Beauty

How to color your own hair at home without ruining it

Say goodbye to gray roots with a stylist's expert tips.

A photo of a woman dyeing her hair. Credit: Getty Images / mheim3011

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Getting your hair colored after your roots grow out feels like hitting a major reset button. It’s a task that, once complete, spikes your confidence. With hair appointments cancelled because of the coronavirus for at least six weeks now, it’s understandable to want to take control over your hair color by turning your bathroom into your own personal salon. Because this is foreign territory for many, we spoke with Marina Melnikova, hair stylist and owner of Boston-based salon Zenarose, to help you get a beautiful color at home—without a disaster that only a pro can fix.

Step 1: Consult your hair stylist

Consult stylist
Credit: Getty Images / dragana991

Your stylist knows your hair best.

No longer having access to your salon does not mean that your hair stylist has disappeared. In fact, the opposite: They’re sitting around at home just like you are, and most would be thrilled to hear from you. “Reach out to your stylist and see if they can maybe give you your [hair color] formula or a link to a product that they approve of you using,” Melnikova says. “It’s hard because everyone goes to different salons, [the salons] all use different hair color, and every client is on a different path. You just want to make sure that you’re not straying too far from the journey that your hair is on.”

In some cases, your stylist may be able to mix your custom formula together for you and mail it to you or arrange for you to pick it up, taking a chunk of the guesswork off your hands. (And, please, pay or tip your stylist for their time and effort, in addition to the cost of the color products.)

Step 2: Choose the right kind of color

Choose color
Credit: Getty Images / doble-d

When it comes to choosing a color, go darker and ashier for your roots.

The toughest part of the process, if you don’t have a stylist’s input, is deciding on a hair color product that’ll cover up grown-out grays and (or) blend seamlessly into the already-dyed rest of your hair. First things first: Bypass the drugstore boxed dyes and go for higher-end, reputable brands. “The problem with boxed dye is it’s very potent hair color,” Melnikova says. “It’s such a harmful product for your hair that, no matter what, it’s going to create color buildup from one application and then your stylist is going to have to correct it when you’re back.” Instead, Melnikova recommends buying from Sally Beauty or DP Hue.

Melnikova recommends that anyone who has more than 30 percent gray hair growing from their roots (take your best guess based on how much gray you see compared to your other hair color) only purchase “permanent” dye, which stays in the hair until you either chemically remove it or cut the hair off. Semi-permanent (also called a gloss) may be a great option if you have less than 30 percent gray hair growing and you want something to tide you over until you can see your stylist. You want to avoid using semi-permanent on roots that are mostly gray because the color either won’t fully cover the hair or it’ll develop into a color that’s not what you’re intending.

First things first: Bypass the drugstore boxed dyes and go for higher-end, reputable brands.

Semi-permanent dyes (which last about four to six weeks) won’t entirely disguise your roots (especially as the color fades away) but can diminish the appearance of a dramatic root line. Semi-permanent dyes are also great options for anyone who isn’t worried about roots growing in but wants to revive their hair color or tone it down. For example, someone who’s a brunette but wants a golden or reddish tone or who’s blond but thinks their hair is looking too yellow may opt for this option.

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When you’re looking for color to cover roots, lean darker and “ashier” (meaning less golden or reddish, unless you’re a redhead) than your dyed hair. Your roots are supposed to be the darkest part of your hair, so aiming darker should save you from ending up with roots lighter than the rest of your hair. When you shop at a place like Sally Beauty, dyes should contain “level” numbers, which refer to darkness, with “level 1” being pitch black, dark to medium brown in the 4 to 6 range, and blond starting at level 7 or 8. If you can ask your stylist or someone at your salon to look up your level in their database, go with that. If you have to guess what you are based on a color chart, level down one when you’re purchasing the product. If there are options for “warm” or “ash” colors, go for cooler, ashier side to prevent unwanted redness or brassiness.

Pro tip: “I would stay away from anything that says ‘natural’ or ‘organic,’” Melnikova says. “There’s no 100 percent natural product out there on the market. It just does not exist, so whatever additives they’re using in there, I personally don’t trust it.”

Step 3: Assemble the right tools

Mix color
Credit: Getty Images / Srdjian Pav

The right tools set you up for success.

The dye is the star of the show, but you’ll need a few tools to lend a helping hand. You’ll need a developer cream or liquid, which you stir into the dye to “activate” the hair color; a plastic or glass bowl for doing the mixing (some metals can react adversely with the products’ chemicals); a stiff-bristled, paint-like brush to apply the mixture to your hair; a tail comb, which has a pointed end that makes it easier to part the hair; and at least two clips to section off parts of your hair as you’re dyeing it.

For a developer, Melkinova suggests using a volume 20 for permanent hair dye and a volume 10 for semi-permanent (volume refers to how much hydrogen peroxide is in a developer and how well it lifts color). Ion’s Color Brilliance Sensitive Scalp Creme Developer comes in both volumes and claims to protect sensitive scalps with wheat-germ protein.

Oh, and you’ll want to search your closet for an old t-shirt that you wouldn't mind staining or a button-up shirt that you can remove before your shower without pulling it over your head.

Step 4: Apply with care

Dye
Credit: Getty Images / Mehmet Hilmi Barcin

Only apply dye to regrowth, not already-dyed hair.

The actual coloring process largely depends on the instructions on your dye’s bottle, including the ratio of dye to developer and the time period that the solution should sit on your head.

As for applying the color to your roots, Melnikova recommends erring on the side of only coloring what you can see, based on the style you normally wear your hair. If you prefer to wear your hair down, part your hair where you normally would and pin either side down with clips to keep the hair in place while you apply the color. From there, dab the dye in the direction of hair growth onto either side of your part and the tail-end of your part (only covering root regrowth). Then remove the clips and part the hair a half-inch over to the right, repeat the application process, then go over another half-inch to the right. Repeat this on the left side of your original part, as well. This will ensure that the inch surrounding your part is dyed, sufficiently covering any gray hairs that may show when your hair is down.

Once your part is done, pin your hair back so you can see the roots along your front hairline. Dab the solution onto the hairline, again taking care to only cover new growth and not overlapping with your existing dye job.

Having the very front of your hairline and your part covered gives the appearance of a fresh dye job, but if you make any errors, your hair stylist will have far less work to fix them than if you did the whole head “wrong.” If you typically wear your hair up, you can skip doing your part and go straight to the front hairline by putting your hair in a ponytail. Then repeat this process all the way around the hairline along your neck, using a mirror or someone’s help to get tough-to-reach spots.

If you really want to color all of your roots, you may, by continuing the parting and color-applying in the same manner as above, to each ear and all the way along each “part” from forehead to neck. (A word of caution: This is way easier to do with shorter styles.)

If you’re using a semi-permanent or “gloss” to touch-up all of your hair, you’re following a similar process, but brushing the product through your hair from root to tip. It’s best to take this in sections, beginning at the front and working backward toward your neck. This way, you can pin your hair up on the top of your head with a clip and add more and more hair into the clip (or use additional clips) as you’re applying the product, to avoid getting dye on your shirt or skin.

Once you’ve applied your last dab of color, set a timer for the time advised in the hair color’s instructions.

Step 5: Shampoo and condition thoroughly

Wash hair
Credit: Getty Images / Igor Vershinsky

Wash your hair thoroughly before leaving the shower.

When the timer sounds, it’s time to rinse it out. “You always want to shampoo really, really well,” Melkinova says. “Tilt your head back so the color is not getting in your eyes. Be very careful about splashing, because you can get color all over your shower.” Suds up your head twice and rinse until the water off your head runs clear. Apply your normal conditioner or a thicker conditioning mask (your preference), rinse, and style as usual.

You’re done! Enjoy your fresh new locks!

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