What is the Best Way To Colour Asian Hair at Home?

"Will Ombré work? What shades should I go for?"
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Michelle Villett
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"Will Ombré work? What shades should I go for?"
Ombre Asian Hair - Jamie Chung, The Hangover Part II premiere, 2011

Jamie Chung's Ombré hair.

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Q: I have Asian hair. Will Ombré work? What shades should I go for? Thanks! — Ka

A: We've been talking a lot about the Ombré hair colour trend—which involves a gradual change in colour from darkest, at the roots, to lightest, at the ends.

I've received MANY reader inquiries about whether the look can be done on Asian hair. It can! I asked pro colourist Luis Pacheco to share his tips. Read on...

Celebrity hairstylist Luis Pacheco.

Celebrity hairstylist Luis Pacheco.

Asian hair is more challenging because of the thickness, darkness and concentrated levels of pigment. That means it can resist holding on to the colour, and if you attempt to lighten it too much, it can go brassy. 

To avoid that happening, try to stay within two levels of your natural shade, whether you go for an Ombré look:

Maggie Q's Ombré hair.

Maggie Q's Ombré hair.

Ashlee Simpson's Ombré hair.

Ashlee Simpson's Ombré hair.

Shenae Grimes' Ombré hair.

Shenae Grimes' Ombré hair.

Or an all-over lighter colour:

Lindsay Prince's lightened brown hair colour.

Lindsay Prince's lightened brown hair colour.

Kelly Hu's lightened brown hair colour.

Kelly Hu's lightened brown hair colour.

If you want to go lighter than this, proceed with caution. The lighter you go, the more chance of brassiness:

Devon Aoki's mid-brown hair colour.

Devon Aoki's mid-brown hair colour.

Maggie Q's light brown hair colour.

Maggie Q's light brown hair colour.

This is about as light as you can go (never, EVER go blonde):

Lindsay Price's brassy blonde hair colour.

Lindsay Price's brassy blonde hair colour.

How to Choose the Right Colour

Stay away from cool colours—anything with blue, green or violet undertones. 

Asian women tend to have golden skin tones, so they look best with warm shades like golds, coppers and reds. Your safest bet is to choose a warm tone in the gold or caramel range.

You also need enough colour to get complete absorption. Because Asian hair is so thick, it can make colour application quite challenging. One solution is to buy more than one box of the hair dye you're using—you might need two or three boxes. 

Alternatively, try Clairol Nice 'n Easy Color Blend Foam. Because it's a foam, you get more product volume, and it's easier to spread. These two factors combine to help ensure that the hair is completely covered and saturated with colour.

No matter what colour you use, if you're covering grey, leave it on for an extra 10 minutes, since Asian hair can be very stubborn.

Even with colour, Asian hair is quite resilient and doesn't dry out as easily as other hair types. However, you should still use a good conditioning treatment after colouring. 

How to Ombré Asian Hair

If you have virgin hair:

  1. Choose a shade of permanent hair colour that is two (three levels max) lighter than your natural colour. Stay away from anything too blonde and stick with a warm, tone-on-tone colour. 
  2. Part your hair in four sections. (Divide it from ear to ear and from the middle of your forehead to the middle of the nape of your neck.) Using elastic bands, section off the last third of the hair length—the ends of the hair in each section.
  3. Apply the colour to the sectioned off ends and let it sit for approximately 20 minutes.
  4. Remove the elastic bands and spread the colour about an inch above the pre-sectioned spot, where the elastic bands used to be. Take your time—you need a seamless transition from dark to light, NOT a stripe around the bottom circumference of your hair. Once you're happy with the blending, let the colour sit for another 10 minutes.
  5. Wash your hair, condition and style as normal.

If your hair already has a dark permanent dye in it, I suggest seeing a professional's advice. Colour cannot lift colour.

How to Enhance Asian Hair with a Darker Colour

In case you're thinking about going darker... my personal favourite for Asians is natural shiny black or darkest brown.

Olivia Munn's shiny dark brown hair.

Olivia Munn's shiny dark brown hair.

Lucy Liu's black hair.

Lucy Liu's black hair.

The shades that give you this look include Nice 'n Easy Color Blend Foam in #2 - BlackPerfect 10 in #2 - Black and Natural Instincts in Ebony.