Consult this guide (jam-packed with pro tips) before, during, and after you DIY.
GETTING HAIR DYE AT THE STORE
Check for an expiration date
Some hair color boxes are stamped with a sell-by date, but others give away their age only by the amount of dust they accrue. If a kit is (or appears to be) past its prime, opt for a new one. “Color oxidizes over time, meaning the pigments may have already started to develop,” says Carlos Rodriguez, senior colorist at Sally Hershberger Salon in Los Angeles.
Stay within your range
When it comes to single-process color (one shade applied to your whole head), don’t veer more than two shades lighter or darker than your natural hue, advises Rodriguez. In doubt? Choose the less dramatic option—it will be easier to correct if you’re unsatisfied with the results.
Know how to decode dyes
Want a long-lasting effect? Opt for a permanent formula; thanks to the combination of ammonia and peroxide, it completely alters your tone and lasts until your hair grows out. Typically labeled as ammonia- free, demi-permanent tints contain low levels of peroxide, helping to enhance and brighten your natural shade; results last up to 30 shampoos. For a more temporary fix, try a semipermanent formula, which coats strands with pigment that fades after six to 12 washes.
Target silver strands
For minimal graying, use a demi-permanent formula in a neutral or ash tone that enhances your natural hue, says Rachel Bodt, a senior colorist at Cutler salon in NYC. (The shade names listed on the box will help you find the right tonality.) If your mane is more than 50 percent gray, use two boxes of permanent dye from the same color range—one warm, one neutral—and mix together equal parts before adding the developer.
“You might not use both boxes, but keeping an extra hair color kit on hand ensures you’ll have ample coverage for tresses that are super-thick or long,” says Erin DeVincenzo, director of consumer affairs for Garnier. “The spare one could even serve as a backup if you accidentally spoil or spill the first batch.”
BEFORE YOU OPEN THE BOX OF DYE
Wash, then wait
You don’t want hair to be too dirty or too clean. “The oils on your scalp protect it from irritating chemicals,” says Amy Tuszynski, a colorist at Primp Salon in Las Vegas. “But having excessively oily strands can also make your natural color appear darker, which may cause you to choose the wrong shade.” To get the results you want, shampoo strands 24 hours before DIY-ing.
Set out your supplies: a hand mirror, cotton swabs to wipe away drips, and a wide-tooth comb for even application. Also, wear an old shirt and remove the rugs from your bathroom floor.
“Coat your ears and the area along your hairline with a moisturizer to keep dry skin from soaking up the dye like a sponge,” says Rodriguez. “Then top it off with petroleum jelly to repel the color.” Also, have some lemon juice around, adds Bodt: “If you do accidentally stain your skin, dip a washcloth in it and rub in a circular motion until the pigment disappears.”
DURING THE DYE JOB
Divide and conquer
Section out an inch along your entire hairline and clip it off to the side, says Bodt.“Tackling that area last prevents the baby hairs from soaking up too much color, leaving a darker ‘halo’ around your face.”
Tend to regrowth
Use a root touch-up kit for quick and easy coverage. Or, take an unopened box of color you already have and apply it to the area in need; then douse the rest of your tresses with water and coat them with conditioner. This prevents the more-porous ends from grabbing excess dye as you rinse. To avoid that telltale line of demarcation, use this trick every other time you dye, combing it through only during the last five minutes of processing.
Massage it in
“Make sure to work the formula into your hair from root to mid-shaft to ensure even results,” says Bodt. “This is especially important for curlier types, who need to saturate their strands by rubbing the mixture diligently into the bends and coils of each spiral.”
Take in the rear view
Can’t enlist a friend’s help? Use a hand mirror to see what’s going on in back.
AFTER YOU’VE DYED YOUR HAIR
Most kits include a post-color treatment specifically formulated to smooth the cuticle and lock in luster. Don’t skip this step—it helps prolong your hue.
Let the color set
Experts recommend waiting 48 hours before shampooing so the cuticle can close completely. When you do suds up, “use a non-stripping, sulfate-free shampoo and rinse with cool water,” says Tuszynski. “Heat opens up the cuticle, causing the color molecules to slip out easily.” Translation: Your shade might fade quicker than it normally would. Finish with stylers that contain UV filters to help maintain your hair’s vibrancy.
These hotline helpers have heard it all—and can talk you through any dye disaster.