Anyone can score a stunning new shade at home -- anyone with a few tips and tricks up her sleeve, that is. Before you snap on those gloves, zero in on your level of expertise -- beginner, intermediate, or advanced -- and read on for all you need to know about buying and applying your brand-new hue.
Beginner: At-Home Gloss
WHAT IT IS: A temporary, translucent treatment used between salon or at-home color applications to restore vibrancy. Some formulas actually deposit a very small amount of dye to help blend away grays and freshen your hue. Others are completely clear or contain color-correcting ingredients that either enhance warm, golden tones or counteract brassiness, New York City stylist Harry Josh says.
WHO IT'S FOR: Anyone who colors her hair (either in the salon or at home) or wants to turn up the volume on her natural shade.
WHO IT ISN'T FOR: Anyone seeking to permanently change the color of her hair.
HOW TO APPLY IT: Smooth all over clean, wet hair in the shower. Let the product sit for 3-5 minutes, then rinse. Reapply weekly to amp up color. "Think of it as a deep- conditioning treatment to do on, say, Sunday night," Josh says.
HOW TO TROUBLESHOOT: You won't need to -- the beauty of a gloss is that it's foolproof.
PRO TIP: "A quick trim to snip off dull, damaged ends will make your allover color look brighter," Josh says.
Intermediate: Single-Process Color
WHAT IT IS: A formula that relies on chemicals to permanently lighten or darken the pigments in each strand.
WHO IT'S FOR: Anyone aiming to lighten or darken her hair up to two shades.
WHO IT ISN'T FOR: Anyone who's looking for a drastic change, according to New York City color guru Kyle White. Leave that to the professionals.
HOW TO CHOOSE ONE: "Forget the picture on the front of the box because that doesn't take your current hue into consideration," White says. "Instead, look at the color chart on the side." If your shade isn't reflected in one of the "before" pictures, move on.
HOW TO APPLY IT: First, smooth petroleum jelly on skin around your hairline to prevent staining, then start applying color in the back, working your way forward. Once you've completely saturated your entire head, set a timer and follow the instructions on the box to the letter.
HOW TO TROUBLESHOOT: If your result is too dark, lather up with a clarifying shampoo or even liquid dish detergent -- just be sure to follow with a deep conditioning mask, White says.
PRO TIP: "Boxed dye is made for the average head of hair, so if yours is very long or very thick, buy two," White says.
WHAT IT IS: A kit that contains everything you need to create precise, permanent highlights at home.
WHO IT'S FOR: Anyone with natural or dyed light blonde to medium brown hair.
WHO IT ISN'T FOR: Anyone with fragile, damaged, or very dark hair, says Marcy Cona, an Akron, Ohio-based color whiz.
HOW TO CHOOSE ONE: Steer clear of kits that rely on a cap and hook; instead pick one that comes with a brush. (Some look like paintbrushes; others go over your fingertip.)
HOW TO APPLY IT: Wash and blow-dry your hair, but don't use any styling product. Part hair, then paint one strand to test how quickly the color develops. Once you reach your desired shade, you'll know how long to leave it on the rest of the pieces you've chosen. Err on the side of fewer streaks the first time; you can always add more, Cona says. Stick to the top layer of hair. If you want a whole head of highlights, see a pro.
HOW TO TROUBLESHOOT: Don't attempt fixes on your own. Call the customer service number on the side of the box; experts will help you find a solution.
PRO TIP: "The night before you highlight your hair, practice placement with conditioner," Cona says.