Don't go for drama.
"Big changes—taking brunette hair platinum or blonde hair red—are for beauty salons," says Beth Minardi, co-owner of New York City's Minardi Salon. "Stay within two shades of your natural color, whether you're going lighter or darker."
Gather your tools before you begin.
"You don't want to start squeezing color onto your hair and then have to run upstairs for a towel," says Jane Anders, associate director of research and development for Clairol.
Do the strand test.
"Try the color on a small, hidden section of your hair," says Minardi. "If you don't like it, it's not too late to go back to the store and choose a different shade."
If your kit requires mixing, apply the color immediately.
"The formula starts processing as soon as you mix it, whether it's on your hair or not," says Anders.
Take a less-is-more approach to highlighting.
"Work with very narrow sections—less than a quarter of an inch wide—and clip the other hair out of the way," says Anders. "Otherwise, you may brush color where you don't want it." Part your hair normally and work back-and-forth—switching from one side of your head to the other, a highlight on one side of your part, a highlight on the other side, says Anders. Leave at least a quarter of an inch between highlights, and be conservative. You can always add a few more next time.
To cover roots, apply color only to the re-growth.
Then smooth it over the previously colored hair a few minutes before the processing time is up, says Minardi. "That way you won't over-process and damage your hair."
Your Hair Color Glossary
- Semipermanent: Ideal for brightening and enriching your hair's natural color and covering early gray. Deposits pigments only to the surface of each strand. Staying power: Color fades after six to 12 washes.
- Demipermanent: Delivers tone-on-tone color by penetrating the hair shaft, without altering natural pigment, to add brilliance and cover 40 to 50 percent of gray. Staying power: Fades after about 24 washes.
- Permanent: Penetrates the hair shaft and does not rinse out. Can take you from walnut to blonde. Staying power: Requires a root touch-up every four to six weeks as new growth appears.
- Highlights, lowlights: Permanent lighter or darker color woven through the hair to give it dimension and a range of tones. Staying power: Requires a touch-up every two to three months.