NYC hairstylist: 4 tips for coloring your hair at home


With hair salons closed for the time being in accordance with social distancing rules, many people are wondering how to maintain their preferred look — so much so that "how to color your roots at home" was among the top five "how to" Google searches on grooming in early April. Coloring your hair professionally is expensive, and now that we're all stuck at home this could be a good time to learn how to DIY it. Bonus: You could potentially save a ton over time.

Before you take matters into your own hands, New York City freelance hairstylist Chris O'Leary is here with tips to help you look your best.

O'Leary, who has worked with designers like Gemma Kahng and Carolina Herrera, and celebrities like Rosario Dawson, shares his top tips with Grow for maintaining your color, saving money on products, and developing an eye for styling on the fly. 

Only dye the roots you see

If you're covering gray or blond roots, focus on what's visible right now, O'Leary says. You can use a touch-up spray or crayon for those areas, though you should make sure you find one that's close to your desired color.

For a longer-lasting and more accurate fix, go for the dye. Box dye (as opposed to professional dye) will probably be your best choice as it comes with instructions. "One client of mine likes the Olia brand, because it's less harsh on her sensitive scalp," he says. "Find a color match to your own hair, and please do a test strand first, because we want to make sure the color is correct as well as avoiding an allergic reaction when applying on your scalp." 

Chris O'Leary.
Photo by Eric Eikenbary

And, he says, "Just touch up the parts you see — usually the temples and the hairline around the face, as well as along your part. All you need to do is just your regrowth. You don't have to do the whole head."

Touching up dark roots on your own could easily go badly, so try to avoid it. "Going darker when it comes to hair color is a lot easier than going lighter," he says. Going lighter brings out your yellow or orange undertones. "Your natural dark hair may not be what you want but think of it this way: Neither is yellow and orange," he says.

Don't overlap your color

Make sure not to put color on top of color. "Don't bring it to the ends," where you might already have color, he says. "And be precise, because overlapping the color on already colored hair will result in making the ends darker than the root color."

Separate your hair into four sections, with each quadrant around the perimeter, he says. "You would do small sections and do the root touch, and continue like that. Four quadrants, two in the front, one in the middle, separate those ear to ear, two sections in the back."

Just touch up the parts you see, like usually the temples and the hairline.
Chris O'Leary
freelance New York City hairstylist 

Save money by safely storing the dye for later

Since you're just using enough dye for your roots, you can save the rest for another time, which also means you're spending less on your home coloring.

Keep in mind that once the dye is mixed, it can only be used at that time because it deactivates.

"To be able to reuse a few times, mix small and equal parts for each use," says O'Leary. "As long as the color activator is sealed, then it can be reused. No need for refrigeration. Store in a cool, dry place." 

Keep hair dye off whatever's near you

O'Leary recommends covering yourself and your space in towels you don't mind destroying. "If you have to wear glasses, I would say wrap the tips in Saran Wrap," he says. "If you get a ring around your hairline, you can use makeup remover."

Proceed carefully, and remember, if you're unsure, you can always just wait. "Better safe than sorry, people! We don't want any one of you creating at-home disasters, for your own sanity," he says. "By the time this all works out, you can just go to your hairstylist."

Are you DIYing your haircuts or hair color while at home? Send us a video of your process or a photo of your results at

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