How to Dye Your Own Hair

Professional stylists have years of experience and expertise, but it can be challenging to get an appointment and sometimes more money than you want to spend. So, what is a person to do? Well, try coloring your own hair at home. It is better for your bank account and can be done conveniently in your own home. You don’t need any special equipment or training. Just follow this step-by-step guide that explains how to color your hair at home, and you will have the color you are looking for in no time.

First Step, Choose a Type of Hair Dye and Color

Difference in Hair Dyes

The first step is to choose what type of hair dye you want to use. There are three different types of hair dyes for the at-home colorist. There are permanent dyes, semi-permanent dyes, and temporary dyes. Permanent hair dyes will usually last around six weeks. Semi-permanent dyes have a shorter coverage period, usually about four weeks, but they will fade after approximately three weeks. Hair color will fade because semi-permanent colors do not penetrate the hair shaft, so the color doesn’t saturate the hair in the same way as a permanent dye. If you are interested in color for a shorter time, there are temporary dyes. Temporary color can last anywhere from one to five shampoos depending on the brand. Temporary dyes are similar to semi-permanent because they do not penetrate the hair shaft; instead, they are more of a hair stain that will wash out.

Picking a New Hair Color or Shade

After you decide the type of hair dye that is best for you, you can get to the fun part of choosing a color. Your natural shade will play a significant role in how your color turns out. It is easier to go from lighter to darker, but darker to lighter may not give you the exact color you are looking for. The box should have a color guide on the side that can gauge your color outcome based on your natural hair color.

Hair Color Swatches
Hair Dye Color Swatches

Keep Hair Dye Color Closest to Your Natural Look

If you want the most natural look, select a shade lighter or a shade darker than your natural color. Hair professionals don’t usually recommend going more than two shades at most if this is your goal.

Brand New Hair Color for a Brand New Look

Many people don’t worry about maintaining a natural look. Those with dark brown hair may prefer to have blonde hair, or someone whose natural color is blonde may want black hair.

If you have warm skin tones, many hairstylists and even celebrity hair colorists recommend sticking with warmer tones when selecting your dye. For cool skin tones, stick to cooler tones for your hair dye. Some boxes of hair dye will say whether they are cool or warm.

Warmer tones are those with gold tones, red tones, and orange tones. This includes shades like caramel, copper, brassy browns, and honey blonde.

Cooler tones are those with bluish tones, violet tones, or green tones. This includes shades such as ash blonde, black, sandy brown, and strawberry blonde.

The skin tone is the undertone of your skin, so you can be warm or cool no matter your skin shade. If you aren’t sure what your skin tone is, try the white t-shirt test. Put on a bright white shirt and look in the mirror. If your skin looks slightly rosy or blue compared to the shirt, you’re a cool tone. But if your skin looks more yellow than the shirt, you’re a warm tone. If you see some of both, you’re a neutral skin tone.

You can also get an idea by considering what types of jewelry and clothing look best on you. If silver jewelry looks better on you than gold and you look good in jewel-tone clothing, you’re probably a cool tone. Those who look best in gold jewelry and earth-tone clothing are probably a warm tone.

Dramatic New Hair Color Shades

For more dramatic shades all limits are off. You can select any color you like and make it work for you. Maybe you have a strong personality that you’d like to show off and would like a vivid color that will draw all eyes to you, or maybe you’d like something more muted while still having fun with the shade of your hair. 

Some people choose to match the color of their wardrobe. So if they wear a lot of red, they dye their hair a shade of red. If they wear a lot of blue, they go with blue in their hair.

Others find that matching their eye color is a flattering look. This works great if you like blue or green hair, but you’re not going to be able to go with any reds, pinks, or purples. Given the range of blue and green dye available, you’ll have a wide selection. 

The good thing about this is that you can try any color you like and see how it works for you. Before you commit to a more permanent solution, it’s best to try out new colors with temporary hair dyes or temporary color sprays. You can then find a permanent dye once you’ve found what works best on you. Like with regular hair dyes, there are some shades that may not work well with your skin tone.

Alternatives to Full-Color Coverage

Besides the permanent to temporary full coverage colors, there are also a few options for those looking for something different but do not want a drastic change. 


A highlight kit can give you a change of color without the total commitment of a new shade. Highlight kits are easy to use and come with all of the necessary tools to give your hair new life. Highlight kits let you add color to pieces of your hair, often to frame your face. They are easy to use and can give you a new but not so drastic look.

When highlighting, you can select whether to go with thick and bold highlights, delicate babylights, or anywhere in between. A huge advantage to highlights over full-color coverage is that roots are less visible and require less touch-up.

Root Kits

There are also touch-up kits to cover your roots. If you regularly color your hair, you don’t need to do a full color each time. You can simply touch up your roots every three to four weeks and cover the grown-out roots. Regular root touch-up is a great way to maintain your hair color without damaging your hair by going through the entire dye process each time. 

If you select a shade close to your natural shade this may not be as much of a problem. Where it really becomes an issue is if you changed colors. If you dye your dark brown hair blonde then you’ll likely wind up with dark roots in a couple of weeks, and natural blondes who go darker may have light visible roots in a short time.

There are also temporary solutions for root touch-up. You can use a root touch up spray to cover up your roots until your next wash. Another temporary option is root powder, which you apply with a brush or a clean mascara wand. And speaking of a mascara wand; mascara makes a great option for temporary root touch up for darker hair. 

Where to Buy Hair Dye

Boxed dyes are sold at drugstores and most supermarkets. They are generally more concentrated than salon dye as they are designed to work on any hair type. If you are looking for a wide selection of colors and don’t have hair issues such as thinning or damaged hair, a box dye can work great. L’Oreal, Clairol, and Revlon have great dyes with a large enough color selection that anyone can find a color they love.

However, if you have thinning, coarse, or damaged hair, a higher-end box dye might be a better alternative to a drugstore dye. Salon dyes for at-home use have become popular over the last year and include such brands as Madison Reed and eSalon. You can purchase these brands online. If you are looking for an in-store salon dye, you can check out ION or Arctic Fox, and both are sold at Ulta and Sally’s Beauty.

Tips for Prepping to Color Hair at Home

Buy Hair Dye Tools and Organize them for Easy Access

While most kits come with everything you need to dye your hair, it is sometimes beneficial to have some extra supplies, foils, or tools on hand. You may want additional plastic or latex gloves, for example, or a tail comb for sectioning. Some people use a cape to keep dye off of clothing.

Clean Hair Before Coloring

It is important that your hair be clean before you dye it. Dry shampoo and other hair products can react with the dye, and may prevent the dye from working properly. Some boxes of hair dye recommend you only dye dry hair, so if you have damp hair you may need to wait for it to dry or use a hair dryer before you begin dying. 

Do a Patch Test

Now you have the perfect color and the exact type of dye for you, and it’s time to color. Before you color, an important step that you shouldn’t miss is a patch test. A patch test can test the dye and make sure you will not have an allergic reaction. It is simple to do, just take a small amount of dye and put it on your skin, usually behind the ear or on your inner elbow. Then, let it dry and see if there was an allergic reaction. If, after the patch test, there is no reaction, you are ready to go. There are milder dyes specifically designed for those with sensitive skin, which you may be able to use if you get a reaction.

Follow Directions for Best Results

It is essential to read the box directions carefully and follow the instructions for the type of coloring you will do. For example, full coverage first-time, color can be applied altogether and let sit for the amount of time the box instructions recommend. However, if you are covering stubborn gray hairs or re-touching roots, you will want to apply the color to the root/grays first and let the dye sit for around 30 to 40 minutes (again, read the box for specific instructions). You can then brush the rest of the color through to the ends and leave it for an additional amount of time, generally 15 additional minutes. Processing time varies, so read your instructions carefully.

Many people have problems with uneven color. While boxes of color usually have clear instructions, most don’t mention dying hair in sections, which many hair professionals say is key to even coverage. Keep this in mind and consider sectioning hair before you dye it.

When you have finished dyeing your hair, you can rinse it out and use the shampoo and conditioner packets that are included in every home dye box. Then, dry and style as usual.

Correction Tips For the Home Stylist

Sometimes the color doesn’t come out quite as you imagined. You followed the instructions, but for some reason, the color isn’t right. So what do you do if the color comes out wrong? Here are some tips to help you fix common coloring problems. 

What to do if?

Your hair turns out too dark

This is a common mistake when the color is accidentally left on too long. The best way to lighten it is to wash it immediately with a clarifying shampoo or a color remover. You may have to wash your hair several times before you see it start to lighten up.

Your hair turns out too light

Another common mistake when going lighter is to go too far and lighten it too much. You might be tempted to buy a darker color to cover it, but this can lead to more issues if the tone is different. The best way to take care of this is to use a pigmented conditioner. Pigmented conditioner can help tone down the lightness and give it a richer, deeper color.

Your hair turns out too brassy

This is a fairly easy one to fix. Just follow up with a purple shampoo. Brassiness can be an ongoing issue, not just after coloring. It can come back due to excessive sunlight and even hard water, so each time it returns, wash with a purple shampoo to tone down the brassiness.

Your hair turns out too green

Green tinted hair is a common mistake when blondes go for a darker color with an ashy tone. The result can lead to a greenish hue. The best way to fix that is using a red hair dye to cancel out green. Choose a red shade that matches the tone, and make sure to wait two weeks until it’s safe to dye your hair again.

Your hair turns out too orange

Another common mistake happens when using a lighter shade than your natural hair color. The lighter shade grabs onto the roots but doesn’t cover the rest of the hair evenly, causing an orange tone, which is usually a darker orange at the roots. The best way to remedy this is to use a violet gloss to neutralize the orange.

Your hair looks one-dimensional

The best way to fix a one-dimensional flat hair color is to add some curls or waves that will create shadows on the hair and look more natural. You can also try a highlight or accent spray to give it more depth.

Your hair looks uneven

If your color comes out darker in some areas than others, scrub the darker areas with clarifying shampoo until they lighten to the same shade as the lighter areas. This may take a few days. You can also go to an expert colorist to have your hair bleached to an even base color and dyed again. Do not try to bleach color-treated hair at home, it can cause damage.

Hopefully, you won’t fall prey to these color catastrophes, but mistakes can happen. These are great tips to try at home, but you can always contact your local stylist to help if all else fails.

Cleaning Up After Dying Your Hair at Home

How to Clean Hair Dye Off Skin

If you get color on your skin, soap and water should do the trick to remove any excess dye. However, the best way to avoid getting dye on your skin is to cover exposed areas like your forehead, neck, and ears with petroleum jelly before you apply the color. This will protect skin from dye, so any that makes it past your hairline won’t stain.

How to Get Hair Dye Off Clothing

If you accidentally get hair color on your clothes, you should immediately wash with cold water and apply a stain remover. It’s a good idea to use a plastic cape or wear old clothes when coloring at home just in case color drips on your clothes.

How to Clean Bathroom After Dying Hair

After you color your hair, there might be some mess to clean up. The natural way to clean bathroom countertops, sinks, or the shower is to use a mix of baking soda, and vinegar. You may need to scrub the stains with a sponge rather than just wiping them up. Another alternative would be the Mr. Clean Magic Eraser and water to get hair dye stains up quickly. The sooner you do it, the better, before the stains are set. 

What Should You Expect to Pay for Home Hair Color?

Home hair color can range anywhere from 10 to 30 dollars per box or kit, depending on the type of dye, where you buy it, and whether it is a popular name brand like Manic Panic or a generic brand. Some online brands like Madison Reed offer a membership club. As a member, you receive discounts, and every eight weeks, a box of color lands in your mailbox.

Apart from the actual color, there are one-time purchases that can make your home hair color experience better, such as a towel or plastic cape to protect your clothes from the dye. And a wide-tooth comb for brushing the color through and a hair color application brush if you prefer to apply color with a brush rather than the applicator bottle that comes in every box.

Alternatives to Boxed Hair Color

There are some great alternatives to box hair color that you can try at home.

Henna to Change Color or Cover Grays

Henna is a popular natural hair dye made from the lawsonia inermis plant. It has been used throughout history for body art, staining material, and hair dye. Henna is a great natural alternative to chemical hair dyes. It isn’t as harsh on your hair follicle and washes out gradually over anywhere between two and four months. Another benefit of using henna is that there is no problem with grown-out roots because the color slowly fades. Henna is an excellent option if you want a more natural approach to hair dye and choose a darker shade than your natural hair color. If you’re going to lighten up your hair, blonde henna called cassia can brighten up your already blonde locks. And if covering grays is your goal, then you should look for a henna mix that includes indigo for the best results.

Lemon to Lighten Hair Color

Another natural lightening method is to apply lemon juice to your locks and spend a little time in the sun to get a naturally lighter and blonder look.  It’s a safe and time-tested method to lighten your hair. 

Carrots to Tint Hair Red or Orange

You can use carrot juice to add a reddish-orange tint to your hair, or beet juice to add a darker red hue. Just mix the juice with some olive oil, apply to your hair, cover your hair in plastic wrap, then let it sit for at least an hour before rinsing with apple cider vinegar.

Coffee to Darken Hair Color

A subtle technique to darken hair is to use coffee. Brew a very strong cup of coffee using at least two tablespoons of ground coffee per half cup of water. Apply that mixture to damp hair and let it sit an hour before washing out. This won’t last long, but it will darken your hair a little if you want to give it a try on a temporary basis.

Kool-Aid to Change Hair Fun Colors

If you want to go darker or even try a red hue, you can use Kool-Aid as a hair color. It’s a fun way to try something new with zero commitment because it will wash out easily in a couple of shampoos.

Going to a Professional Colorist vs Dying Hair at Home

If all of this seems daunting to you or you worry you may mess it up, you can go to a hair salon to have your hair dyed. It’s more expensive, averaging around $50-80 for simple single-color dyes and $150 or more for complex jobs, but they will handle everything for you and make sure it is done right.

Tips to Prep for Professional Hair Color Appointment

  • Do not shampoo your hair for 24-48 hours before getting your hair dyed. The shampoo removes natural oils from your scalp, and those oils prevent skin irritation during the process. 
  • Don’t use a curling iron or straightener to style your hair before going. It can dry your hair and affect how the dye works. You may get brittle strands and the color may not be as vibrant as it would otherwise be.
  • Use a deep conditioner a few days before you go. Dyes usually dry your hair somewhat, and this will help protect it. It also helps ensure a more even and uniform dye. 
  • Expect to be there a while when you go to a professional colorist. The whole process could take hours, so plan for that. Bring something to snack on. And keep in mind that going lighter than your natural color can take multiple visits.
  • Do not wear your favorite outfit when getting your hair colored. Not only is it possible that something could get on it while dying, but the dye may also bleed onto it a little while changing out of it later on. 
  • When you go, bring plenty of inspirational photos. While you’re never going to look exactly like your favorite celebrity, if you bring pictures of their hair then your colorist can get an idea of what shade you’re looking for. Magazine photos or hair color pictures you have pinned on Pinterest are a great way to make clear what you’re after.

Caring for Your Color

Taking care of your color is as easy as buying color-safe shampoo and conditioner. A good color-safe shampoo can extend the life of your color, prevent premature fading, and help keep your hair healthy. Aim to use these products daily to keep your hair color safe from fading.

Another essential tip to maintaining healthy hair is applying a deep conditioning treatment to color-treated hair each week. Deep conditioning treatments are a quick, usually about two minutes, way to retain moisture in color-treated hair. Also, be careful with hot styling. Color-treated hair needs to be protected from excessive heat. When styling, be mindful of how hot the hairdryer is and use a curling iron or flat iron on a lower setting to protect color-treated hair.

In addition to color-safe shampoo and conditioner, you can use a hair gloss. Hair gloss is designed to work with color-treated hair because hair colors and dyes can leave hair dry and dull. Hair gloss can repair that damage and give your hair a shiny boost. Gloss is sometimes confused with a hair glaze. While they both have the same end goal in mind, helping damaged hair, gloss goes deep into the hair cuticle and penetrates the hair to control any damage the hair has, and a glaze is a topical product that layers on top of the hair shaft. You can apply a hair gloss at home or go to your favorite salon to have it applied. For best results and to keep your color from fading too fast, try using hair gloss once a month.  It is an excellent addition to your hair care routine.

When you are ready to grow out your hair and go back to your natural shade, you will need to have some patience as the process can be slow. Touch-up sprays are an easy fix to help you through the grow-out phase. Touch-up sprays are a non-permanent solution to keeping a consistent color as you grow your hair out or while you decide on the next color to try.

Overall, coloring your hair at home doesn’t have to be scary and can be fun. Follow these tips and always follow the directions on the box of your home color to have the best home hair coloring experience.

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