Are you ready to learn how to dye hair at home?
Good, because today, you’re going to learn some expert tips from a seasoned pro!
Unfortunately, at the time of writing, most people are stuck inside their homes for an undetermined amount of time. Hair salons are closed in most states, and no doubt, this situation will result in many more at-home dye jobs.
…and honestly, I’m a little scared for some people.
But don’t worry… as long as you follow directions and use the right products, everything should be okay! As a blog that has a strong focus on DIY hair, I feel like it’s my job to walk you through these hard times.
So without further ado, here is the ultimate guide from an experienced hairstylist on how to dye hair at home!
💡TIP: Pin this article to your Hair Color board on Pinterest so you can always come back to it when you need to! 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼
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5 Steps To Perfect Hair Color
There are pretty much five things you need to do to ensure a perfect hair color application, and we’ll definitely touch on them in this guide.
- Formulate a Game Plan
- Mix The Concoction
- Color Application
- Let The Magic Happen
- Rinse and Style
If you want more details on any of the steps, head on over to my Definitive Guide to DIY Hair Color!
- Hair Color
- Application tools (bottle or bowl & brush)
- Processing cap
- Old Towel or T-shirt
- Color-Blocking Skin Barrier Cream
- Color Stain Remover
Step 1: The Game Plan
The first thing you need to do is come up with a plan of action… and this is probably the hardest step of all. We need to use science to figure out what you have and what you are trying to achieve.
Start by Learning The Types of Hair Color
First, let’s figure out what type of color you need to use… and it mostly depends on how long you want it to last.
- Semi-Permanent – Washes out within six weeks
- Demi-Permanent – Gradually fades out over 4-6 weeks
- Permanent – Will slowly fade over time but will be hard to remove
- Bleach – Also permanent, but used to lighten hair
Semi-permanent and demi-permanent hardly do any damage to your hair, but require more maintenance. Permanent hair color doesn’t do much damage either, but bleach can ruin your hair if you aren’t careful. That’s not to say you shouldn’t use it, just be cautious.
Figure Out a Plan
Next, we need to talk about if you’ve previously colored your hair or not, and what application technique is best for you.
REMEMBER: If there is any chemical alteration to your hair… even if it was two years ago and you’ve colored over it, it will affect how your current hair color turns out.
So has your hair been previously colored? If not, it’s called “virgin hair.”
Be honest about this question… to truly learn how to dye hair at home, you need to take previous dye jobs into account.
Let’s figure out what application is best for your needs:
- If you like your current color, but want to match your roots to the rest of your hair, you just need to do a root touch-up… and it’s pretty straightforward.
- If you want to change your hair color completely, and you’ve never colored your hair before, you can use dye or bleach to achieve the desired color.
- Want to change your hair color completely, but you’ve dyed your hair in the past few years? This could get complicated.
- If you have roots, they will process differently than the rest of your hair, and hairstylists call that “hot roots.” Because of this phenomenon, you’ll need to use a different color formulation for each section. I really don’t recommend doing this without the help of a professional… it can get real ugly, real quick.
- If you have dye on your hair, but don’t have roots, you can use a darker color if you wish to go darker. However, if you want a lighter color, you’ll need to bleach your hair. This article explains why: The Golden Rule of Lifting Hair Color. Let me also warn you that this could result in warmer tones and hair damage… so here is another guide to help with the transition: How to Lift Dark Hair to a Light Blonde Hair Color.
- If you want highlights or balayage, I would probably recommend waiting until you can see your stylist again… but if you’re fearless, there are some good tutorials on YouTube. The technique will be different, but the color formulation is the same.
Find Your Levels
All hair colors are classified between 1 and 10… 1 being black and 10 being the lightest blonde.
You’ll first need to figure out what color you have. For instance, my natural hair color is a level 4 brown with warm undertones.
Next, you should find your target level, or the level you want your hair to be when you’re done.
Let’s say I wanted light blonde… I’d have to lift my hair four levels from my natural level. But if I want black hair, I’ll have to deposit color.
💡TIP: It’s also important to note that when lifting your hair to a lighter color, you’ll likely deal with warmer (orange and red) tones until you reach a super light blonde. Remember that for the next step…
Step 2: The Concoction
Now that you have a game plan, it’s essential to formulate the perfect hair color. This is a critical step to take when learning how to dye hair at home.
Color Theory 101
Let’s take a look at the color wheel.
It’s made of primary colors, secondary colors, and everything in-between. Colors that sit directly across from each other are called “complementary colors,” and they either intensify or neutralize each other.
So remember how we just talked about the fact that lightening your hair will probably leave you with unwanted warm tones? Well, you can use a complimentary color to neutralize them.
For instance, let’s say that your hair always pulls orange… you can use an ash blonde, meaning a blonde color with a blue base, to neutralize the orange.
And if you’ve already dyed your hair and now have unwanted tones, you can use a toner to do the same thing.
- How to Read Hair Color Numbers/Letters (this guide will teach you how to find the base color of the dye)
The Levels of Developer
- When using semi-permanent hair color, you will not mix it with developer.
- When using demi-permanent hair color, only mix it with a demi-permanent developer, designed for the color line you’re using.
With permanent hair color or bleach, you’ll need to mix it with a developer. Here’s how you choose the correct strength:
- 10 Volume (10V / 3% peroxide) developer deposits color, making the hair darker that is was. It can also be used when one level of lift is desired and works by barely opening the cuticle enough to deposit pigment.
- 20 Volume (20V / 6% peroxide) is the most commonly used developer. It’s used to lift 1-2 levels.
- 30 Volume (30V / 9% peroxide) will lift the hair up to 3 levels higher and is often used with bleach.
- 40 Volume (40V / 12% peroxide) will lift the hair up to 4 levels. It is often used with lightener or high-lift blondes. Some high-lift colors may require double-40V (1 part color to 2 parts developer) for extra lift. Please be aware that using 40V with bleach can be tragically damaging if used misused. Just promise you’ll stay away, okay?
💡TIP: 20V developer is best for grey coverage, and 10V is often used with toners.
The Final Formulation
Let’s put everything together now.
If you have a level 2 brown that you previously colored, but want to be level 10, it will take multiple processes to get that level. However, in the meantime, you can go from a 2 to a 6, with bleach (30V developer) and toner.
If you have a level 5 brown that has never been colored, but you want a level 8 blonde, you can use a high-lift blonde color or bleach (30V) to get you there.
Maybe you have a level 8 brown but want to go darker… you’ll mix permanent hair color with a 10V developer to deposit or go darker.
If you need any help with your formulation, drop a comment below, and I’ll try my best to help you out. Remember that it’s the internet, and I can’t give you a perfect answer without seeing your hair, but I can do my best to give you general advice.
Step 3: The Application
Now that the science is out of the way, let’s talk about applying the color to your hair. This is probably what you thought a post about how to dye hair at home was actually about, right?
Reminder: this is just a quick overview of the different techniques. If you want a more in-depth explanation about anything mentioned, please check out my Definitive Guide to DIY Hair Color.
Find Your Technique
- When retouching outgrowth with color, start by separating the hair into four sections. Apply the color to 1/4″ subsections, using a bottle or brush.
- If retouching outgrowth with bleach, also start by separating the hair into four sections. The only difference with bleach is that you should use 1/8″ subsections, and be very careful not to overlap the bleach. Since bleach expands, stop applying it at 1/16″ from the line of demarcation.
- When doing all-over color, you should still separate the hair into four sections and apply the color to 1/4″ subsections with a bowl or a brush. But since the roots and porous ends process differently, you’ll stop applying color 3/4 of the way down the hair shaft. If going lighter, start the color 1″ away from the scalp; but if going darker, you can put the color directly on the scalp. When the color is 50% done processing, you can run the color through the roots and ends.
- If you are doing all-over bleach, start with four sections and apply bleach to 1/8″ subsections. Start 1/2″ away from the scalp, and work through the porous ends. When you get to 50% of your desired tone, apply bleach to the roots.
- Highlights are difficult to attempt on yourself, but you should be able to find some great video tutorials on YouTube. You can either use foil to section your hair or the “cap and hook” method.
- As I mentioned before, balayage should only be done by a professional. But you can use a board like this to try it at home (at your own risk, of course).
Step 4: The Magic Process
Now the magic happens.
Just sit back and let your hair change colors.
The only advice I have for you in this step is to FOLLOW THE MANUFACTURER DIRECTIONS. Color lines are different from one another, and the manufacturer will tell you exactly what to do for their specific color line.
If they say to let it process for 30 minutes, process for 30 minutes. If they say to use heat, use heat.
When using bleach, be super cautious. Again, I want to reiterate that it can really damage your hair.
Check it often to make sure it isn’t staying on longer than it needs to. It’s also a good idea to test a small section by rinsing the bleach off before rinsing the rest of your hair; sometimes, bleach looks different after you rinse it out.
Step 5: The Final Touches
The final step to learning how to dye hair at home is just to rinse and shampoo.
Make sure you completely rinse the color out of your hair… and do a deep conditioning treatment to repair some of the damage you’ve done. I highly recommend Olaplex No. 3, as this treatment will actually rebuild the damaged bonds.
Maintain your hair color with a sulfate-free shampoo, designed to protect color. Depending on your color, you might also be able to find a product that deposits color back into your hair each time you wash it.
It’s the little touches that will keep your color looking vibrant and flawless over time.
As always, I would follow the manufacturer’s directions. It is definitely possible to dye wet hair, especially when using a toner, but I feel like you’d get a better application on dry hair. When wet, your hair is holding water molecules, which could make it hard for your hair to absorb the color molecules.
This is ultimately up to you. While specific techniques like color correction and balayage are best when done by a professional, nothing is stopping you from trying it. Basic hair colors can be pretty easy to do at home and will save you money each month.
Sometimes, it’s best to color dirty hair, as the natural oils protect your hair and scalp. However, if your hair is exceptionally greasy or dirty, it’s probably best to wash it first. “Next-day hair” is best for coloring.
Some box colors are okay to use, but others are filled with nasty chemicals that can really mess up your hair. In fact, I’ve literally seen hair produce smoke when bleaching over box-dyed hair. It makes our lives a lot easier if you just stay away from them.
So there you have it… the complete guide on how to dye hair at home.
Please remember that it’s not horrible to do your own hair, but try not to go too crazy and use good judgment.
If you normally get your hair done at the salon, I would probably stick to basic upkeep right now. Maybe completely changing your hair color can wait until you get back to your stylist.
But if you’re feeling creative, go for it. Some of the best things come from taking a chance.
Just focus on nailing down your color formulation, following directions, going slow, and being precise when applying color. Again, if you have any questions or need help, please let me know. I’ll do my best to answer every question as soon as possible!
Until next time,
YOUR TURN: Do you feel confident doing your own hair now that you know how to dye hair at home? Do you have any other questions about color formulation? Drop them in the comments section below! 👇🏼👇🏼👇🏼