The Dos and Don'ts of Dyeing Your Hair at Home

Anyone who’s ever colored her hair can attest that the even smallest bottle of dye wields enormous power. Case in point: a vibrant, multi-dimensional new hair color can soothe all wounds, while a botched dye job…well, we don’t even want to go there.

If you’re ready for a color change and the salon isn’t an option, there is another way to go: DIY-ing your color at home. We spoke with celebrity colorist Ramsay McLean from Kim Vo Salon (a favorite spot for celebs like Kate Hudson and Dakota Fanning) and asked him for his advice for anyone who’s considering an at-home dye adventure. Turns out, there are some steadfast rules that you should follow—click through the slideshow above to see what they are!

Which Color Techniques Are Best Done at Home?

When it comes to at-home color, McLean recommends keeping things simple, “At-home color can be great for touching up your professional color in between appointments,” he says. Try not to go more than one or two shades lighter or darker than your natural color—anything more, and you run the risk of splotchy, uneven color that can turn brassy, plus an expensive salon bill to correct the mistakes.

As for highlights? “Any form of highlighting, balayage, or ombré becomes too challenging for at-home coloring procedures,” he says. “Those should be left to the professionals.” 

Should I Wash My Hair Before I Dye It?

In short: No. The natural oils on your scalp actually serve as a protective barrier to guard against irritation from the chemicals in the hair dye. "Do not wash your hair before applying color," notes Millie Morales, Garnier Consulting Celebrity Hairstylist. "This will irritate your scalp and can become painful. The hair should be clean of product but not of your natural oils, as it acts as a protectant." If your hair is particularly dirty, however, just make sure that you wash your hair at least 24 hours before reaching for the box—doing so will help the dye penetrate without being too clean and vulnerable to the effects of the dye.

How Do I Choose the Right Shade?

When it comes to choosing a flattering boxed color, McLean says to keep your skin tone in mind. “If you have paler skin, go for color with warmer tones,” he suggests. “If you have olive to darker skin tones, ashy or cooler tones will compliment you.” How are you supposed to know what colors? McLean says most manufacturers will include these keywords in their marketing, so make sure to read the box carefully.

Which Undertones Are Best for Me?

Lightening your hair at home is risky because your color runs the risk of turning brassy. McLean says to follow two rules: first, your hair needs to be virgin hair—that is, it shouldn’t have any dye in it from a previous trip to the salon. Second, he recommends always choosing a color with the words “ash” or “cool” in the description. “You’re fighting red and orange undertones,” he says. “[If you do this], your results will be a more balanced color.”

Should I Choose a Mousse or Liquid Formula?

What’s the difference between a liquid dye and a mousse formula? McLean says mousse colors are more translucent, leading to a shimmery, iridescent effect after being applied. Liquid colors are typically more opaque or condensed and may lead to a more pigmented final look.

What Will I Need to Get Started?

When it comes to glistening, all-over color, it’s all about how you apply the dye. Instead of combing through with your fingers, which can lead to splotchy, uneven color, McLean says to use an application brush like the ones a professional colorist would use. Here’s a little secret: you can score them for less than a dollar at most beauty stores!

He also recommends gloves, clips to section off your hair, a barrier cream applied at the hairline to prevent staining, and a friend to lend a hand (who you’ll need when you’re craning to make sure you didn’t miss a spot).

Keep clicking to see our best at-home dye kit picks for shiny, natural-looking color!

John Frieda Precision Foam Color $12
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Garnier Olia
Garnier Olia $8
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Revlon ColorSilk
Revlon ColorSilk Ammonia-Free Color $3
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Clairol Nice'n Easy Root Touch-Up $7
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Vidal Sassoon Pro Series Hair Color $9
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L'Oréal Paris Feria Multi-Faceted Shimmering Colour 3x Highlights Permanent $11
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