For many of us, the days of relaxing in a salon while we get our cut and color are, while not necessarily over, definitely feeling a bit compromised. Your hairstylist may not be working right now, or if they are open, maybe you don’t feel comfortable going in yet. As a result, that boxed hair color at your local Target can seem very tempting, and while it might not be the best choice on a regular basis, in times like these, we do what we have to do!

I love a salon cut and color just as much as anyone else, but as I’ve gotten older, it seems like touching up those errant grays has become necessary more and more often. And because I don’t always want to spend the time and money to go to the salon every few weeks, I’ve become fairly adept at coloring my own hair. Don’t get me wrong, boxed color is not even close to the level of science, education, and experience your stylist brings to the table, but by following a few guidelines, you can easily cover those grays and brighten your color at home.

Buy a Color as Close to Your Natural Color as Possible

If you’ve never colored your own hair, this isn’t the time to start experimenting with platinum blonde or anything dramatic. Stick to a color that’s as close as possible to your natural shade, at most going one shade darker. This is especially important if you’re just trying to touch up your roots, you don’t want to end up with a strange looking racing stripe that doesn’t blend.

Keep in mind that boxed hair color doesn’t cater to individual hair the way a stylist’s formula does; it tends to be more concentrated so it can work on all types of hair. This one-size-fits-all type of color can leave you with a slightly different shade than anticipated.

Read and Follow the Directions on the Box

Again, if you’ve never colored your hair before, don’t try to wing it. Read the directions, twice. Follow them precisely, and mix the color and the developer thoroughly before you apply.

Be sure to wear the gloves provided if you don’t already have some, and put a little petroleum jelly around your hairline in order to keep the color from bleeding onto your skin and potentially staining it. I also like to add a few drops of argan oil or other hair conditioning oil to my hair before applying color, just to help counteract the harshness of the dye.

And even though boxed dyes generally stop processing on their own after 45 minutes or so, it’s never a good idea to leave the color on for longer than the instructions recommend.

Spend a Little on a Good Applicator Brush

The brushes that come in the box of dye are fine if you’re only planning to color your hair once, but if you think you might be doing boxed touch-ups on any kind of a regular basis, go to a beauty supply store and purchase a good applicator brush. Using a broad brush with a long pick at the end helps you apply the color more evenly, and using the pick can make separating the hair along your hairline easier. I also recommend getting a few of those large hair clips, which are great for dividing your hair into sections.

Wash and Condition Your Hair Afterwards, Then Don’t Wash it for Two to Three Days

Once your color has processed, wash and condition your hair with a product designed to protect colored hair. Then don’t wash it for two to three days. It takes that long for the hair cuticle to close and the color to fully set. When you do wash it again, be sure to continue using a good color-protecting shampoo and conditioner.

Boxed dye isn’t going to give you perfect highlights and lowlights like your favorite salon, but it can be a good alternative when you’re in between visits. You can say goodbye to those grays temporarily, freshen your look, and make it through until you can get back into your hair stylist’s chair.

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About Jody Ellis

Jody Ellis is a freelance writer who specializes in beauty, health, travel, fashion and social justice. She is currently part of a fellowship with Community Change, a non-profit focused on writing about social policies that impact low-income families. Her work has appeared in publications such as LennyLetter, Huffington Post, BBC Future Planet, Civil Eats and Eater.

View all posts by Jody Ellis

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