You can get salon-fresh strands without spending a fortune.

By Cara Sullivan
Updated December 20, 2019
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It's always nice to treat yourself at the salon, but trips to see your stylist every few weeks can become expensive and time-consuming. That's why we spoke to several colorists to get the lowdown on how to correctly color your hair at home. We've compiled their tips and tricks into an easy-to-follow format based on your experience level and the type of coloring you desire. Before you begin, make sure you have all the required supplies. (Each process is different, but you will need a pair of disposable gloves, so you don't stain your hands. We recommend dpHUE's hair color gloves, $5, Ulta.) Once you have your items, you're ready to customize your hair color at home.

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Beginner: At-Home Gloss

Gloss is a temporary, translucent treatment used between salon or at-home color applications to restore vibrancy. Some formulas deposit a tiny amount of dye to help blend away grays and freshen your hue, like Kristin Ess Signature Gloss, $14, Target. Others are translucent or contain color-correcting ingredients that either enhance warm, golden tones or counteract brassiness, New York City stylist Harry Josh says. One of our favorites is Bumble and bumble's clear gloss, $34, Bumble and bumble.

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 their hair.

How to apply it: Smooth all over clean, wet hair in the shower. Let the product sit for 3-to-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.

Intermediate: Single-Process Color

A formula that relies on chemicals to permanently lighten or darken the pigments in each strand. A top-rated kit that comes in 34 different hues is Madison Reed's Radiant Hair Color Kit, $26.50, Ulta.

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 the skin around your hairline to prevent staining, then start applying color in the back, working your way forward. Once you've 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.

Advanced: Highlights

A kit that contains everything to create precise, permanent highlights at home. Hundreds of reviewers recommend L'Oréal Paris' Couleur Experte Kit, from $13.94, Amazon.

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, owner of MC Salon & Spa in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio.

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.

All of these tips are great for touch-ups in-between salon visits, or to transition you to exclusively coloring your hair at home. If it's your first time dyeing your hair, start with a gloss or partial highlights and work your way up. As you become more confident, you can always add more color.

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