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How to Dye Your Hair Professionally at Home

Patricia Lantz C.Ht.
woman dyeing her hair at home

If you can't get to your hair colorist due to some sort of emergency or simply want to save a bit of money, dying your own hair can be an adventure. There are many pitfalls and things to take into consideration when it comes to do-it-yourself hair dying.

Step 1: Select a Color to Dye Your Hair

The first and most important thing a professional colorist does is help you choose a color that is doable for you and your hair. Below are some things you should consider before deciding what color to dye your hair.

Boxed Hair Dye

Don't take the color of the hair on the box literally. While the resulting color will be similar, boxed hair dyes as well as professional hair dyes often result in final hair colors that are a bit different on every head of hair.

Is Your Hair Virgin or Color Treated?

What's the current color of your hair and is it virgin or color-treated? Hair that is already dyed, and hair that has not been dyed (virgin) react differently. As an example, it's not possible to lighten hair that has already been dyed without using bleach to lift the previous dye.

Has Your Hair Been Treated With Other Chemicals?

If your hair is damaged or has been treated with other chemicals such as a relaxer or a permanent wave, it's more porous and is, therefore, more reactive to hair dye. To protect it from damage, it's recommended that you don't attempt to lighten your hair at home if it's been permed or relaxed. However, if you want to make your hair darker or brighter, a semi-permanent hair color works best because it does not contain ammonia.

Consider Your Hair's Texture

When dying your hair, the texture of your hair is a critical consideration.

Woman inspecting her hair texture in the mirror
  • If your hair lacks shine and is coarse, porous, unruly, or frizzy, it will absorb color easily and grab onto ashier tones. So, you should pick a color with warm undertones.
  • If your hair is shiny and its texture is fine to medium, the hair cuticle is closed down, it won't absorb color as readily and can result in a color that may be slightly warmer than you might want. If this is the case, you should choose a cooler shade that's a bit lighter than your natural color.

Step 2: Gather Hair Coloring Essential Supplies

In addition to the hair dye itself, there are a few other essential supplies you're going to need when coloring your hair.

  • A plastic bowl and hair color brush or a bottle applicator
  • A timer
  • Latex gloves to prevent stained hands
  • Comb, hair clips, and several old towels
  • Petroleum jelly or some other moisturizing gel to apply around your hairline to prevent the dye from staining your skin

Protect Surfaces and Clothing

Dying your hair is messy. Hair dye can stain surfaces, clothing, and skin, and it's often difficult, if not impossible, to remove. So protect your space and yourself.

  • Cover the floor and the countertop with an old plastic shower curtain, old bath towels or newspaper
  • Wear an old front button shirt that's easy to remove and that you won't mind staining, cover it with a hair color cape or wrap an old hand towel around your shoulders and clip it in front

Step 3: Understand the Basics of Applying Hair Dye

Below are a few basics for applying all hair dye.

  1. Shampoo and do a pre-color treatment to equal-out porosity a day before you apply hair dye. Don't wash your hair the day color is applied. Hair dye is applied to dry hair. Additionally, shampooing can be abrasive to your scalp and cause it to sting while the dye is on your head.
  2. Remove the tangles from your hair, but avoid brushing and irritating your scalp.
  3. Divide your hair into four sections by creating a center part that runs from your forehead to the back of your head, then divide those two sections from crown to ear. Hold the sections apart using hair clips.
  4. Apply the petroleum jelly to your hairline to prevent staining, but don't get it on your hair.
  5. Never comb hair dye through your hair, always use your fingertips.
  6. Never bunch your hair on top of your head when there's dye on it, keep it separated so the entire length can get enough air to process the color correctly.
Dividing hair of woman in sections with clips

Hair Color Retouch Steps

Hair that is already colored and only needs the roots touched up with the same color is the easiest to do and maintain at home.

  1. Mix your boxed hair color according to the enclosed directions.
  2. Apply the color only to the regrowth and stay organized to make sure you don't miss spots.
  3. Work through the four sections from front to back by making small parts in each section with the tip of the bottle, your hair color brush or a comb.
  4. Apply the color to the scalp and bled up through the regrowth with your fingers.
  5. Leave the color on for the prescribed amount of time, usually 30 minutes.
  6. Mix the remaining color in the bottle or bowl with some shampoo.
  7. Apply this on the rest of your hair with your finger and leave on for the final five minutes.
  8. Add a bit of water to create a lather then rinse the hair dye off until the water runs clear, shampoo twice and apply conditioner.

Process to Dye Virgin Hair

Virgin hair can be taken both lighter and darker with hair dye. However, a good rule of thumb is not to attempt a dramatic color change at home. It's best to select a color that's no more than two shades lighter or darker than your natural hair color.

  • If you don't want to change the color of your hair and only want to cover white hairs, select the color that most closely matches your natural color.
  • If your changing the color of your hair, check the colors on the side or back of the box; this can give you an approximate example of how the color will look when you're done.
  • If you're in doubt about what color of dye to use, most boxed hair colors have an 800 number that you can call for any hair color questions.

Test the Color

If you're worried about the outcome, test the color.

  • Place a small amount of your chosen color on a piece of hair from behind your ear, apply the dye from root to end, and leave it on for a couple hours before washing it off.
  • Wait 48 hours to see the results before proceeding. This test can give you a fairly good idea of how the color will process from root to end when you dye your entire head.

Steps for Applying Dye to Virgin Hair

Applying color to virgin hair is different from a simple retouch. It's different because the heat from your head makes the color process faster at your roots than it does on the rest of your hair. Which means you start with the hair shaft and save the roots for last.

Woman dyeing her brunette hair
  1. Start by applying the dye an inch or two away from the scalp on the hair shaft and ends.
  2. Wait about 15 minutes, then apply the color to your roots.
  3. Work the color on the two sections together with your fingers.
  4. Continue on as you would with a color retouch (see above).

A Professional Trick

Professionals often finish up a dye job with a color glaze in a lighter shade than the dye. After the dye has been thoroughly removed, the hair is towel dried, and the color glaze is applied to the damp hair, left on for 10 minutes and rinsed off. A color glaze adds shine and dimension to dyed hair. This is an additional step that is easy to do at home.

Be Meticulous

Even if you'd prefer to go to a salon, dying your hair can be fun and games if you don't get sloppy. It's imperative that you pay attention from start to finish. Carefully follow the steps above and make sure you're particularly meticulous when applying the dye to avoid uneven coverage and missing spots. Don't take short cuts. Have your timer set because leaving hair dye on for too long or not processing for the full amount of time can undermine all your efforts.

How to Dye Your Hair Professionally at Home