The Best Tips and Products for Nailing Salon-Worthy Color at Home
Consult this guide (jam-packed with pro tips and products) before, during, and after you DIY.
Whether your busy schedule is keeping you from booking an appointment with your stylist, you’re practicing social distancing, or your favorite salon is closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic (whatever the reason, really), you can totally maintain your hair color at home — without messing it up, promise.
If you’re needing to touch up your roots, refresh dull color, or even want to give your tresses a bold makeover, luckily, it’s not as intimidating or difficult as you might think to DIY. Today’s at-home hair color dyes are easy to use and offer a quick, affordable way to revamp your look without spending a fortune or having to pencil in time at the salon. Plus, if you’re on a budget, you don’t need to spend hundreds of dollars at the hands of a professional to get salon-worthy results — you can get all-over pigmented color or cover up grays for $20 or less at home (and some beloved box dyes start at just $3). However, before you get started, you might want to schedule a virtual appointment with your colorist to get their advice. (Related: Must-Have Products for Anyone That Colors Their Hair)
Ready to take matters into your own hands? Ahead, top stylists offer their tips and tricks for achieving the best at-home hair color — plus, check out the tried-and-true hair dyes Amazon shoppers swear by.
How to Buy At-Home Hair Color
First, it helps to know what the different types of at-home hair color are.
Permanent: 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.
Demi-permanent: 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.
Semi-permanent: For a more temporary fix, try a semipermanent formula, which coats strands with pigment that fades after six to 12 washes.
1. 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.
2. 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. (Related: What Is a Hair Gloss Treatment, Anyway?)
3. 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. (Related: The 9 Best Purple Shampoos to Cut Down On Brassiness)
4. Double Up
"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."
How to Apply At-Home Hair Color
First, make sure your hair is ~ready~. 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. (Related: The Best Sulfate-Free Shampoo, According to Experts)
When your hair is the right amount of dirty, 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."
Applying the Dye
Ready to apply the dye? Pro tip: First, 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."
Apply according to the directions on the box, and be sure you 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."
And don't forget to look at the rear view. Can't enlist a friend's help? Grab that hand mirror to see what's going on in the back.
Note: If you're just targeting regrowth or covering your roots, 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. (Related: The Best Root Touch Up for Covering Grays or Grown Out Highlights at Home)
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. 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. (Related: How to Make Your Hair Color Last and Keep It Looking ~Fresh to Death~)
The Best At-Home Hair Color Products
Revlon Colorsilk Beautiful Color
Amazon's number one best-selling product in the "hair color" category, Revlon Colorsilk Beautiful Color (Buy It, $3, amazon.com) is a permanent at-home dye that's garnered more than 13,000 five-star ratings. The ammonia-free formula (meaning, it won't damage or dry out your strands) is enriched with keratin and silk amino acid and offers natural-looking, long-lasting coverage — even for those with gray locks. Plus, there are 41 shades available, so you're bound to find the perfect hue.
Clairol Natural Instincts Semi-Permanent Hair Color
Another top-seller on Amazon, Clairol Natural Instincts Semi-Permanent Hair Color (Buy It, $21 for 3, amazon.com) is made with 80 percent naturally-derived ingredients, including coconut and aloe vera. It's formulated without ammonia and parabens, adds shine, covers grays, and is ideal for those not ready to full commit to a new color, since it only lasts 28 washes. One Amazon shopper says it's been their favorite for years and loves how it offers natural-looking color and fades well.
Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Color Creme
Looking for a kit that moisturizes your locks while refreshing color? Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Color Creme (Buy It, $8, amazon.com) should be your go-to. The permanent hair color creme is packed with nourishing shea butter and olive and avocado oil, and also comes with a grapeseed fruit oil ampoule that you simply snap and pour directly into the mix. As an added bonus, the kit includes a post-dye conditioner to hydrate strands after they process. One five-star Amazon reviewer claims it's the best affordable hair color out there.
L'Oreal Paris Excellence Creme Permanent Hair Color
This permanent hair creme is no match for stubborn grays — if that's your goal. The triple protection system in L'Oreal Paris Excellence Creme Permanent Hair Color (Buy It, $9, amazon.com) is infused with ceramides, pro-keratine complex, and collagen to moisturize, strengthen, and protect your hair before, during, and after coloring. It's earned an impressive 4.5-star rating from Amazon customers, being touted for providing "consistently excellent results" and offering great coverage for grays. One happy super fan says they've been using L'Oreal hair dye to color their tresses for nearly 20 years, and they have "no need for salon color at all."
Arctic Fox Vegan and Cruelty-Free Semi-Permanent Hair Color
If your #hairgoals consist of cotton candy pink, mermaid teal, or any highly-pigmented shade, direct your attention to Arctic Fox Vegan and Cruelty-Free Semi-Permanent Hair Color Dye (Buy It, from $13, amazon.com). The conditioning formula is made without peroxide or ammonia and can last 4-8 weeks, depending on your hair-care routine (so you can easily have some fun with very little commitment). One Amazon reviewer said it worked perfectly on her unbleached hair, while another wrote that it helped this "old lady get her groove back."