Everything You Need To Know About Coloring Your Hair At Home

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.

Even though I've been the lead colorist at The Oscar Blandi Salon for some 30 years, I have no problem recommending that women color their hair at home. Sure, doing your hair yourself isn't the same thing as getting it colored professionally, but that doesn't mean it can't — or shouldn't — be tried!
 
Plus, with all of the advancements in home hair color in recent years, there's really no reason why women (with time or budget constraints) shouldn't try taking the plunge. Follow my guide to get a solid grasp on how to get home hair dye right.

Make A Decision
The best advice I can give you is to never go more than a few shades in either direction. Drastic change is typically best left to the professionals. With this in mind, consider the color of your skin tone and eyes, your lifestyle, and to some extent, the time of year.

If you have fair skin and light eyes (blue or green), choose a lighter shade that will complement these features. If your features are darker — and your natural hair shade is dark, too — you'll likely have success dyeing your tresses a shade in the brunette family.

If you have a lot of pink in your skin, I don't recommend going for a warm shade, as it might make you look flushed. Instead, opt for a cool tone like a sandy blonde or coffee brown. If your skin tone is olive, you could easily pull off a golden-blonde tone, which will bring warmth to your face and keep your complexion from getting any type of green tinge. I especially like buttery blondes and chestnut browns for olive-skinned women. Neutral skin, with no pink or olive tones, will work with a range of shades, both warm and cool.

Lifestyle (read: tolerance for maintenance) is the last thing you want to consider. How much time are you willing to put into upkeep? If you're a new mom or have just started a new job with hectic hours that sometimes means working on weekends, then you're probably better off going for a low-maintenance color that doesn't stray that far from your natural shade. A few face-framing blonde highlights or something semi-permanent that'll wash out gradually is the way to go. 

Also, many women prefer to go lighter in the summer (when the sun can help keep the color glowing) and less light in the winter.

Skip The Foils
I have never seen anyone (even hair colorists) successfully foil their own hair, so when choosing an at-home color kit, avoid a package that includes foils. Opt for a hair-painting technique, rather than a pull-through cap technique. Pulling through a cap is random and can be painful when it's self-administered. You really have no way of knowing where the hair is being pulled from, and you can wind up with blotches and patches all over your head. Hair painting — or balayage, as it is known in a salon — is a technique in which swatches of hair are carved out and lightener is painted directly onto them. This way, you can see just where the placement will be, and you can also control the fatness or thinness of the actual highlights.
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Add Product With Precision
A no-drip formula is best for avoiding spots and blotches in unwanted areas. Apply the formula neatly and carefully. Start off adding the color sparingly — since you can always add more, but you cannot take away.  

Illustrated by Anna Sudit.
Pick Your Tools
You can incorporate a few different tools into your home-hair-dye project to help make it successful. I recommend grabbing your tool of choice and doing a test run with conditioner, before you break out the lightening agent. I've experimented with a lot of items, but some of my favorites are a tongue depressor, popsicle stick, toothbrush (regular size and kids' size), and the pointy tip of a tail comb. One of my colleagues likes to use a brow brush or a spoolie.

You could also take a trip to an art-supply store and purchase actual paintbrushes in small, medium, and large sizes. Use the largest brush for thick swatches along the hairline, the medium one for the center of the head (the top/styling area), and the small brush for the smallest pieces at the crown. 

A kids' toothbrush will carve a finer highlight and apply less product than a regular-sized brush. So, if you want a chunkier look, go with the adult toothbrush, but for a more subtle streak, grab a child's-size brush. True story: When I was in beauty school (back in the '80s), I used to dip a fat comb (called a rake) in bleach and just comb it up my hairline. After about five or 10 minutes, the result would be perfectly placed hairline highlights. 

Test It Out
I've already advised that you only go one or two levels lighter than your base color, especially if you're dyeing your hair at home for the first time. If you're using a lightening agent, the level of lift will be determined by the amount of time the product is left on, as well as how easily your hair picks up color. Generally, fine hair takes on color quicker than coarse hair. To find out how well your hair will take to the color, first pull out a piece from the back of your head and paint on the lightener. After five minutes, check the color. Continue doing this in five-minute intervals until you've reached your desired level of lightness. After that, proceed with the rest of your hair. 

Of course, when undertaking this DIY project, there are some other important things you want to keep in mind: 

Don't dye your whole head of hair every time you do a touch-up. After the initial dye job, you want to only touch up the virgin regrowth. Overlapping dye will give you color buildup on your ends, ultimately drying out your hair. If you have trouble getting just the roots by yourself, enlist the help of a friend.

Do tone down brassiness with purple shampoos, such as Clairol Shimmer Lights. The violet in the shampoo will help neutralize any unwanted orange or yellow tones. Brunettes who find themselves with a bit of brass can try a coffee rinse or grape Kool-Aid to help neutralize the orange/gold tones.
Don't run out of dye mid-application. If you have long or thick hair, you may need two boxes of color. 

Do strip out some dye with a clarifying shampoo if your color feels too dark. Always be sure to follow any clarifying treatment with a deep-conditioning masque, which will help protect hair and keep it healthy.

Don't use permanent dyes when darkening hair. Opt for a henna home hair dye or semi-permanent hair color containing lots of emollients and proteins. These types of dyes leave hair feeling great and full of shine; they are also, obviously, much more easily changeable if you're not happy with your look.  

Do try adding two packets of Sweet'N Low to the formula (to help neutralize possible burning) before the application of very light, high-lifting blonde shades, which can itch or sting some sensitive scalps. 

When doing home highlighting, always keep it simple. Style your hair the way you would normally wear it, and that way, you'll see just where to place the highlights. You really only want to apply color where you can see it — around the hairline, graduating out toward the crown, in places where the sun would naturally light it. I honestly don't recommend doing a full head of highlights; it's a complex process best left to the professionals. 


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