You're scrolling through Instagram, minding your own business — and suddenly you spot a photo of Ami and Aya Suzuki. Then, before you know it, you've ordered a box of hair dye for next-day delivery, and you're Googling how to dye your hair at home. Sound familiar? Before you break out the gloves and mixing bowl, there are some things you need to know. Ahead, The Zoe Report's handy rulebook for at-home hair dyeing, with must-have tips courtesy of industry professionals.
Assess Your Hair Before You Dye It — & Be Realistic
It may sound like a no-brainer, but DIY hair dye is much more complicated than finding a Pinterest picture you like and showing it to a professional. Do you want to cover your roots, or just tone blonde hair that's beginning to look brassy? Is your desired shade lighter or brighter than your current hair, and would you have to bleach your hair first before you apply box dye? Has your hair been chemically treated or processed before? All of these questions factor into the type of products (yes, plural) you might need to buy to achieve the color you're after.
"Before choosing your shade, be sure to have a realistic expectation of what you want your color to be. For instance, if you are a dark brunette, don’t expect to become a bleach blonde in one box application," Nikki Lee, Garnier celebrity colorist, tells TZR in an email. "One of the biggest mistakes you can make when dyeing your hair at home is trying to make a big change without understanding the way hair processes and what it actually takes to get to that color. It’s best to leave big color changes to the professionals."
Additionally, knowledge about your hair's current state is power. "The condition of the hair plays a huge role in the color result you will get. Hair that is dry, damaged, or fragile is considered porous and can take color differently than healthy hair," explains Deb Rosenberg — professional colorist and assistant vice president of education at the at-home hair color brand Color&Co — over email.
So, how do you figure out if your hair constitutes as dry, damaged, or fragile? "If your hair is past your shoulders or curly, it is likely dry. If you live for your flat iron or curling iron and are seeing split ends, it is damaged. If you bleach your hair or find that it breaks easily, it is fragile," Rosenberg notes.
Gather Your At-Home Hair Dye Supplies
Rosenberg says there are three vital products: Your chosen hair color, a developer to mix it with, and gloves. These three often come bundled together in box dyes — so read the fine print. There are multiple types of at-home hair dye you can buy, as well: "Educate yourself on the difference between permanent, demi, and semi-permanent hair colors so you can choose the one that is best for your needs," Lee says. (Look into color-depositing products like Overtone or hair gloss treatments for other options.)
On top of the hair color itself, pre-bundled box treatments often include extras; Color&Co's personalized Colorbox includes conditioner, a reusable coloring brush, skin-protecting Stain Block, and more. No stain block? "A quick trick if you don’t have a professional one is to use Vaseline or lip balm," Lee says.
"You’ll need to have a few supplies at home to ensure you have a quick and easy application," she adds. "I recommend using dark colored towels, as the color will stain. Gloves should be included, but it’s a good idea to have an extra pair just in case. Also, be sure to change out of any valuable clothing."
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General Rules Of Thumb For DIY Hair Dye
Rosenberg points out that "at-home hair colors often have a more viscous texture than professional hair colors," something that can make applying them easier. "Just because you see a professional colorist applying color with a bowl and brush, that doesn’t mean that’s the best method for at-home coloring products," she says.
Still, you can take a salon-like approach by considering how you slather on the dye. To avoid any all-over color looking "flat," Lee recommends applying it to your roots first, then running the color through your ends in the final 10 minutes of the recommended processing time.
"When you apply one shade all over your head every time you dye, it can cause your hair color to look flat. It could even alter the ends of your hair to a darker shade," she adds. "To make sure you create dimension, I suggest applying hair color starting at the back of your head first, and not the front. If your hairline has a few stray grays, don't touch them with color until the last five minutes before you have to rinse out the dye, because they'll grab too dye much otherwise."
Use the tools you have at your disposal to make this easier. "To reach the back of your head — the trickiest part — try using two mirrors so you can see what you’re doing. Don’t have a second mirror? Use the camera on your phone," Rosenberg recommends.
If You're Dyeing Your Hair Darker At Home
"There is no one-size-fits-all way to apply hair color all over. However, there are ways to apply that will help you get the benefits you are looking for. For example, if the main concern is gray coverage, start the application in the front or where you see the most gray; if you are going darker, start in the back," says Rosenberg.
Wondering how to proceed if you landed in that aforementioned dry, damaged, or fragile category? "When dealing with hair that is porous on any level, timing is key to coloring success. Color left on too long can create ends that are too dark, and color rinsed off too fast can fade quickly," Rosenberg continues. "Always follow the recommended instructions you receive for timing, and if you have doubts, test a strand of hair before rinsing. Use an old towel and pull a small section of hair from the back or side of the head and gently wipe the color off. Do this every five minutes to avoid under or over-processing."
If You're Dyeing Your Hair Lighter At Home
A word to the wise: DIY bleach — something typically required to achieve any shade lighter than your current one — can be a doozy. "In general, anything that involves bleach is not a good idea for a color novice without proper advice or guidance," Rosenberg notes. "All-over bleaching of your hair is very tricky. If you do not properly apply the bleach, or if you are applying over-compromised or previously chemically treated hair, you run the risk of your hair melting or breaking off."
That said, make sure to follow any instructions on your products if you do take the plunge. And you know how a colorist follows up lightening hair with a round of undertone-banishing toner? You'll have to do that at home, too.
If You're Adding A Color After Bleach
So, you still have your mind set on rocking neon-pink hair stat. Been there. However, don't make the same mistake I have if you're following up bleach with dye, regardless of how natural your chosen hair color may be. "Bleaching swells the hair fiber and leaves the hair in an alkaline state, even after rinsing and shampooing. It is for this reason that follow-up colors applied immediately can sometimes take unevenly," says Rosenberg. "If you have done a full head on-scalp bleaching and are going for a vivid or pastel fashion shade, you should definitely wait for 48 hours or more between applications. The longer, the better."
Not only does this reduce possible scalp irritation, but it also stabilizes the alkalinity of your hair according to Rosenberg. "The more even the alkalinity of the hair strand, the more evenly the color will take," she explains. However, you can skip the wait if you applied using an "off-scalp technique to only select strands," such as highlights or a balayage. "It is possible to follow up with a semi- or demi-permanent hair color right away since the likelihood of the color processing unevenly is minimal," says Rosenberg.