Since a trip to the salon probably isn't on the cards, here's how to get that freshly coloured feeling without leaving the house
First things first, let’s admit that colour from a box rarely rivals the finesse of what can be achieved by a deft colourist’s eye and hand in-salon. Balayage, lowlights and other pro colouring techniques are usually best left to the experts, but given the expense involved in updating your colour regularly - and the fact we can't currently leave the house - it’s handy, if not essential, to know how to DIY, and thankfully off-the-shelf shades and technology have come on in leaps and bounds since the days of flat, one-size-fits-all colour.
From easy-peasy at-home hair lightening to leave-in gel tints , traditional box hair colour innovation has undergone quite the makeover, but you need to master the basics to end up with a rich and even result, without dying your forehead or turning your ends a Wotsits orange in the process (been there). We invited creative director of EGO Professional Kala Kilshaw into our bathrooms for a home hair dye masterclass. Like a conscientious scout, her main motto is “be prepared”. Just maybe you’ll get your hair colourist badge if you follow her lead..
How to choose home hair dye
“Unfortunately, picking a colour according solely to the image on the box is never going to work," says Kala.
“The natural underlying tone in your hair determines the overall outcome. For example, if you had a red wall in your house and wanted to paint it yellow, but you simply painted over the red with the yellow, the end result would not be as you’d hoped, as it would be have a red tone, thus making the yellow look orange. Apply this home decorating analogy to your hair and you’ll see that your off-the-shelf result mainly depends on what you’re working with to start out with, rather than the bombshell blonde model on the box.”
There are certain scenarios that particularly affect your method and outcome…
1. You’re a hair colour virgin
If this your first experiment with colour, start by determining your natural hair colour, then decide how much lighter or darker you want to be. There are some rules to how far you can go on either end of the scale- only ever go two shades darker or lighter than your natural colour when dying hair at home. That way you can be pretty certain that the end result will work well with your natural skin tone, plus you’re far more likely to get a natural-looking result.
Next choose the tone of the colour- the most familiar terms are golden, ash, beige, copper and chestnut. Then you need to decide on your formula. You could go for a “quasi colour”, which is a temporary colourant. Think coloured conditioners, hairsprays or lotions that aren’t mixed with an activator. These usually just last for one shampoo.
Semi-permanent formulas are much better when it comes to glossing over whites and greys, but these gradually shampoo out after about 12-18 washes. They’re great for adding a little tone and shine to your natural colour, but for full coverage you’ll need to look out for permanent colour.
2. You colour your hair, but you want to go darker or lighter
If you want to go lighter or transition to a slightly more ‘out there’ shade, but have coloured hair already, you need to use a decolorant or colour stripper (Bleach London's Washing Out Liquid , £6, comes highly recommended). Artificial colour can’t lift or lighten artificial colour, although you can apply highlights (normally best left to the pros). As for darkening, you can darken hair that’s been lightened artificially, but only leave hair colour on for half the time directed on the box.
3. You colour your hair and you’re happy with the shade, but you want a refresh, to touch up the roots or intensify ends
If your hair colour is growing out at the roots, choose a colour two shades lighter than your natural colour to cover the regrowth. As for mid-lengths and ends, you can either opt for a semi- permanent colour, again two shades lighter (two is the magic number here apparently), or, you can mix your home hair colour of choice with a protein-rich conditioner for more of a colour gloss effect.
If you don't feel confident touching up your roots, check out our edit of the best root cover-ups to tide you over.
How to decode the colour chart on the box
Nailing what colour you’ll end up with can sometimes be akin to locating the Holy Grail. It needn’t be such a quest. Here’s how to read that often not very helpful universal colour chart on the packet.
To begin, you need to work with your natural hair colour. We’re back to that old painting the house example again. Kala has just slightly blown my mind with one particular colour fact, however:
“In the hair industry, we say that all hair colour is really brown (I KNOW). It’s just the additional blue pigments or yellow pigments found naturally in your hair that determine whether you’re the lightest of blondes or a very dark, almost black shade, or of course, like most of us, somewhere on that spectrum. Dark hair has more blue pigment, whereas lighter redheads have a blend of yellow and red, darker red heads have more blue mixed in and light blondes have more yellow and far less blue. Whites and greys occur when individual hairs no longer produce colour pigment.”
So what does this mean for selecting our home hair dye colour?
“Black is a level one, mousy brown is a level six and light blonde is a level ten. Choose the level by gauging your colour on the chart.”
“The next step is to identify the underlying tone of your natural colour. For example, if you are a mousy brown (level six), your natural underlying tone will be orange. The underlying tone needs to complement your desired result. Otherwise you need to select a colour that can neutralise the warm tones naturally present in your hair, this is when you would choose colour labelled “ash” or “cool”.
See the rather rudimentary colour chart below. Even if you’ve got greys, stick to your original natural colour for a convincing result.
Got the gist? Let’s get down to business...
What you need to dye your hair at home
A mirror. You can’t feel your way through this beauty endeavour unfortunately.
A bowl: ceramic or dark coloured plastic to prevent staining.
A professional tint brush, or alternatively a pastry brush.
Dark coloured towels if you’re colouring your hair darker, or light coloured if lightening your hair.
Two pairs of plastic gloves. Don’t be tempted to use your marigolds- it’s much harder to distribute colour when wearing rubber gloves.
Two boxes of colour of your choice (the same colour…)
Old clothes (to wear). Preferable pick a top with buttons so that it’s easy to remove, rather than trying to take it off over your head.
A lip salve. More on that later.
Old towels to prevent bathroom mess.
A wide tooth comb.
An old shower cap, or at a push, a plastic bag.
Face or baby wipes.
How to dye your hair at home
For starters, always apply colour to dry hair, and even if you have used the brand before, do a patch test behind your ear at least 12 hours prior to colouring. Everything from hormonal changes to new medication can cause you to react with home hair dye chemicals, so don’t take the risk. For even more patch test incentives, bear in mind that as you are doing this yourself, dye will be coming into contact with your skin more than it would if you were at the salon. Basically, no excuses.
How to do a hair dye patch test
To patch test, mix around 1cm² of colour with a dash of developer and apply a little behind the ear or on the inside of your elbow - simple! If you've had no reaction within 12 hours you're good to go.
Next, use lipsalve around the hairline, paying particular attention to ears and temples. This will minimise the risk of staining. Do try not to get it in your hair. Wear old clothes and use old towels that are similar to your colour, or that novelty holiday beach towel that you don’t mind getting stained. Then, gloves on.
Mix the colour according to the instructions. If you have very coarse hair, don’t use all of the developer, as porous hair sucks up colour more readily. Incidentally, if you do have curly or coarse hair, you may find that you achieve better results using a gel type formula, whereas mousses are ideally suited to penetrate finer hair strands, plus they’re lighter in texture so won’t drip.
Next, refer back to your individual colouring “scenario”.
Apply colour liberally over all areas of the hair. You may need two to three boxes, depending on the length and thickness of your hair.
2. Colour refresh
To refresh the mid lengths and ends, try “watering down” the formula with a protein based leave-in conditioner. This means that the colour will be gentler to the hair as it’ll be conditioning whilst processing.
3. Regrowth and root cover
Split hair into four sections (think “hot cross bun”) from ear to ear and forehead to nape of the neck
Apply colour, being careful not to overlap previous applications as this could create a stripy effect. Then take diagonal sections inside each quarter starting at the back (the hair is generally thicker here so has extra processing time is a good thing). Continue applying both sides of the roots until the whole head is done. Apply conditioner to your ends to avoid colour running where you don’t want it.
Once applied, double check that your application is complete and pop on your shower cap/ plastic bag. Glamorous we know. This step isn’t actually essential unless you’re lightening your hair, but it does help the natural heat from your head to process the colour so that you get a richer result. Avoid using grips or twisting hair up too tightly while you’re waiting for your colour to develop to keep your hue even all over.
While you’re waiting, wipe around your hairline with a face or baby wipe to further avoid staining.
After the processing time is up, wet the hair and massage until the solution reaches a creamy consistency. Give your head a good firm massage to lift the colour off your scalp, then rinse and repeat before shampooing.
Once shampooed, apply your chosen treatment (usually enclosed in the hair dye box). Don’t skip this step- it’s essential to repair hair after every chemical process to keep it in optimum condition. Rinse this off, apply conditioner (can’t be too conditioned here) and comb it through before a final wash.