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Take your hair color into your own hands

by Sharon Dorram /  / Updated  / Source: TODAY

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There is no doubt that women regard their beauty treatments — hair color in particular — as a staple. I have seen this in the opening of my new salon, Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger, during the worst of economic times. Women will shop in their closets, give up their masseuse, travel and even their trainer before giving up their hair color. The reason is that nothing gives one a boost of confidence quite like having the right shade of blond, red or brunette.

The current economy has forced many women to take their hair color into their own hands. However, store-bought do-it-yourself kits can be messy and lead to disastrous results without proper supervision and education. When deciding to color your hair at home, where do you begin? Drugstore shelves are lined with what seems like a million brands and different shades of color, which can be overwhelming.

Here are simple commandments of home hair coloring — to properly care for your hair when you’re away from the salon:

A color to dye for
How do you decide on the one that’s right for you? First, identify your natural color and complexion before determining what shade you want to be.

Check your complexion to see if you are “warm” or “cool.” Most people with cool complexions have fair skin, and light-colored eyes. “Warm” complexions have golden, olive or darker skin with dark eyes. Red and gold hues complement warm skin tones, while ashes and browns work best for cool skin tones. Don’t be afraid to mix your colors to create a perfect shade.

My philosophy about hair coloring is to never stray too far from the home base. Never go more than two or three shades lighter than your natural color, and never go two to three shades darker. This is the key to natural-looking color that will grow out gracefully, with a minimum of rootage. The new growth will blend in better and you won’t have to hit the salon as often.

In general I do not recommend drastic color changes. However, if you’re looking for something very dramatic, using your own hair to experiment with is a big no-no. If you want to go from dark brown to platinum, or are looking to make a bold statement, I advise clients to first try on wigs and see how the color looks with your skin tone. This way, you don’t make mistakes that require follow-up visits to the salon for correction, which can be far more costly and time consuming.

Ready, set, test!
Once you’ve settled on a color, make sure you buy a few boxes of it. If you have thick or very long hair, you’ll definitely need more than one package to fully coat all the hair (two or even three boxes may be needed). 

Next, always do a strand test, using a 1/2" section from above the ear. I recommend checking the color halfway through the recommended processing time. See the strand test against a white towel when the hair is dry to determine if you like the shade. If yes, proceed, and reapply the strand again for the full amount of time. Everyone’s hair reacts differently to coloring, so you want to make sure you’re not overcoloring and that you achieve the hue you want.

Once you’re ready to begin, you want to take a few precautions. First, make sure you wear an old T-shirt or towel that you don’t mind staining. An old button-down shirt is best, then you can rinse off in the shower. It is tough to keep the dye just on your head.  Secondly, apply baby oil or Vaseline around the hairline and behind the ears to protect the skin from staining. The easiest way is to use a Q-tip or cotton swab.

Get your dye onWhen you’re fully prepared, read the instructions. Many at-home kits require you to blend products together and use the mixture within a certain amount of time. For even application of the products, separate the hair into sections to ensure all your hair is completely saturated with the dye. Make sure to use the developer and gloves included in the box in mixing the color formulation. Then you should shake the formula and developer for at least a minute to ensure a proper mix.

Apply the color mixture to dry hair, beginning with the roots and working your way down to the ends of your hair. Once color is evenly distributed, pile your hair on top of your head and, if included, use the plastic head wrap to cover it and secure with a hair clip. Begin timing the hair color using the time indicated by the strand test. An egg timer works best. Keep an eye on the time that is recommended on the box. The color will stop developing after the indicated time. Rinse the color out immediately to prevent color buildup on your hair.

If you are touching up your roots, make sure not to run the color from root to end at one time. Blondes run the risk of turning their hair green, and brunettes can turn shoe polishy. If you need to refresh the old color, look for a lighter shade to pull through the ends. To be entirely safe, add a drop of shampoo into the color and leave on the ends of the hair for only five minutes tops.

Nourish your hair with a deep conditioning product. Most at-home hair color kits come with a specially designed conditioner to soften your hair and replenish moisture.

Keep that color strong
Now that you’ve created your perfect color, it’s equally important how you maintain it, to keep your hair vibrant. Contrary to popular belief, it’s not the sun or the elements that fade hair color — it's water. Every time you wash your hair, bits of dye molecules escape from the hair, leaving it dull. I recommend purchasing hair care products that are specifically formulated for color-treated hair and say “color protection.” These products are less likely to strip hair of its color and shine. It will save you time and money.

Last but not least, my favorite commandment: Never do your hair color on a Friday night — the 1-800 hot line may be closed.

For more helpful beauty tips and hair advice, visit

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