How to Color Your Hair Like a Pro

Updated 10/02/19
Woman with bleached hair
Imaxtree

Maintaining hair color takes some serious dedication. With the not-so-chill lives we live, adding a trip to the salon to our schedule can feel like an infeasible chore. Depending on the vibrancy of your dye job and how fast your hair grows, you have to make time for root touch-ups every five to six weeks while keeping your hair hydrated with super-moisturizing products. In short, the upkeep is real. When you don’t have the time or a pretty penny to spend on a color appointment, you can get your hands dirty and do it yourself.

A DIY dye job might sound scary, but it’s shockingly simple. It takes a little research, a trip to your local drugstore, and a few crucial steps. Wondering how to color your own hair? We tapped three top hair colorists to give us the lowdown on how to achieve salon-worthy hair color at home.

Start With A Fresh Cut

Matrix celebrity colorist George Papanikolas recommends you get your split ends in check before adding color. “Dry porous ends absorb more color, making it look inky,” he explains. Make sure you trim your ends beforehand to avoid this.

Thoroughly Read the Color Package’s Instructions

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Imaxtree

Expert celebrity colorist Michael Casey of Eliut Salon believes reading the label on the color package is the single most important step. “People go into drugstores very naively and only look at the image of the package in search of their desired color, but they don’t read the directions,” says Casey. “And of course, that’s a recipe for disaster. The good news is, most hair color packages sold in drugstores are of very high quality. A little bit of research and reading can prevent a lot of terrible hair color mistakes.”

Go With A Lighter Shade than Your Natural Hair Color

“If you’re unsure, always go for a color that is lighter than you would think,” Papanikolas advises. “Only use permanent hair color if you are going lighter or for gray coverage. If you are touching up your gray hair, then only use permanent hair color on the regrowth section of your hair. Using the same color on your ends will dry out your hair."

“[U]se a semi- or demo-permanent hair color to refresh your mid-lengths and ends. Just make sure the gloss is two to four shades lighter. Ends are more porous and will absorb more color. You want your roots to be a few shades deeper than your ends. Only refresh the ends if they look faded. For women with jet-black hair and brunettes trying to cover gray, you can achieve this with permanent color to swell the cuticle to deposit color. If you don’t have any gray hair and just need to touch up your roots, go for a demi-permanent shade since it’s much gentler on your hair.” says Papanikolas. 

“My suggestion is to always go one shade lighter,” says Casey. “This will always save you in the event that the color doesn’t come out quite perfect. Going too dark will make your hair color a little dense and artificial-looking. If you’re simply touching up your roots, most product lines have great root touch-ups that can take as little as 10 minutes. “

Make Sure You Have Enough Color

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Faith Xue

“Usually two boxes are enough for regrowth,” says Papanikolas. “You don't want to run out of color halfway through, and adding more color doesn't make it darker, it just gives you better coverage when it's fully saturated.”

Use A Tint Brush Instead of a Bottle Applicator

"At-home hair color products usually come with a bottle applicator,” says colorist Andrea Jaclyn of Bomane Salon. “I suggest buying a tint brush. The application is so much easier. Once you have your tint brush and you’ve mixed your color according to the directions, start applying. You ideally need to get it on in 15 minutes. I start in the front, by the time you get halfway done, you're tired and the color has lost a little strength. I’d rather have the color look perfect in the front, so start by painting color down your center part. Take the end of your tint brush and take a small horizontal section and flip it over. You should be able to see the color through the section. Paint the color on the new part of your hair until the end of the regrowth. Then, section again. Paint the color upward and downward on each new section. In the back, it's easier to take horizontal sections.”

Go to a Professional Colorist for Colorful, Platinum, and Highlighted Hair

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Imaxtree

“These colors are very difficult to achieve on your own because they require pre-lightening treatments, which means the hair has to be stripped of its natural color before these colors can go on top,” explains Casey. "It’s better left to a professional.”

Highlights are much more complicated and should really only be done by a professional since it usually requires bleach lightener to get the ideal tones,” Papanikolas agrees. "The timing is very important. Leaving the dye on too long will over-process your hair and make it too light while taking it off too early will make leave it looking brassy and orange". 

“In terms of platinum blonde, the chance for damage and breakage is very high, even when done by a professional. This absolutely should be done by a professional. Naturally, dark hair can take multiple sessions to get the right blonde shade. When you do touch-ups, you need to only touch the regrowth. If you overlap, then your hair will break off. That's why it’s only suggested to do by a professional.

"Bright colors look best on pre-lightened hair, which is also a tricky process that should be done by an experienced colorist. If you're going for reds and magentas, then you need to pre-lighten your strands to an orange tone. If you want pastel, green, or blue hues, you need to pre-lighten to a very pale blonde first and then deposit the color. These colors fade very fast so you will need to spend a lot of time refreshing the bright colors.”   

If You Don’t Like Your Color, You Can Fix It

“If it's too dark, wait,” suggests Papanikolas. “Color tends to fade and change the first two weeks, so it’s best to see how it evolves. If you still hate it, go to a salon. The correction process requires you to strip the hair and remove color.”

Casey suggests using a color-lifting product called Oops if you're not pleased. “It’ll lift some of the color you just put on your hair. It’s strong, so you have to couple them with a lot of conditioner to remove color that you’ve already done,” he explains.

Use Moisturizing Products to Maintain Your Color

“Hair grows a quarter of an inch between every three to five weeks, so however magnificent your hair color is, you’re going to have that amount of re-growth between three to five weeks,” explains Casey. “Purchase a clear gloss in the drugstore to seal color, and a good shampoo and conditioner. I love Oribe shampoo and conditioner because they’re rich and moisturizing products. Kerastase intense hair mask can often mask damage done by over-coloring.”

Papanikolas suggests using a color-safe shampoo like Biolage R.A.W. Recover Shampoo with no sulfates. “This helps keep the color vibrant longer,” he says.

Color Oops Removal $10
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Gold Lust Repair & Restore Shampoo
Oribe Gold Lust Repair & Restore Shampoo $49
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Gold Lust Repair & Restore Conditioner
Oribe Gold Lust Repair & Restore Conditioner $52
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Kérastase Hair Mask $53
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John Frieda Color Refreshing Gloss $7
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Matrix Bond Ultim8 $13
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Biolage Raw Recover Shampoo and Conditioner $32
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