If you frequently color your hair at home, you’re probably all too aware of the risks that come with DIY hair dye — sometimes it comes out too dark, sometimes it’s too light and sometimes, it’s a completely different color than you intended it to be. It’s a wild ride. When it comes to at-home hair-dye jobs, we’ve all experienced a nightmare or two (read: maybe five) but nevertheless, we’ve persisted and tried again. To help you navigate some of your most common at-home hair coloring questions, we spoke with George Papanikolas, Matrix Celebrity Colorist, to learn pro tips and tricks. Ahead, read his advice on what to do when your hair color comes out too dark.

Mistake #1: You Picked the Wrong Color

Although there are many factors that can contribute to your hair color coming out too dark, the most probable cause is the box color you selected. “Most likely, you picked a darker color than you desired,” says Papanikolas. “People might think they have black hair, but really they have medium brown hair. On the color spectrum chart, there are 10 shades, level 1 black to level 10 pale blonde. Levels 1-6 are all brunette shades, so picking the right color can be tricky when you aren’t a professional.” Luckily there are several apps that can help you select the right shade at home, including the Garnier Shade Selector Tool created with Modiface. This one lets you virtually try on different colors before you buy and dye.

Mistake #2: Your Application Technique is Wrong

“The second most likely factor is that you applied the same color from root to ends. This is a wrong approach, especially if you are using permanent color. Because the ends are more porous and have more color buildup, they can suck up more color and become inky and dark.”

Tip #1: Only Use Permanent Color on Gray Hair

To keep your hair color from coming out too dark next time around, only use permanent hair color to cover gray hair and on your regrowth. “Refresh the ends with a semi-permanent gloss 2-4 shades lighter than the root color,” advises Papanikolas. “You always want the ends to be a little lighter.”

Tip #2: Use a Clarifying Shampoo to Lighten Color That is Too Dark

Papanikolas explains there is a universal rule of hair color: A lighter color won’t lighten previously colored hair. “Use a clarifying shampoo, like Matrix Total Results Pro-Solutionist Alternate Action Clarifying Shampoo, hot water, say a prayer and be patient that the color hopefully fades over several weeks.”

Tip #3: Know When to See a Professional

“The only other way to quickly lighten the hair is by seeing a professional. It’s an expensive option as it’s a complicated and time-consuming color correction, which requires your colorist to strip it out, and then go back over with the desired color,” he says. “The process is too complicated to do at home and can be harsh and damaging to the hair.”


How to color hair at home

Trying to fit regular salon visits into a hectic schedule isn’t always realistic—which makes some of us shy away from experimenting with hair color. But you can take matters into your own hands these days! The latest at-home color products have less harmful ingredients than they once did, and are relatively quick and easy to use. In fact, the trickiest part is figuring out which shade is best for you (hint: you only want to go 1–2 shades lighter or darker; check out our guide to picking a color here!). Once you’ve nailed down your color choice, the rest is easy! We turned to Vidal Sassoon Pro Series experts to lay out as many tips, tricks, and all the steps you need to achieve salon-worthy color, all in the comfort of your own bathroom.

You Will Need

• at-home hair color kit; we used Vidal Sassoon Pro Series Permanent At-Home Color Kit in 5G Medium Golden Brown, which comes with gloves, VS PrecisionMix Permanent Color Crème, VS PrecisionMix Developer Crème, and VS HydraBlock Color Preserving Conditioner.
• clock or timer
• button-down shirt
• old towels
• large tooth comb
• petroleum jelly
• hand mirror
• plastic clips
• small plastic bowl
• aluminum foil
• white paper or paper towel 

Part 1: Prep

For best results, don’t wash hair prior to coloring. When your hair isn’t freshly washed, your scalp creates a protective barrier that helps reduce the chance of irritation. We suggest wearing a comfortable button-down shirt, preferably one that you’re not attached to, in case of any dye misfires.

Part 2: Strand Test

Before you commit to a color on your whole head, it’s best to test it out on an inconspicuous strand. Here’s how.

1: Unscrew the VS PrecisionMix Permanent Color Crème cap. Next, unscrew the entire VS PrecisionMix Developer Crème cap (don’t pull off the tab just yet).

2: Mix small equal parts of each into a plastic bowl.

3: Tightly recap both bottle and tube.

4: Pull a strand of hair from behind your ear and apply the desired color from the roots down through the hair shaft.

5: Wrap the strand in foil to keep the dye off the rest of your hair, and let it sit for 30 minutes. Check on it throughout to note its progress. Depending on your texture, you may decide to slightly alter the amount of time you leave the color on. 

6: Rinse and dry the strand. Hold a piece of white paper towel or paper towel as a background, to note the end result (the white helps you really see how the color came out). If you’re pleased with the shade, you’re ready to do the rest of your hair.

Part 3: All-Over Color

1: Rub petroleum jelly around the hairline to protect skin from staining. If any dye does get on your skin, quickly wipe it away with a facial wipe.

2: Put on the included gloves, take the tab off the VS PrecisionMix Developer Crème applicator, and unscrew the bottle cap. Add the VS PrecisionMix Permanent Color Crème to the VS PrecisionMix Developer Crème applicator bottle.

3: Place gloved finger over the applicator tip, point it away from your face, and shake well—a minimum of 20 seconds—until thoroughly mixed.

4: Using your clips, divide hair into two to four sections, depending on the length and thickness.

5: Immediately apply color to your hair. Start with one section and continue until you get all sections done. Generally, you should start at the roots and move down the hair shaft (this is especially important if you have any grey hair to cover). If you’re going lighter (rather than darker), and don’t have any greys to cover, apply color to the mid-lengths and ends first, and then work up to the roots.

6: Leave the color on for about 30 minutes, or the time indicated by your strand test. 

7: Toss any leftover mixture.

8: Once the time’s up, rinse hair thoroughly in warm water until water runs clean, without any bubbles from the color formula.

9: Gently towel dry your hair and use a large tooth comb to get out any tangles.

10: Slather on about a quarter-size amount of included conditioner. Be sure to coat hair all over and leave it on for five minutes. Rinse thoroughly with warm water. 

11: Save the leftover conditioner so you can continue to use in the coming weeks. Use it once a week in place of your usual conditioner. 

12: Blow-dry hair and style to your liking!

Note: if you feel that the color is too dark after it’s completely dry, re-shampoo your hair to ensure that you’ve removed all of the color product and conditioner.

Maintenance Tips

Generally, color fades due to two factors: the condition of your hair or excessive shampooing. The minerals in water can potentially have a negative impact on the longevity of your color. So don’t shampoo every single day. Go for every other day or, if you can, every third day. Also, use a color-care conditioner—not only does it keep the color in longer, but it also improves hair quality and health, too!

This story was sponsored by Vidal Sassoon Pro Series


At-Home Hair Color: How To Get The Shade Right

The right hair color can enhance your skin, cover pesky greys, and most importantly, give you a confidence boost. But sometimes visiting a salon just isn’t in the budget (time- or money-wise). But how to navigate the wide selection of at-home dye products available today? How much can you really expect to achieve without a pro on hand? The thought is kind of overwhelming. That’s why we called in the experts from Vidal Sassoon Pro Series, who shared tips for choosing a product and shade. Before you make a purchase or reach for the plastic gloves, this is a must-read! 

Be Reasonable

If you want to color at home, it’s recommended to go only one or two shades lighter or darker than your natural color and to stick to a monochromatic hue. If you want highlights, lowlights, balayage, ombré, etc., book a salon appointment. Trained colorists have more freedom to experiment because they possess the necessary tools, products, and, perhaps most importantly, experience. Some things should simply be left to the pros, including color techniques that require multi-applications—unless you (or a trusted friend) has training in hair color processes. 

Mind Your Hair Type

The texture can actually make a difference in how color absorbs into locks. So understanding your hair type prior to coloring will make a big difference in the end result. If its coarse and thick, you’ll likely need an additional box of dye and a few extra minutes beyond the recommended time for processing. Fine, curly, or textured locks tend to need less time for color to process, and should be able to get by with one, single box.

Determine Your Skin Tone

When you’re deciding on what color to go with, you have to take your skin tone into account. All example color swatches shown below are pulled from Vidal Sassoon Pro Series’ Permanent At-Home Color Kit product line.

Fair skin tones

Someone with fair skin should pick a shade that’s either neutral or cool-based, like ash or beige. Look for the terms “ash,” “beige,” or “cool” in the shade name.*

Medium skin tones

Unlike fair skin, those with a medium complexion should avoid neutral and cool colors, and instead go with something that’s warm. Look for copper and golden shades. Look for the terms “copper,” “golden,” or “warm” in the shade name.*

Darker skin tones

A person with darker skin can choose almost anything within the brunette color family. Look for the terms “brown,” “brunette,” “chocolate,” or “black” in the shade name.*

*This will not necessarily always the case in every product line, but these indicator terms might help you find shades within the color family you want.

Start Shopping!

Hair colors fall within categories like semi-permanent, demi-permanent, and permanent. An easy way to figure out which is best for you is to decide how committed you are to the change.

If you want: slight upgrade to enhance your natural color
Try: semi-permanent
It’s the most temporary of the three, typically lasts 8–12 shampoos, and won’t leave noticeable roots.

If you want: to go a shade or two darker and more obvious change
Try: demi-permanent
Demi’s are best at darkening hair and suitable for someone looking for a more obvious change. While the color usually lasts through 28 shampoos, it will begin to fade before that. Keep that in mind if you’re looking to cover greys—it will only blend them into the color, not fully cover them.

If you want: to go lighter or darker and/or cover greys
Try: permanent
This is only option that allows you freedom to go lighter or darker (but remember: still sticki within two shades of your natural color one way or the other). Permanent dyes can also cover 100% of greys.

Stay tuned for our step-by-step guide to coloring hair at home!

Photo: Coffee &Milk