Taking the confusion out of at-home hair color kits.

By InStyle Staff
Updated Apr 17, 2020 @ 6:00 pm
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There's no denying it: DIY hair dyes can be tricky. Theoretically, you should be able to pick a box hair color at Target and emerge out of your bathroom with a brand new (and flawless) hair color but make no mistake, there's definitely room for error. Not only do you have to follow the correct after-care regimen to actually maintain your look, sometimes the directions on the back of the hair dye box are confusing as hell.

To help you out, we asked a group of top celebrity hair colorists to give you their tips on how to dye your hair at home — the right way. Make sure to keep their expert tips in mind before heading to the drugstore, your local beauty supply store, or shopping online to pick up a box of at-home hair dye.

1. Ask Your Colorist for Advice on Color Levels

If you are preparing to color your own hair or if you need to color your hair in a pinch, celebrity hair colorist Patrice Vinci — of the eponymous Patrice Vinci Salon in Boston — recommends speaking with your colorist first to determine the color level they would recommend.

"This is valuable information that dedicated beauty supply stores, such as Sally’s, will use to guide you to the proper color for your needs," Vinci says.

2. Assess Your Hair Growth

"Rather than going by the color on the box, or the ends of your hair, focus on your regrowth (roots) as the guide in selecting a color by the box," Vinci says. "How much gray do you need to cover? This is key for application, as you should only cover the gray area, leaving the remainder of your hair untouched until the final 10 minutes of the process time."

Vinci says this will also help avoid color build-up on hair and give a more professional look to your at-home color.

3. Opt for Semi-Permanent Dye When Coloring Gray Hair

If you are looking to add color to gray hair, Patricio Jardines, a hair colorist at Eliut Salon, recommends choosing a semi-permanent color instead of a permanent dye. "This will blend hair with minimal damage, especially since it needs to be treated more frequently," Jardines says.

4. Be Mindful of Skin Sensitivity

If you have sensitive skin, here's a sweet trick from Kiyah Wright, celebrity hair stylist and the founder of Muze Hair: Add a dash of artificial sweetener.

"No matter the shade or hue, if you're dyeing at home and have severely sensitive skin, add one packet of Sweet 'N Low sugar to the dye to alleviate the drying effects of any ammonia," she says. "The acids in the Sweet 'N Low help neutralize the pH level, alleviating dryness, and skin irritation."

5. Go a Shade Lighter

Jardines says that when you are choosing a box color, make sure you pick a shade lighter or half a shade lighter than your natural hair color. "This plays it safe so you don’t end up with a color that doesn’t match your natural color," he says.

6. Be Mindful of Hot Tools

If you are about to try dyeing your hair at home, Wright recommends you stop using hot tools at least a week before giving it a go.

"The heat from straighteners, curling irons, and blow dryers cause brittle, dry, and damaged strands, which will not result in vibrant color," Wright says.

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7. Don't Limit Your Buying Options

While you might hit up Target for your usual essentials, Vinci says to consider visiting a beauty supply store, like Sally's Beauty Supply, if you are going to try dyeing hair at home.

"Most beauty supply stores employ hair professionals or hair students and they have a better understanding of the complicated world of hair color," she says. "Armed with a color level and any other details a hair colorist has shared with you or going it solo, beauty supply store representatives can focus on products to make solid recommendations in meeting your color needs."

Bonus? Vinci says the products these stores sell are generally salon grade.

8. Get a Special Shampoo

If you haven't yet hard of purple shampoo to keep your blonde and light colors looking fresh, then you'll want to listen to this tip from Danielle Lint, an expert hair colorist at Warren Tricomi Salons.

"This keeps blonde hair brighter when it starts to turn the unwanted yellow or brassy color," she says. Try Clariol Professional Shimmer Lights Shampoo. If you're going brunette, opt for a blue shampoo.

Lint says that while she doesn't recommend clients try box colors or bleach at home, she is a fan of temporary color or solid upkeep products, like color-safe shampoo. “[It’s] the absolute best way to maintain color and look your best until your next visit," she says.

9. Line Your Hairline with Vaseline

Want to avoid color stains on your skin? Celebrity hair colorist Cindy Lopez recommends putting Vaseline around your hairline to keep stains at bay.

10. Apply Color in Sections

Lopez says that while she doesn't recommend applying color at home, if you are strapped for a quick fix, then you'll want to be sure you part your hair in sections before applying color.

"This makes the application process easier and helps to distribute the color evenly," she says.

9. Don't Be Afraid to Opt for a Root Touch-Up Product Rather Than Full Color

If you don't want to dye your hair at home but wouldn't mind masking some of the grays until you can hit the salon, then Lint recommends picking up a temporary hair color spray that covers the gray. The stylist says she loves L'Oreal's Paris Magic Root Cover Up Spray.