How to Hide Your Roots Between Salon Appointments

We love the way hair color boosts our looks and confidence. But grow-outs happen and we can’t always make it to the salon to touch up our roots. For those of us on a budget or who don’t have time for a monthly salon visit, here are several tips on how to seamlessly extend the life of your hair color between appointments while maintaining that fresh-from-the-salon look.

Ask your colorist for a small batch of your regular hair color formula so you can do light touch-ups at home. If your colorist doesn’t oblige, just go to your local drugstore and pick up a box of hair dye that closely matches the shade that you want. (Try Clairol Nice ‘N Easy Root Touch-Up, $6.99 at Clairol.) If you’re a double-processed blonde, however, it isn’t advisable to do touch-ups at home. Faye Goodwin, an expert colorist at Butterfly Studio Salon, recommends visiting the salon every four weeks “to maintain a clean color palette.” Celebrity colorist Rita Hazan suggests experimenting with a messy part and creative hairstyles so that the growth is less obvious until you’re able to make an appointment with your professional colorist.

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To prepare your hair for at-home coloring, “it is best to shampoo 12 to 24 hours before coloring with a semi or demi-permanent hair color and shampoo 24 hours prior to using permanent color. Don’t shampoo immediately before coloring your hair because it removes the natural oils that help protect your scalp during the coloring process. In addition, avoid washing for 24 hours after coloring,” advises Clairol Color Director James Corbett.

For store-bought kits, pour the dye contents into a small bowl, then with a plastic or rubber whisk, mix the contents together. Or follow the directions on the box. But before you begin, do a strand test first to determine optimal process time and color for your hair. Snip a strand from the back of your head. (Make sure the test sample includes a section of your unprocessed roots.) Completely cover the unprocessed section with the dye. Wait 10 minutes. If the color result isn’t what you want, apply a bit more dye and leave the color on up to an additional five minutes. Note the optimal processing time before you start the process for your head. Wear protective gloves so your hands don’t get stained.

If you’re using a vibrant, rich or deep, dark color, apply a thin layer of petroleum jelly around your hairline and the top of your ears to prevent the dye from staining your skin. Using a tail comb, create four sections by making a center part from the nose to the back of the head and another part from ear to ear. Then clip out each section and using a small paintbrush or tint brush, apply the color to small one-quarter-inch sections. Work your way back. Be extra cautious to apply the color to the new growth only. You don’t want overlap, especially with ammonia-based formulas. If any color gets on your skin, wipe it off immediately with a small towel.

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When done with the front sections, gently clip them together (avoiding the dyed roots), so you can work on the two back sections. Since dying the back sections can be tricky, it’s best to have a mirror behind you to see what you’re doing. (Or better yet, a friend who can help with the difficult sections.) Apply dye to the roots at your nape, then carefully part and dye your hair in small diagonal sections until you’re done.

Let it sit for the suggested color processing time (which is usually 10 to 15 minutes). Refer back to the test strand for the optimal color processing time for your hair. Once finished, Corbett recommends using a glaze, such as Clairol’s Natural Instincts, following a root touch-up application to refresh color and to give your hair an overall glossy shine. “A gloss can help bring you back to your desired tone.” Rinse hair with warm water until the water runs clear. Follow up with a conditioning treatment.

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