The Do's and Don'ts of Dyeing Your Hair At Home

Updated 10/05/17

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!


Photo courtesy of Jamie Nelson/ELLE Mexico

dye hair at home

Do: Keep It Simple

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 an at-home coloring procedures,” he says. “Those should be left to the professionals.” 

Don’t: Start With Clean Hair

Make sure you wash your hair at least 24 hours before reaching for the box—doing so will help the dye penetrate, as well as protect your scalp from irritation. 

Do: Mind Your Skintone

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

Don’t: Lighten With Abandon

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.”

Do: Know Your Formulas

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

Don’t: Forget Your Tools

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 Colour ($111)

Vidal Sassoon Pro Series Hair Color ($9)

Garnier Olia Haircolor ($10)

L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference Mousse Absolue Automatic Reusable Color $15
John Frieda Precision Foam Colour $111
Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Color Foam Permanent Haircolor $9
Revlon Luxurious ColorSilk Buttercream Ammonia-Free Nourishing Cream Colo $6
Clairol Nice'n Easy Root Touch-Up $7
Vidal Sassoon Pro Series Hair Color $9
L'Oréal Paris Feria Multi-Faceted Shimmering Colour 3x Highlights Permanent $11
Garnier Olia Haircolor $10

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