Home Hair Coloring

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Home Hair Coloring?

I'm a brunette that recently turned 40 and I'm starting to find some white hair. What tips and recommendations do your readers have for successfully coloring hair at home? I want it to look natural. My hair texture is thick and wavy and is shoulder length. Also how do I keep it up well without roots showing? I've heard several horror stories about home coloring and I'd really like to avoid having a bad story of my own.
Kathryn in Washington State

Keep the Color Variances

For best results, color the roots only, not the whole head. Coloring the whole head produces an unnatural look with the same exact color all over. No one's hair is the same exact shade all over; there are slight color variances. Also, coloring your whole head of hair can sometimes lead to over-processing of the chemicals. Remember, you are only covering the gray, not changing the color of all your hair!

Paint the color on with a paint brush. To keep color fresh in between times, use some temporary color in spray form & spray on the roots. Be sure to deep condition your hair every week.
Amy in Texas

Go Semi-Permanent

I am a retired hairdresser and my advice is to use a semi-permanent hair color. It will look like you have natural highlights instead of dyed hair. Make sure you know the color of your hair. Does it have a red tint, golden tint or neither? When you look in the mirror at the top of you head, do you have a reddish or golden shine? If neither, you need to go with a natural brown. If you have a red hue, go with reddish brown or cinnamon. With a golden hue, go with golden brown. Do you have light, medium or dark brown hair? After that, you can buy the right tone and shade of a semi-permanent color. Depending on how much gray you have, you will probably only have to color your hair once every two to three months.

Get a Few Lessons

Initially, I sought out and paid for professional advice from a knowledgeable hairdresser regarding coloring my hair. I, like you, knew absolutely nothing about coloring my hair. I learned the appropriate shade of hair coloring for me and observed her application technique. After a few "lessons," I felt confident enough to color my own hair. My current hairdresser tells me that my hair color looks great.
Darlene in CT

Home Hair Coloring: Hide with Highlight

For me, the easy way to hide those early stray grays is highlights. I go to a beauty supply store and buy supplies labeled "for professional use only" (I use Loreal Cremelights). I buy the cap and pull the hair through (actually, my dear hubby does this for me). Start with small amounts of hair and check the progress frequently. You can always do more later! I get good results for about 10% of what it would cost at a salon.
Deborah in San Diego

Sun Kissed Highlights

I put lemon juice in my hair and go sit outside in the sunshine. It is easy to touch up roots this way too. I am also brunette and it adds just enough highlights to distract from the white. It is not a dramatic change and hard to tell you have done anything at all.

Home Hair Coloring: Check Out Beauty Schools

I am a cosmetology instructor. I spend my days helping people "fix" their hair after they have used home hair color. Grocery store color has a high percent of ammonia, around 16%. Compare that to professional color that has 2%. If you want a cost-effective way to color your gray, go to a beauty school. It is about half the cost of going to a salon, and you get quality color used on your hair. It is done by students training in cosmetology, but the instructor watches over the student to make sure you get a professional looking tint done on your hair. And it always includes the style too!
Teacher is SLC

Natural Hair Color

A natural way of dying your hair is to use sage and rosemary. In a bowl, I mix a 1/2 cup each of sage and rosemary. Add two cups boiling water to the herb mix. Do not boil the herbs with the water because it breaks down the herbs and is less effective. Let this mixture steep for a few hours or overnight, if possible. Rinse your hair daily with this tea, or you can spray it on the gray areas. I leave it in my hair and allow it to dry, you can add your hair care products and blow dry as usual. It takes a couple of weeks before you start to notice the gray hair disappearing. After you get to your desired color, you only have to rinse/spray on your mixture one to two times per week. It's important that you refrigerate your mixture until you use it. Also the color will stain your clothes, wrap a towel around your shoulders or wear an older shirt until your hair dries.

Home Hair Coloring: Try Shampoo and Conditioner First

I noticed the same thing in my early 40s. I started using the shampoo and conditioner products that were marketed for specific hair colors, such as John Frieda or Pantene. These added color gradually and it was natural looking. Within a few weeks, the white/gray was no longer noticeable and I had richer color.
Diane in Ontario, Canada

Enlist a Friend's Help

There are several options for coloring your hair at home. If you are determined to use permanent hair color, how about getting a friend to help you? Go to a beauty supply store and invest in a good hair color cape to avoid getting permanent hair color on your clothes. Most of the hair color instructions are easy to follow.

If you cannot enlist a friend's help, you could also try semi-permanent hair color. This type will gradually lighten over several washings. It does not completely cover gray, but "blends" it in, making the gray look more like "highlights."

Have you thought about using a beauty school for your coloring needs? The students are carefully supervised by a licensed cosmetologist/instructor and the cost of hair care services is much cheaper.

I have been a licensed hairdresser for more than 20 years and have used "bartering" in lieu of cash payment. If you have a service that would be marketable, approach your hairdresser with offers to barter instead. For providing hair care, I have received fresh garden produce, clothing, babysitting, food, and even sewing lessons for my 10-year-old daughter! Bartering has always been a "win-win" situation for me.
Miss Paula in Texas

Home Hair Coloring: Take the Time to Read the Instructions

First of all, know the difference between the various formulations. Temporary means that it will wash out next shampoo, which is fine, but might not be as good at covering gray. It's a good idea for someone experimenting with a different color. Semi-permanent lasts longer, but eventually washes out. Permanent is just that. You'll probably want to go with one of those last two types.

After you've selected your color, don't run home in your excitement and lock yourself in the bathroom to use it right away! Take a breath, sit down and read the instructions thoroughly a couple of times so you feel more confident. Wash your hair the day before (mix some baking soda with your shampoo if you've got a lot of styling product buildup). Read the instructions, but they usually advise not washing your hair right before coloring. And be sure to do the recommended patch test just to be on the safe side.

When you're finally ready to color, be sure to take off all your jewelry, and have all necessary items nearby and ready, including the all-important timer. One thing they may not mention but I find to be extremely useful is a wide-tooth comb (plastic, not metal!). Combing the solution through your hair ensures that you get every strand evenly and thoroughly saturated. Don't forget some old towels.

The first time, you'll probably want to be safe and rinse at the earliest time given (they usually give you a range of several minutes). You can see how well your hair takes the color and adjust it next time if necessary. Personally, I prefer to rinse in the shower, as it feels more thorough to me, but that's up to you.

Unless your hair is very damaged or your skin is extremely sensitive, you probably have nothing to worry about. Modern home hair coloring solutions are very gentle, user-friendly, and often leave your hair feeling even softer and in better condition. Also, many kits include a tube of color-maintaining conditioner to use after your next few shampoos. If your hair isn't too oily, try to wait several days before that first post-coloring shampoo.

7 Tips to More Beautiful Hair

A few tips about home hair coloring:

  1. Know your color undertones. Brunette is the easiest color scheme to do at home. But evaluate whether your hair has cool undertones or warm undertones. An easy way to tell is that cool hair and skin tones look good with lavender. Warm tones clash with it.
  2. Choose a less-intense color. Look for what you think is closest to your natural shade, then pick a shade lighter. For example, if you have dark ash brown hair, try medium ash brown. Or even light ash brown, the first time around.
  3. Use the least permanent formula that you can. Semi-permanent is fine for hair with less than 40% gray. But don't leave it in longer than the instructions specify. Doing so leads to a lot of breakage, which is not good around your face because the hairs look fuzzy.
  4. Concentrate on technique. Instead of mixing the color in the squeeze bottle and running the tip between rows of hair, do what colorists do. Mix the activator and color tint in a plastic or glass container. Start at your normal part, and use a cheap paintbrush (like a basting brush) to saturate the area from the scalp to about 1" out. Part 1/4" to 1/2" over and then repeat. Be sure you saturate all the little hairs framing your face and around your ears, go around the back of your neck, and if there are any grays at the crown of your head, make cross-wise rows to get at those roots. (Use a hand mirror to guide yourself.)
  5. Prepare for accidents. Wear a button-down old shirt to do this. Drape your counter with an old towel, and cover the floor with an old sheet. Have one dedicated bath towel for drying after you rinse. Dampen a paper towel and have it nearby for splatters. Put a baggie or plastic wrap over a faucet handle, the doorknob, your mirror handle, and possibly your phone. You will be glad you went to the trouble.
  6. Do the deep conditioning. Your hair will be a bit brittle after coloring. Sop the deep conditioning treatment that comes with the product throughout your hair from root to tip and squeeze it through well. Wait at least 3 minutes. Then rinse out with lukewarm water and let your hair dry naturally the first time through. You can see the resulting color and texture better this way.
  7. The stores sell touchup kits that are just as expensive as the regular kits and have much less subtle color choices. Handle it yourself by purchasing a regular color kit, and using half of the product from each bottle to touch up your roots. Use your paintbrush and some saved gloves, or sandwich bags over your hands. The remaining product will keep pretty well until the next use. (I try to measure the 1/2 very carefully on each bottle.)

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Track when you color, and from there, you can schedule your touchups or redos. You will save hundreds by doing it at home, and you'll feel very proud of yourself for doing it well!

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