You likely know the feeling: Your roots are overgrown yet you’re stuck at home, unable to get a salon appointment in time to hide the unwanted color trickling into your strands. Perhaps you’ve opted to box dye it yourself, as countless color enthusiasts did during the lockdown — only to return to the salon in dire need of a correction. That’s all the more reason to finally learn how to dye your roots properly.
“Throughout the past year, we've had many at-home dye jobs go wrong,” Kelly Lin, colorist at and co-founder of Salon SCK in New York City, tells Bustle. “The most common mistakes made by ‘kitchen beauticians’ were uneven application, choosing the wrong tone, and choosing the wrong level of color,” she says, adding that at-home-dyers also tend to opt for too much or too little of their desired hue, leaving then with an unplanned shade as a final result. “Some people think they want [to go] black when they actually want [to go] dark brown, and others think they want to go platinum blonde when they just want soft, natural highlights,” she explains.
Besides going with an imperfect color match, Lorena Martinez, a colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago stylists, says that another common mistake is accidentally dyeing more than one’s uncolored roots, which creates a visible line in the hair. “People commonly overlap too much, causing ‘bands,’” she tells Bustle. “Most brunettes have issues with almost black bands, redheads tend to turn too brown and dark. And depending on the type of blonde, either there’s breakage or a lot of orange or yellow bands.”
All of that said, don’t panic — or throw your box dye away. You can still safely DIY your hair at home, and easily avoid these mistakes while you’re at it. Read on for color experts’ tips on how to dye your roots at home like a pro.
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1. Consult A Professional Before Choosing Your Shade
First and foremost, it’s important to pick the right shade... which you might not want to do alone. “If you're attempting to color your own hair at home, I recommend consulting with your personal colorist first regarding the formulation and hair color product,” says Lin. This is especially key because at-home dye — and the photos it advertises on the box — can be misleading.
“People think that what’s on the box is what they’ll get, but there are so many factors to consider when formulating hair color,” Alberto Swanson, Aveda color expert and executive director of hair color sales and education at Neill, tells Bustle. “You need to consider the type and texture of the hair, and most importantly, the current color. Cherry red will look vastly different on a golden blonde versus an ash brown, for example, and won’t have the same results at all.” And if you have curly or coarse hair, you’ll want to look for a moisturizing dye formula without harsh chemicals in order to avoid drying or damaging your hair.
If you’re unable to consult a professional IRL, Madison Reed, a salon brand that makes its own line of hair dye, offers free color consultations via video chat, as well as a quiz to help DIY dyers find their perfect shade.
2. Prep Your Space And Skin
Don’t start dyeing until you’ve safely set up a station that will protect your skin (and walls) from the product. Ideally, this should be in a spacious room, outside, or in a small space with open windows and good ventilation, according to Lin, so you don’t have to breathe in the chemicals in a cramped area. To be extra careful, be sure to dye a test strand before you dive in: “It’s better to be sure you’re not allergic to the dye,” Martinez suggests.
For your dyeing setup, gather all your essentials: Vaseline, combs, clips, color, developer, an old shirt, gloves, towels, and stain remover. Then, apply Vaseline to your hairline, around the ears, down your neck, and the sides of your cheeks — it may seem like a lot, but it’s so easy for hair to slip and stain from a quick contact, says Martinez. She also recommends grabbing eyewash (in case color gets into your eyes), earplugs (to keep dye out of your ears), and a plastic cape to wear while coloring.
Lin also advises using towels and pillowcases that closely match your dye’s color. “I recommend using a dark towel and maybe even a dark pillowcase for the bed afterwards,” she tells Bustle, noting this is an added precaution.
3. Divide Hair Into Sections And Mix
Once you’re set up, comb through your hair and divide it into small sections. “Your hair density will determine how thin your sections can be, but I would recommend the thinner the better,” Martinez says. “One-fourth of an inch is a great place to start off. You want to be able to almost see through the section.”
Once your hair is divided, it’s time to mix your color — but don’t use a metal bowl, as metal can react to the hair dye. Once you’ve chosen your mixing apparatus, put on a pair of plastic gloves before mixing, says Martinez, as these will help prevent skin irritation.
“Mix according to the mixing instructions, and ensure the color is mixed properly with no lumps,” she continues. A pro tip: It never hurts to keep some extra color around. “It’s better to be able to mix more if needed rather than not have enough,” she tells Bustle.
4. Start At The Nape Of The Neck And Work Your Way Up
As mentioned above, one of the most common side effects of DIY dyeing is unintentional color bands — and this step is how you avoid getting them. “By overlapping onto the previous hair color, ‘bands’ are created which can make the color look uneven,” Katelyn Hunziker and Meagan Mueller, owners and stylists at Mane Local Salon, tell Bustle. “It is important to apply the color only onto the regrowth, which will give a seamless blend.”
The stylists encourage taking your time here and dyeing from the nape of the neck and working your way up to the crown and hairline. “It’s easier to prevent overlapping color on already colored hair when you start at the bottom,” Hunziker and Mueller assert. “Many people have lighter ends so it’s key not to get any root color on the ends. “
Martinez also says it helps to have a friend help you dye the areas you can’t see. Otherwise, she suggests doing only what you can see in the mirror to ensure you don’t experience any color overlapping.
5. Rinse Until The Water’s Clear
Don’t start the timer until you’ve finished applying all of the color. Then, wait — but don’t bother concealing your scalp with a plastic bag. “Plastic bags could react to the color and cause labels to transfer onto the hair,” Martinez says.
Once the timer is up, keep your gloves on and wash twice with shampoo until no color is left, unless you’re using a color with red tones. “Reds tend to fade a little every time you wash, so the water may not be clear every time,” says Martinez. In that case, she says to make sure to rinse as well as you can. “Remember to thoroughly massage your hairline, your nape, and behind your ears,” Lin advises.
Alternatives to DIY Dyeing
Desperate to dye your hair but too scared to try it at home? Don’t fret: There are some less permanent solutions you can try until you book a salon appointment. One easy solution is to use a root touch-up spray. “There are plenty of non-permanent root touch-up sprays that can be used to conceal your regrowth and extend the time between color appointments at the salon,” says Lin. “They’re all pigmented but wash right out, such as Root Cover Up." You could also opt for cover-ups that look like eyeshadow palettes, which you can simply brush over your roots then rinse out when you wash.