Want to color your hair on your own?
Check out these 13 crucial tips from experts first.
If you’d sooner shave your head than dye your own hair at home, we feel you — coloring your hair takes time and money. Plus, there is so much room to make a mistake (especially if it’s your first time doing so) that you could spend months trying to fix. It’s intimidating, to say the least. But, on the other hand, the salon can be expensive, so the inclination to save your hard-earned coins and pick up a dye brush yourself is totally understandable.
There are a lot of factors to consider when you’re dyeing your own hair: choosing the right hue (and getting it to show up properly), placing the color in the right spots, using the right tools for the job. And don’t get us started on the after-care. But don’t worry — all you need to get your at-home dye job right is a little patience (remember to always go slowly) and a bit of guidance from some folks who know what they’re talking about.
Like Lauryn Hill said back in 1998, “it could all be so simple.” And we don’t know about y’all, but we’d also rather not make it hard. Life is tough enough! So, with the help of some experts, we came up with 13 at-home hair color tricks, hacks, product recommendations, and tips, so the once-laborious act of doing your own color can turn into the best, easiest spa day ever.
The three keys to success? Make sure you’re comfortable (a pair of these luxe PJs should do the job), have everything you need (we’ve got you there below), and aren’t pressed for time. Now, get into the best insider at-home hair-color tricks and tips for achieving salon-worthy results.
1. Don’t trust the model on the box of hair dye
Sure, the woman smiling on the front of the box looks beautiful, but the color of her hair is a fantasy. “The color always ends up lighter than the model’s hair on the packaging,” says colorist Dana Ionato of the Sally Hershberger Downtown salon in New York City. “The developer in at-home permanent dyes is very strong — stronger than the ones we use in the salon — so it lifts the color and makes it lighter than what you see on the box.” Instead, look at the little swatch at the top of the box — it’s a better representation of how the hue will actually look on your hair.
2. Know when to go lighter — or darker
The rule is as follows: For permanent dye, choose a color a smidge darker than what you want because of the strong developer, says Ionato. With semipermanent dye, however, err on the lighter side of the color you’re looking to achieve. “Semipermanent formulas don’t have a developer, meaning they get darker and darker the longer you leave them in your hair,” says Ionato. “It’s safer to choose a color that’s a bit lighter from the get-go.”
3. Buy two boxes of hair dye
If your hair is past your shoulders, or shoulder-length and extremely coarse, use two boxes of the same shade to ensure full coverage. Just make sure to mix the dyes in a glass or plastic bowl — a metal one will oxidize the dye and cause it to change color.
4. Consider your hair texture
Hair texture matters just as much when dyeing your hair as it does when cutting it. “Coarse, curly, or frizzy hair sucks up color faster and will become cooler-toned when you dye it, so it will look ashier, or slightly bluish,” says Ionato. “Fine to medium hair textures don’t absorb color as easily and will become a slightly warmer tone when you add dye, meaning it will have orange, red, or copper undertones.”
So what does that mean for you when you’re standing in the aisle at the drugstore? If your hair is frizzy or curly, pick a color that’s warm (golden, copper, bronze), but a little lighter than your natural hair color; if your hair is fine and straight, choose cooler shades (champagne, beige) that are slightly darker than your natural color.
5. Touch up your roots without staining your scalp
“If you’re just doing your roots, I’d recommend putting coconut oil or a deep conditioning mask on the mid-shaft and ends to help preserve any lightness or any dimension that you have on the hair,” says NYC-based colorist Rachel Bodt. Runoff from rinsing out your roots can stain the rest of your hair, so she suggests creating a coconut oil barrier to keep dye from dripping down through the rest of your hair. She also suggests adding Vaseline around the hairline to prevent dye from staining your scalp.
6. Rethink your hair dye tools
If you’re an unnatural blonde, box dyes won’t hide the dark roots of your highlights, since they’re meant to adjust hair color by only a shade or two, says colorist Marie Robinson, the founder of Marie Robinson Salon in New York City. “Get an at-home bleach kit, like Clairol Born Blonde, instead, and use a spooley to apply to just the highlights’ roots.” The makeup tool disperses bleach evenly and precisely, so you’re less likely to end up with “hot” (hairstylist speak for “orange”) color.
If you have grown-out highlights on top of base color, apply hair color to your roots, then use a wide-tooth comb to feather the dye slightly over the start of your highlights, says Nikki Lee, a colorist and founder of Nine Zero One salon in Los Angeles. “That’ll soften the harsh lines a bit.” She recommends using a shade of dye that matches your roots or is just a smidge lighter.
7. Consider spot-treating gray hair
If you’re targeting grays, you don’t have to dye your whole head. “If you have a gray headband along your hairline, get a semipermanent dye and only color that area,” says colorist Rita Hazan, the founder of Rita Hazan Salon in New York City. It may mean working strand by strand, adds Robinson, who suggests using an eye shadow brush for extra precision.
8. Section, section, section
To avoid patchiness, create a middle part that runs to the back of your head and split the hair into four sections — two in front of the ears and two in back. “Be organized about the application,” says Brooke Jordan, head stylist with The Bird House salon in NYC. “People can miss spots, or don’t know how to get the back.” To prevent this, use clips to create four sections and work through them front to back.
9. Add shampoo to your hair dye
If your ends are very dry and you’re dyeing your entire head, don’t put dye on your ends. Instead, three minutes before you’re supposed to rinse, add two squirts of shampoo into the dye left in the bottle. Shake it up and apply the mixture to your ends. “It dilutes the dye but still gives you a pinch of color and shine,” says Louis Licari of the Louis Licari Salon in New York City.
10. Let your hair down
You know how the models in the commercial always have their dye-coated hair artfully twisted up into a bun? Don’t do that. “The color won’t be even when you rinse it out,” says Ionato. “Leave it down until the timer rings.” Get yourself a hair coloring gown (Amazon has four packs for under $20) so that you have something you don’t mind getting a little bit of dye on — you definitely don’t want to mess up any clothes you actually care about in the process.
11. Add water
Before you rinse out the color, sprinkle a little water on your head and mush your hair around with your hands for a few seconds. “It emulsifies the dye and moves it all around so you don’t end up with any lines or streaks,” says Ionato.
12. Tweak the results
After your hair is dry, if you’re unhappy with the color, you can mute it by applying a deep conditioner to damp hair. Then cover your head with plastic wrap and a hot, damp towel. Leave on for 20 minutes (at 10 minutes, blast your head with a blow-dryer), then shampoo and condition your hair. If you’re still not happy with your shade, well, it looks like you’ll have to head to a salon when you can.
13. You must condition when you’re done
“If you skip the conditioner step, it leaves the cuticle open and the color keeps working,” says Ionato. “So don’t be surprised if you end up with much darker hair than you wanted.” Don’t throw away the conditioner in the kit, and if you do, make sure to use a deep conditioner in the shower after you rinse out the dye.