At-home Hair Color

One of the best ways to stretch your getting-gorgeous dollars is by coloring your hair at home. If that sounds scary, relax: Today’s drugstore hair coloring products are gentler than ever and loaded with botanicals and conditioners. Following a few easy steps, you can use them to get natural-looking color as well as body and shine. 

Here are five secrets to foolproof at-home color.

At-home Coloring Secret No. 1: Stay within your color range.

Go only one or two shades lighter or darker than your starting hair color (the color your hair is at the moment). You don’t want to make extreme color changes on your own, because hidden beneath the shade that’s apparent to the naked eye are underlying pigments -- from pale yellow to dark red-brown. When hair is dyed, those pigments take center stage. “I can put the exact same color on seven medium brunettes, and they’ll each end up with different results because every woman's hair takes the color in its own way” says Philip Pelusi, who owns salons in Pittsburgh and Manhattan. That's called individuality, and it's something we all want to celebrate.

However, when you’re going from brunette to Lady Gaga platinum or vice versa, you first need to prep the hair by filling in the pigments that are being removed, or by removing pigments before depositing a darker color. This is what’s known as a “double process,” and it’s something you want to leave to the pros to avoid ending up with an orange or green hue.

At-home Coloring Secret No. 2: Choose the right formula.
Start out with a clear understanding of what you want to achieve, and that will lead you to the appropriate type of product.

  • Glosses and glazes work in just three to five minutes to boost color by adding tone, shine and vibrancy. They last up to six shampoos. If your hair is highlighted, opt for a clear gloss that will add shine without depositing a hint of color that can affect the tone of those finely calibrated streaks.
  • Semipermanent color contains pigments that coat the outside of the hair fiber and fade after six to 12 shampoos. Semipermanent color will only darken the tone of your hair and cover a sprinkling of gray.
  • Permanent color contains ingredients that open the hair’s cuticle, allowing the color to penetrate the shaft. It can lighten or darken hair and will provide full gray coverage. After four to six weeks, you’ll need a touch-up to cover showing roots.

At-home Coloring Secret No. 3: Select the right shade.
Josh Wood, a celebrated London hair colorist who looks after some of the most pampered locks in the world, has done many corrections on at-home dye jobs gone wrong. “Typically, women have simply chosen the wrong color because they haven’t identified their skin tone, and skin tone and hair color go hand in hand,” he says. “The right hair color will bring your skin to life, lending it that beautiful luminescent glow.”

You want to balance warm skin tones with cool hair color (look for champagne, ash and beige shades) and cool skin tones with warm hair color (look for cocoa, pecan, caramel, bronze, honey and chestnut shades). “The foundation you wear will give you a good indication of whether you’re cool or warm skin tone,” says Wood. “If you’re still not sure, ask for a color consultation at a cosmetics counter.”

At-home Coloring Secret No. 4: Read the hair color box.

The product box is crammed with information to help you make the right buying decision. Pay attention to the language: Words such as “bold” and “brilliant” indicate you’ll get more dramatic results than a natural “true-to-you” color. Study the color chart on the back of the box as a guide to the results you can expect, and read the ingredients list for things such as botanicals to nourish the hair.

At-home Coloring Secret No. 5: Don’t skip the strand test

Snipping and dyeing a few strands will give you a precise preview of how the color will look on your locks and how long you need to keep the product in your hair if you’re covering resistant grays. Remember, don’t start the timer until you’ve finished applying the color to your hair, and keep the product on for the entire suggested time.