Avoid a dye disaster with our expert guide to prepping your hair for at-home color.
Having your hair professionally colored at the salon is a major commitment — of time and money. Instead of spending both in a pro’s chair for a new hue, try an at-home hair color kit in your own bathroom. To ensure that you avoid a dye disaster, professional colorists offer their expert advice for coloring your hair at home.
Before you grab a box of dye, follow these at-home color commandments for a glossy, flawless shade that will look fresh from the salon.
Rule 1: Ignore the Photos on the Box
“When shopping for at-home hair color, many women will only look at the picture on the box,” says Jet Rhys, celebrity stylist and co-owner of the Jet Rhys Salons in San Diego. “The model on the box may have the perfect shade of brown, but we don’t know what her hair color was like before the dye.” Instead, consult the numbers and letters on the package to determine the level of color and desired tone, says Izabela Saboski, director of color for Salon Ziba in New York City. On a shade scale of 1 to 10, 1 is the darkest, 10 the lightest. The letters, she explains, reveal the dye’s undertones — a means ash, g gold, c copper, and n neutral.
Rule 2: Use Your Own Coloring as a Guide
According to Kyle White, lead colorist at the Oscar Blandi Salon in New York City, light-skinned, light-eyed women look more natural with lighter shades, while women with darker hair and skin look better in darker shades. If you have a lot of pink in your skin, avoid warmth in a hair color because it will make you look flushed. Those who have olive skin tones should opt for gold tones, which bring warmth to the face and make skin look less green. If your skin tone is neutral, says White, with no pink or green, you can wear either warm or cool blond shades.
Rule 3: Stay Within Two Shades of Your Natural Color
Colorists agree: When dyeing your hair at home, don’t go more than two shades lighter or darker. This is especially important for brunettes who want to go blond. “If your hair is dark and you want to lighten it,” says Saboski, “I suggest you make an appointment at a salon, since at-home color will be ineffective in lightening your hair.”
That’s because at-home color kits don’t contain the strong chemicals needed to radically change your color. “There’s a reason hair colorists have to go to school, pass a test, and get a license from the government,” says White. “The reason is that the chemicals needed to perform complicated hair color changes can severely damage hair and scalp alike.”
Rule 4: Do a Test Drive Before Committing to a Permanent Color
“For safe coloring, I recommend demi-permanent hair color, which will fade slightly each time you shampoo,” says Saboski. “Demi-permanent color also minimizes damage and simply enhances the natural color.” Demi-permanent color is a mixture of permanent and semi-permanent dyes. It doesn’t have the power to lighten dark hair, but it can match or deepen your color.
You can also try semi-permanent dye, which, as with demi-permanent color, won’t lighten your hair. Semi-permanent formulas don’t penetrate the hair deeply and wash out in about 8 to 12 shampoos.
Rule 5: Don’t Skip the Patch Test
It’s important to test a new color on a small area of your hair before you apply it to your entire head — otherwise, you’re asking for a mishap. “If the color you use is too ashy, say, your skin will look drab and old,” says Saboski. You also risk a scalp reaction if your skin doesn’t tolerate the dye chemicals.
To do a patch test, apply the dye on a small section of your hair, and see if the color is too light, dark, or ashy.
Rule 6: Do Damage Control Before You Dye
“A good thing to do the day before coloring is to use a clarifying shampoo to remove any product buildup, and to help even the hair’s porosity so color takes evenly,” says White. “You should follow that with a deep conditioner to replace any moisture that may be lost during coloring.”
But skip shampooing the day you dye your hair. “Shampoo doesn’t make the color take better,” says Rhys. Additionally, by not shampooing before you color, you’re allowing the natural oils in your hair to protect your scalp from the irritation that can be caused by the ammonia in many dyes.
Rule 7: Avoid Color Overkill
Good news: You don’t have to dye your whole head every time you notice your color fading. Doing so “will cause color buildup, discolored ends, bands of lightness and darkness, and unnecessary damage,” says White. “You only want to dye the new growth, and maybe, if absolutely needed, refresh faded ends during the last few minutes of the coloring process.”