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Color Your Hair at Home with Confidence

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STEP 1: Clarify Your Color Goals

There's a lot to love about today's home hair color, starting with the fact that you can get rich and gorgeous color without ever compromising the health of your hair. What's more, many contain conditioners that make coarse hair shiny and givefine hair plenty of bounce. So here, for your enjoyment (and information) is our goof-proof guide to at-home hair color that will garner you all the compliments you -- and your hair -- so richly deserve!

1. What's the difference between semipermanent, demipermanent, and permanenthair color?

Each term refers to how significantly the formula will change your current color (and cover gray) as well as to how long these effects will last. Are you interested in enhancing your current color or in trying out a new layer of color, such as a red tone on brown hair? If so, try a semipermanent formula, such as Clairol's Natural Instincts, $7.99, or a demipermanent formula, like L'Oreal Color Spa Moisture Actif, $6.49; both wash out gradually (five to eight shampoos for semi, up to 28 shampoos for demi) without any noticeable roots. If you're looking for a long-term change, or to cover gray hair, then you'll be happier with a permanent formula.

2. I'm not sure what color would look best on me. Do you have any pointers?

It's often difficult to get a good reading on what color best suits you, especially if you've been dyeing your hair for a long time and have lost track of your natural color. First, look at your hair in bright daylight, since many women underestimate how light their hair already is. Second, use your skin tone and eye color to guide you toward your best shade. It all boils down to determining whether you're "cool" or "warm" toned. Once you are clear on that, pick colors that are in those families. Still confused? Don't be.

  • You're COOL if... you have fair skin and blue or green eyes. Avoid gold, yellow, or red tones in your hair color, as they will make you look sallow.
  • You're WARM if... You have golden, olive, or dark skin and brown or dark eyes. Avoid hair colors with tinges of blue, violet, or white, as well as jet-black hair that will wash out your complexion.

Also, use the Web: Imagine sitting at your computer and answering a simple quiz that tells you exactly what color (and formula) you should buy. That's a reality now, since most major dye makers have such services on their Web sites. You can also usually see a quick video demonstration of color application. As a bonus, Clairol's Web site ( allows you to upload your own photo and experiment with different hues.

3. I am overwhelmed once I get to the drugstore. Can I go by the color I see on the box?

Ignore the lady on the box. Consider the model's hair color to be a guide but not the ultimate barometer of how your color will turn out. Everyone's hair, by nature, will accept new color differently. Instead, use the color name as your shepherd. Typically they are divided into groups (black, brown, blond, and red) that are further divided into light, medium, and dark, and topped off with terms such as golden and ash to describe the color's tone. Use these descriptions, as well as the swatches on the box, to settle on the right shade. The boxes have even gotten more useful, such as L'Oreal's new Natural Match hair coloring kit, $11.99, which features a mirror on the top to allow for an easy comparison of your current color with the color on the box.

4. I'd love to have highlights. Is this too risky to try at home?

The best candidates for at-home highlights are women with virgin hair (that is, women who have never colored their hair) who want to add a few streaks that are just a notch lighter than their natural color. We like Revlon's new Custom Effects Highlighting Kit, $10.99, which comes with a built-in toner that fine-tunes your new streaks -- ensuring a natural look -- without affecting the uncolored hair. Avoid major wreckage by following these tips:

  • Be artistic: Make sure to space the highlights apart widely enough, working with a few strands at a time, so you don't end up with unflattering chunks of light hair. It's also a good idea, the first time out, to lighten just a few strands around your hairline. You can always add more.
  • Be patient: Leave on mixture for the allotted time. Rinse it off too quickly and you won't see any highlights; keep it on too long and you might end up with unnatural super-light strands.
  • Be careful: Lift the targeted sections up and away from the rest of the hair. Apply color sparingly at the root (the heat from your scalp makes it develop faster) and thicker on the ends. This technique will help avoid any scary splotches or tiger stripes, says Paul Cucinello, a color specialist at the Christopher Stanley Salon, in New York City.

5. Why is my gray hair so difficult to color?

Gray hair is famously stubborn because of its composition. As hair loses its natural pigment, the strands simply reflect light, resulting in gray or white hair. Also, says Samuel Shriqui, a salon owner in New York City, "the texture also becomes coarser, making it more resistant to hair dye." Hair-color companies are paying closer attention to your needs, however, with new entries such as Clairol's Nice 'n Easy Gray Solution, $8.99, designed to better cover gray, leaving you with natural-looking color. And if you're interested in enhancing the color of your gray, try Pantene's new Pro-V Silver Expressions Shampoo and Conditioner, $6.49 each. The shampoo has a violet tinge, which helps counteract the yellowing that can plague gray hair; it also moisturizes and adds loads of shine.



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