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The Do's & Don'ts Of Coloring Your Own Hair

by sarah kester - July 16, 2020

Ready for a color change but going to the salon isn’t an option? Well, if you’ve checked out social media lately — particularly celebrity accounts — then you probably feel inspired, perhaps even determined, to dye your own hair at home.

But before you roam the hair dye aisle at the nearest department store, remember these wise words: With new hair color comes great responsibility. (That’s what uncle Ben from Spider-Man said, right?)

So to help you get as close to salon-quality results as possible, we spoke to the hair experts to get their insights. Here, they provide their top do’s and don’ts. 

Happy coloring!

Do: have a plan

Sorry, that picture you found of #HairGoals on Pinterest won’t cut it.

Gerdie René Gordon, president and principal stylist of The Beauty Boutique, says you’ll have to go one step further by really thinking about what you want to achieve. This starts with asking yourself: Do you want to go lighter or darker?

“This will help you and give you direction when you’re trying to decide and standing in front of a plethora of colors in the store,” says Gordon.

Next, determine how much product you need to buy: “If your hair is very thick, resistant and/or very long, buy two boxes to ensure you have enough product.”

how to dye hair at home

Don’t: skip the patch test

“This test is super important to protect yourself from a potentially harmful allergic reaction,” says Michaeline Becker, a Los Angeles-based hairstylist and licensed cosmetologist.

This even goes for products you’ve used many times before since she says that you can develop an allergy at any time. To do the patch test, simply mix a small amount of the color and apply it to the inner part of your arm. Wait up to 48 hours for any kind of reaction, such as itchiness, discomfort or redness.

“If you have any reaction to the patch test, do not use the product to color your hair!” advises Becker.

Do: read instructions

When something as important as your hair is at stake, you should always read the instructions. This means being extra cautious about how much time you leave the dye in.

“Leaving it on for longer, or not enough time will more often than not, leave you with uneven/blotchy results,” says Sophie Graham, a hairstylist and salon owner based in Scotland. 

Most coloring experiences at salons involve sitting for a few hours and reading a magazine, which is why Becker says not to rush the process. “Make it feel like a lovely self-care experience,” she advises. “Get some of your favorite music going and grab your favorite drink while you wait during processing!” [Editor’s note: We recommend whipping up a cozy latte with Vital Proteins Chocolate Cherry Almond Collagen Latte!]

how to dye hair at home

Don’t: start too drastic

Instead of attempting intricate coloring techniques, focus on what you can do instead.

"When doing your color at home, always focus on the roots that are gray,” explains Paul Labrecque, celebrity hairstylist and artistic director of Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa.

“Apply your color thickly on the root, and use everything in your color mixing bowl if you want to see proper coverage after.”

Do: take precautions to protect your skin

The goal is to dye your hair — not your skin or sink. So, to be extra cautious, start by wearing the gloves that the kit came with. Next, Becker says to add a barrier cream, such as petroleum jelly, on your skin and around your hairline to prevent staining.

If you’re worried about getting hair dye on your floors or sink, lay out some newspaper. Sure, it won’t look like a professional salon, but you’ll feel like a pro at the end when there are no stains anywhere.

how to dye hair at home

Don’t: use a permanent color

Instead, use a semi or demi-permanent color, says Gordon. “They are gentler and because they are not permanent, they can gradually fade out.” This means that any hair disasters will be a thing of the past after a few washes. 

Permanent color, on the other hand, is called permanent for a reason. “It has to be cut out, grown out or covered up (usually by going darker).”

Do: part properly

“An irregular or zig-zag parting can diffuse the hard line of new growth making it less severe and appear as more of a shadow,” says Steven Waldman, director of technical training at Hair Cuttery/Bubbles Salons.

To help you section the hair like a pro, you’ll need a good metal tail comb and some clips handy, says Becker.

“You want to achieve even results, so sectioning hair avoids tangles and ensures that all hair strands have a thorough application of hair color. I always comb hair first and then section into four quadrants (two in the back and two in the front).”

Don’t: try to lift hair drastically lighter than your natural color

Save the drastic changes for the experts who know how to avoid 50 shades of yellow.

“When trying to lift your hair too light at home orange and yellow undertones are revealed that are almost impossible to control,” says Waldman. “Also, the chemicals needed to lighten hair dramatically can cause irreparable damage to hair that was not properly analyzed and strong enough for the process.”

Aim for a subtle change instead, such as going 1-2 shades darker, adds Gordon.

how to dye hair at home

Do: apply a no-lift deposit only glaze to slightly damp hair

This technique is for when you want to refresh faded color.

To make the process easier, Waldman says to lightly mist hair with a spray water bottle. “This will even the porosity, meaning the hair color will deposit evenly on all of the areas of the hair including some that are dryer and have a tendency to ‘grab’ color and turn darker than the rest.”

That’s not all. He explains to Lively that the water spray will also allow the hair color to spread more easily along the hair sections.

don’t: mix different hair color types

This means avoiding semi-permanent with permanent or demi-permanent with semi, says Gordon. “They are formulated to work differently, and you can really damage your hair and scalp.”

You’ll also want to avoid adding ingredients that are not included in your color kit, such as essential oils.

Do: be realistic

At the end of the day, there are many reasons as to why your hair won’t look identical to what’s on the box. And many of these are out of your control.

According to Gordon, this includes everything from the model’s hair being pixelated or altered to there being a lot of unknowns about the condition of their hair. Unfortunately, knowing how to navigate these factors is something you can’t get out of a box.

“A stylist is trained and oftentimes has to customize color to produce your desired results,” Gordon tells Lively.  “Formulation, starting level, type of color and overall condition of the hair are all determinants a stylist uses in being able to provide your color.”

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