Coloring Your Own Gray Hair at Home

coloring your own gray hair at home

Coloring Your Own Gray Hair at Home

For years, I paid a stylist to color my hair at $90 a pop plus $30 for trims. I always hated the way my hair looked. Even though I told my stylist over and over that my hair seemed orange, she never fixed it. I would see photos and my hair was clearly orange-tinged. One day, I went in and asked for a specific cut (even had a photo) and asked for some white-blonde highlights. I walked out with a layered cut (I never do layers other than long ones) and caramel-orange highlights.

That was the day I decided I’d had it. I knew I could do at least that well with a box kit. Thus began some experiments that I’m going to share and hopefully you can learn from.

Store Bought Kits to Color Your Hair

I started with a kit I bought from Walmart. I went with an ash color because I knew that ash would tone down how orange my hair looked. I did take the time to study the color wheels and how stylists balance color. This made me understand that my stylist really didn’t understand this balancing act, not even a little. This is why my hair was always orange, even when I told her it had a tendency to go orange.

In a nutshell:

  • If your hair is orange, you need to add purple to tone it down or an ash color or toner.
  • If your hair is green, you don’t have enough red in it.

As you lighten your hair, you strip out pigments. So, if I wanted highlights that were blonde, I’d have to lose all the red from my hair through several stages. It is not easy to highlight hair at home if your hair is dark and I really don’t recommend it for a beginner as you might fry your hair. However, you can start with a 20 volume toner and some powdered bleach or one of the kits at the store, which is the same thing. You just might have a hard time getting away from it being orangey at first.

The light ash brown I put on my hair did tone down the orange, but it was a flat color and I still wasn’t thrilled with it. I realized that the color I loved on celebrities and friends was not made up of one color. I started to really study their hair and what it looked like and I realized there were layers of different colors, highlights and lowlights that gave them that look.

What Hair Color to Buy from Sally’s Beauty Supply

I then headed to Sally’s, because I knew it would be cheaper to buy several different colors. I was lost. There are so many colors and there are some that are specifically for gray hair (these are amazing and make your hair soft and shiny). I knew I wanted a light ash brown base, blonde highlights and medium golden brown lowlights. So, I chose a light ash brown, a medium golden brown, some highlighting powder and 20 volume toner.

I put on the brown base first. Then, I mixed the bleach and put it on with a toothbrush where I wanted it. My hair takes forever to lighten, so I knew I’d have to leave it on the maximum, 90 minutes. I left it on an hour and then went in and added the golden brown lowlights where I wanted those. 30 minutes later I rinsed it all out and conditioned.

The result? While not perfect, it was 100 times better than what I’d paid my stylist $90 for and it was not orange. There was a slight red tone to my lowlights as I’d chosen golden brown, but they were a pretty slightly auburn type color. I got many compliments.

Other Things to Do to Camouflage Gray Hair

One of the biggest problems I’ve had is that my gray hair is actually snow white. However, I suspect it doesn’t matter what shade your gray is. You likely still want to cover it. If you’re like me, your hair grows fast. So you might color it and a week later gray is peaking through. No one wants to overprocess their hair. There are some things you can do to camouflage it.

  • Touch up just the roots. This only works well if your hair is all one color.
  • Create baby lights. This is something I’ve recently started to do and I love this look so much. I put a chocolate brown at the top, which is about a shade or so darker than my natural color. I then go down about two to three inches and twist sections and bleach them. The look is subtle but adds a lot of pretty lights to my hair, especially when I let the waves go natural. When the gray starts to come in, I just touch up that part at the top or even from the top down about two inches. I don’t have to do the ends, which are often the most fragile. It is a quick touchup.
  • Some people use touch up pens. I’ve not tried these. They are a temporary fix.
  • There are some rinses you can use to add color to your hair, but they aren’t great at covering gray.

These are just a few ideas. You have to find the color that matches your own skin tone and that you love. The ladies who work at Sally’s always help me out and are usually right about the colors to choose and how to fix problems. For example, my blonde kept going orangey or straw yellow. I could never get it where I wanted until a gal at Sally told me to bleach it and then do a lightest ash blonde toner over it at the end. Wow! No more orange. Such an easy fix and makes my hair look BETTER than when I had the salon do it.

Whatever method you choose, it is an ongoing effort to keep gray hair covered. You can do it and you’ll look breathtakingly beautiful.

Crabby Housewife

Crabby Housewife

Lori is a full-time housewife and writer, living in the Midwest with her husband of 27 years - they have two daughters. They have a house full of pets and her house is never quite perfect.

  • Carolyn

    Covering grays is a challenge, because as your hair grows they show very prominently near your scalp. Mine shows so much i now need a root touchup more often than the six week interval I was getting mine colored when hubby trims my hair. I have sensitive skin and the harsh toxic chemical in salon and box color leaves my scalp red so i looked into alternatives and henna was my best choice. It comes in shades from red to black and it covers the grays better than box dyes do. I get a full application every three months and hubby was touching up my roots when he trimmed my hair. It leaves my hair soft, shiny and the color is fantastic, natural looking not monotone dull. Henna is messy, i need to leave it on for two hours, but the end result is worth it. My husband was fine with me going gray, he was reluctant to do my color for me, but when he saw the final results, he was pleased. So he doesn’t complain about doing my henna. My hair is long, to my elbows so i needed two packages to color my hair for a full application, one package is enough for a couple root touchups that are now every month. My costs are reasonable by any standard. I pay around $50 a year for henna and being hubby cuts my hair, that cost is minimal, just hair clips and incidentals. I get compliments on my hair all the time, and i share about how great the henna leaves my hair. It deep conditiions my hair rather than destroying it. I recommend it to everyone, Sally’s doesnt sell it so I buy it online.

  • Lori Soard

    Hi Carolyn,

    Sorry for my slow reply. I was on vacation and wanted to be able to answer you a bit more in-depth than a quick response. Thank you for your addition to this article. You make some really good points about skin sensitivities. One of my friends was mentioning the other day that she has used herbs and teas to color and add highlights to her hair (with the help of the sun, for example chamomile tea can help add highlights when you put it on and spend time in the sun).

    I have not tried Henna yet, but that sounds like a great alternative. I’m so glad you found something that works for you and is so frugal. Hope your tip helps other readers, too.

  • Carolyn

    You make a good point about using teas and herbs, not all henna is really henna but rather a mix of different herbs as pure henna will only give you red. My husband used coffee when mixing my henna and it got it a darker brown. One point he made as he is quite observant and he has pointed out to me is that as more grays appear, the contrast between the darker hair and gray roots makes them jump out at you. We were at the grocery store the other day and he pointed out a woman who had dyed her hair jet black, it looked plastic and she had about an inch and a half of new growth, with a center part. Net result was an obvious skunk stripe. So he suggested that while I would like to go darker, that just the opposite is what i should do if I want to minimize the appearance of gray hairs. That is why they are not as obvious on women with blond hair. So as I get to the point where they are all grays coming in rather than 25%, I will consider the advice of my hubby. After all he is the one who cuts and colors my hair, and always does a great job and I dont want to be sporting a skunk stripe.