Hair Coloring for Beginners: Dos and Don’ts

February 22, 2024


If you’ve ever been tempted to experiment with hair color but felt nervous about trying it yourself, you’ve come to the right place. We will share all the tips for stress-free at-home coloring as a beginner. 

Hair coloring is such a fun way to play with new looks, but there are some important do’s and don’ts to follow to avoid damage or unwanted results. With the right preparation and techniques, anyone can achieve salon-worthy color with minimal fuss. Let’s dive into hair coloring for beginners!

Understanding Your Hair

The first step is understanding your hair’s current needs. Take a close look in the mirror:

Is your hair dry, damaged, or showing breakage? 

Conditioning treatments before coloring are a must. Dry or damaged hair is more porous and prone to absorbing too much dye or developing unwanted tones. 

We recommend doing a deep conditioning treatment at least 3 days before coloring to hydrate the hair and fill in the cuticle. Nourish hair with a rich mask containing ingredients like coconut oil, shea butter, or argan oil. Leave it on for 30 minutes with a plastic cap before rinsing. 

This will better protect hair during the coloring process.

Is your hair fine or thick? 

Thinner hair may not need as much development as coarse locks. Fine hair tends to be less porous, so it doesn’t need as strong of a developer to lift the cuticle and deposit color. Too strong of a developer on fine hair could cause breakage. 

Those with thick, coarse hair may need a higher volume developer, like 10 or 20 volume, to ensure the color fully saturates each strand.

What’s your natural level? 

Very light or dark hair requires more delicate processing. Hair that is already very light, like a level 8 or 9, will lift much easier than dark hair, like a level 6 or 7. 

Dark hair needs a higher volume developer, or it may not lighten enough for the new color to show. On the other hand, very light hair runs the risk of being over-processed if too high of a developer is used. 

It’s always best to start with a lower volume, around 10, and do a strand test.

Don’t ignore signs your hair is stressed. Coloring will only make the damage worse. Nourish hair first with deep conditioning masks before proceeding.

Types of Hair Color

For beginners, we recommend starting with something subtle before going full-on fashion colors. Here’s an overview of the main options.

  • Highlights or lowlights only color certain strands, allowing you to ease into the process. They also tend to be more forgiving if the application is uneven.

Highlights add brightness, while lowlights add dimension. Both are great options for a first-timer to play around with coloring certain sections.

  • Semi-permanent dyes wash out gradually for an easy, low-commitment look. They deposit pigment onto the surface of the hair rather than fully lifting and depositing like permanent dyes. 

This means the color lasts 5-15 shampoos rather than until new growth comes in. Semi-permanent dyes come in a wide variety of fashion colors but also natural-looking shades. They require little to no peroxide/developer.

  • Demi-permanent dyes deposit color and also lighten up to 2 levels but require less development than permanent dyes (usually 6-10 volumes). This makes them safer for those with previously colored, porous, or damaged hair. 

Demi-permanent dyes last until new growth comes in but fade more gracefully between salon visits compared to permanent dyes. They provide long-lasting results without the risk of damage or unwanted lifting.

  • Permanent dyes fully lift the cuticle and deposit new pigment molecules all the way to the cortex. This allows them to cover grays and last until new growth comes in. 

However, they require the highest developer levels, usually 20-30 volume. They are not recommended for hair coloring beginners or those with fragile hair.

Don’t choose a shade drastically different than your natural color as a first-timer. Stick to levels that are within 1-2 shades of your usual hue. This reduces the risk of unwanted tones or damage that could occur from too much lifting of the cuticle.

Preparing for Hair Coloring

Proper prep is key for even, long-lasting results:

  • Wash hair the day before with a sulfate-free shampoo to remove product buildup. Any residue can affect how the dye adheres to the hair. We recommend giving hair an extra thorough scrub to ensure it’s squeaky clean without any oils or silicones coating the surface.
  • Section hair off into four equal quadrants for easier handling as you apply the dye. Use section hair off into four equal quadrants for easier handling as you apply the dye. 

Use clips, hair ties, or hairdressing foil to separate each section so you can focus on one area at a time without missing spots. Having hair sectioned makes the application process much smoother.

  • Perform a strand test by applying a dab of dye to an unnoticeable piece, like underneath layers or near the nape of the neck. Leave it on for the full processing time, then rinse to check the true end result. 

This small test allows you to see how the shade may turn out on your actual hair before committing to the full head. It saves you from surprises. We recommend doing strand tests even if you’ve used the same dye shade before, as hair color can oxidize differently each time.

  • Towel dry hair until it’s no longer dripping wet before applying color. You want hair to be slightly damp but not soaking. If hair is too wet, the dye may not adhere or lighten as intended. Damp hair opens the cuticle better for an even result.

Don’t apply product to dirty or wet hair, as it may not adhere properly or develop unevenly. And don’t skip the strand test – it saves you from surprises!

The Coloring Process

When the big day comes

  • Wear old clothes you don’t mind getting dye on. It can stain skin, clothes and surfaces even after washing, so play it safe. 
  • Section hair into the four previously clipped sections to focus on one quadrant at a time.
  • Open the dye packet(s) and transfer the contents into the plastic mixing bowl provided. Add the required amount and type of developer listed on the box instructions. For example, 10 or 20 volumes for permanent dyes. Mix thoroughly with a plastic spoon until fully blended and a uniform color.
  • Apply color from root to tip using a gloved hand or the plastic bottle applicator if included. Squeeze out a small amount and work it through each small sub-section of hair until fully saturated but not dripping. Ensure all strands are coated from root to tip for even coverage.
  • Leave on as directed by the product instructions, usually 20-40 minutes. Set multiple timers to ensure you don’t miss any sections. Some dyes process faster than others, so don’t assume all quadrants will be done at the same time.
  • While processing, avoid washing hands until all dye is rinsed out to prevent accidental staining. Clean up any spills or splatters immediately before they set.

Don’t apply in a rush. Take your time for even coverage. And don’t leave the dye on any longer than stated – this risks damage. Better to rinse too soon than too late.

Aftercare and Maintenance

Colored hair needs TLC

  • Shampoo with a sulfate-free brand to cleanse gently without stripping dye or natural oils. We recommend shampooing for the first time 2-3 days after initial coloring to allow cuticles to fully close and seal in the pigment.
  • Deep condition weekly with a rich hair mask to replenish moisture lost from the coloring process. Apply generously from root to tip, and leave on for 5-10 minutes at least once a week. Coconut oil, argan oil, and shea butter are especially nourishing.
  • Limit washing to 2-3 times a week max, and don’t use water that’s too hot. Frequent washing or very hot water can cause fading to occur faster as it opens cuticles. 
  • For low maintenance between dye jobs or when trying to make color last, use a dry shampoo to absorb oils instead of washing. Spritz at roots and massage in. Let sit 5 minutes before brushing or blowing out.

Don’t over-wash or use very hot water as this dries out hair and causes fading fast. Nourish hair well to keep your color vibrant longer.

Seeking Professional Help

While DIY is fun, you can always visit a salon:

  • Correcting unwanted tones from previous dye jobs yourself can be tricky. A colorist has years of experience blending formulas to neutralize issues.
  • Achieving very light or vivid shades without lightening hair requires precision lightening and toning.
  • Dealing with severely damaged or porous hair from past chemicals or heat tools is risky to color yourself.

In these cases, visiting a salon ensures you get the results you want without compromising hair health further. It’s worth the investment!

Essensuals- your one-stop destination!

Essensuals Salon is your one-stop destination for all hair services. Our talented team of colorists, stylists, and estheticians have mastered all the latest techniques.

Whether you’re looking to refresh your color, chop off a few inches, or completely transform your look, our creative professionals will design a cut and style uniquely suited to your individual needs, hair type, and desired aesthetic.

We carry the top professional haircare brands to nourish and protect your treated hair. Our relaxing boutique setting also offers facials, waxing, and more. Leave feeling beautiful and confident- that’s the Essensuals promise! 

Schedule online or give us a call today.


Well, that covers all the essential do’s and don’ts for stress-free hair coloring for beginners. We hope these tips have you feeling excited and empowered to experiment with your look from the comfort of home. 

Remember to start subtly with your first dye job as you learn, pay close attention to your hair’s needs, and most importantly- have fun with the process! Hair color is a creative outlet, so don’t be afraid to make mistakes as you find what works best. 

With some practice and TLC for your locks, you’ll be a pro in no time. Feel free to reach back out if any other questions arise down the road. And be sure to share pictures of your results. 

Happy coloring!

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

1). How do I choose the right hair dye for my hair type?

Thin/fine hair works best with semi-permanent or demi-permanent dyes and lower developer volumes like 10%. Thick/coarse hair needs stronger permanent dyes and higher developers, like 20%, for full coverage.

2). What’s the difference between highlights, lowlights, and all-over color?

Highlights add brightness to strands, lowlights add dimension, and all-over color dyes the entire head of hair one uniform shade. Highlights/lowlights are best for beginners as they’re more forgiving of uneven application.

3). How long will the color last before it fades?

Semi-permanent dyes last 5-15 washes. Demi-permanent dyes last until new growth with gradual fading. Permanent dyes only fade with new growth, usually lasting 4-6 weeks. Proper aftercare, like sulfate-free shampooing, extends color life.

4). How do I know what level or tone of color to choose?

Choose a shade that is within 1-2 levels of your natural color. Try a strand test to see the true result before your full head. Cool tones like ash and blue work well for masking brassiness in darker shades.

5). How often can I safely dye my hair?

It’s best to wait 6-8 weeks between dyeing to allow hair to recover from processing fully. Those with damaged or porous hair should wait even longer, up to 12 weeks between colors.

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