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Hair how-to: At-home hair color

At-home hair color may have its risks, but the benefits — convenience, not having to small talk with a guy named Enrique and, above all, price — far outweigh them. While every box of hair color has its own instructions, keep in mind these key tips to minimize risks when coloring at home.

Woman dying hair

Shade away

Stick to a hair color that’s just a shade or two away from your natural hair color. At-home hair color kits aren’t calibrated especially for your locks like the dye would be in the salon. You’re cruising for a bruising (or maybe just brassiness) if you attempt a drastic change in your hair color at home. You’re better off heading to a professional if you’re going for an entirely new look.

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Cover up

You’re just trying to color your hair, not your shirt and carpet, right? Get a smock to protect clothing you don’t want ruined and lay down a sheet to prevent drips from staining your bathroom floor. No matter how careful you are, it’s gonna happen. Trust us!

An artist’s drop cloth or a plastic camping tarp is perfect to protect your floor while dyeing your hair. The tarp can also do double duty on the floor when your kids are doing art projects at home.

Tool time

If home hair color is going to be a regular activity for you, consider investing in some professional hair color tools in addition to a smock or old t-shirt. The tools that come in the dye boxes can be flimsy. Your own bowl and dye brush won’t cost much and can offer much more precision and far fewer spills that the disposable materials provided.

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Head protection

Smear on a swipe of Vaseline by your hairline to prevent small drips from dyeing your forehead. Nothing says home hair color more than a hairline of dye smudges.

To remove any residual hair color from your skin, don’t use harsh soaps or detergents. Instead, try tea tree oil on a cotton ball. It also works great for removing stains from long-wearing lipstick.

Dye dirty

Don’t color your hair when it’s freshly cleaned. Dyes are made of chemicals that can irritate your scalp without the barrier of a little hair grease. A day or two of hair oil buildup will still allow the dye to get to your hair and shouldn’t affect color absorption in the actual hair shaft.

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Buy double

Especially if you have long hair, consider purchasing two boxes of hair color at a time. No one wants to be running to the drug store with half a head of in-process highlights because she ran out of product mid-dye. Most drugstores have generous return policies, and you can return the unopened box if you don’t use it.

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Test it

If you’re new to coloring your hair or even just switching to a new brand of hair color, take the time to test a small section of hair in an inconspicuous area. The extra time a test patch takes will be worth it if it saves you from an emergency trip to the salon in a ski cap.

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