Beauty in the Time of Covid: My Best At-Home Box Hair Dye Tips!

Hi friends,

A lighter topic amid the Covid-19 pandemic, but an important one (at least for our personal vanity, and I would argue: dignity!): What the heck to do with your hair. As most of the world is now stuck at home, with no hair salon appointments in sight. Girlfriends, are you with me here? I posted something on Instagram the other day about how I’m so glad that I somehow mastered the art of DIY hair coloring before this crisis hit, so I can (thankfully) still pass as the natural blonde that I am not, ha. A lot of you wrote me emails and DMs asking for tips on the process of at-home hair color, so I thought I’d share what I’ve learned. Note, I’m not a hair professional in any way shape or form and have much respect to all of the lovely stylists and hair colorists I’ve known and loved over the years (hi Roxanne, Jeremy, Annie, Kaylene, Christine and everyone else I’m sure to be forgetting here!).

First, some backstory: Last year, I went from having very high-maintenance and expensive hair to a very inexpensive and low-maintenance plan. While my hair probably looked better before, I am so much happier with my routine of dying my own hair and occasionally trimming it too, ha, not to mention the fact that I’ve saved a lot of money and time (oh, and parking tickets–I used to always get parking tickets when at the salon!!!). What made me take the plunge? Well, my mom gave me some courage as she’s been dying her own hair for years and it looks great. (My dad even trims her ends, which is amazing, and a blog post in and of itself!). Also, about a year or so ago, I sat next to a woman at one of my son’s basketball games. Her son was on the opposing team and we started chatting about all kinds of things, including how I loved her hair color. She quickly confessed that it was from a box and that she has been coloring her hair at home for years. I ordered a box of hair color that very moment (thanks Amazon Prime!) and asked her to wish me luck!

So how does one dye their own hair? My top tips:

Follow the directions in the box. I repeat: Follow the directions in the box. This is especially important for your very first time as you’re gauging how the dye works for your hair and it’s best to start with the what the manufacturer recommends. For example, if it says to leave the hair dye on your roots for 10 minutes before applying all over your head, do EXACTLY that. If your results aren’t quite right, you can adjust for the next time. I’ve learned that to get the high lift I like that I have to leave the dye on my hair for an extra 15 minutes or so.

Always keep a second box of hair dye on hand: This is not only important for having when you’ll need it in six weeks or so (when we still might all be sheltering in place) but also in case you have an oops experience. By that, I mean, if you’ve underdone things. This once happened to me. Basically, I tried a new brand of hair dye and followed the instructions only to discover that it … didn’t work. There was a very orangey band of color at my roots that clashed with my overall blonde. Turns out, I probably should have left the dye on my roots longer. Fortunately, I had another box handy and just did the process all over again and that time, it was all good.

It’s okay to mix colors: I know this might sound like mad science and but if you can’t decide between two shades of a similar brand, consider mixing them up. It’s important to note that hair color, once opened, cannot be saved. So just toss whatever of the formulation you do not use.

Keep a journal of what worked best: If in your second round of hair color, you figure out a combo that works well for your hair, write it down in your notes so you know what to do next time. Hair stylists do this too!

Have realistic expectations: If you’re starting out with darker hair, you’re not going to get to light blonde no matter what the box promises. It’s best to focus on what you can achieve: getting a few shades darker/lighter, covering grays, and touching up roots. Anything else is best left for a hair professional (and hopefully soon when this virus is behind us!).

It’s okay to break the rules a little as you get better at this: As I’ve written above, if this is your first time, follow the directions in the box to the letter. As you get better at this and gauge what works best for your hair, it’s okay to fudge things a bit. For instance, I sometimes leave the solution on my hair for quite a bit longer than the box suggests, especially if I feel that my hair has gotten a bit brassy (more on that below). I also shampoo my hair after rinsing out the dye as I can’t stand the way it smells afterward! Most boxes say don’t shampoo, only condition, but I’ve just nixed that rule for myself (and as a blonde).

A word on gloves: When I first started dying my own hair, I was panicked about getting the dye on my hands or around my face, worrying that it would burn my skin. But over time, I’ve realized that it’s not that big of a deal. Yes, it’s probably a good idea to wear the plastic gloves that come with your box of hair dye, but it’s not the end of the world if you don’t as long as you wash your hands afterward (now, if you’re dealing with high pigment black or brown dye, you could have stained hands afterward, so that would be a different story). In other words, you’re not going to chemically burn yourself, so don’t panic. I also tend to take a warm washcloth and wipe off any excess dye around my face/forehead, just to doubly protect my skin.

For the blondes: Sorry brunettes, but I don’t have many color-specific tips for you as I do for blondes. And blond shades can be a bit tricky sometimes. Again, follow the directions, keep an extra box on hand in case you need to repeat the process, but I’ve also learned to be aware of what color you are choosing. For example, if you like a more natural, honey-kissed blond, avoid all hair colors that use the word “ash.” Ashy tones tend to be cooler, and on some people, they can skew gray and violet. If you do not want to avoid warm tones and get the coolest (as in tone) blonde possible, then “ash” is your friend. Just make sure you 1.) keep a close eye on your hair as it’s developing. I’ve learned to pull the plug and rinse when the solution on my hair starts to darken to a gray/purple look, if that makes sense. You really do have to check it often to make sure it’s not too heavy on the ash. 2.) To get the cool blond tone you crave, your hair may look a little “grey” or violet even for a few days. This is what the stranger at the basketball game (above) told me, and I’m so glad she did. Just as she promised me, I’m promising you: If your blond is a little too cool for you, it will improve over the next few days with each washing. If you want to speed up the process, wash you hair a few times with a clarifying shampoo or, in a pinch, even a bit of Dawn dishwashing liquid (the blue stuff) which will pull some of the ashy tone out of your hair. Be careful on the latter as it can be a bit damaging to already weak hair. But, fear not–I’ve turned to Dawn more than a few times and I still have plenty of hair!

Invest in some purple shampoo and conditioner: Again, this is another tip for blondes, but I’ve heard that it can help reduce that orangey look that stylists call “brassiness.” This is especially helpful two or three weeks into your most recent color when hair can sometimes take on brassy tones. See below for some product recs.

Get expert color at home with this new company: I am not sponsored or paid for this recommendation in any way, but I wanted to pass it along as it is genius! SO, my friend Beth who I used to work with at Glamour (she’s now a beauty editor at US Weekly) told me about eSalon today. Apparently their professionals can custom mix a color that is right for you and send it to your home with all the instructions. Um, genius! I may just break up with L’Oreal!

Your shopping list:

Hair dye: While there are so many great products and brands out there, I tend to really like L’Oreal Excellence line and also some of the boxes from Garnier. I’m currently alternating between L’Oreal’s “01” and “02” shades. Sometimes I mix them.

Alligator hair clips: I use these to help separate my hair while I paint in the color and also to secure in place when it’s developing. Try these.

A hair “paint brush”: Proof that I am not a hair professional, I have no clue what you call these brushes, but they are great for evenly distributing the dye, especially in critical places like at the roots. Check out this one.

A thick comb: A wide-tooth comb helps to section small rows of hair as you apply the dye and then to comb it all through to keep things even. I own this one and use it every time I dye my hair.

Purple shampoo and conditioner: Here is the shampoo that I feel works best (I’ve tried a ton) and I love this daily conditioner to fight brassiness (it’s cheap!). Also, I like this affordable clarifying shampoo for “oops” moments. And don’t forget about Dawn.

I think that’s it! Now, go dye your hair! And send me your pics and stories. I can’t wait to hear!


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