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At-Home Hair Color: 14 Biggest Mistakes Women Make

Why You Should Never Go More Than a Couple Shades Lighter or Darker



Here is an example of single process hair color

ONOKY for Getty Images

A woman about to apply hair color to the part in her hair

ONOKY for Getty Images

When you color your own hair, getting it right can be daunting. Hair color is actually a science. When my colorist, Mira at Eva Scrivo Salon in New York City, tries to explain to me what's she doing to create my blonde highlights, sometimes I go all googly-eyed. This is why I leave my own head of hair to the pros. 

That said, many friends and beauty editors I know turn to the box when coloring their hair. These days boxed color can be gorgeous. But you have to do it right. Here are the biggest mistakes women make when doing their color themselves.

They Go More Than 2 Shades Lighter or Darker

If you want to go from dark brown to this platinum color, get thee to a hair salon. Don't try this at home. I get so many women writing in wondering how they can fix a bad dye job. Avoid this by using semi-permanent color and never going more than two shades lighter or darker than your natural hair color.

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They Bet Their Hair Color on the Picture on the Box

Pictures on hair color boxes can be deceiving. Go by the color swatches and the descriptions instead. Most boxes will call out the color (blonde, brown, black and red) and the shade of that color (light, medium and dark). There might also be mention of the tone (golden or ashy).

They Try to Do It Themselves

Try as you might, it's virtually impossible for you to see the back of your head. This is why I recommend enlisting a friend, family member or even your boyfriend or husband to help you color your hair. The process will go so much more smoothly.

They Leave the Color on Too Long

Always set a timer for your hair. Many women end up leaving the color on their hair too long and end up with over-processed hair.

They Rinse Their Hair Out in a Sink

According to Scrivo, kitchen and bathroom sinks don't have enough water pressure to rinse out the hair chemicals completely, which can damage hair. Instead, step into the shower and rinse your hair thoroughly.

They Choose a Permanent Hair Color

Semi-permanent hair color gradually washes out over a period of eight to 10 shampoos, but permanent hair color sticks around until it washes out or you get a colorist to fix it.

If you are going the DIY route, Women's Hairstyles Expert Kendra Aarhus recommends choosing a temporary, semi-permanent, or demi-permanent color.

"It's like the difference between using a sharpie or a pencil on white wall. Sure, you can get the sharpie off, eventually, but the process is much harder than trying to get pencil off," she says in her article, When to Color Your Hair at Home.

The problem with boxed hair color is many boxes don't tell you what type of color you're getting. Stylist Nick Arroyo shares his secrets to telling what type of color you're getting in his book, "Great Hair." Arroyo says semi-permanent color comes in a tube ready to go, whereas demi-permanent and permanent colors have to be mixed.

They Don't Read the Instructions

Box color has been around forever, so they've gotten the directions down. If they didn't, women wouldn't buy again. Just because you've dyed your hair before at home with one brand doesn't mean another brand of hair color stays on the same amount of time.

Always read the directions before proceeding.

They Run Out of Product

If you have thick, curly or long hair, you run the risk of running out of product as you apply it. Always buy two boxes of hair color.

They're Commitment-Phobic

Some women have what I call "Hair Color ADHD." Like singles who are commitment-phobic, the minute they find a hair color they like they're ready to try something new. Finding a color you love is like winning the lottery. You could be making a huge mistake trying a different color or different brand.

They Try to Dye Their Gray Hair With Semi-Permanent Color

Gray hair is the No. 1 reason women dye their hair, however, it's famously stubborn to color. If you color your hair with a semi-permanent color, you'll likely be disappointed, according to colorist Eva Scrivo, who recommends using a permanent hair color on hair that's more than 50 percent gray. If you have just a few grays, you can use a demi-permanent hair color.

See What's the Difference Between Semi-permanent and Permanent Hair Color? and Hair Coloring Tips for Gray Hair.

They Color Hair That's Damaged or Already Been Processed

Super dry or damaged hair is very porous. You run the risk of staining your hair darker than expected if you color hair that is super dry, damaged or has already been chemically processed (think straightening treatments such as the Brazilian or the Japanese or even hair that's already been colored).

According to Scrivo, even a temporary color can stain dry or damaged hair. You may end up with dark ends (the ends of hair tend to damaged) and beautiful color only at your crown. If you have processed your hair or have dry hair, seek out the help of a professional for your new color.

They Choose the Wrong Color Tone for Their Complexion

Most of us would like to think we are both warm and cool. But when it comes to hair color, it's important to know which one you really are (and it has nothing to do with your fantastic personality).

"If you feel that you look tired, sallow or pale, or notice that your skin looks blotchy or too ruddy, it is a good indication that your hair color is not right," says Scrivo on her fantastic book, Eva Scrivo On Beauty.

There are basically two color tones to box color: warm and cool.

Women who have red in their skin and burn easily should stick to cool shades described on the box as "ash," "beige" or "cool brown." Warmer colors will only bring out the redness in your skin.

Women who tan easily and who have yellow skin undertones (most Latinas and African Americans fall into this category) are better off with warm colors described as "warm," "honey," "caramel," "bronze" or "golden." Avoid jet black hair, which will wash you out.

Some women fall somewhere in the middle and can look good in a wide range of warm and cool shades.

Check out Aarhus's article on the language of hair color here before you head to the drugstore.

They're Brunettes Trying to Go Blonde or Red

Again, anything more than 2 shades darker or lighter than your natural hair color, should be done in a salon. Taking black or brown hair to blonde or red is absolutely possible, but is usually a complicated process that could involve more than one visit to the salon.

The good news is almost every woman will look good in red hair. The key is to find the right shade of red that won't bring out ruddiness in your skin tone. As for who can go blonde, people who had blonde hair as children have the right skin tone to be blonde adults. Does this mean you can't be blonde if you didn't have blonde hair as a kid? Nope.

To determine if blonde or red is right for you, try on wigs first to see if the color washes you out or enhances your look. And then head to the salon to get the job done. Don't pick up a box.

There are 5 more things to consider before you make the plunge to blonde, find out what they are in How to Tell if You'd Make a Good Blonde.

They're Unhappy With All-Over Color

If you look closely at the hair of a child or a woman whose hair you absolutely love, you'll notice there are many shades of color. All-over color from a box is basically a wash of one color. If one-dimensional hair is not what you're after, you might be better off getting highlights at a salon.

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