The Home Hair Color Spectrum, Decoded
The first thing to know about coloring your hair at home is that there's more to picking the color than just choosing to go lighter or darker.
With endless brands and shades to choose from, taking a walk down the hair color aisle at the drugstore can be unnecessarily confusing.
READ: Find Your Perfect Hair Color
Do you want "chestnut" brown or "chocolate" brown? "Medium blonde or "natural medium" blonde? And what about "golden" versus "bronzed?"
We all want to avoid an unnecessary trip to the salon to fix mistakes, so we asked celebrity hair colorist Paul Cucinello to decode some common terms found on boxed dye kits.
Here's to getting the color you really want:
Choosing a Shade
Have realistic expectations. When it comes to choosing a shade. Cucinello says to ask yourself, "What are you trying to achieve, and what is your level of commitment?" Are you willing to keep up the maintenance of colored hair?
Don't believe the box. Boxed hair color is designed to make you think the color on the box is what you're going to get after you apply it. To determine the actual result, you need to use your imagination. "Think about your existing color and add it to the artificial color on the box. Those two shades combined will be the resulting shade."
Less is more. Permanent dye will not lighten or lift previously dyed hair. "A common mistake people make, is dyeing over their previously dyed hair resulting in a darker shade," says Cucinello. If you only need to touch-up your roots, then only dye your roots using the same brand and shade you last used. Then you can use an all-over gloss to boost the previous color.
READ: What to Know Before Making Your Hair Darker
Knowing what undertones a particular shade has will help you to predict and hopefully achieve the color you desire.
Ash: Cool undertones. A great neutralizer that may be used to cancel out any red color.
Auburn: Deeper brown copper, orange-red undertones.
Blue black: "Think Elvis," says Cucinello. Super cool with the highest concentration of black.
Bronzed: Warm with a hint of coppery-red undertones.
Burgundy: Deep, cool red with a violet-blue reflection (neutral for reds).
Caramel: Soft, dark blonde with yellow undertones.
Chestnut brown: Soft, mousey brown.
Chocolate brown: Rich brown with a "pop" — a color just about anyone can pull off.
Deep, rich, darkest, or lightest: Anything described as such should be taken literally.
Golden: Warm yellow undertones.
Mahogany: Deeper, reddish undertones.
Natural: Dyes with this description are perfect for gray coverage. Has yellow and blue pigments to cover gray.
Soft Black: Believable black. "It won't make you look goth," says Cucinello.
Cucinello offers these pro tips:
How committed are you? Color aside, there are many types of dye to consider such as permanent, semi-permanent, and gloss.
Choose an application type. "For all-over, even coverage (especially for longer hair), go with a mousse application. For root touch-ups that need more precision, go with an applicator bottle."
Length and condition of your hair. If you have long hair, you will probably need two boxes of dye. If your hair is totally fried, Cucinello advises skipping the box and seeing a professional.
What's your skill level? Choosing the right color is only half the battle. Dying your hair at home is messy! "If you don't want to risk getting dye all over your home and skin, partner up with a friend," says Cucinello.
Wash your hair the night before. Use a clarifying shampoo to wash your hair the night before. This will rid your hair of any residue and help the color adhere to your hair.
Invest in quality haircare products. If you're going to skimp on a professional dye job, at the very least Cucinello says to splurge on shampoo and conditioner for color-treated hair, which will help your color last longer and stay vibrant.
Mix shades. If you're feeling extra daring and confident, Cucinello says you can mix two different shades of the same brand. For example, adding some red to brunette will give your color more depth.
When to visit the salon. You should never attempt a major color change, or give yourself highlights at home — especially before an important event. Also, if your hair is really damaged or more than one color, it's time to see a professional. "Anything more than enhancing your current color should be done at a salon," says Cucinello.