Pros: Decreases brassiness a little, good value, semi-permanent
Cons: Didn't have much of an effect, colors darker than described.
I have medium brown hair that started turning gray when I was 20. I've tried probably a dozen different dyes since then, but have mainly used Clairol Natural Instincts. This is my first time trying Clairol Natural Instincts Brass Free; I don't want to get too repetitive with my other Clairol reviews, so I'll try to link to them to keep this one short -- or at least shorter!
Choosing a Dye
I originally decided on a non-permanent dye because I thought it would look more natural, damage my hair less, and be safer than a permanent dye. Details about this decision (including my worries about whether hair dye causes cancer) are in my review of the first dye I chose, Natural Instincts Medium Ash Brown. The problem with going semi-permanent was that it seriously limited my choices. Clairol seems to have cornered the market on semi-permanent dyes with Natural Instincts, which is supposed to last for 28 shampoos, and Loving Care, which should last 6-12 shampoos.
Natural Instincts comes in 34 shades, organized into cool, neutral and warm/gold categories. I originally chose the medium ash brown because that was what my hair looked like, but in fact the dye turned my hair nearly black. I stayed with that for a while, but for the past year or so have been trying to get back to my real hair color. This has involved bleaching a lot of highlights and using Natural Instinct's Lightest Golden Brown color. This gives the right darkness, but unfortunately makes my hair brassy.
If you're not familiar with brassiness, Clairol defines it as "the unwanted red or orange tones in hair" that often result from bleaching. Clairol recently introduced "Brass-Free" products into the Natural Instincts line; they contain "brass-seeking dyes that neutralize brassy tones for healthy, natural-looking color and shine." When I first bleached my hair I didn't think it was terribly brassy, but it seems to have gotten worse over time, and is especially noticeable in the sun. After getting a couple of comments about how red it was, I decided to do something about it.
When I saw the "brass free" products at the store, I decided to try them. After my previous experiences with Natural Instincts, I knew to start a couple of shades lighter, so I wanted the dark blonde. Unfortunately they were out of that, but I had no problem trying the medium blonde first, since this dye won't make your hair darker.
The Natural Instincts Experience
Like most dyes, Clairol Natural Instincts comes in two parts: the dye and an activator, which you mix together before use. Each box of dye comes with gloves, instructions, and a tube of conditioner.
The dye has all the usual warnings about doing an allergy test, not getting it in your eyes, etc. The instructions specify leaving the dye on your hair for 10-20 minutes (I do the full 20). If you're curious, you can read the instructions in their entirety on the Clairol website:
If you have short hair and have ever used hair dye, you know how frustrating it is to throw the extra dye away. You can't save it because it will no longer work a month after it's been mixed. When I had long hair this wasn't an issue, but I recently cut it all off and have gone back to my old trick for stretching this dye. It's the simplest approach I can think of, but it does require a previous purchase of the dye. What you do is save both bottles (dye and activator) after you've colored your hair. Then, the next time you color, open the new dye bottle and pour half of it into your old bottle. It's easy to tell when you've poured half, because the two bottles will be at the same level. Ditto for the activator. Now you have two half-size dye treatments. Use one, save the other. I like this approach because it doesn't require your fetching extra equipment to weigh or measure the dye -- all you need is the old bottles.
This hair dye has a stronger chemical odor than I'd expect for a "natural" hair color. I can't use this with the bathroom door closed -- it gets overpowering. I should note that this also goes for every other hair dye I can think of, though.
I tried this for the first time a few days ago. I actually didn't bother doing a strand test, since I had a pretty good idea of how Natural Instincts dyes look on my hair. I used the dye in the morning before I left the house, so I didn't get a good look at it. My hair didn't look terribly different, so I just assumed it was less brassy. But then I met a friend for lunch, and the first thing he said to me was, "Hey, your hair looks good. It seems redder -- did you dye it?" Redder? It was supposed to get less red!
Of course, I immediately went to check it out. It was hard to tell in indoor light, but the dye appeared to have toned down the red shades. When I later checked in the sunlight, it did appear less brassy, but was still pretty red. So maybe it was just the lighting that day that made it look redder. But it was definitely still brassy.
It hasn't been long enough for me to say how long this product lasts, and it made such a subtle difference that I'm not sure I could tell anyway. As I've described in my other reviews, Natural Instincts dyes tend to last only about 6 shampoos for me, unless I go too dark. Then they last indefinitely.
Pricing and Availability
This dye is available in nearly every grocery and drug store, although they don't always have all the shades. If I wait for coupons and sales, I can usually get this below $7.00, and often below $6.00. The retail price is $9 or $10, but I don't think I've ever paid that much. I just wait for deals and stock up.
There are a lot of coupons for this product. If you sign up for e-mails from Clairol they'll send you a heads-up when there's going to be a coupon in the Sunday circulars. This has been nice, although once they alerted me and I bought the paper, but there was no coupon. Of course, the alert says something like "most newspapers will have this deal," but I just ignored that.
An additional nice feature is that Clairol appears to have a deal with the grocery stores to print those coupons you get with your receipt. I bought this at Fred Meyer once, and now every time I buy groceries I get a $3 off Natural Instincts coupon. A similar thing happens with Safeway, although I don't seem to get as many coupons.
If you're looking to buy this dye, you should certainly check sites with free shipping, like Amazon and drugstore.com. I've seen certain shades of Clairol occasionally go on sale online, although never this one.
I have a few beefs with this product:
1. As usual with Natural Instincts dyes, the color turned out way darker than it should have. I swear this "medium blonde" actually made my brown hair a bit darker.
2. It didn't make a huge difference with my brassy hair.
3. Why doesn't Clairol just make their hair dyes brass free in the first place?
I'm planning on trying the "dark blonde" shade to see if that one is any better. The "medium" certainly didn't do much for me, though! It's nice that it's non-permanent, and it's certainly a good value, but the result, although noticeably less red, wasn't anything approaching "brass-free." I'm on the fence about whether I'd recommend this, but am going to go with "yes," since it did have some effect. It's possible it may take more than one use of this to get rid of all my brassiness.