Few things are as trying—and rewarding—as learning how to dye your hair at home. But as anyone who’s done it knows, there’s a reason salon appointments are so expensive. Coloring your own hair requires skill, dexterity, and a basic familiarity with science. To help, we’ve compiled advice from our favorite hair pros about every DIY hair decision, from allover color to subtle highlights.
Whether you’re going platinum blond or pixie-dust purple, there’s one hair color rule that remains the same: Always follow the directions on the dye box. Experts say not doing so is a top reason women wind up back at the salon for pricey fixes. So read the back of the box, and study up on our additional tips for how to color your hair at home in the following mistake-proof guide. But first, you might be wondering.
It’s generally safe to color your hair at home as long as you closely follow the directions for the products you’re using. That being said, colorist Lauren Grummel notes that both your end goal and the condition of your hair should be taken into consideration before you pick up a box dye kit at the drugstore.
“It’s not safe to color or bleach your hair at home if your hair has been through a lot of processes,” says Grummel. “Or if it’s very damaged to begin with. Be honest with yourself—otherwise your hair can break off.” She adds that touching up your grays at home is generally a safe bet, as is going two shades darker than what your base color already is. Anything else should be left to a professional, especially bleaching, which at best can be patchy, or at worst will cause chemical breakage.
Most important, if you do return to the salon, be upfront about any experiments you’ve done at home. “It’s super important to be 100% honest with your colorist with what you’ve done at home,” she says. “Zero judgment. We just want to be able to keep your hair intact and the best it can be.”
To get the exact results you want, pore over the “before” shades on the box labels when shopping—and make sure your starter color is a match.
Step 1: Don’t wash your hair for two days before you dye. “You want your scalp’s natural oils to act as a barrier against irritation,” says celebrity colorist Kiyah Wright. If you have supersensitive skin, add a packet of Sweet’N Low to the dye to help stop the drying effects of ammonia.
Step 2: Do a strand test first by applying color on a small section. This will help you work out timing. Your hair texture will factor in here: The finer it is, the faster it’ll lighten—you may need 5 to 10 minutes less than the box says; if you have coarse or dry hair, you can go by the recommended time.
Step 3: Read, reread, and follow the box instructions to a T. (Exception: Don’t apply color from roots to ends in one go; see step 4.)
Step 4: This tip helps get even color every time when you’re dyeing your whole head: “First, apply dye a half-inch away from your scalp and work toward ends—the heat from your head makes the color develop faster at the root,” says Wright. “Then, halfway through the processing time, go back and cover your roots.” When applying the dye, use a color brush to get more professional, precise results.