When to Color Your Hair at Home

Updated 03/27/19
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Home hair coloring can be a scary thing. So scary, in fact, that some people grow up being told never to touch their own hair and to always opt for a salon. However, it's a myth that doing your hair color at home is always bad or dangerous. You just have to go into the experience with a little knowledge. If you're covering some gray, or want to change your hair one to two shades up or down, or just want to change your tone, you can absolutely do it at home.

Home hair color (also known as hair dye or box color) can be purchased at your local drug store, beauty supply, or discount store. It's typically fairly inexpensive ($5.00 - $20.00) and it almost always comes with instructions on how to apply the color at home. The color is usually easy to mix with little to no measuring, and comes with no options to alter the pigmentation. The dye itself isn't very different from the color used by professionals in the salon. However, it is typically a stronger formulation than salon hair color because the color has to be strong enough to work on anyone's hair. This means the formula is the same, no matter how thin, thick, coarse, dark, light, highlighted, color treated, or chemically processed your hair is at the time of application. Box color doesn't discriminate.

It's crucial that you understand before getting into it that the color of hair on the girl on the box is not the exact color that your hair will turn out. That's a photoshopped image. It's approximate, and your real hair results will vary based on your natural hair color and tone, the condition of your hair, other color or chemical processes done on your hair in the past, and even the temperature at which the color processes on your head. Colors described as "warm", "honey", or "gold" are warm colors. Colors described as "ash" or "beige" are cool hair colors. "Natural" or "neutral" are right in the middle of warm and cool. Most people choose neutral and warm colors over cool hair colors. Warm hair colors have yellow, red, and orange undertones. Cool colors have green and blue undertones. 

If you're new to coloring your hair at home, you should choose a temporary, semi-permanent, or demi-permanent color whenever possible over permanent. It's like the difference between using a sharpie or a pencil on white wall. Sure, you can get the sharpie off, eventually, but the process is much harder than trying to get pencil off. And if it's your first time doing this, you might want to start off in pencil. Walk before you run. Home hair color can be messy. Get some old towels out (because they will likely get ruined), wear an old shirt that you don't care about, and watch for drips and spills. Hair color will stain just about anything it touches (even the semi-permanent stuff.) Do not wash your hair prior to coloring your hair. The natural oils on your head protect your scalp and help protect your hair from damage. Hair product is okay to apply color over. 

Purchase two boxes of color if your hair is long or very thick, to ensure that you get even coverage. If you don't use the second box, you can always return it or use it next time. Apply the product generously to ensure full coverage. Read ALL of the instructions prior to using the color. Then read them again. Call the toll-free number or visit the website listed on the box if you are at all confused. At the end of the day, it is far better to spend an extra 10 minutes reading the box than to spend three hours having your orange hair fixed.

Colors described as "warm", "honey", or "gold" are warm colors. Colors described as "ash" or "beige" are cool hair colors. "Natural" or "neutral" are right in the middle of warm and cool. Most people choose neutral and warm colors over cool hair colors. Warm hair colors have yellow, red, and orange undertones. Cool colors have green and blue undertones. 

Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, after the color is rinsed your hair just might not turn out the way you envisioned. $8.00 box or hair color can easily turn into a $150 (or more) fix real quick. Perhaps you didn't intend to have a purple hue to your blonde locks, or maybe the bright red glare of your "golden light brown" wasn't exactly what you thought was going to happen. It happens. Do not try to fix it yourself. Do not pass go, do not collect $200. Call your hairstylist. Explain what happened (be brutally honest), and then let her fix the job. Really.​

Professional stylists have a vast knowledge of hair color tones, levels, and how to achieve them. They learn every possible scenario that can make a great hair color, and they learn how to fix hair color that doesn't go right. While hair coloring is a science, it's not exact and even the safest hair coloring can go wrong with no rhyme or reason to it. When you have 50% or more gray hair, get a professional color service to be sure to you get equal gray coverage and that your hair doesn't take on any unwanted tones that commonly occur with gray hair. Similarly, any time you want to make big changes to your hair color, seek professional help instead of doing it on your own. Going from blond to brown on your own can give you a green tint. Changing your locks from dark brown to blond is a direct path to orange hair. Also, never dye over already-dyed hair, if you don't know what dye was used. It's not always clear how your new color will react with the old, and your hairstylist will know. 

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