You hate it — the smell, the cost, the time commitment — and yet you wouldn't dream of going without it. Coloring your hair can take years off your looks — even if it sometimes feels like a bad habit you can't break. And it can be less onerous. This shade-by-shade guide to creating rich, long-lasting hues at home — and getting your money's worth at the salon — is loaded with smart advice and the best damage-control tactics from the pros.
5 Rules for Botch-Proof Haircolor
Check Your Sides
The model on the front of a box is there to catch your attention, not to predict your future shade, says Brad Johns, color director of Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spas. The actual colors you can start with and achieve with a kit are shown in photos on the side of the box.
When in doubt, pick a hue that's just one shade lighter or darker than your current one. Feeling more daring? It's easier to correct too-light mistakes (by adding dye over them) than too-dark slipups (which may require you to live with them until they fade or grow out).
Call for Help
Questions? Use the 800 number on the side of the haircolor box. And if you have a perm, relaxer, or any other chemical processes in your hair, get expert guidance on finding a color treatment that's safe for the condition of your hair.
If you're going darker, start the dye at the roots and, in the last five minutes, work the color through to the ends. If you're lightening up, try the opposite: Start at the ends, which should look blonder than the rest of your hair, as they would naturally if they'd been bleached by the sun.
Wait 48 Hours Before Shampooing
This lets the pigment soak in. When you do wash, avoid using very hot water, which can open the cuticle and let out the dye.
3 Tips for Salon Success
Bring Visual Aids
Find a photo of the shade you'd like to be, and show it to your colorist. Every pro will interpret your words differently, but a photo will help her see your preferences more clearly.
Be a Foodie
In the absence of visual aids, use foods to describe the color you want, suggests Jason Backe, Clairol's new color director. "When it comes to haircolor, words like honey, caramel, and espresso are much more specific than gold and brunette," he says.
Consult with a Pro
When trying a new colorist, book a consultation first. It won't cost a thing, and can save you months of regret.