February 18, 2014 - Hair, Hair and Beauty

Professional At-Home Hair Color

Did you know that according to a survey by Tresemme, the average woman spends over $50,000 on her hair in her lifetime?  She also spends $120 on shampoo, $120 for styling products and another $330 on hair color annually.

A few years ago, I was spending much more than that on hair color – over $100 every 6 weeks just to keep my grays at bay.  Eventually I switched to buying boxed hair color at the drugstore and doing it myself.  It was a much cheaper solution but my hair suffered for it.  The harsh chemicals in box color can dry out and damage hair.  Plus I never seemed to get great color results – the picture on the box never matched what I ended up with.

One day I wandered into my local beauty supply store for some advice on professional products to use at home.  The associate thankfully recognized the newbie in me and took me on a tour of the store, gathering everything I needed to get started and explaining each step of the process.

What she taught me is coloring your hair professionally at home is a lot easier than it seems.  You just need to know what to buy and how to mix and apply. The best part?  I spend under $100 per year on professional looking hair color now, about $8 per month.  Now that’s a savings! HairColorImage How to Professionally Color Your Hair at Home

1.  Buy Your Basic Supplies – You’ll need to make a one time investment in hair coloring supplies but they should cost under $15.  Here’s a list of basics to get you started.

  • Salon quality latex gloves
  • Plastic mixing bowl
  • Applicator brush
  • Applicator bottle

2.  Select your color.  When choosing your hair color, ask lots of questions.  The employees in beauty supply stores generally know their stuff.  There are many brands and types of hair color and it can be overwhelming.  The employee can guide you to the type of hair color best suited for your hair type and the results you want.  You’ll need to decide if you’re doing a permanent, semi-permanent, demi-permanent or temporary (wash out) color.  If you have any gray in your hair, that will also determine which brand and type you select.  For best results don’t go any more than two shades lighter or darker than your natural color.  Leave that to the experts.

3.  Choose your developer.  The main difference between boxed colors from the drugstore and coloring your hair using professional products is that the color and developer are purchased separately.   Developers generally come in volumes of 10, 20, 30 and 40.  A developer of 10 is to deposit color only, meaning it doesn’t open the hair shaft to “lift” your color.  This is ideal for most hair colors and gives you a pretty true color result.  As the volume number goes up, so does the lift level.  If you want to do highlights or lighter blonde, you would need to go with a higher volume of 30 or 40.  Sound complicated?  It’s not.  The hair color you select will usually tell you which volume of developer to buy.  If it doesn’t, the associate can point you in the right direction.

3.  Mix your color and developer in the bowl or bottle and apply immediately.  Once you have your products purchased, you can then mix them according to package instructions (there will be an insert with the color) and apply starting at your roots.  Most of the time, the ratio of color to developer is 1:1. The bottle and bowl are both conveniently marked so you can easily measure out the right amount of product.  Most of the time, you’ll be mixing 2 oz. of hair color with 2 oz. of developer.  Your wait time for processing will also depend on the result you want.  The package instructions will give you a guide.  I generally leave my color on for 30-35 minutes in order to cover my stubborn grays.

That’s it!  It’s really pretty easy and not at all intimidating. What I love most about coloring my hair at home is that I have complete control over the color results.  I’ve even started to experiment with mixing different colors within my natural color level to create my own custom color.  In the fall and winter, I mix up darker neutral brunettes and then gradually lighten to more golden tones in the spring and summer.

My hair is healthier now than it was when I used boxed hair color.  My friends are always shocked when I tell them that I color it myself.  I’ve even taken some of them along to the beauty supply store to get started. 🙂

It’s Your Turn:  How much are you spending on salon hair color?  Would you consider DIY with professional products at home or is it too intimidating to try?


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  • I don’t color every six weeks but I do love the idea of spending less. Great tips!

  • This is such a helpful post, Alison! I never even thought about using any professional hair colour at home but always buy the boxed colour at my local drugstore. I have to try that. Can you recommend any brands you use?

    Annette | Lady of Style

    • Hi Annette! I usually get L’Oreal’s professional line. It’s the same stuff used in a lot of salons. Wella and Clairol also have some nice colors and good results.

      • hl

        This was what I was going to ask, too. Thanks!

  • I’m so glad you shared about this. I was going to talk to my hair dresser tomorrow (who is moving this summer) about transitioning to doing my own. I would love to save the money and not have to schedule appointments. I will be saving this as a “go to.” And your hair looks great!

  • I did this once and only once. Since my hair is naturally blond and I dye it red the red that looked super bright on the box turned out to be crazy dark on my head. I know certain people can get away with doing this but even at the salon they are always tweaking my colour to get it just right. That plus the fact that it is ombre makes it too much of a challenge to tackle on my own . How I wish I could though because every 4 weeks I’m back in there.


  • At home hair color can be fraught with stress. These tips are so helpful.

  • heidi

    I pay $200 for a cut and colour… I am not even kidding, that’s how much they charge here, I would LOVE to know if they would tell me exactly what colour they use on my hair.
    I have naturally red hair, and put a red coulour over the top, to get rid of my greys too.. but $200 a time is getting crazy!! thank you for the tips!

    • Sherry

      Heidi, If you ask you technician will most likely tell you. You have a right to know what they are doing to your hair and what products they use. If they refuse to tell you I would look for a new salon.

  • For year my hair was highlighted, but in 2012 I decided I wanted to forgo that expense so I had my hair colored close to my root color, and cut off most of the old blonde. I have been growing my hair back out now, and am thankful I only have found a few gray hairs…not so many that I feel like I need to color regularly yet. When I do, I will certainly follow your advice here!

  • Great tips! Doing hair color at home is not as difficult as a lot of people think.


  • I am definitely shocked you color your hair by yourself. Great results! Wish I had known all this when I tried to go brunette in college-what a disaster! 😉

  • You are sooo brave! I wish I could to this myself however blondes need a professional unless you go with a single color process. Spending $200 every 6-8 weeks is not ideal but I would be so afraid it would cost me more to fix my mistakes. 🙂

  • I wish I did more beauty posts so I could link up to this great link-party!!! Sadly, my beauty regime is so low key. I died my hair for the FIRST TIME in 10 years a few weeks ago. I only died the part with the most grey and I used a color that slowly fades so I never get roots!

    I get it from a health food store and there is no ammonia or harmful chemicals and it is special because it covers grey perfectly for about 4 weeks then SLOWLY fades, so that when I can see an overall greying, I can reapply.

    I only mix what I need so I spend less than 10 bucks (7 euro or so) every 6 months.

  • This is a great guide, and so detailed. Thanks for dishing your hair secrets… I seriously admire your hair color- it’s gorgeous. 🙂

    xo Always, Abby

  • You’re a brave + resourceful one, doll! I’ve never had the guts to color my own hair- I leave it to my stylist. But it might be worth looking into when you save THAT MUCH money. 🙂


  • ADA

    I have used the at-home hair color products many times before and I am happy to report that I haven’t had any incidents or bad coloring. I have only done it a couple of times on my own though. I have had girlfriends do it most times.

    My pleasure linking up Ms. A. =)

  • Great tips! This is one project I may never take on, but if I do I’ll be sure to bookmark this one!


  • I spend sooo much on salon hair color but with all of my highlights and lowlights I just wouldn’t be able to do it at home! I love the idea though!

  • Alison, It is a good idea, but I highlight at the salon,
    i cant do the at home process well, but I do
    not use much product and seldom do a blow dry,
    so that saves me a bundle, and I do my nails too.
    Great post, and inspirational
    XX, Elle

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  • Susan

    I recently gave up getting my hair colored at the salon. My hair grows like a weed so I have to get it done every 4 weeks. Every 4 weeks at $100 is ridiculous plus the fact that the last experience I had at a salon since I moved to Michigan was awful.
    So..I know you said you didn’t like boxed color but I really like L’oreal’s Excellence line. It comes with a root applicator for the bottle of dye and my hair still feels soft afterwards.

  • mrs vee makes

    My stylist pretreats my regrowth and am wondering what product would I use? At my beauty supply house they do not sell to customers without a beauty license.

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  • Brenda Wester

    I have colored my hair for years and saved a bunch of money. Preference by L’Oreal. It is great and easy to apply. Anyone can do it, be sure to use colored treated shampoo or it will fad faster.

  • Siobhan

    I love your hair color! Could you tell me the exact shade(s) you use ? I have a hard time finding the right brown that looks natural.

    • Hi Siobhan! I get my hair color at Sally Beauty Supply. It’s Ion Color Brilliance Intense Neutrals in 5NN mixed with a little bit of 6NN. I add more 6 in the summer months and less in the winter months. It’s a subtle difference but enough!

  • Paula

    Hi Alison-
    I am new to your blog. This is a great idea. I’ve contemplating doing my own color for a while now to save $. I too am natural brunette- I call it a mousey brown 🙂 I like your hair color and was wondering if you get any reddish color from the color numbers you listed above. Red does not blend well with my skin tone and I prefer a caramel/honey blonde highlight.

    • Hi Paula! Happy to have you here! I use neutral colors in order to keep the red out. My favorite neutrals are from ION’s Intense Neutrals line sold at Sally Beauty Supply. I mix 6NN with 5NN and get no brassiness or redness at all. More 6 in the summer months to lighten, more 5 in the winter months to get it a little darker.

  • I don’t like to use a lot of chemicals on my hair. Too toxic…so I do get hair colored/highlighted every 4-5 weeks professionally. My stylist found a Chi color that is much less toxic but I would love to find something healthy to do at home. Any ideas? I did buy one prodyUct and it said I had to wait 6 weeks before using it. ( after professional color) My gray would be totally showing by then!

    • I will keep my eyes open for healthy products at home and will let you know Vickie. 6 weeks is too long to wait. 🙁

  • Great, helpful guide. I worked for a very high-end salon at the front desk for 9 years and had no idea you could even get professional color and developer at Sally’s. When I quit they needed to start charging me full price and so I started using box color and it was not going well at all (as you also experienced). I’m excited to start learning more! Thank you!

  • I’ve been spending $160 YES ONE SIXTY!!! to keep my highlights touched up every 6-8 weeks. Have you attempted highlights or just painting on some streaks? Your hair always looks great, I’d have no idea that you did it at home. 🙂

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  • Bernadette

    I did it myself today!!! Fabulous and 100 dollars richer ! Thanks for the tips!

  • angie Reyes

    Wella is really good too.

    • Great suggestion Angie!

  • Christy

    i would like to try this! I’ve had a permanent brown dye put on my hair for years (at a salon). It’s very expensive, plus my hair is getting so gray at the roots, now, I have to dye it every three weeks. Yikes, lol! I’m wondering if I could do a demipermanent for awhile, at home as you suggest, and after my hair has completely grown out and no permanent dye is left on my hair, I could stop coloring altogether?

    • Hi Christy, it’s best to ask the ladies at your local beauty supply store. They know the products that are best to use and will love. 🙂

  • Shauna

    I’ve recently begun doing my own and have a color I really like, but as it grows out the line is so harsh. Knowing how to deal with that is the hardest part for me. I worry about the effects and hassle of coloring so often. Is there a way to make it less of a line?

  • Valerie

    I seen that you mix the Ion Color Brilliance Intense Neutrals 5NN with the 6NN. What developer level do you buy?

    • Hi Valerie, I would recommend going to your local beauty supply store and asking them what they would recommend for your hair color. That’s the best way to find out what developer level to buy.

      • Valerie

        Thank you so much for your response!! I will do that! 🙂

  • Jamie

    Is a cosmetology license required for buying the proffessional hair dyes? For example l’oreals proffessional line? Or the ions intense neutral line?

    • Hi Jamie! No, it’s not. You can buy them from Sally Beauty without a license.

  • Tiana

    I use a Enzyme Developer – called Prolift Developer, I spend about 16.00 per year on the developer which is i think 32 oz. if my memory is right. I mix 1:1 ratio this developer is more but it doesn’t have ammonia and hydrogen peroxide but is still permanent on my hair which is just fine for me to spend a few dollars more!


    • Saving money is great!

  • Jenny

    I will be trying this for sure, I’ve been using box colors for a while. Whenever I finish coloring and dry my hair I find that I seem to have missed right at the hairline around my face. Even when I thought I was extra careful I still seem to miss spots, I have even had my daughter help and still have the same problem. Are we are just color challenged or do you have a tip to help. I don’t know if sub-consciously I am afraid to stain my skin. I don’t know but any thoughts will be appreciated.

    • Jenny, if you go to your nearest beauty supply store, they have the best skin protectant to keep your skin from getting stained.

  • Brenda Williamson

    Thank you so much for the article. It is so helpful. I do have one question. When you purchase a Clairol Soy Plex permanent color, can you use a developer from another company? In other words, is it mandatory that your color and developer are the same brand, or are all 10 white developers basically the same? Thank you so much.

    • Hi Brenda! I combine colors and developers from different manufacturers and think they are essentially the same. Hope that helps!

      • Raye Ann

        If my hair is real dry. Should I put a deep conditioner on it before or after I color it.

        • Raye Ann

          My hair color is dark. I want to have blond and highlights. It helps blend in the gray. I have highlight. I have colored it ash blonde.. I want it lighter. I have natural crulyhair it is corsecourse. What can I use to make it soft and smooth. Straight.

        • Raye Ann, after your hair color would be great to help lock in the moisture.

  • jan

    I have hi lights bleached and 9/3tint I am a 6 naturally I now have grey roots if I get a light ash blond am I ok to put all over or do mid lengths ends then back to roots. Will these boxed ones like excellence be ok on top of bleach…ta

  • Amy

    I have medium brown hair with about 25% greys. I spend $100/mo at the salon and got tired of spending so much just on basic brown hair. LOL! So, I started coloring at home. I discovered my hair REALLY wants to be red, so I choose 1 shade lighter (light brown, and buy ash). Ashy colors tend to process darker, so my result of “Light Ash Brown” comes out medium neutral brown on my hair 🙂

  • deen

    I love having long hair and I will never dare to color by myself. But I don’t want to go to salon ‘cos it will cost me a lot of money. What I do is buying professional hair color and ask for help from local salon to apply the color for me. It cost me less than $3 per coloring. I just need to do my own research on how to achieve the color I want, what brand to choose, and what number to pick.

    • Kyl

      Where do you find the info to do the research? Ive been meaning to figure this all out for quite some time now! And I fear the same.. you have to be a professional to buy the products.

  • MadameMidlifeCrisis

    I’ve been shoveling money to get my hair professionally done & have found that I can buy the same Paul Mitchell product line that is used at my salon. Thing is; I know that they mix colors up in some sort of recipe, then there’s the highlights & low-lights & I haven’t a damned clue as to how to do that! My Mom used to color her hair (& mine when I was a teen) & she used to mix colors too. How/why is that done? I wonder if I could take a picture of my salon card (with the color recipe they use) & then start sparing myself spending hundreds every 2-3 months?

  • Breeanna Johnson

    Thank you so much for the info. i have been looking for info about how to safely dye my hair at home and this is the first thing i have read that explained this to me. I have only dyed my hair 3 times in my 27 years and box dyes are no use, my hair is naturally really dark. so this should help me figure out what i am doing. Because my hair is long most places want to charge me a arm to color it. Thank you again

  • Kathleen

    None of the local beauty supply stores will sell to me! Will Sally’s have what I need?? Where else can I get some? They said I have to be a professional to buy.

  • Michelle Willms

    This is wonderful information. Now I’m going to get the products and do it myself. 🙂

  • Dearbhla McArdle-Egan

    I have been colouring my hair with boxed colours from the pharmacy for years but over the last year or so I have been to the hair salon as I wanted a balliage effect which I figured I could not do myself – particularly since it is purple on top and black at the bottom. But it became so expensive to maintain this at the salon I decided to try it myself with a boxed colour I picked up at the pharmacy which looked the right shade of purple but turned out really dark red and I hate it. So I went to the hair product supplier and have had to buy a stripper to remove the yukky red and then I bought a professional colour like you have described. So, tomorrow I am going to try the colour removal and the mixing and applying of the professional colour which will either go really, really well or horribly wrong. I suppose if you want purple hair you have to take your chances lol. Thanks for the article. Found it very helpful.

    • I’m so glad you stopped by Dearbhla and that you found the blog helpful. Good luck on getting your hair just the color you want it and on budget!

  • Lisa Long Hudgens

    I want to start doing my color myself and my stylist told me the formula she uses on me is HLP double 40. I know that stands for High Lift Platinum and 40 volume developer. But what does the “double” mean?

    • Anna

      Disclaimer: I want to color my hair at home also and have been doing extensive research for several months because I’m very type A but I have no actual experience and I have also never had my hair colored at a salon. So keep this in mind. But.
      How dark is your natural hair color? Is it possible that she is having to lift you twice with the 40V before applying the platinum color/toning you platinum? Or a doubled ratio of developer to color/toner? The only things I can think of, but again I only have ‘academic’ experience and my so my knowledge is somewhat limited.

  • Jean Marie Peterman

    my hair keeps pulling red 🙁 when coloring blonde

    • Annon

      You need to add some purple to stop the brassiness. Sometimes a toner will help, just depends on the brassiness level.

  • Debbie Enoch

    I just purchased my first color & developer from Sally’s (rather than a boxed color set)….excited to do this on my own! But I’m wondering…..is it safe to keep the color & developer that I don’t mix?

  • This is great and EXACTLY the kind of info I needed. I never really considered going to a beauty supply shop, and am thrilled to hear that results are healthier than boxed kits (which was always my main concern). Great Post!

  • Suzette Heeres

    Thank you, this was very helpful. I’ve been coloring my hair med brown at home for 20+ years but just had all the color removed and redyed an ash blonde so the gray doesn’t show so easily. Your post reallly gives me confidence.

  • Thank you for this. It’s surprisingly hard to find this information, I guess because hair salons and box dye would still like to exist.

    I knew the science, theory and background, but I kept feeling like I was missing something. I wasn’t LOL. But this was a great confirmation.

  • Christine Baskin

    thank you, you make it very simple. I’ve been scratching my head for weeks trying to figure this all out. THANK YOU!!!