Crystal Martin

How to Touch Up Your Roots at Home

Here’s what you should and shouldn’t do.

Rachel Bodt has been mulling over the relevance of hair color in our new lives.

“I think it comes down to doing whatever we can to make ourselves feel good,” said Ms. Bodt, a colorist. “If you’re looking at your roots and feel like you just have to fix them, just do it.”

But where to start? Experts say deciding how to maintain your color at home isn’t just about the shade — what red, brown or blond do I use? It’s also about how different your faux color is from your natural shade. That assessment determines what tools you’ll need, Ms. Bodt said.

Your hair has grown out, but the roots are pretty subtle. Your dye job is a gentle change from your natural hair color. You’re coloring a little gray, or you’ve gone from brunette to a different shade of brown. If this sounds like you, root cover-up sprays and powders will help.

For little patches of gray peeking through at the hairline, use a powder like Color Wow Root Cover Up, $34.50. A powder is easier to control in small areas than a spray. For a larger area, use a spray like Rita Hazan Root Concealer Touch-Up Spray, $25.

Pick the shade that best matches your hair and apply it conservatively. It’s better to layer on a little more if you need it. “And do it in your bathroom so you’re not getting spray on anything you can’t wipe down,” Ms. Bodt said.

Say you’re covering a lot of gray or going from light to dark or brown to red. Root touch-up sprays won’t cut it for you. Try an at-home permanent dye.

“The No. 1 rule when touching up your own color is put color only where it’s needed — on the roots,” said Jaxcee, a colorist and a founder of the Coily Collective at the Riccardo Maggiore Salon on Fifth Avenue. People mistakenly think they have to pull the dye through the entire length of hair so it will blend well.

“If you keep putting dye where there’s already color, your hair will look opaque and less natural,” Jaxcee said. “Imagine the guys who use spray-on color in a can.” She suggests using a thick conditioner or coconut oil on the parts of your hair that you aren’t coloring to prevent dye from penetrating.

Personalized colors from online companies like Color & Co and Madison Reed are the best choice and are delivered to your home.

“My clients have had success with those brands,” Ms. Bodt said. “The shades are realistic and beautiful and don’t damage the hair. And when clients come to their next appointments, I’ve been able to color their hair nicely, which isn’t always the case with drugstore dye.”

The biggest challenge is selecting the right shade. Color & Co and Madison Reed have questionnaires that generate shade options.

“Go with the color that is closest to your current color,” Jaxcee said. But the most important feature of at-home color is its tone, she said. Is your current color neutral, warm or cool?

And think about your past experiences with hair dye. Does your hair tend to pick up color easily? If so, and you’re picking between shades, choose a lighter color.

“As a rule, at-home color is more concentrated,” Jaxcee said. “The dye load is heavy because companies want to make users feel like their result is luscious and rich.”

If you’re still having trouble deciding, reach out to your stylist for some guidance. “I’ve been helping my clients take the online questionnaires and have even walked them through dyeing over FaceTime,” Ms. Bodt said.

If you do get that level of help, offering your stylist, who is likely out of work, some cash is a nice gesture.

Here are a few additional tips from the experts:

  • Test it out. If you’re a first-timer or otherwise still nervous, work through the whole process on a hidden piece of hair at the back of your head.

  • Wear a button-down shirt while applying. “You don’t want to have to remove a shirt over year head when it’s time to rinse,” Ms. Bodt said.

  • Prime your hairline. Apply Vaseline or ChapStick to prevent staining.

  • Deep condition to maintain. Nonprofessional color can be drying to your hair. Use a moisturizing treatment at least once a week. Jaxcee also recommends a strengthening treatment, Olaplex No. 5, $28, that repairs bonds in the hair that are broken during the dyeing process.

“‘Lived-in’ has been the look in highlights for a while,” Ms. Bodt said. “We’re used to seeing a little root with highlights. People should leave them alone.”

Bleaching, the chemical process that lightens your hair, is difficult to do well, even by professionals. And it’s damaging. If you D.I.Y. it, you’ll probably end up breaking off your hair.

Highlighting is always a two-step process. First, bleach lightens the hair (melanin is removed from the shaft). Then, the newly lightened hair is toned, a color-depositing process that gives highlights an exact shade — say, a cool ash blond or a warm bronze-y brown. Instead of trying to bleach your roots, you should mimic only the second part of the process: toning.

“When we perceive our highlights as looking bad, it’s usually not about the roots as much as the color and texture,” Ms Bodt said. “The hair looks brassy, dull or frizzy.”

Blond highlights almost universally get brassy (orange) over time. Ms. Bodt suggests a purple conditioner, Kérastase Blond Absolu Masque Ultra-Violet Purple Hair Mask, $62. “It corrects both the tone and deeply moisturizes the hair so it’s shinier and de-frizzed,” she said.

For brunette and red highlights, she suggests Evo Fabuloso Colour Boosting Treatment, $35, which comes in eight shades. For example, there’s a copper (warm red) and a purple red (cool).

“Again, if you’re having trouble figuring out which treatment color is right for your hair, reach out to your stylist for advice,” Ms. Bodt said.

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