How to Color Your Own Hair

Should You Do It Yourself? Tips for At-Home Hair Coloring

Woman with orange colouring mousse combed through wet hair
Jerome Tisne / Stone / Getty Images

Why spend $150 or more getting your hair lightened or darkened when you can dye (or color) your own hair? When considering if you should color your hair blond, black, red or brown, use these tips I've gathered over the years.

When to Dye at Home and When to Hit the Salon

I ran into my neighbor Melodie on the street this week and told her that her hair looked fabulous. Her secret? She started coloring her black hair herself and it has never looked better.

She loves it because she gets to pick the color she loves (her stylist in Chinatown had gone too light, she claimed) and she saves a ton of money and a ton of commuting time each month by doing it herself out of a box.

Melodie is the perfect candidate for a do-it-yourself hair color job because she's a single-process girl. I'm a balayage blonde. Do-it-yourself simply won't work for me, or for my foil sisters because, well, you try painting stripes on your own head. Plus, going lighter is so much harder than covering grays or energizing a "blah brown" hair color. A home kit is brilliant at doing these things.

Follow the "Two Shades" Rule

At-home hair coloring is for people who simply want to go a couple shades lighter or darker or to cover gray. Anything more complicated than that should be handled by a pro. If it's a new ​base color and highlights you're after, go to a pro. If you have permed or relaxed hair, or if your hair is damaged, also see a pro, you don't want to over-process your locks.

You Can't Always Trust the Picture on the Box

Pictures on hair color boxes can be deceiving. Hair dye reacts differently to texture, health of hair, and the natural hair color so you may not end up looking like the person on the box. Focus instead on the color description. According to Ladies Home Journal, most boxes will call out the color (blond, brown, black, and red) and the shade of that color (light, medium, and dark).

There might also be mention of the tone (golden or ashy). This is a better guide to what you'll end up with.

Try Out Colors Virtually

Most box brands these days offer online guides. L'Oreal Paris has an easy-to-use online tool and Clairol has a "try it on" feature that allows you to "put yourself" in a variety of different hair colors.

Always Test a Few Strands First

Too many women skip this step and end up with a color they despise. Once the color is in, it's harder to change.

Create Your Own Face-Framing Highlights

To create your own face-framing highlights around the face, invest in a bottle of dye a shade lighter and paint it on the strands around your face.

Uh-Oh. Your Color Turned Out Darker Than Expected.

There's hope in another bottle of color if your first try ended up darker than expected. What to do: take another bottle of the same hair dye and mix in equal parts shampoo. Lather and keep it on for 5 minutes. Rinse, and hair should end up lighter.

How to Dye Roots Without Over-Processing Your Ends

As hair grows out, and roots grow in, you may find you need to color only your roots. But how to do this without over-processing the ends? To protect hair from dye, slather the ends of hair with conditioner before applying color to roots and around the crown.

A few minutes before it's time to rinse color out, work the dye over the conditioned ends. This will add just enough process to update the color, without damaging your ends.

The Importance of Hair Prep Before a Dye Job

Because the ingredients in hair dye are very concentrated (even more so than the salon dyes), it's a good idea to deep condition dry hair a week before you color hair. Once hair's colored, you'll want to deep condition every week to keep processed hair soft.

To keep hair dye off your forehead (hello, embarrassing!), rub Vaseline around your hairline as a protective measure before applying color. To remove after coloring, rub a small amount of cream cleanser on the Vaseline and wipe off with cotton balls or a washcloth.

Also remember to always wear gloves and wrap an old dark-colored towel around your shoulders.

Light towels will show stains.

When to Wash Hair Before — And After — You Dye It

Many experts suggest washing hair a day before — not the day of — coloring. Natural oils protect scalp from the processing. After you color, it's best to wait at least a full day before washing hair to give the pigment in the dye time to fully settle into your hair.

How to Maintain Your Fabulous Color

I always recommend investing in a color-depositing shampoo and conditioner or at least a shampoo and conditioner specially formulated for colored or processed hair.

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