Whether they’re covering up the salt in their salt-and-pepper strands or just adding some glossy oomph, 78 million women in the United States dye their hair, according to research from Garnier. Maybe it’s the first time you’ve colored yours, or perhaps you’ve been doing it for so long you hardly remember what your natural color looks like, but either way, the game has changed. New hydrating formulas (made with oils and butters and no ammonia) are replacing the older, harsher ones, and innovations such as foam make it even easier to handle coloring at home.
Because there are so many great options out there, we asked experts to explain how to get your best shade ever (whether you want your actual color, only better, or to try a whole new hue) and how to protect it. We have you covered—from root to tip!
The healthier your hair is to start, the better it will take (and retain) a new hue, says Rick Wellman, color director at Patrick Melville Salon in New York City. You’ll also get longer-lasting shine. Dry, damaged hair can soak up dye, leaving a blotchy result. A week before coloring, prep strands with a clarifying shampoo. This helps remove oils and product buildup that could interfere with the dye, explains Ben Stewart, color director at Cutler Salon in New York City. Skip styling products the day you color for the same reason.
Take baby steps
If your hair’s cocoa-colored, it’s going to take a lot to get to Heidi Klum blond—and, chances are, your hair will suffer major damage along the way. It’s best to make small adjustments from your starting point (natural or dyed) so you—and your hair—have a chance to adapt. Also, an at-home attempt isn’t the time to be daring: “A skillful colorist can make a radical change, but it’s probably best left to professionals,” Stewart says. Note: If you’ve dyed your hair dark, it’s hard to lighten it back, he says. You’d first have to bleach hair to remove all pigment, then apply new color. Resist!
Find your best shade
When you’re buying a box of color at the drugstore, you want to select a hue that works with your general coloring, says Brad Johns, color director of the Salon and Spa at Saks Fifth Avenue in New York City. Whatever you pick, first test a small section at the base of your neck.
Eyeball it. To determine whether you need a warm or cool tone (either more golden or more ashy), check your eyes. If there are flecks of brown-orange in your irises, go warm. If the flecks are green or blue, pick a cool shade.
Check your jewelry. If you look better in silver than in gold, choose cool tones. If you gravitate toward gold, warmer is likely best.
Follow an old photo. Check out those family albums. “Hair gets darker as you age,” notes Johns. “The color that you had when you were a child is brighter than what you have now but still within the same color family, so it will look the most natural.”