Dyeing your own hair at home can be super intimidating—sometimes even just choosing a shade from all of the various options can be difficult. When getting your hair colored in the salon isn’t an option (due to time, money, or any other reason), it’s time to turn to the box and get down and dirty.
We’ll walk you through everything you need to know to get the hair color of your dreams from the comfort of your own bathroom, below.
While dyeing your own hair is great for subtle changes and root touch-ups, if you want a drastic change from your natural hair color (i.e. going from brunette to blonde), it’s best to leave it to the pros.
But how do you know which hair stylist or salon is right for you? Ryan Slowey, a hair colorist at Salon AKS in New York City, suggests doing your research before choosing a salon and colorist, as colorists tend to have different hair color specialties and techniques. You can ask friends, research online, or call the salon first and ask who specializes in the hair color or hair coloring method you desire.
Of course, there are other options for getting a new hair color, too. One is using a semi-permanent dye that washes out after a few showers, so you don't have to worry about the long-term commitment.
And if you want to try to funky shade (like pink or violet) but don’t want to shell out the cash for a hair stylist, try a temporary hairspray like IGK HAIR Sutro Ombre Color Spray. It’s non-committal but lets you have a little fun with your hair color.
It’s time to get coloring! Before you dive in, remember to read the box instructions closely, especially to see how long the processing time will be. And don’t wash your hair right before dyeing. It’s better to color your hair when it’s dirty to prevent any scalp sensitivity, says Slowey.
A general rule of thumb colorists swear by: when using a permanent hair color, stay within two shades of your natural color. And, if you're after a lighter look, Slowey recommends moving only one shade away from your natural color. Home hair color also usually uses a universal developer that will work on all hair types, so this will help your color stay within the right shade family.
You also should always buy at least two boxes of color to make sure you have enough to cover your whole head. Slowey suggests taking a picture of the box (assuming you like it), so you can stay consistent next time you color.
Always apply your hair color in the bathroom, says Slowey. The surfaces are pretty resistant and any spills can be quickly cleaned up with a Clorox wipe.
You'll also want to change into an old button-down shirt that you don’t care about staining, and cover the floor with old towels. Gather all of your tools on the bathroom counter, including the home hair color boxes, clips to section your hair, a comb, a jar of Vaseline, and makeup remover wipes (you'll see why in a minute).
Before coloring your whole head, you should test the color first to make sure you're not allergic. Pick a small section of hair at the nape of your neck and apply the product for the time listed on the box to see if your skin becomes irritated, says Slowey. It’s also a great way to see what the color will look like and make sure you are happy with the results.
Prevent any staining by applying Vaseline along your hairline. This creates a barrier that haircolor can’t penetrate, says Slowey. If you happen to get any hair dye on your skin, you can erase it instantly with your makeup remover towelettes. You can also use an exfoliating face wash like this one to get rid of any color that makes its way past your Vaseline barrier, says Slowey.
It's time to get dyeing! To begin, part your hair down the middle, then create four sections from ear to ear and down the back. Use your sectioning clips to keep the sections apart. Taking the time to create sections will save time in the long run and give you greater accuracy when applying color, says Slowey.
Going section by section, apply your color at the roots first, and then comb it through the rest of your strands with a comb. We love PINK PEWTER’S "Never Let Go" Carbon Fibre Color and Styling Comb for its cool, innovative design that makes it super easy to use, especially when doing your own at-home hair color.
When you get to the back sections of your hair, separate them into into smaller sections and flip your hair towards the front after applying, suggests Slowey.
Then, all you have to do is wait as long as the box says for your color to develop!
If it's your first time lightening your hair with highlights, don't worry: we've got you covered. While it's easier to visit a salon first just to see where they put the color, you can also highlight at home with just a few steps.
When selecting a highlight shade, you'll want to stick with a hair color only one shade lighter than your own to keep it natural. Slowey also suggests using your eye color as a guide. If you have light eyes, try a cooler-toned highlight kit, and those with darker eyes should look for a warmer shade.
Part your hair as you normally would to help find the right placement for highlights. You'll want to make sure you have dry hair before applying your color, so avoid washing your hair the same day you apply your highlights if you can.
Starting at the front of your head and working your way back, create small sections of hair about a quarter of an inch apart. They don’t need to be perfectly spaced, because you want your highlights to feel natural and asymmetrical.
Using either a toothbrush or mascara wand (both can be more precise than the included brush), paint the color onto your hair, starting at the roots. You want to mimic where the sun would naturally hit, says Slowey, so get to work lightening your hairline area (especially the sections closest to your face) and the top of your head, near your part.
Remember, less is more, so start slowly and gradually build your way up as you see fit.
Then, simply follow the box's directions for processing time and washing, and that's it: easy highlights in just a few simple steps.
Now that you've dyed your hair like an at-home hair stylist, we've got a few extra tips to make sure you keep your color healthy and happy.
Use a shampoo and conditioner designed for color-treated hair. Most of these are sulfate-free (so they won’t strip your color) and have ingredients that help make your color really last. Plus, they'll protect your hair from breaking and getting damaged, too.
Try to shampoo less often (two to three times a week) to maintain your color, says Slowey. You should also keep hot tool use to a minimum and use a heat protectant product, like BUMBLE AND BUMBLE All-Style Blow Dry, whenever you do use them.
Don’t stress if your color is lighter than expected or if you left it on too long and your hair turned orange—it happens! Use a color-correcting shampoo like EVA NYC Tone It Down! Blonde Shampoo. This shampoo is great for toning down blonde hair neutralizing brassy tones.
Daily leave-in treatments can help enhance and lock in your color. AVEDA Color Conserve™ Daily Color Protect will seal your hair’s cuticle for serious shine.
Try adding a hair mask or a leave-in conditioner to your haircare routine, too. These will keep your hair moisturized and healthy after dyeing. Not sure how to use leave-in conditioner? We go into how to use them (and how often you should) in our complete guide to using leave-in conditioner.
If you absolutely hate your hair color, it’s probably time to go to a salon to get it fixed. Don’t try to dye it another color—that will only make things worse. One thing you can try at home, though: dish soap. Traditional dish soap will break down and remove unwanted hair color, but make sure to do a deep conditioning treatment after to keep your hair hydrated, says Slowey.
Remember: take it slow, follow the directions on the box and you’ll be coloring your hair like a pro in no time!
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