Including how to find the right shade, apply color, and handle touch-ups.

By Genevieve Monsma
Updated May 26, 2020
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We love the look of freshly dyed locks, but we could certainly do without trekking to the salon for a touch-up every six weeks—and the hefty price tag that comes with it. Fortunately, you can get professional-looking results at home for a fraction of the cost (and without an appointment). Whether you're trying to stretch the time between salon visits or starting to color at home on a regular basis, knowing a few clever application techniques and the right hair color products to invest in will make the job easier. We spoke with Rachael Thomas, lead colorist for Madison Reed Color Bar, for advice on coloring your own tresses, concealing stubborn grays and regrowth, and her favorite affordable permanent and temporary products to keep your color looking its best.

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1. Choose the Right Shade

"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 multi-tonal 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.

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 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.

2. Apply Color from Front to Back

Wondering where to apply color first? 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.

3. Focus on the Roots

If you've colored your hair within the past year, anything south of your roots will be more porous than the regrowth, which means it'll absorb the dye more easily. 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.

4. Massage Roots for Even Better Gray Coverage

"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."

5. Touch-Up Regrowth Between Dyes

Some people can go months without needing to color their hair, but for others, especially those with gray strands, they need a touch-up every two-to-three weeks. Heading to the salon at least once, if not twice per month will get very expensive, so we've found the best touch-up products that buy extra time between color applications by tweaking tone and camouflaging regrowth.

Courtesy of Walmart

Refresh Fading Color

Fading color is one of the most frustrating aspects of dyeing hair, especially if you've shelled out a large amount for your new 'do. Get a temporary boost with a tinted shampoo, conditioner, or leave-in treatment.

Buy It: Revlon Colorsilk Shampoo, from $6.40, Walmart

Courtesy of Target

Touch Up Roots Between Washes

Like makeup, most root touch-up products last until your next washing. To cover gray regrowth, any tinted formula does the trick: markers, sprays (try L'Oreal Paris Root Cover Up Spray, $6.99, Target), or gels applied with a brush. To cover dark roots, however, a powder formula (try Color Wow Root Cover Up, $24.15, Ulta, which both dims the regrowth and deposits color, is most effective.

 Buy It: L'Oreal Paris Root Cover Up Spray, $6.99, Target

Courtesy of Target

Touch Up Roots for a Few Weeks

You can mask incoming grays for a few weeks 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.

Buy It: Clairol Nice 'N Easy Permanent Root Touch-Up Kit, $7.99, Target

Comments (2)

December 24, 2019
I usually buy several boxes of the same color when it’s on sale. The root touch-up products are at least $8 to $10, so I just use what I need to re-color the roots, use my fingers to pull the color down over a few pieces and toss the remainder. When I get it for $3-$4 it’s still less than half the cost of the root touch up products.
January 23, 2019
I tried Reed Madison hair color. It was the worst hair color I have ever used!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!