The Dos and Don'ts of At-Home Hair Color

Love your DIY hair color using these strategies.

Sick of trekking to the salon for color every six weeks? Learn how to stretch time between visits (or even start coloring at home). We asked Rachael Thomas, lead colorist for Madison Reed Color Bar, to share the best ways to score professional-looking results and mistake-proof the process.

DO Look on the Back of the Box

"Incorrect shade selection is often the result of choosing a hair color based solely on the picture on the front of the box," Thomas says. To prevent that, locate the chart specifying the natural shades best suited for that formula. If you don't see your natural color—the root regrowth shade—on the box, you will not get the results pictured on the front. What if you have multitonal highlights or a mix of brown and gray? "As a general rule, go with the darkest shade you see," says Thomas, who adds that most at-home kits can't take hair more than two shades darker or lighter than root color.

DON'T Just Guess

Overwhelmed by trying to determine if you need a shade that's cool, warm, or neutral? It's worth taking the extra time to use the tools that hair-color brands offer to help with the selection process: an 800 number (typically listed on the box), a website instant-messaging service, or even a try-on tool (like Clairol's new app MyShade) can guide you through the selection process. You can also ask your salon for advice; just say you'd like the freedom to occasionally touch up your roots at home.

DO Start in the Front

Most at-home kits include tips on how to section hair to make dye application easier, but they leave out the part about working from your forehead back to your nape. "The hair by the face is typically the most resistant and requires the longest processing time, so always start there," Thomas says.

DON'T Apply Color All at Once

If you've colored your hair within the past year, anything south of your roots will be more porous than the regrowth so quicker to dye. To avoid two-tone tresses (darker at the bottom, lighter near the scalp), "focus product application only on regrowth," Thomas says. Then for the final five minutes of processing, freshen your existing hue by combing the color down to the ends.

DO Rub Your Roots

"About halfway through your color processing—for most, that's at about the 20-minute mark—go back and massage the dye into the roots," Thomas suggests. "Hair, especially coarse gray regrowth, wants to repel product, so massaging it back in ensures your regrowth stays saturated."

Bonus: How to Stretch Out Your Color

"As grays reappear—for some, this means you have noticeable regrowth every two to three weeks—the struggle to conceal roots between hair color services is never ending," says Patricia Williams, director of education for Roux. That's the bad news. Here's the good: We've found products that buy extra time between color applications by tweaking tone and camouflaging regrowth.

Touch Up Roots Temporarily: Like makeup, most root touch-up products last until your next washing. To cover gray regrowth, any tinted formula does the trick: markers, sprays, gels applied with a brush. Try L'Oréal Paris Root Cover Up ($10.99, To cover dark roots, however, a powder formula, which both dims the regrowth and deposits color, is most effective. Try John Frieda Root Blur ($20, or Color Wow Root Cover Up ($34.50,

Touch Up Roots for a Few Weeks: You can mask incoming grays with a roots-only permanent color kit. These formulas are meant for only minimal root regrowth (no more than an inch), helping you get by until you can do a proper color at home or at the salon. Try dpHue Root Touch Up Kit ($30, or Clairol Root Touch-Up by Nice 'n Easy ($6.99, 

Refresh Fading Color: Get a temporary boost with a tinted shampoo, conditioner, or leave-in treatment, such as Revlon Colorsilk Shampoos and Conditioners ($2.97, or eSalon Tinted Love Color Enhancing Treatment ($15,

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