Hair coloring kits have come a long way from the inky, smelly potions that our forebears had to endure. What you’ll find on a modern drug store’s shelves are more akin to what your stylist would use–only the kit is vastly cheaper. A good part of the price you pay for salon color is for the stylist’s expertise, but by learning a few tricks, you can come much closer to replicating the salon look.
These tips are for single-process color only. More complex two-step processes that involve bleaching and coloring are for salon stylists to handle. Going from sable to platinum is strictly for the pros.
Every at-home coloring kit contains instructions on how to test for allergic reactions and how to prepare a strand test. Taking the time to do these tests according to manufacturer’s instructions will help keep both your hair and your skin safe.
Prepare to Dye
Just as a chef has to prepare her mise en place before beginning to cook, you should prepare your materials and utensils before any dye touches your head. Kits contain the essentials to get the job done, but here are some extras that will give you a more professional result:
- Thick cream or petroleum jelly to protect skin from stray color
- A hand mirror to allow you to see the back of your head
- A wide-toothed comb to distribute color through hair
- A kitchen timer or alarm clock
- An old toothbrush to cover fine hairs near your hairline
Prepare Your Hair and Skin
Color your hair only when it’s completely dry and relatively free of product. Wet hair dilutes dye and keeps you from getting expected results from your coloring kit, while styling products that coat hair may keep color from reaching each hair shaft evenly.
Dab petroleum jelly or cream along your hairline and the tops of your ears. This protective layer prevents any dye drips from staining skin and allows you to wipe away any spots before they sink in.
Mix the Color
Most permanent home hair coloring kits contain a bottle of developer and one of coloring agent. Some kits, including the L’Oreal Féria I prefer and which I recently reviewed, also include additives to enhance color or shine. Mix these elements immediately before beginning the coloring process and mix them thoroughly. Uneven color is a sure sign of a home job; shaking the color mixture until it’s blended completely is important to avoiding that streakiness.
As soon as your color’s mixed, start your timer. Most at-home coloring kits are set to develop within 20 or 25 minutes, but check the packaged instructions to make sure you have your timing right. This is especially important on previously-dyed hair.
Proper mixing is only half of the battle against uneven color; the other half is careful application. If your hair is virgin, you’re in luck; you can simply shampoo in the coloring agent and touch up as needed once it’s on. If your hair has been colored previously, you’ll need to take more care to ensure that the porous ends of your hair don’t absorb too much color. Heavily color-saturated ends look dull and monochromatic, a dead giveaway of a home dye job.
If your hair has been previously dyed, focus first on your roots. Using the nozzle of the applicator or your comb, draw a part from the crown of your head to your forehead, then make another part about half an inch to the side of that part. This will give you a half-inch-thick “slice” of hair to color. Apply the coloring agent to the roots only of this section. Repeat this process around your entire head, leaving everything but the roots dry and clean of color. If hair is thinner, take thicker sections; for thick hair, use thinner ones to ensure that your roots are completely saturated.
Now it’s time to go over your head with a fine-toothed comb–or more accurately, with a toothbrush. Use the dye remaining in the bottle to dampen the toothbrush and use it to “paint” the fine hairs along your hairline and near your ears. It’s easy for a stylist to see those areas of your head when looking down from above, but they’re spots that home colorists often miss. A redhead with a brown widow’s peak fools no one.
Check your work with a hand-held mirror and run the toothbrush along the nape of your neck to pick up any stray hairs if needed. Again, at this point only your roots should have color; the length of your hair should still be dry.
Time It Carefully
If you’ve previously colored your hair, wait until five minutes before the timer goes off to distribute color throughout the rest of your hair. Five minutes may not seem like long enough to infuse hair with color, but as the previously colored ends of your hair are so much more porous, they’ll soak it up quickly. Use your wide-toothed comb and your fingers to distribute the color, paying close attention to keeping everything evenly moistened with dye.
For previously undyed hair, just let your timer tick down the time recommended in the manufacturer’s instructions.
Most coloring kits suggest that you “rinse thoroughly” at this point, and they mean it. Really get in there and work the color out of your hair with your fingers and a spray attachment if you’re lucky enough to have one handy. Rinse your hair with lukewarm water until the run-off is clear. If you’re using a dark or vibrant color, it’s going to take a few minutes; be patient and be thorough.
If your coloring kit includes after-color conditioner, use it only after the water runs clear. You might be tempted to shampoo the last of the color from your hair before using the conditioner, but resist the temptation–shampooing freshly-colored hair can cause it to fade or turn brassy more quickly than it should.
Precise mixing, placement, and timing are key to getting professional results from home hair color kits. It may be a little more effort up front to protect your hairline, aim for the roots, and cover every hair, but it’s worth it when you see the finished product.