Dye Your Own Hair Without a Beauty Disaster

Since the recession began, more and more Americans are trying home hair coloring for the first time.

Even those who don't give up their professional colorist altogether are stretching the time between visits with at-home touch-ups, said Stacey Jones, a color expert who helped develop Sally Beauty Supply's house brand.

Using chemicals at home — and trying to match the results of trained, experienced experts — can be scary and challenging for first timers. One salon manager told me he has a standard line for panicked callers with botched DIY dye jobs: "Quit your bitchin' — you did it in the kitchen!"

Yet Jones and beauty expert Paula Begoun assured me that there's no need to fear a foray into kitchen cosmetology.

"Not only are drugstore dyes safe, they are chemically IDENTICAL to what a salon uses. The chemistry of dyeing hair is not something only salon lines know about. Beside, many of the companies making hair dyes for salons are the exact same companies making the drugstore versions," Begoun told me in an email. Begoun writes the website CosmeticsCop.com, which offers advice and sells beauty products, but not hair color.

Below are Begoun and Jones' pointers for dyeing your own hair. (See also: 5 Hair Conditioners You Can Make at Home)

Stick to "Demi-Permanent" Color as a Beginner

This dye is ammonia-free and does not remove your natural color. Despite the name, today's demi-permanent tins last as long as "permanent" color, Jones said.

Ensure Even Results With Pre- and Post-Color Treatments

These products are sold separately in beauty supply stores. Jones recommends a pre-color treatment to even out the porosity of each strand of hair, so that the ends don't end up darker than the rest. After-color sealer prevents the color from washing out too quickly.

Get Expert Guidance

"Do not hesitate to call the consumer help line with any questions. They are trained to assist you and make sure you’ve not only chosen the best color but that you apply it so you get the results you want," Begoun said. Many beauty stores also staff color experts who can help you select the right color on the spot, Jones said.

Tap a Friend to Help You

One of the reasons that salon jobs tend to look better than home jobs is the colorist's expertise, but another advantage is that the colorist can see your whole head, not just the part you can see in the mirror. A friend can help you achieve all-over even color.

Know When to Go Pro

For example, Begoun advises leaving highlights to the professionals. "A salon professional is skilled in the mixing and application of color when only certain strands are to be dyed," Begoun said. "Trying to do this at home, even with special highlighting kits, rarely works well."

What brand of hair dye should you purchase? That depends whom you ask.

Begoun said that "the dyes available from major brands sold in drugstores are outstanding."

But Jones, understandably since she works for Sally Beauty Supply, prefers to shop at a beauty supply store. For one thing, a salon store tends to have more choices of shades. If you're using permanent color, professional color supplies purchased in beauty supply stores tend to have less ammonia than the drugstore equivalents, Jones said.

For more home hair color tips from Jones and Begoun, see Sally Beauty's Ask the Color Expert page or The Cosmetic Cop's Hair Care section.

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