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How to color hair

Healthy coloured hair
Hair dye is one of the best ways to change your look and create a brand new style.

Whether you dye your hair a few times in your lifetime, or you change your color every chance you get, you'll get the best results if you learn how to color hair before applying the dye.

Level and tone

Your hair color is a combination of two different qualities: level and tone. Understanding these qualities is the secret to coloring hair at home for a salon result.

The level is a scale from 1 to 10 which represents how dark the actual color of your hair is. Hair that is a level 1 is black, whilst hair that is a level 10 is nearly white.

Tone, on the other hand, describes the actual color that is present. This can be either a cool or warm tonal direction. The different tones include:
  • Ash
  • Pearl
  • Natural
  • Beige
  • Golden
  • Copper
  • Red
  • Mahogany
  • Violet
There are also many different combinations that can be made up by blending these tones together; such as honey or caramel colors which utilize both gold and copper tones. Beige and mahogany are themselves blends of two different tones. Beige is a mix of ash and golden tone, to create a softer gold, whilst mahogany is a mix of red and violet.

The exact colour of your hair can be described using this system, and you can choose the correct shade of dye for your intended result by understanding how depth and tone are separate. This is crucial to learning how to color hair.

Hair dye levels - Discover how to use the level system and how to decipher hair dye shade codes when choosing a shade of dye...
Healthy coloured hair

Choosing a shade

Choosing a shade of dye is an important process. You need to look at both the level and tone of the dye to get the exact result you want.

If the colour you want is lighter than your current color, it is also best to choose a cooler tone as lightening reveals the warm base tones underneath the color in your hair that you can see. A cool tone like ash neutralises this warmth as it lightens. Choosing a dye that is too warm can result in red, orange, or yellow hair.

Similarly, when you dye your hair more than 2 - 3 levels darker, the tone of the dye used can become too dominant and vibrant, giving a strange result. The best way to combat this is to either fill your hair first or use a balanced natural tone which contains all three primary colours so that it ends up a neutral shade.

Lightening hair

Coloured hair
If you want to lighten your hair, this also has special rules that need to be taken into account when learning how to color hair. Permanent hair dye can reliably lighten natural hair up to 3 levels. If you want a lighter color than this, or your hair has already been dyed, it needs to be pre-lightened with bleach first.

The component of hair dye that drives lightening, as well as development is developer, and this needs to be chosen based on how much lightening you need. Box dyes don't allow you to choose the developer strength, and this can lead to mistakes if it is too low or too high. The developer in a box dye is the liquid in the applicator bottle and is pre-chosen and measured.

For more control, use salon dye to lighten hair, and choose the correct developer for your desired result.

Choosing developer - Find out how to choose developer to tone, darken, or lighten your hair with dye...


For precise application while coloring hair at home, it is best to use a tinting brush and bowl. This allows you to get a more even and consistent application compared to using a bottle like in box dyes.

Furthermore, sectioning out your hair is also necessary and makes the process both quicker and much easier. To do this, part your hair directly down the middle, then part it again from ear to ear and clip each section together.

This gives you four quadrant sections and application is as easy as taking layers of hair from the top of your head, applying dye by brush to both sides of the layer, and then working your way down to the end of the quadrant. Once finished with one section, move onto the next and continue like this until your hair is covered.

After it is applied, let it develop and then rinse out, shampoo with a gentle cleanser, and then condition your hair before drying and styling as usual.

How to dye your hair - Need more help with application? Discover how to apply and use dye properly...


All hair color fades, regardless of whether it is permanent or temporary. If you choose a vibrant color, this is far more prone to the effects of fading simply because the bright color starts to look dull after a shorter time frame.

If the color is permanent, one of the best ways to tone or refresh it is to use a semi-permanent dye in between hair coloring touch-ups. This adds vibrant tone back in but doesn't cause any damage, so it can be used as often as necessary to maintain a bright hair color.

Semi-permanent dye - Find out how long this kind of dye lasts and how to keep the results vibrant for longer...

Other options include the use of color refreshing shampoos like De Lorenzo's Nova Fusion line. These shampoos come in intense reds, violet, brown, blonde, and various other shades. Other brands sometimes also make products like this, but De Lorenzo is the most extensive.

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