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How to Dye Hair at Home, According to Colorists and Home-Dye Enthusiasts

Photo: Paramount/Rso/Kobal/Shutterstock

Some things that were easy to ignore at the start of quarantine might suddenly seem unbearable: the sound of your roommate chewing, uncomfortable WFH desk setups, and your roots, to name a few. While we can’t fix everything, there are plenty of at-home solutions to your hair. But before you buy a box of dye, “reach out to your colorist for any advice before, during, and after your home experiments,” stresses Amanda Power, founder and creative color lead of Power Hair. Colorists are the most familiar with your hair’s history, and many salons are even offering to custom mix their client’s color and ship it straight to their door. All of the colorists we spoke to shared the same word of warning, summed up by Power: “I encourage any and everything — except bleach!” Christine Thompson, master colorist and co-founder of Spoke & Weal, agrees: “I have seen so many mishaps. Unless you have some experience with bleach, you should leave this to the professionals.” To find out which products they do recommend, we asked Power, Thompson, and four other colorists (plus a few brave beauty experts who have tried at-home hair color) about the products they trust. Read on for the root touch-up kits, semi-permanent hair dyes, and tools that will turn your bathroom into a makeshift salon.

Best tools to dye hair at home

According to Thompson, “most at-home color kits provide all the tools you will need, like gloves, a bowl or bottle, and a brush.” In the event they don’t, Chelsey Pickthorn, founder of Pickthorn salon (who is offering at-home consultations), suggests the above products for a complete DIY setup. Having a bowl, brush, and whisk on hand to mix and apply the dye streamlines the process, while a shower cap and gloves keep the color from getting on your skin. Pickthorn also suggests keeping an old T-shirt or towel on hand that you don’t mind staining.

Best product to touch up roots

If your primary concern is covering up your roots, several of our experts said they loved dpHUE Root Touch-Up Kit. “I recommend the dpHUE touch-up kit over any store brand color,” says Thompson. As far as application goes, Thompson says you want to be as precise as possible. A small color brush is included in the color kit, or you could use a small paintbrush or makeup brush, she adds. She suggests painting the color onto the entire hairline, starting in areas with the most gray to ensure that it processes the longest. “DpHUE’s website also has good information and instructional videos,” Thompson notes, if you need any additional tips.

Best semi-permanent hair color

All the experts we spoke to were in agreement that sticking with a hair gloss is the most foolproof way to color your hair at home. Glosses are semi-permanent and will “give your color a boost of shine and depth,” explains Thompson, who suggests applying the dpHUE Gloss+ on your mid-lengths and ends. Power agrees: “This product acts like a color-depositing conditioner that provides incredible shine and added pigment.” All you need to do is apply the product to clean, damp hair, leave on for three to 20 minutes, and thoroughly rinse it out. The product lasts up to ten washes and can be reapplied as needed.

“I’d recommend oVertone hair-coloring conditioners for an at-home dye job, mostly because they’re not permanent but they’re pigmented enough to show up on darker hair,” says beauty writer Sable Yong. “In the past, I’ve mixed a blob of the purple shade with regular hair conditioner to tone my blonde and keep it from getting too brassy.” OVertone is also versatile: While Yong used it to tone her blonde, Blackstones NYC senior colorist and educator Patti O’Gara loves its Ginger color for redheads. “It offers a high level of natural redhead pigment, in addition to an extra dose of hydration,” she explains. And Emaly Baum of Suite Caroline (who also happens to be the pro Rio trusted to turn her dark-brown hair platinum) loves its color range. “They come in a wide range of cool, fun, funky colors,” including rose gold, magenta, and purple.

Kristin Ess is a celebrity colorist who has developed semi-permanent glosses for at-home use, says Power. “This will enhance brunettes and redheads and beat the brass from your golden-blonde locks.” Power says the gloss will last three to four weeks, depending on your wash cycle and shampoo of choice. But since it only takes ten minutes to process — and costs less than $15 a box — you don’t need to worry about reapplying once a month.

Best personalized hair-dye kit

If you want some professional guidance from the comfort of your bathroom sink, Color&Co. by L’Oréal is a good bet because it offers the option to video chat with a color expert who will then custom mix your color and mail it to you. While she hasn’t tried it herself, Yong says that “being able to talk to a color expert is helpful to navigate what kind of process would work best for you,” especially if your hair has already been chemically treated. The kit comes with everything you need: color, cream developer, stain block, stain eraser, instruction booklet, two pairs of gloves, a reusable brush, and a post-treatment replenishing conditioner.

Best product for dyeing your hair fun colors

If you’ve been noticing a lot of freshly dyed pink and purple heads on your Instagram feed and want to join, it turns out the best at-home hair dye for the job hasn’t changed much since you were in high school. “Manic Panic is, of course, a classic choice,” says Yong. “This is a fun time to try out fashion colors or fun colors,” if you have blonde hair or balayage, says Thompson, who recommends starting with pastels since they will fade “quickly and softly.” Pickthorn calls Manic Panic “fairly forgiving.” However, even after the color fades away, make sure you tell your colorist about it when you get back to the salon, since the pigment can still be present in the hair shaft. “I learned that from experience when I was going from what I thought was my natural hair to bleached blonde, and my colorist lifted my color to a bright salmon,” says Yong.

Best color-depositing shampoos and conditioners

Another simple way to deposit tone back into your hair is to use color shampoos and conditioners. “I love this as an option because it is low commitment, has instant results, and, most of all, is conditioning,” explains Pickthorn. Jehnna Foster, a stylist at Kennaland, calls Davines’ line “a great option” with “lots of room to play.” If you have naturally dark hair, she suggests using the chocolate shade “to richen up your highlights while keeping them toned. For medium brunette to dark blondes, she likes the tobacco color, which will not only tone and richen your highlights, but they will not cover them permanently, so there will be no drama with lifting once you can return to the salon, she promises. Plus, there are also golden, silver, copper, and red tones if you want a “fun change of pace without the commitment.” Foster also notes that the colors can be easily mixed to create custom tones.

Alyssa Sholl, master stylist at Hairroin Salon, loves Evo’s Fabuloso Intensifying Conditioner to “extend the life of your color and give you a boost” while you wait to see your colorist. “Fabuloso is offered in a variety of shades, both warm and cool, and offers an instant boost in color richness and vibrancy,” says O’Gara, promising the ultrarich conditioner will also deliver serious moisture, softness, and shine.

Best color-depositing mask

Baum is a fan of Christophe Robin’s line of color-depositing masks that deposit tone back to your hair while also nourishing and conditioning your strands. Pickthorn is also a fan and especially likes the Baby Blonde shade for blonde hair and highlights.

Best root touch-up spray

Photo: Courtesy the vendor

If at-home hair dye still feels too intimidating, there are plenty of temporary fixes to tackle your roots. “Root touch-up sprays are a day-to-day fix for meetings or for your own sanity” that wash out in the shower, explains Thompson. Four of our experts swear by Oribe’s root touch-up spray. “The powder formula quickly hides stubborn grays until your next shampoo,” promises Power, adding that “it will also absorb any dirt or oil for a refreshed, clean look.” And it’s simple to apply: If you know how to use dry shampoo, you can use this product.

Best root touch-up powders

Two of our experts also love Wella Insta Recharge Powder. According to O’Gara, it comes in five different shades, contains no damaging or pigment-altering chemicals, and will wash out with your next shampoo. “This is your best option for concealing the regrowth and avoiding a potential color correction at the salon in the future.” Unlike the Oribe above, you apply the powder with a brush. “It’s basically like makeup for your roots,” Sholl says. “You can even use it on your brows.”

Another popular option is Color Wow Root Cover Up, which was name-checked by two of our colorists. The powder and brush compact gives you “more control and less mess” when applying, says Baum. It comes in eight different colors, so it’s easy to match to your natural hair color.

Best drugstore hair dye

Jane Aldridge, style blogger and self-described “home-dye enthusiast,” has been dyeing her hair herself for years to cover gray roots that started coming in when she was 19. “It was so annoying having to go to the salon all the time, so I just started buying boxes of L’Oréal hair dye at CVS and never looked back,” she explains. Eventually, she discovered Garnier’s Olia Bold 7.40 Intense Copper to be the “perfect color” for her preferred shade of red. Plus, it’s only $9, and she says it takes less than an hour to do. “E. Jean Carroll has always said you become the captain of your own ship when you learn to dye your own hair, and her advice has never steered me wrong,” she adds.

“I actually already color my hair at home all the time, even without a global pandemic,” says Tyler McCall, editor-in-chief of Fashionista. “It does not get any easier or more foolproof than this foam hair color from John Frieda,” she says, adding that she can just about do it in her sleep now. The dye comes in 11 shades, ranging from medium natural blonde to luminous blue-black. McCall’s other tip: She dabs a little of Kiehl’s Overnight Mask on her hairline to prevent staining. “And skip shampooing at least one full day after, if not longer, and go as long as you can between washes.” She relies on Amika’s Perk Up Talc-Free Dry Shampoo to ensure her hair looks fresh while trying to maintain her color for as long as possible.

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How to Dye Hair at Home, According to Colorists