Show of hands: Who didn’t dye their hair in high school? No, I’m not talking about the Manic Panic flambé that Generation Z is pulling off so handily. These youngsters need to realize that while they wonder what shade of lizard green to do next, their older sisters spent years in search of the perfect “auburn tint”—something that was supposed to wash out in eight showers and give a little Winona interest to that same-old, same-old brunette. It never quite worked the way you envisioned—imagine nauseous iridescent allover purple sheen and/or frizz more akin to a Doctor Zhivago hat than actual hair—but the box dye wasn't a total waste. The best thing was the built-in remedy: the most potent, nourishing, wait-this-stuff-actually-works conditioner out there.
I'll now direct you to your nearest box of Nice ‘N Easy. The conditioner tube inside is sort of suspiciously good. Like, why-aren’t-full-size-ones-this good. Clairol must’ve read my mind (or maybe just read the reviews on MakeupAlley) because, for a while, they sold a conditioner separately...except it was actually a different formula. Amazon reviewers smelled a jojoba-and-shea-infused rat. It wasn’t the same. And you still can’t get one as good without buying the whole damn shebang of box—dye, developer, flimsy gloves, and all. Which has given rise to a vibrant cottage industry of commerce that’s sprung up around these little tubes of glory. You can buy them six-in-a-Ziploc on eBay for a highly-negotiable tenner.
Of course, Clairol probably could sell the conditioner alone, but I wouldn't wait around for it. Likely for the same reason Chris Rock opined in Bigger and Blacker—“’Cause there ain't no money in the cure. The money's in the medicine. That's how you get paid, on the comeback.” Dark. But true.
And so, with the frizz-inducing, purple-casting poison of hair dye, you’re served the medicine—something to assuage the symptoms, not cure a root cause. The funny thing is, is that since the conditioner sort of expects you to have some kind of damage already, using it on virgin (or tamely balayaged) hair pushes you just to the edge of hair-fortification OD. You feel like you’re getting away with something.
Also, the tiniest bit goes a really long way, which is also how these frequent-dyers come to have a stockpile—you just can’t use them up at the rate you can the dye. This particular formula, which, I can admit, shares a great deal with its younger sister’s counterpart (Clairol's Natural Instincts line), is sumptuous, full-bodied, and ecstatically scented. Effects are astounding. Frizzy hair is mollified. Straight, dryish, boring hair (mine) is saturated into a Bacall end-curl. It’s like beer goggles for hair—its all looks better and sexier for a blessed, ebullient hot minute.
If you don’t want to brave the eBay conditioner industrial complex (the Silk Road of beauty products) here’s what to do: Wait ‘til Clairol box dye goes on sale at Walgreens (I’m sort of partial to Copper Ash Tawny Chestnut myself, for sentimental reasons), and then make legitimate use (finally) of those little instant-coupon dispensers that are always attendant in the hair care aisle. Anyone who was ever a child knows the magical fixation of pulling out a coupon and watching another one crank itself out. For just a few bucks, it’s more than worth it.
Photographed by Tom Newton.
In case you opted for the dye instead: Meet the six best masks for color-treated hair.