Hair Coloring Tips: The Dos & Don'ts of Coloring Your Hair

DO know how often you’ll need to touch up your roots before you commit to a color change

Root touch-ups: they’re not just for ladies going gray. If you’re opting for a permanent color, bleach, or highlight, you’ll need to re-color your roots, and you’ll need to know just how much upkeep your hair will require. Since touch-ups can cost anywhere from $20 to $60 depending on the salon, it’s important to know that you’re choosing a color that fits your budget.

First things first: in order to know how often you’ll need to touch up, you need to know what level you're at. Hair color is divided into levels of darkness to lightness, meaning that black hair ranks at level one and platinum blonde hair ranks at level twelve. According to David, if you’re a level six (dark blonde) who has dyed your hair to a level seven (medium blonde), you can last about six weeks before your roots become too noticeable. If you’re a level one and you’ve dyed your hair to a level nine, however, your roots will show much more quickly due to the contrast, so you’ll need to touch them up about once every three weeks. If you’ve opted for high- or low-lights rather than an all-around permanent color, your look can last for up to two to three weeks longer. #win!

To save yourself from constant touch-ups, ask your colorist to dye your roots just a touch darker than the rest of your hair, giving you an extremely subtle, short ombre effect that will make the contrast between your darker, natural color and your lighter, artificial color slightly less drastic so that your re-growth will go unnoticed for a longer period of time. You’ll win yourself at least an extra week every time!

DON’T choose a color and tone without considering how it will look with your skin coloring

Choices, choices, choices. When the hairstylist props a book of hair dye samples in front of you, or you wander around the pharmacy’s hair coloring aisle, it can seem like there’s an endless supply of options: fiery reds, rich browns, icy blondes... you get the picture. Unfortunately, the hair color that makes your friend look like a supermodel might not look so glamorous on you... in fact, it might make your skin look sallow or ruddy pink, or wash you out completely. Not hot. So how do you know which hue works for you? In order to keep your hair looking natural and to avoid a washed-out look, David suggests staying within two levels of your natural color when dyeing.

The work doesn’t just stop with the color, though. The undertones behind the color are what can make or break a dye job. You know those shimmers of color you see in hair when it’s under direct sunlight? Yep, you guessed it: those are the hair’s undertones, and you’re going to have to determine which undertones work for your skin tone. For instance, if you’re a dirty blonde looking to dye two levels lighter, you have to choose between ashy or golden blonde, and if you’re going darker, you’ll have to choose between icy, bluer tones or chestnut and strawberry tones.

“I’m a big believer in the idea that opposites attract,” says David. “Cool skin-tones call for warm tones in the hair to balance [them] out.” To tell if your skin is cool or warm, check out your veins in direct sunlight. If they look greenish beneath your skin, you’re warm, and if they look bluish or purplish, you’re cool. Then choose a hair tone on the opposite side of the spectrum. Ashy blondes fall under the cool category, as do browns and blacks with blue undertones, while golden blondes and any color that has a reddish or honey undertone fall under the warm category.

DO know your hair’s limits: its natural color, texture, and thickness determine your dyeing capabilities

Limits: collegiettes don’t have any, do they? Well, we might not be limited, but our hair certainly is. When it comes to dye jobs, our luscious locks are limited by everything from their natural color to their thickness. “People are at risk when it comes to hair dyes [if they] already have damaged hair [from hot tools], or super-fine hair, or want to go from a very dark, dark color to a very light color,” explains David. If you’re one of these unlucky at-risk ladies, you might be facing dried-out, breaking, or fried hair. In worst-case scenarios – and we’re talking about the truly tragic tresses here – collegiettes who severely chemically damage their hair can even experience hair loss. Eek!

Fortunately, Nicole Robert, a graduate of George Washington University who opted for the ombre look, didn’t reach hair loss-level damage, but she experienced damage nonetheless. “When you dye your hair blonde as a brunette [in a single salon session], it kills your hair,” Nicole says. “I will probably not do it again unless I can trust that the product won't obliterate my already split ends. It takes me about fifteen to twenty minutes to get all the knots out, and the ends are absolutely dead. I'll probably end up growing the ombre out so I can just chop it off and go back to having healthy and untouched hair.”

Why so much damage? David explains, “Bleach and high-lift colors [which pull pigment out of your hair to make it lighter] are damaging your hair, that's what they do. You're pulling all of the color out of the hair. There's no background color, there's no tonality to it; it just pulls the color out. By doing that, you're breaking the outer and inner layers of the hair.” While very healthy hair can hold up relatively well under small doses of this kind of treatment, even the most lustrous, shine-a-licious, Herbal Essences-commercial-worthy hair can’t handle drastic lightening in a short period of time. Which leads us to...

DON’T try to make a drastic hair color change in a single sitting

So how can you avoid the dreaded “oops” moment – understatement of the year – when you discover your hair suddenly feels like hay? The best way to prevent damage is to take it slow.

David reminds us, “You just can't do certain things in one sitting. Impossible. And if you do, you're at risk. I always tell my consumer when they come to my salon that less is more. You do a little bit at a time.” A highlight here, a highlight there, and over the course of a few months or a year, you’ll find yourself at your dream color (without the pesky breakage that would have come along with it if you did it all at once).

Joanna has found that the slow and steady approach has helped her maintain her hair’s “silky smooth” integrity. “[C]urrently my goal is to have hair like Gwen Stefani,” she says. “With the help of my amazing colorist, we're working towards that goal the more ‘healthy’ way... bleaching every other time and highlighting in between.”

Another bonus of taking the process slowly, even for those dyeing darker, is that you might discover along the way that you would rather stick with a happy medium between your natural color and the drastic color that you were originally aiming for. When it comes to permanent dyes and bleaches, you never want to over-shoot your target!