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The Do’s and Don’ts of Home Hair Color

August 28, 2014

Photo: Tony Kim, Trunk Archive

I have a not-so-secret obsession with at-home hair color. I opened my first box back in college, and as technology and formulas have improved, my love has only deepened. If you were to open my bathroom cupboard, you’d find dozens of boxes. I like to think of myself as a beauty survivalist: If grays suddenly strike, I'm totally prepared.

That said, some of my greatest hair disasters have come from home color processing mistakes: strawlike texture, breakage, uneven hues, and more. So, in order to avoid any bathroom chemistry mishaps, I turned to two top hair-color wizards to learn what to do when you're coloring hair at home. Think of it as Beauty 411 before it becomes a Beauty 911.

First, you have to find the right color. Duffy, a top celebrity colorist and Vidal Sassoon global ambassador, suggests using your skin tone as a guide to the best shade. “Cooler skin tones with a pink undertone and blue or green eyes look good with cooler tones, like ash blondes, browns, and reds whereas warmer types with gold-brown undertones and brown eyes look good with golden caramel, warm blonde shades and fiery crimson and auburn hues.”

Kari Hill, L’Oréal Paris's consulting celebrity colorist, who uses L’Oréal Paris home hair-color kits on her own tresses when she can’t necessarily get to the salon herself, suggests grabbing two shades. "When doing an all-over touchup, I suggest picking up your desired base and one shade lighter for your hairline. The lighter shade around your face ensures the color looks soft and more natural."

Toning the color is the most important part of a dye job, whether you’re at a salon or at home. “Gloss and/or tone the wet hair to soften the highlights and blend the hair to avoid a hard line of demarcation,” says Hill. “Apply the toning color to your hands and massage it through all your hair for no longer than minute at most, then rinse it.” Follow the toning step with shampoo and conditioner to lock in the color.

You also want to avoid unnatural buildup. "One of the key differences between salon and home hair color is that professionals can apply color exactly where it needs to go, so be aware of the 'buildup' factor of home hair color on the mid lengths and ends." Hair is naturally lighter toward the ends than the roots due to sun exposure and other factors, so work to keep your lengths and ends lighter so it’s not an obvious dye job.  "For a grey touch up, apply the color to the roots only," advises Hill.

Now that you know what to do, here are the best home hair color kits to accomplish your goals:

Best all-over color and gray coverage: goes to L’Oréal Mousse Absolue Permanent Hair Color. With incredible multi-dimensional results and a formula that mixes inside the applicator, it delivers enough rich color for two applications. The no-mess mix saves time and money.

Best hair color for damaged and/or aging hair: Clairol Expert Collection Age Defy Hair Color has a formula specifically designed to address the needs of hair that’s not necessarily as supple as it used to be. If you’re dealing with thinning, breakage, and dullness, this formula works wonders.

Best vivid hues: If you’re considering going fashion-forward for fall, the Vidal Sassoon London Luxe collection has gorgeous blues, lavenders, and pistol-popping reds that can deliver unnatural color with incredibly natural dimension and shine.

Best hair color for dry hair: Garnier Olia Oil-Powered Permanent Hair Color has an amazing oil-based formula that delivers luxurious salon results on dry, parched strands. If you’ve already over-processed your hair or are looking for a color refresh after too much summer sun, this is for you. The reds and brunettes from this range are not to be believed.

Best Ombré: If you’re hanging onto this trend, go for L’Oréal Féria Ombré t. If you just need to touch up your roots, you don’t need to reprocess your ends. “That’s the beauty of that particular hair color choice,” enthuses Hill, who suggests using Brass Banisher and Shine Gloss. “They both help reduce brassiness and add shine. Apply them to your wet hair after coloring your roots as a toner in your color process.”

Best Color Gloss: Gloss treatments are the best way to get incredible shine and boost your hue between color jobs. John Frieda Colour Refreshing Gloss Weekly Salon Treatments offer rich hues and smooth texture. Rita Hazan’s Ultimate Shine Gloss delivers unbelievable softness along with salon-quality pigment.