At-home hair colour 101

From the hippest shades to how-to help, we've got the hair-colour secrets you need

When you need to revive tired-looking tresses or give yourself a new look, at-home hair colour is a quick and inexpensive option. But with so many options to choose from (semi-permanent, grey coverage and highlights, just to name a few), picking one box from an aisle of hundreds can be challenging. I asked award-winning hairstylist John Donato, of Donato Salons & Spa in Mississauga and Toronto (, some common colouring questions. Read on before you slip on the rubber gloves and start mixing.

How do I choose the right product?
Before buying anything, consider your hair-colour needs.
If you’re a first-time user, look for a low-commitment semi-permanent colour such as Clairol Natural Instincts, $11. It’s a good choice if you want to add shine, brighten your natural colour or lightly cover grey hair, and it will wash out in 12 to 24 shampoos. Novices should also stay within a small colour range – don’t jump from one end of the spectrum to the other. If you have brown hair, you should go a shade lighter; if you have blond hair, try a shade darker. Once you’ve mastered the technique and are happy with the shade, move on to a permanent formula. If you need denser grey coverage, chose a permanent dye such as Clairol Nice ‘n Easy, $9. Whichever formula you choose, consult the in-store charts and, most importantly, read the instructions thoroughly before starting. Then follow them strictly!

Can I hide a bad haircut with colour?
No! Think cut and style first, colour later. Colour should enhance the beauty of a great cut and make the most of your hair texture. Also, remember that healthy-looking hair is always the goal, so keep your locks in good shape with regular trims. Just as you colour your hair every four to six weeks, book some time for an upkeep cut, too.

What should I do if I (gulp!) make a colouring mistake?
Don’t be afraid to ask for help. The helpline listed on the package will put you in touch with a customer-service representative. They should be familiar with the complete product and colour line and can answer questions and make suggestions. Second, you can go back to where you bought the colour. Major drugstore cosmeticians, such as those at Shoppers Drug Mart, are trained to help and are a great source of information. Third, if you’ve had enough of the do-it-yourself route, make a trip to a professional hairstylist to fix your error.
TIP: If you’ve made a mistake, wait a couple of days before you do anything yourself. Over-colouring right away can make things worse – much worse.

Do I need shampoos, conditioners and styling products specifically for colour-treated hair?
Colour-enhancing products help keep your locks vibrant and shiny, but consider the needs of your hair texture. If trying to tame your fine or curly tresses is as challenging as keeping the colour, try a combination of colour-treated and texture-specific products.
The bottom line: use what works for you and makes your hair look its best. TRY: Pantene Pro-V Expressions in blond, brunette and red. Customized for colour-treated hair, this complete line of shampoos, conditioners and styling products contains chamomile and cherry bark extract to help protect against fading.

Get Chatelaine in your inbox!

Our very best stories, recipes, style and shopping tips, horoscopes and special offers. Delivered a couple of times a week.