No lie, I've been box-dyeing my hair since the sixth grade (shout out to my emo phase, which my mom so lovingly let me ride out). Yes, I've thankfully graduated from the moody purples and jet blacks I used to buy in bulk at the drugstore, but I still dye my hair at home when I don't have the time (or cash) to get to my colorist. I can confidently say I know my way around a bottle of hair dye by now, but I've made literally every mistake imaginable along the way—see: the time I got permanent color all over my ears, or when I bought the wrong box and was left with a red hue I definitely didn't sign up for.
And since I'd hate to have your first experience with box dye be a total shit show, I broke down every tip, trick, and product rec you'll need to make the process a whole hell of a lot easier. I even chatted with Meri Kate O'Connor, a super-skilled colorist at Eva Scrivo Salon in NYC, for a few expert-approved hacks, too. Translation: You're in good hands.
How to Color Your Hair at Home
1. Find Your Shade
Obviously, the first step in your at-home coloring journey is buying the dye. But instead of running to the drugstore and grabbing the prettiest-looking box, lemme just emphasize the importance of finding the right shade. "Box dye is kinda a one-size-fits-all situation," says O'Connor. "So I generally suggest clients stick to a cool or neutral tone, since box dye can 'lift' your natural hair color and leave you with a warmer shade than you intended."
FYI, if you're looking to take your hair a full shade (or two!) lighter or darker from your natural hair color, O'Connor suggests skipping the box all together and booking an appointment with a professional, since there's more room for error when you're going drastic.
2. Prep Your Hair
If you're taking the time to color your hair at home, it's beyond worth it to put in a little prep work to make sure the process goes smoothly. The easiest way to keep your scalp safe while you're coloring it? Work with three-day-old hair. "I suggest not washing your hair for a few days before coloring it, since your natural oils will help protect your scalp from any chemicals in the dye," says O'Connor.
One more thing: Before you mix up your dye, grab a tub of Vaseline. "You can smooth some Vaseline around your hairline and on your ears to protect your skin from staining," says O'Connor, since there's legit nothing worse than washing out your color and realizing you've dyed your skin (which, guilty).
3. Follow the Instructions Carefully
Keep in mind that every box dye comes with its own set of instructions, so make sure you read 'em carefully before you get started. After you mix up your dye (your instructions will walk you through it, though you'll usually just shake up a bottle of color and developer), throw on a pair of gloves, and start with your roots. "Your roots need the most time to develop, so if you're coloring your whole head, you'll want to start at the top and pull the dye down through your ends," says O'Connor.
How to Color Gray Hairs at Home
Got a few gray hairs peeking through, but not quite ready for a full-on dye job? You can totally color your gray hairs at home, and there's a shit-ton of methods out there, including root touch-up kits (targeted hair dye that you comb through your roots) and concealer sprays (dry shampoo-like formulas that temporarily tint your hair until you wash them out). These are some of my personal faves, all of which are incredibly easy to use: