Step-by-Step Tips for Flawless At-Home Hair Color

Manhattan's most sought-after color experts (grudgingly) reveal their secrets for getting $800 results — from minor tone tweaks to platinum makeovers — at home.

By Ning Chao

July 10, 2009 12:00 AM
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Jeffrey Westbrook/Studio D
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

Light-Headed: "I have a hard time doing my own highlights, and I'm an expert," admits Nexxus Color Director Sharon Dorram-Krause. For a little savings, Backe recommends doing a single process at home (to subtly lift your overall color) and splurging on salon highlights every few months. "Pro highlights can blend out any of your amateur mistakes," he says. But if you're really devoted to DIY, try painting thin streaks on the hair just beneath your part and a quarter of an inch from the hairline (to hide any obvious lines of demarcation). "You'll get beautiful dimension and lightness, and no eyesores," says Backe.

Clairol Nice 'n Easy Born Blonde, $9.99
products for at home hair color
Jeffrey Westbrook/Studio D
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

Paint by Numbers: New at-home kits mimic the salon experience by including professional tools like the detailing brush in the U Color by Umberto kit, $12. And single process (one coat of color with no highlights, lowlights, or other frills) is simple to do yourself, as long as you're not going for a dramatic transformation. "My rule of thumb is only go two shades lighter or darker than your natural hair," says Brad Johns, national color director for Elizabeth Arden Red Door Spas. "To choose the right box at the store, check the chart on the side of the package. If you don't see your natural tone on the chart, the formula's probably not right for you." Protect your investment with gentle products like Nexxus Dualiste Color Protection + Anti-Breakage Shampoo, $11.99.

L'Oréal Paris Excellence To-Go, $9.49
products for at home hair color
Jeffrey Westbrook
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

SoftSheen Carson Dark and Lovely Color Confidence, $6.99
products for at home hair color
Jeffrey Westbrook
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

Ted Gibson Individual Color Captivating Copper Shampoo, $36
Jeffrey Westbrook
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

Bumble and Bumble Color Support Shampoo for Cool Brunettes, $22
Jeffrey Westbrook
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

Shiny Happy People: Glossing is the easiest service to do on your own. "Clear glazes are safe because they just add shine," says Dorram-Krause. If you need a subtle tone adjustment, a semi-permanent lasts 12 shampoos and will give your hue a boost (try a brass-fighting product or a cool-toned, ashy shade to neutralize orange). The trick is to apply the solution to wet hair for a sheer application of pigment — dry strands absorb more dye, reveals Backe. "This is what we do in the salon: Leave it on for three minutes, rinse a section, then check the color. If it's not deep enough, you can always leave it on longer." Shine on.

John Frieda Collection Sheer Blonde Color Renew Tone-Restoring Shampoo, $8.99
Jeffrey Westbrook
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

Platinum Grade: Most color kits contain the same percentage of peroxide, enough to take you two shades lighter. However, if you're a dark brunette with blonde ambition, consider this advice from Backe: "A regular blonde kit doesn't have enough peroxide, so you'll end up with ugly orange hair. But some formulas, like Clairol's Born Blonde, contain more ammonia and peroxide to lighten hair further — and more violet tones to neutralize gold," he says. To prevent brassiness, use a violet- or blue-based shampoo designed for blondes at least once a week.

Pureology Essential Repair Antifade Complex Restorative Hair Masque, $50
Jeffrey Westbrook
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

Wella System Professional Pearl Smooth, $28
Jeffrey Westbrook
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

Fekkai Beachcomber Leave-In Conditioner, $23
Jeffrey Westbrook
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

Dark and Stormy: If you've lightened your hair in the past, going deeper than two shades is difficult to do yourself. "When hair has been previously lightened, the warm orange, yellow, and red tones have been removed. When you add a darker color, the cool tones will be more obvious and you'll end up with green- or gray-looking hair," warns Backe. "At-home treatments seem inexpensive, but if the results aren't what you're looking for, it might cost more to fix than if you'd just gone to a salon in the first place," says Johns.

Redken Color Extend Rich Defender, $15
Jeffrey Westbrook
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

Gray Gardens: Temporary touch-up markers now come in an array of shades and are a foolproof way to camouflage a few hairs. For allover gray, choose a single-process, permanent color like Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Color Creme, $7.99. No Gray, $2.99, is an additive that makes any hair dye (even semi-permanents) suitable for gray coverage. To prevent too much dark saturation on previously dyed ends, Backe suggests coating only new growth. "When you're done processing, wet the hair, then run the product that's on your scalp through to your ends. Just leave it on for a minute for a glaze-like effect." If you want the look of highlights without the hard work (and you're not 100 percent gray), try using a semi-permanent. The dye will deposit a sheer coat of color only on grays for a sparkly effect. The more grays you have, the more highlights you'll get.

Revlon ColorSilk Root Perfect, $3.69
Jeffrey Westbrook
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At-Home Hair Color Secrets

TouchBack in Golden Blonde and Dark Auburn, $24.95 each
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