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Dos and Don’ts Of Touching Up Home Hair Color

By Amalah

Hi Amy,
I am a huge fan of your work and I have a beauty question that I figured would be right up the Advice Smackdown alley. I dyed my hair last month from brunette to auburnish using a home kit. (And by “I dyed” I mean I made my husband dye my hair) It came out great and I loved the color. Unfortunately, I was an idiot and did not switch to a color protecting shampoo. The red has faded quite a bit and looks more brown with a hint of red. It is time to dye my hair again and it says to mainly dye the roots and then cover the rest of the hair with dye for a significantly less amount of time. I worry that because my hair faded so much I will end up with crazy red roots and brownish hair! Should I follow those instructions or dye the whole thing over but with the same color? Will that leave me with most of my hair really red and only kind of red roots? Argh! I don’t know what to do!
Please help me oh wise Amalah!

In my experience with home dye, following the instructions is generally the best way to go, and that focusing on the roots and then combing it through the ends to “freshen” the color is way better than dyeing your whole head from scratch again.
lorealpref.jpgWhy? Because applying hair color over already colored hair is just asking for trouble — even when you’re applying the same color dye. Blonde dye on hair that’s already been lightened is a one-way ticket to orange, brassy hair, and I learned that one the hard way, oh yes I did.
Reddish hair dye. I am now tempted to run away from your question screaming, because aaaaaaeeeeeeiiii. Reddish hair dye! The most difficult and temperamental color to work with, even at a salon. Still, I’d say you should follow the instructions. The red may have faded from view, but there could still be red pigment lurking in your hair shafts, and overdoing it with a touch-up job could be YOUR one-way ticket to magenta hair. (Hi! I also did that one once. Which is kind of why I never set foot in the home dye aisle ever again.)
Also based on my own experiences with boxed dye (and for the record, I started lightening my hair with L’Oreal in junior high and continued coloring my own hair until The Great Magenta Hair Disaster of 1999), the highlighty colors of the dye — the platinums, the reds, the etc. — just tend to fade sometimes, no matter what shampoo you use. So while your roots might end up with slightly more auburn than the touch-up application gives your ends, you’ll probably see at least some fading, probably fairly quickly.
So. Yes. Follow the instructions. Put the dye on your roots, and by that I mean “have your husband put the dye on your roots,” for the recommended amount of time. Then comb it through your ends for the shorter amount of time. (Oh, and do it when your hair is as dirty as possible — shampoos and conditioners protect your hair, and you want to apply dye when your hair is nice and defenseless so the color really “takes.”) Switch to a really, really good shampoo for colored hair — I’d encourage you to use a salon-quality one like Pureology, even for your non-salon-quality color. Get into the habit of only lathering up your roots, since this REALLY helps prevent the fading and the dryness/damage that home dyes can cause. Condition the ends every days, also with a colored-hair conditioner.
If the color STILL fades sooner than you’d like, well…why not just get some auburn highlights at a salon? Your hair is already brunette, so clearly you don’t need to be adding the brown color (and yes, any boxed dye classified as “auburn” will contain a good deal of brunette tones, no matter how red the photo looks). I know, highlights are expensive, but you can generally go about six months in between them (provided they are done right), so…twice a year instead of sitting in your bathroom every six to eight weeks, ruining your towels and making your husband wear plastic gloves while you both gag on the chemical fumes? You can totally accuse me of being a salon color snob, but really, I’m just flipping lazy.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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