So you want to colour your hair at home? We asked pros for their best tips

Whether it's your first time or your 50th, these experts explain how to get more bang from a box dye.

Whether it's your first time or your 50th, these experts explain how to get more bang from a box dye

(Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

You may be wary of colouring your hair at home (especially if you have some  failed experiments from your teen years under your belt). Of all of the DIY beauty rituals out there, it can be one of the more stressful ones — being both tricky to manage and hard to correct. But now that we're all staying at home for the foreseeable future, and there's simply no way of getting to a salon for your regular root touch-up, here's how to do the bare minimum — if you feel you need to — until you can get back to a salon. And, in order to do it without regret, we tapped a couple of hair pros for their tips. 

If you've never coloured your hair at home, how do you pick the right shade?

"The very first step is to identify the final result you're aiming for," says Denis Binet, hairdresser, Clairol colour expert and owner of Montreal's V pour Victoire salon. "When thinking about touch-ups, this simply means choosing the shade [closest to] your previous one." Since your roots are where you see growth, you'll need to reference the colour of the rest of your hair (i.e. everything but the roots). 

"If you're doing home coloring for the very first time, and you've never had to pick your shade before, I always suggest picking a colour that's slightly lighter," says Binet, "as it's always easier to darken colored hair than it is to lighten up hair that's already coloured." Binet uses Clairol Root Touch-Up Permanent Crème by Nice 'N Easy, which is available in 30 different shades.

What are some common mistakes people make when choosing an at-home hair dye?

When you're ready to start browsing for an at-home hair dye kit, look for shades that are labelled 'natural' or 'neutral' rather than 'cool' or 'warm', says Garnier hair stylist Roger Medina. "These are the most neutral, universal shades, so they will [likely] complement most skin types." 

"The majority of customers gravitate toward warmer tones," says Medina. Unless you're a hair colouring pro and know from experience that warm tones are for you, you might not be doing yourself any favours by forgoing a neutral shade. Of course, both cool and warm hair tones have their benefits (cool hair tones naturally tone down brassiness while warm tones can warm up your complexion), but if you're going the DIY route for the first time, it's best to play it safe and go for a neutral-toned shade. Warm tones, especially, "can easily turn orange or yellow," says Binet.

Another common mistake? Not buying enough hair dye to cover the lengths of your hair, says Medina. A good rule of thumb is to pick up two boxes if your hair is shoulder-length or longer. 

Is this the time for a major hair makeover?

Unsurprisingly, the answer to this one is a resounding no. Instead, this is a great time to learn how to "touch up your roots or cover your greys," says Binet. "It is important during these challenging times to find new ways of keeping our self-esteem up and [setting aside time for] some self-care. That being said, I would not recommend exploring brand new colours or styles. Those are experiments you can do, stress-free, when salons re-open." It might be tempting, but hold off on any major hair colour changes and leave them to the pros. (If you're feeling restless, may we suggest you take up baking? Here are some recipes we love.)

So how exactly does one go about this? 

The first step, and one that people often skip, is to perform an allergy test 24 hours before you plan to dye your hair, as per the instruction sheet. This usually involves testing the dye on a small area of skin. "If you don't notice any skin reactions, you're good to go," says Medina. "Once you're ready to start coloring, apply petroleum jelly around the hairline to prevent [any] skin staining. Always have wet wipes or a towel on hand to immediately wipe off any excess color that has fallen onto your face, skin or surfaces."

"Section your hair down the middle towards the back of the neck" (as if you were following a middle part), says Medina. Then section off your hair going horizontally, from behind one ear to the other, creating four sections in total. "Begin applying dye around the hairline and all over the roots, working section by section to ensure even coverage." If you don't like applying with the bottle that comes in the box, or you're looking for a little more precision, you can use a larger makeup brush, such as a foundation brush, to apply at the roots, says Medina. 

If this is your first time ever colouring your hair (at all), you can do your entire head of hair at once. If you already have dye in your hair that's growing out and you want to touch up your roots, leave the dye on your roots and along your hairline for the suggested amount of time on the packaging (usually around 25 minutes) and then brush the dye through the remainder of your hair, all the way to the tips, leaving it on for 10 more minutes before rinsing it out. "We do this because roots are considered 'virgin hair' and need more time to process colour," says Medina. "Whereas the rest of the hair, which has already been coloured in the past, is more porous and will absorb colour more quickly." 

Don't forget the little baby hairs on the nape of your neck, warns Binet, especially if you often wear your hair up and the hair around your neck is visible. 

Are there specific colouring rules for grey hair? 

"Grey hair has no pigment in the cuticle and is coarse in texture, so it needs more colour pigments and time to process [the dye]," says Medina, so expect to keep dye on longer. His pick for grey hair coverage is Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Colour Crème which is formulated with avocado, shea and olive oils to dye hair without the drying effects. 

That's it! Rinse the colour out after the alloted time, condition your hair, dry, style, and snap a well-deserved selfie. 

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