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How to Dye Your Hair at Home (and the Best Box Brands to Use!)

A woman dyes her hair with an at-home dye kit.
simona pilolla 2/Shutterstock

Thinking about an at-home dye job? Here’s how to avoid a disaster and come out looking fabulous!

Whether your salon is still closed or you want to save money, many people are dyeing their hair at home. If you’re intimidated about taking the leap, you’re not alone. You might be picturing odd streaks, orange locks, or a blacked-smeared forehead. But don’t worry: With a little bit of prep and the tips below, you’ll end up with a beautiful dye job all on your own.

Here are some things to keep in mind before, during, and after the dyeing process. We’ve also rounded up the best box brands to give you awesome at-home results!

Tips for Dyeing Your Hair at Home

These tips and strategies will help you get salon-worthy results at home for a fraction of the price. Everyone’s hair will react differently to dye, so keep flexibility in mind as well.

Find Your Best Shade

The first thing you want to do before grabbing the coolest color of hair dye from the shelf is to find your best shade. Start with your skin’s undertone. All skin colors have a warm, cool, or neutral undertone.

The easiest way to find your undertone is to look at your wrists. If your veins appear to be blue or purple, you have a cool undertone. If they appear green, you have a warm undertone. If you can’t decide which color is dominant, you might have a neutral skin undertone. Hair colors that lean red, gray, or black work best for cool undertones. Colors that lean gold or copper work best for warm undertones. If you have a neutral undertone, you should be able to get away with almost any color.

Some websites and apps—such as this Redken virtual hair color tool or this similar tool from L’Oreal—allow you to virtually try on hair colors before you buy. They won’t be 100 percent accurate, but it can give you a good idea of what the color will look like on you. This can be especially useful if you want to try a vibrant color like blue or purple but aren’t sure if you can pull it off.

Speaking of that, if you want a funkier hair change than black or brown, check out the best semi-permanent hair dyes for fun colors!

Prep Your Hair Correctly

Don’t wash your hair for a day or two before dyeing it. If you don’t use any product in your hair, you can lean toward two days. This allows natural oils to build up on your scalp and can help you avoid irritation.

If you need to use products in your hair, don’t go more than a day without washing before coloring it. Too much buildup in the hair can make it difficult for the dye to be absorbed and result in uneven color.

Don’t Skip the Strand Test

Every boxed hair dye recommends testing a small strand of hair before committing to your entire head. This is because your final color is not going to look like the color on the box. Your current color, hair type, and the application process will change the color slightly.

A strand test helps you see the final result before dyeing your entire head. You can do this by either cutting a small chunk of hair off or practicing on a section near the back of your head that can be easily hidden.

Mix your dye and perform the entire process from start to finish, including washing and drying the hair after it’s been colored. Hold the strand up to your face and look at it in natural light if possible. If you’re happy with the final outcome, go ahead with the rest of your hair.

Ask for Advice

Feel free to visit a beauty store or your stylist to ask what tips they recommend. If you’re trying to bleach your hair by yourself or do something to a similar extreme, your stylist will likely recommend you visit them instead. We agree.

If you want to dye your hair more than two shades lighter or darker than its current state, you will have better results leaving it to a professional. However, if you’re only changing one shade or want to do a quick root touch-up, your stylist will be happy to recommend some tips and techniques.

Take Your Time

This is a marathon, not a sprint. Even a semi-permanent color is going to be your new reality for at least a few weeks. You don’t want to be kicking yourself after you’ve washed out your color because you missed a big chunk of hair in the back of your head.

Take your time prepping your hair, reading through the instructions, and working the dye into all parts of your hair. Many dyes are potent for an hour or more after they’re mixed, so you don’t need to rush. You’ll be much happier with the final outcome.

How to Fix Common Hair Dye Issues

Side by side photos of girl with blonde hair that has been toned
A “purple” shampoo can help color correct problems with blonde hair. L’Oreal

Just in case something does go wrong, be prepared to fix the issue right away. If your hair color came out darker than you wanted, wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo to remove some of the dye. You may want to shampoo more than once if the color feels way too dark.

If you missed a few spots and your color is uneven, use the clarifying shampoo on the darker parts of your hair to tone out the color until you can dye it again. (Wait a minimum of four to five days before coloring your hair a second time—the process can quickly dry your locks out and make them prone to damage.)

Neutrogena Anti-Residue Clarifying Shampoo

Lighten and correct a dye job with this clarifying shampoo.

If your blonde dye job came out brassy, wash with a purple shampoo. This color will help neutralize those yellow shades and get your hair to the tone you were hoping for.

If your color came out lighter than you wanted, you can dye again after a few days, depending on how healthy your hair feels. You can also use a pigmented conditioner or hair mask to gently tone the color down without subjecting your hair to a full dyeing process.

John Frieda Brilliant Brunette Conditioner

Don't worry brunettes, we didn't leave you out. This conditioner is for you.

If these solutions don’t work or you just hate the color you chose (hey, it happens), book an appointment with your salon. They see this kind of thing all the time and will be able to get your hair where you want it to go.

If everything went right and you love your new color, though, check out these tips to extend it for as long as possible.

Best Box Brand Hair Dyes

Now that we’ve laid out our tips and tricks, let’s take a look at some of the best “box” dyes you can snap up to get great results at home! Between the four brands recommended below, you’re sure to find the perfect color and toolkit for your hair goals.

Best Overall: Garnier Olia Ammonia Free Permanent Hair Color

Two boxes of Garnier hair dye

This hair color uses an oil base for ultra-hydrated hair. It comes in 31 colors and includes options with neutral, gray, and golden undertones.

There’s also no ammonia, which is a common ingredient in many boxed brands that can cause irritation to the scalp. Reviewers also rave about how silky their hair feels when they’re done.

Best for Gray Coverage: L’Oreal Paris Excellence Creme Permanent Hair Color

Two boxes of L'Oreal hair dye

L’Oreal Paris’ option comes in lots of color options and each box contains clear instructions about dyeing. It’s great if you’re a newbie to at-home color, or you’re nervous about what you’re doing.

It offers a 100% gray coverage guarantee, meaning those grays will be invisible when you’re done. This option also comes with a conditioning treatment you can use multiple times afterward for long-lasting, radiant hair.

Best for Gray Coverage

Best Price: Revlon Colorsilk Beautiful Color Permanent Hair Color

Two boxes of Revlon hair dye

This boxed dye comes with thousands of 5-star reviews on Amazon. Choose from 40 different colors ranging from black to light blonde. But its biggest benefit is the price tag: At just a few bucks per box, you know you won’t be wasting your money. Stock up on two boxes if you have long or thick hair.

Best Semi-Permanent: Clairol Natural Instincts Semi-Permanent

Two boxes of Clairol hair dye

This semi-permanent option uses more natural ingredients than most box dyes, so you can feel good about what you’re putting on your head. The color lasts up to 28 washes and is great for people who aren’t sure if they want to fully commit to a new look. Made with 80% naturally derived ingredients including aloe vera and coconut oil, this is also perfect for people with sensitive scalps who are worried about irritation.

Anne Taylor Anne Taylor
Anne Taylor is a writer with a BA in Journalism and a passion for storytelling. Her work has been published on a variety of websites including Mental Floss and Well + Good, and she recently published her first novel, What it Takes to Lose. When she's not writing, Anne loves to travel (19 countries and counting), spend time outside, and play with her dog, Pepper. Read Full Bio »
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