Colour your hair at home

Looking for ways to trim your beauty budget? Be an at-home hair colour pro with our expert tips

Prep work First time colouring? “Don’t go too crazy,” warns Eric Del Monaco, official hair artist and colourist for L’Oréal Paris in Canada. Stick to one or two shades lighter or darker than your natural colour (use grid on side of box as your guide). Worried about which hue to choose? “If you’re ever in doubt between two shades, always choose the lighter colour,” advises Marcy Cona, Clairol creative director of colour and style. “It’s easy to darken the colour.”

Take it easy Avoid shampooing or brushing your hair too much the day before you colour it. “Any irritation may lead to scalp sensitivity,” says Del Monaco. He advises that you stay away from gels, hairsprays and mousses as well so your hair will absorb the colour better.

Stain relief Keep colour off your skin by swiping some moisturizer or even lip balm (sounds weird, but it’s less messy than lotion) around your hairline. Be careful, though, not to get any greasy stuff on your tresses, warns Cona, as it may block the colour absorption.

Clear the deck Find a couple of hours when you won’t be distracted, suggests Cona, “maybe at night when the kids are in bed.” And consider asking a friend to lend a hand and help you get the spots that are hard to reach.

Testing, testing Do the strand test first, especially if you’re new to colouring. “It’s the easiest way to predict the result, so there are no surprises,” says Cona. “This step is critical if you’re using permanent colour.” Just colour a hidden strand of hair according to the package directions to save yourself a lot of heartache later.

Prioritize Address what’s bothering you first — whether that’s roots or stubborn grey. Cover those first and then do the rest of your hair only when necessary. If you’ve been colouring for a while, says Cona, you may not need to pull the colour through to the ends every time.

Stay strong Wait 48 hours before your first shampoo to let the colour penetrate. If you can stand it, give your new do a break by washing it only every second or third day. Choose products for colour-treated hair, advises Del Monaco. But don’t go too hot with the water. “It will open cuticles and allow the colour to escape,” he says. Try a cold rinse after conditioning instead; this will close the cuticle and prolong the life of your colour.

Dye-job disaster Don’t panic if it goes wrong. Call the brand’s hotline for help (the number’s usually in the box), or even wait a day or two — you may end up liking it. “I’ve seen many women who hate their hair colour and then the next day, they love it.” But, if you’ve gone too dark, you may need a professional’s help.

Pregnant pause? Worried your roots will widen to match your growing belly? Don’t fret. “There is no problem with hair dyes that I know of,” says Jon Barrett, chief of maternal-fetal medicine at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre. Further, motherisk.org says any absorption of hair products is minimal, and that colouring your hair three to four times while pregnant is not considered a concern. If you’re a born worrier, though, choose natural hair dyes, such as henna, during your pregnancy.

Colour guide

Semi and demi permanent Refreshes hair colour by coating the outside of the hair. Depending on the brand, colour will fade out after eight to 28 shampoos, and is best for minimal grey coverage.

Permanent Just asthe term implies, these products will change the colour of your hair forever — well, until it grows out. Can lighten or cover greys.

Root touch-up kit A permanent product that covers roots and greys when you’re between full hair colourings.

Conversation Q&A with hair guru Howard Barr, in Toronto

Q: What’s the most important thing you can do to preserve the life of your colour?

A: Wash it less often, using a gentle shampoo. Also, try to cover your hair up when you’re in the sun and rinse it well after swimming.

Q: Should we care for dark colour differently from light colour?

A: Dark hair needs to be protected from fading; pigment-enhancing glazes and conditioners will keep it looking fresh. Blond hair can go brassy; corrective colour shampoos will counteract the yellow cast.

Q: What’s the fastest way to kill your colour?

A: Chlorine will lighten any kind of colour because it’s a bleach. Watch out for anti-dandruff shampoos too; if they contain ingredients to remove flakes from the scalp, they’ll also remove pigment from your hair.