A friend once texted me to ask if I had ever cut my bangs myself. My response? “OMG. NEVER.” My skills are nowhere near that of a hair professional, so basically I would never consider it. I’d rather fork over the 60 bucks for a haircut than try trimming all by myself. That happens to be exactly how I feel about coloring my own hair, too. But that doesn’t mean I’m not a believer in box dye. I’ve known plenty of women throughout my entire life who have turned to box dye and emerged from the bathroom and shower cap with downright lovely results.
It’s also an ever-changing, always-advancing product genre with constant updates on technology, ensuring users can get their best color ever in the comfort of their own home. So in the event that I do want to touch-up my look, I knew I’d feel about a thousand times more confident with pro colorists’ tips at my disposal, along with the directions on the back of the box.
Turns out, my hesitance towards box dye was somewhat valid. Celebrity colorist Lena Ott told me that if you’re attempting a drastic transformation, you should consider seeing a professional, but if you’re changing your hair color by a shade, you can totally use a box. Regardless, there are a few things you should know, and a lot of that comes with prep.
“Taking a few extra steps prior to coloring your hair at home will make your experience all the better,” says Ott. "Make sure you’re wearing a shirt that you don’t have to pull over your head. Apply Vaseline on your hairline to protect skin from unwanted staining. I also recommend using dark towels during the application. Lastly, always read the directions before you get started.”
Krystal Gleeson, Senior Colorist at Antonio Prieto Salon, also suggests covering your bathroom floor with garbage bags so it doesn’t get too messy (stained tiles, not cute) and stocking up on extra gloves.
While the directions should get you from start to finish, Gleeson says there are a few technique tricks to keep in mind to prevent total disaster. “If you're only coloring gray, don't apply to the mid length and ends, as they could grab darker depending on the porosity of your hair,” she notes.
In terms of tools, Gleeson says to apply the formula with a brush and not a bottle to prevent darker bands from appearing on your ‘do.
Another interesting tip? Apply a shade lighter than the one you truly want, that way, you won’t have to worry about reversing damage.
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In fact, you should really know a few things about how color applies to hair before you choose the shade. For example, if you already have dyed hair, Ott says you cannot lighten your hair with box dye.
"Most people don’t realize that color doesn’t lift color meaning you can’t lighten already dyed hair with at-home color. Example: putting a level 8 blonde over a dyed level 6 brown will not make your 6 an 8. Only your regrowth (virgin hair) will get lighter. If this is a change you’re trying to make, you’ll want to visit a colorist,” she explains.
Box dye is also getting something of a makeover itself. Revlon just launched ColorSilk Buttercream ($2; target.com), which is a formula that is free of ammonia and is packed with nourishing argan oil, as well as mango, shea, and coconut butter. Garnier’s Olia ($7; target.com) is also free of ammonia and actually uses oils as a vehicle to moisturize and to penetrate the color into the hair follicle.
But of course, if you’re not feeling totally comfortable, permanent hair dye isn’t your only option. "Coloring your hair at home can be a very tricky obstacle with unexpected results. There are other options such as temporary color that usually lasts a few washes,” says Gleeson.
Look for semi-permanent formulas, or if you want to try pastels or vibrant hues, hair chalk, markers, or mascaras.