrant. When I'm actually taking the photographs for my selfies, I make sure I'm well lit, against a white cloth background (actually a lined curtain turned inside out, so the pretty side is hidden and the shiny white lining cloth is visible behind me!) and in a mixture of natural light, reflected natural light (an array of mirrors out of shot!) and sometimes some artificial light. Usually selfies are a document of my latest make-up, so everything is carefully posed to flatter my face, too! After all that, I then make digital edits to photos to adjust saturation, contrast, colour balance, etc. Sometimes I do more substantial colour corrections - especially if I've not had the opportunity to take a selfie in optimal lighting conditions. What people see in a photograph is my hair at an ideal moment. It does not look like that two weeks after being coloured, when humidity is making it fluffy and weird, when the wind has blown my fringe all out of shape, in some terrible lighting that makes it look blue when it's not, etc. etc. This isn't just me, this is what goes on behind the scenes of a LOT of people who put their hair on Tumblr, Instagram, whatever. It was only recently that Ursula Goth went viral for posting their lovely pink, purple and blue ombre hair before styling for a selfie, and then after styling and ::writing about:: the need for honesty and knowing that there's a difference between social media highlights and real life.


Fourthly, unnatural hair colours take a lot of work to maintain. Solid colour permanent dark dye over unbleached hair is the easiest to maintain. When I dyed my hair black, all I had to do was re-dye my roots when they grew long enough to be obvious (that will depend on how your natural hair colour contrasts with what colour you have dyed it) and every now and again re-tone the whole thing as it started to fade back to brown - which took a very long time compared to bright hair, and with cumulative layers of black it became more and more permanent. Solid colour bright/light colours over bleached hair take more work, as first of all the roots need dyeing before re-colouring, and secondly, depending on the colour and brand of hair-dye, and whether it is permanent or semi-permanent (most bright dyes are semi-permanent), and other factors like sun exposure, how often you wash it, and with what shampoos, etc. it can fade in anything from a mere week and a half to much longer, but they usually fade in a few weeks, and to the point where it is very obvious in about a month. Gradient brights are even more work because of recolouring the length with several, but because it's a smooth gradient, it can be redone in a distribution that isn't an exact match to where the colours where before and still look good. Layered, sectioned, or any other hair colouring that involves lots of different sections of solid colour hair is really difficult to maintain the way it was done. 

Sectional multicolour hair, with ombre.
I gave up on multi-colour hair done in layered sections because the upkeep was just too time-consuming. The amount of time I spent trying to section my hair in all the same places as when I first did my multicolour hair, because getting green over purple or whatever would result in muddy colours and browning, was inordinate - I would go through my hair with a rat-tail comb and lots of hair ties and very patiently over about 2 hours, try and part my hair exactly into all the individual locks I had initially put it into, made even more complicated when I re-bleached the roots, because then the first inch-and-a-half to two inches of my hair were blonde, so tracking back to my roots where the sections previously were became much, much harder! It also faded very unevenly, and when I tried to re-colour it it became harder and harder to get it looking good like it had before, especially as some colours fade to quite strong tones - hence why I ended up eventually with mostly turquoise hair with neon green bits that didn't look the best. 

Weird green top to blue after fading and ineffective touchups

Some styles are also a lot of upkeep, too, regardless of what colour. A fringe needs to be regularly styled to maintain its shape, especially my pointy one that is easily re-arranged to be oddly asymmetric by the wind! Both V or 'vamp fringes and 'Vintage Pin-Up' fringes, and other fringes that require a crisp style and curving under usually involve fringe straighteners, a hair-dryer, a comb, and hair-spray or product to keep them in place (I am allergic to hair-spray!). Back-combing can go from deliberately ratted to plain ratty and matted if not taken out and re-done at the right frequency - too often and you snap and damage the hair, too infrequently and the build up of product, natural oils, and anything that gets trapped in that sort of style can become a bit gross. Under-cuts need to be re-shorn otherwise they grow out oddly, and anything with styled ringlets or waves also requires work (although I haven't got personal experience with the last two, but I have friends that do). I like my long hair loose, but often put braids in my hair just either side of my face to keep those bits from getting in my way, and those get re-done each morning. If you want to have 'mermaid hair', that usually requires both curling/waves and far more complex braids to get the full effect, etc. and some styles if not re-styled in full just turn into a fluffy explosion or stick up at weird angles, or flop down oddly, etc. so to look nice, you're bound into doing something with it each day that's more than just brushing it and/or tying it back, even if it's not putting it back into the full style. 

Edit: Dyeing your hair at home is also likely to stain your shower/bath, as well as anything you spill it on, and many home semi-permanent hair-dyes are not colour-fast in rain/dampness! I live somewhere pretty rainy, and the collars of so many of my clothes have ended up green because I've been rained on and colour has transferred. Your towels will get stained too.


I am not saying this to dissuade people from brightly coloured hair or from having interesting styles, or to try and show off how hard I've worked on my hair, but to give people realistic expectations of what having some of the more colourful and complex styles entail. Also, if you do go to a stylist, and want something done, please be aware that if they're trying to dissuade you on the grounds that it might damage your hair, or inform you it could be quite expensive and take several sessions, they aren't necessarily judging your style, or trying to scam you for unnecessary extra work - as I mentioned above, bleaching dark hair can take several sessions, and dyeing is usually a separate session, not to mention any cuts/styles to be done, and hair-dressing is a skilled trade that requires decent compensation. 


  1. Excellent post! You're absolutely correct about expectations, maintenance... all of it.

    Having just scrubbed purple out of my tub, I'll add that bright dyes will often run or transfer when hair is wet or damp. Some colors and brands are worse than others, but you're likely to end up with a stained shower and spots on your towels and pillowcases.

    1. That's actually a good point! I need to add this to the article.

  2. I have never dyed my hair, and still I've liked your post quite much.
    It is true that the more things you do to your hear the more you can damage it, but yours looks amazingly great!

    1. The worst, most fried bits at the end have been cut out, and I condition it a LOT to make it less fried-looking, but it isn't all that healthy underneath.

  3. This was SO honest & complete. I think I heart you. Thank you. I always think about coloring my hair but I stop short at the bleaching process. This was really great info. <3 Marlaena

    1. Thankyou! Whenever I hear I've provided useful information to someone, it makes me happy - that's what I run this blog to do!


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