Your Guide to Coloring Your Hair at Home

Do you remember the first time you saw a gray strand of hair and freaked out at the thought of your hair going gray? While Millenials and Generation Z may think that gray or silver hair is chic and trendy, for us older folks, we try to avoid it at all costs. Sure, we love going to the salon, there’s something so relaxing about having a hairdresser style your hair and don’t even get us started on the wine and tasty treats that come along with it. But what we don’t love is the cost of coloring our hair, especially if it’s to cover up just a few gray strands. Or if we want to change up our hair for the new season, like a darker fall hair color or brighter summer hair color.

The average cost for highlights or hair coloring is between $60 to $150 depending on the salon, the length of your hair, and if you’re getting partial or full highlights. But the prices can easily go over $500. For more complex styles like balayage, babylights, or ombre you’re looking at spending between $100 to $150, minimum. And that’s not even including the 20% tip you had to pay your stylist. Your colorist has years of training and experience and knows how to mix and customize hair dye, but it comes at a high cost. If you don’t have the time or money to go to the salon, you can dye your hair yourself with box dye which costs as little as $5. Now that’s a lot of savings! If you’re new to box dyes, we have some tips, tricks, and the best products to make the whole process easier.

Image via Imfoto/Depositphotos

How to Do It

Let’s start off by saying, for drastic looks, you should save those for a professional colorist at a salon. Going from black to blonde or red to brown isn’t a one-step process, it requires multiple steps and if you do it wrong, you can damage your hair. When you’re dying your hair yourself, it’s best to stay within two shades lighter or darker of your current hair color. The result will end up looking somewhere between your natural hair color and the photo on the box. If you’ve recently relaxed or permed your hair, avoid dying it because the process will cause damage. Wait at least seven days until you apply color and don’t leave the color in as long because treated hair processes color more quickly.

Step 1: Choose Your Shade

When you get your hair done at the salon, your colorist combines many dyes and developers to get the shade you want. With box dye, there is only one dye and developer, so there’s no way to customize the color to fit what you’re looking for. It’s important to be realistic with your expectations and to ignore the color swatches on the back of the box. To find the ideal shade, look for those closest to your current one. As we said earlier, stick within two shades lighter or darker than your natural color. Also, shades labeled warm or golden often turn out being orange so to be on the safer side, opt for cool or neutral shades, especially if your hair has any red tones in it.

If you have a few roots of gray hair, but not enough to dye your whole head, you can use a root touch-up kit, which has a comb to help you target your roots, or concealer sprays like dry shampoos, that will temporarily tint your hair until you wash them out.

Step 2: Semi-Permanent, Demi-Permanent, or Permanent

Once you’ve selected your color, it’s time to decide if you want semi-permanent, demi-permanent, or permanent dye. Semi-permanent hair dye lasts about 15 washes and there’s no developer, no hydrogen peroxide, or chemicals—it sits on top of your hair. Demi-permanent dye blends a new color with your natural color, but it won’t cover grays. It will make your existing color richer and shiner for three to four weeks, while covering up your roots. Permanent dye has ammonia and hydrogen peroxide which penetrates deep into the cortex of your hair for long-lasting color that will slightly fade over time and needs to be touched up every four to six weeks. Make sure you buy two boxes of dye, especially if your hair is thicker or longer shoulder-length or longer hair—the last thing you need is to run out of dye halfway through the process.

Step 3: Prep

To make sure the process goes smoothly, don’t wash your hair for three days so the natural oils can protect your scalp from chemicals in the dye. Apply some Vaseline around your hairline and on your ears to prevent the dye from staining. Also, to avoid staining your clothes, put on an old robe, button-front shirt, or go naked, so when it’s time to rinse the color out you won’t have to worry about ruining your clothes. Make sure you cover the floor and sink with newspaper or garbage bags to prevent the dye from damaging surfaces.

Step 4: Follow the Box Dye Instructions

Even if you’ve dyed your hair before, you need to read through the instructions as every dye has its own unique set of instructions. After you’ve mixed your dye, you’ll usually shake up a bottle of color and developer, toss on a pair of gloves, and begin dying your roots. Your roots need the most time to develop, especially if you’re covering up stubborn grays, so you’ll want the dye to be on them the longest. You’ll start from the top and make your way down to the ends.

To make the process smoother, we suggest getting a bowl and a brush, like colorists at salons do, to mix and paint on the dye. This is the least messy and it will ensure all of your hair receives the color. While your hair color is setting, use a disposable shower cap to prevent the color from dripping all over the place.

Step 5: Maintenance

To get the most out of your new hair color, avoid over washer your hair as water makes the color fade faster. Use dry shampoo at night to increase the amount of time between washes and add a filter to your showerhead to remove the chlorine, salt, and minerals found in the water. Also, use shampoos and conditioners labeled for color-treated hair; the shampoos and conditioners should say “color protect,” “color-preserving,” or “for color.” Ultra-hydrating masks or treatments can repair dry or damaged hair and they’ll make your color last longer. Another way to prevent your color from fading is to avoid the sun or wear a hat to keep your hair from lightening because the sun works like bleach, stripping your hair of artificial color and melanin that gives it it’s a natural pigment.