Everything you need to know about home hair dye

Your foolproof guide to avoiding disasters and nailing DIY home dyes

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By Elle Turner on

I don't profess to be an expert at home hair colour. There was the time I returned from the hairdresser's with greeny-yellow hair and tried to fix it myself, only to turn it orange. And the time I left the dye on too long, missed chocolate brown and went jet black. So, yes, I've bodge-jobbed my way through my fair share of hair colours. But, I have to say, I've learnt a lot along the way. Thing is, while hairdressers often (though not always, see above) do a wonderful job of giving hair a lovely new lease of life, they also cost about five times as much as picking up a box dye from your local Tesco. What's more (and no one is more pleased about this than I), the technology and tailoring of home hair colours has come on in leaps and bounds since my thwarted attempts.


First of all, it's worth working out what undertone – cool or warm – would work best for your skintone. "One very simple way is to hold both a bright orange and a bright pink scarf up to your face," says Schwarzkopf's colour expert ambassador, Carolyn Newman. "One will drain your face of colour; the other will bring out your features. If the orange looks better, look for something with a warm tone (chestnuts, coppers and caramels). If pink looks better, choose a cool tone (ashy browns and champagne shades for blondes)."

For a more tailored approach, look to eSalon. Their website guides you through a series of questions, from skintone, eye colour, hair type and percentage of greys to desired finish (ombre, all-over or highlights etc) and your preferred undertone, before arriving at a completely custom-made colour. The details you provide are assessed by one of eSalon's in-house colourists to ensure it would work well for you, then, once approved, it's mixed from their infinite combination of shades. Prices start from £7 for your first order (£18 after) and your kit comes with personalised instructions, your dye, a handy kit (with gloves, stain guards and an applicator brush) and a shampoo and conditioner for post-treatment. 


Unsurprisingly, experiences of broken, frazzled hair have turned lots of us off home hair dyes, but the advent of "plex" technology in dyes, conditioners and treatments means that now our hair can come out the other side of a dye job stronger than ever. "What happens when we dye hair is that the microbonds between the hair fibrils within each strand shift. This makes hair more prone to damage and breakage," explains Newman. "Plex has changed that. The technology mends and shields these bonds and protects them from breaking." In real terms, it means that hair feels shinier, softer and healthier after colouring than it did before. 




  • If you're covering regrowth, apply the dye to your roots for longer than your lengths, as lengths are more porous, so will soak up more colour faster.
  • Don’t use a metal bowl to mix the colour, as metal can spark a chemical reaction within the dye which causes it to oxidise and change colour.
  • If your hair is past shoulder length, pick up two boxes to ensure you have enough dye to cover it all.
  • Apply dye from the back to the front of your hair (which means the dye sits on the back longer) otherwise your hair will look darker around your face where naturally it would be lighter (since the sun hits your hairline). 
  • It's easier to dye hair from light to dark. Dark to light hair will go orange if you don't use a bleach beforehand (though this can strip hair, so is best avoided if you're hair is very dry and brittle).
  • If you do botch it, a purple-toned shampoo will help to knock out brassy tones (and works just as well on brunettes as blondes), while golden tones will help warm up hair that looks too cool. If you're sporting a root-to-tip disaster, start from scratch with an all-over dye. 



The tailored service at eSalon is second to none – a brand well-worth looking at if you need some help choosing your colour.


IF YOU WANT semi-permanent colour

This is brilliant stuff for covering greys, comes in a great range of colours, leaves hair looking glossy and lasts for 28 washes.



Schwarzkopf's Colour Expert contains the aforementioned "plex" technology to ensure your hair looks lovely and healthy after dyeing. It'll leave it silky soft, too.


IF YOU NEED A colour boost

If you just want to add a bit of a boost to dull-looking colour, John Frieda's brilliant colour treatments enable you to brighten your blonde or brunette colour by one shade, or deepen brown hair by a shade or two in five to 10 minutes.


IF YOU'RE in-between dyes

Clairol's Nice'N Easy Root Touch-Up is a classic for a reason and it comes in a vast range of shades so you can easily find one to match your hair. It takes 10 minutes to apply (just brush over roots, wait and wash out) and comes with a precise brush, so you only cover the bits you need. Failing that, try dusting ColorWow's root cover-up along your parting (like you would an eyeshadow), or grab a tinted dry shampoo, like Batiste's Hint Of Colour range, in your shade and spray it through roots (and lengths if needed) to cover greys before your next dye session.




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