Top 9 Hair Dye Mistakes People Make and How to Avoid Them

Dyeing your hair at home can be a fun and rewarding experience, saving you a trip to the salon and a bit of cash.

But, without the right know-how, it’s easy to end up with a look you didn’t quite aim for!

Whether you’re switching up your color for a new season, covering a few grays, or just experimenting with a fresh look, getting it right matters.

That’s why I’m here to chat with you, just like we’re sitting together in my salon chair, about the top mistakes folks tend to make when they bring the dye job home—and how you can sidestep them to ensure your hair turns out fabulous, just the way you want it.

From skipping crucial tests to picking the wrong color, I’ve seen it all.

So, let’s make sure your DIY hair color turns heads for all the right reasons, shall we?

Mistake #1: Not Doing a Patch Test

hair dye in a mixing bowl

Imagine this: You’ve picked the perfect color, and you’re all set to transform your look. But here’s the thing—jumping straight into dyeing without a patch test is like baking a cake without preheating the oven.

It might seem like a small step, but it’s crucial. A patch test is your best friend when it comes to preventing unexpected allergic reactions. Your scalp and skin are unique, and how they react to hair dye can vary widely.

That’s why a patch test is a must. It’s simple, quick, and could save you a whole lot of discomfort. Let’s walk through how to do it:

  1. Choose Your Spot: Ideally, you want to pick a small, discreet area of skin. Behind your ear or on the inner forearm are great choices because the skin is sensitive enough to react if there’s an allergen in the dye.
  2. Prepare the Dye: Mix a tiny amount of the hair dye you plan to use, following the instructions on the package.
  3. Apply a Small Amount: Using a cotton swab or a small brush, apply a small dab of the dye to the chosen area. It doesn’t need to be a big spot, just a dot will do.
  4. Wait: This is the hard part—waiting. The package might specify a time, but a good rule of thumb is to leave it for 48 hours. This gives your skin ample time to react if it’s going to.
  5. Check the Test Area: After 48 hours, take a look. If you notice any redness, itching, swelling, or other signs of irritation, it’s a sign you could have an allergic reaction to the dye. In that case, it’s better to avoid using that product.
  6. Rinse: If there’s no reaction, you’re good to go. But either way, gently rinse off the test area with warm water and pat it dry.

A patch test might seem like an extra step, especially when you’re excited to see your new color. But trust me, it’s worth the effort. It’s all about keeping your hair adventure fun and, most importantly, safe. So, let’s not skip this step, okay?

hair dye mistakes and how to avoid them - how to do a patch test infographic

Mistake #2: Skipping the Strand Test

hair dye strand test

Alright, let’s talk about another step that’s easy to breeze past but oh-so-important: the strand test. Think of it as your color preview, giving you a sneak peek into how your chosen dye will look on your actual hair.

It’s like trying on clothes before buying them. You wouldn’t want to commit to an outfit without knowing it fits just right, would you? The same goes for hair color.

The strand test helps ensure the color you’ve fallen in love with in the box translates just as beautifully on your hair. Plus, it’s a great way to check how your hair reacts to the dye, from color uptake to any potential damage. Here’s how to do a strand test the right way:

  1. Select Your Strand: Choose a small section of hair that’s not usually visible—somewhere underneath is perfect. This way, if you’re not happy with the result, it won’t be noticeable.
  2. Prepare the Dye: Just like with the patch test, mix a small amount of dye according to the product’s instructions.
  3. Apply the Dye: Using gloves, apply the dye to the selected strand from root to tip. Be sure to fully saturate the strand for the most accurate result.
  4. Time It: Set a timer according to the instructions on the dye package. This is crucial for getting an accurate sense of how the dye will look.
  5. Rinse and Dry: Once the time is up, rinse the strand thoroughly and gently dry it. If you can, let it air dry to see the most natural result.
  6. Evaluate: Take a good look at the strand. Is the color what you expected? How does your hair feel? If you’re happy with the outcome, you’re ready to move forward. If not, you might want to reconsider your color choice or the timing.

Doing a strand test might add a bit more time to your dyeing process, but it’s a step that can save you from unexpected surprises. It’s all about making sure you get the color you want while keeping your hair as healthy as possible.

So, grab that strand and let’s get testing. Trust me, you will thank me for it!

hair dye mistakes and how to avoid them - how to do a strand test infographic

Mistake #3: Using the Wrong Type of Dye

hair dye mistakes and how to avoid them - a shelf of drug store box dyes

Now, onto a topic that’s as crucial as picking the right shade: choosing the type of dye.

It’s not just about the color; it’s about understanding what each type of dye does to your hair and picking the one that aligns with your goals and hair’s needs.

Like ingredients in your favorite dish, the type of dye you use can make all the difference in the final outcome. Let’s break down the three main types: permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary dyes.

Permanent Dye

This is the go-to for long-lasting color change, complete coverage of grey hair, and for those seeking a significant color transformation.

Permanent dyes penetrate the hair shaft and alter your natural color. They require more upkeep due to root growth and can be more damaging over time.

If you’re ready for a long-term commitment and okay with more maintenance, permanent dye might be your match.

Semi-Permanent Dye

Think of semi-permanent dye as a middle ground.

It doesn’t penetrate as deeply into the hair shaft and doesn’t require a developer to activate. Instead, it coats the surface, adding color and shine without making a permanent change.

This type is great if you love switching things up since it gradually fades over about 4-12 washes.

It’s also less damaging, making it a good choice for those with delicate or processed hair.

Temporary Dye

For the commitment-phobes or those looking for a fun weekend change, temporary dye is your best friend.

It’s perfect for special occasions, adding streaks of color, or testing a color before going all in. Temporary color sits on top of the hair cuticle and washes out in one or two shampoos.

It’s the gentlest option and a fun way to experiment without risking damage or long-term regret.

Choosing the Right Type of Hair Dye For You

Everyone is different. And what looks stunning on your BFF may not necessarily be the right hair dye for you.

Think about your lifestyle, hair health, and how often you’re willing to touch up your roots.

Picking the right type of dye isn’t just about the color you end up with; it’s about keeping your hair happy and healthy throughout the process.

So, take a beat to think about what you really want from your dye job.

Mistake #4: Neglecting Hair Condition

hair dye mistakes and how to avoid them - a lady with frizzy damaged hair

Which leads me onto something that can really make or break your at-home dye job: the condition of your hair.

Imagine your hair is like a canvas for the dye. Just as a painter needs a smooth, clean canvas for the paint to look its best, your hair needs to be in good condition for the dye to truly shine.

Starting with healthy hair is key to getting that even, vibrant color we all dream of.

Why Hair Health Really Matters

Damaged hair, full of split ends and breakage, won’t absorb dye evenly, leading to patchy results that nobody wants.

Plus, applying dye to weakened hair can further damage it, making your hair goals even harder to achieve. Before you even think about opening that dye box, take a moment to assess your hair’s health.

What to do if your hair is damaged

If your locks are looking a little worse for wear, don’t worry—there’s plenty you can do to get them back in shape before dyeing. Here are a few tips:

  • Deep Conditioning Treatments: Get some weekly deep conditioning treatments into your routine. Look for products packed with nourishing ingredients like keratin, argan oil, or coconut oil. These can help restore moisture and strength to your hair, making it a better candidate for coloring.
  • Protein Treatments: Especially for hair that’s severely damaged or over-processed, protein treatments can work wonders. They help rebuild the hair structure, giving it the resilience it needs to handle dye better.
  • Trimming Split Ends: Getting rid of those split ends isn’t just about looks; it’s about preventing further damage and the dreaded frizzy hairstack hair. A trim can help ensure the dye applies evenly and looks smooth and gorgeous.
  • Lay Off the Heat: Before dyeing, try to minimize heat styling. Heat can exacerbate damage and dryness, so give your hair a little break. Embrace your natural texture, and let your hair air dry when possible.

Prepping for Dye

Once your hair is looking healthy and strong, you’re in a much better position to get the color results you want. Healthy hair not only takes dye more evenly but also holds onto color longer, giving you that salon-quality look at home.

Mistake #5: Applying Dye to Dirty or Overly Clean Hair

hair dye mistakes and how to avoid them - a lady applying hair dye at home to dirty hair

When it comes to dyeing your hair at home, the state of your hair can make a big difference in how well the color takes.

Some people believe that super clean or, on the flip side, really dirty hair is the best base for dyeing. But really, neither extreme is ideal. Let’s get into the sweet spot for hair condition before coloring and why it matters.

The Ideal Condition

The consensus among most of the hair care professionals I’ve worked with is that day-old hair is just right for dyeing.

Why? Because the natural oils that your scalp produces play a crucial role in protecting your hair and scalp during the dyeing process.

These oils form a protective barrier, helping to prevent irritation from the chemicals in the dye.

Plus, they help the dye to stick to your hair more evenly, so you get a smoother application and more uniform color.

Too Clean Can Mean Trouble

Washing your hair right before applying dye strips away those natural oils, leaving your scalp more vulnerable to irritation and your hair more prone to uneven color absorption.

Super clean hair can be too slippery, making it harder for the dye to stick where you want it and potentially leading to patchy results.

Too Dirty Isn’t Ideal Either

On the other hand, applying dye to hair that’s too dirty or coated in product build-up can also be problematic.

Excess oil and products can act as a barrier, blocking the dye from evenly saturating your hair. This can also lead to uneven coloring, where some parts take the dye well and others don’t.

Finding the Right Balance

Aim for hair that’s been washed within the last 24 to 48 hours.

This gives your scalp time to produce enough natural oil to protect your skin and hair but isn’t so oily that it interferes with the dye.

If you use styling products, keep it light in the days leading up to your dye job, and consider a gentle clarifying shampoo for your last wash to remove any residue without over-stripping your hair.

Mistake #6: Uneven Application

hair dye mistakes and how to avoid them - a lady applying hair dye unevenly

Alright, this one’s a biggie. Let’s tackle a common snag many face when dyeing their hair at home: uneven application.

We’ve all been there, or at least I know I have when I just started out, aiming for that perfect, salon-like evenness but ending up with a bit of a patchwork instead.

But don’t worry, I’ve got some tips to help you get that even, gorgeous color from root to tip.

Tip 1: Sectioning Is Your Best Friend

First up, sectioning your hair can make a huge difference.

Think of your hair like a map, and you’re trying to cover every inch without missing a spot.

Start by dividing your hair into four sections: down the middle, and then from ear to ear across the top of your head.

Secure each section with a clip. Working with smaller sections makes it easier to manage and ensures you’re covering everything evenly.

hair dye mistakes and how to avoid them -infographic of how to section your hair

Tip 2: Use the Right Tools

Ditch the bottle application if you can. Instead, use a tint brush. It gives you more control and precision, especially around the hairline and roots.

You’ll be able to spread the dye more evenly, coating each strand from root to end. It’s a game-changer, trust me.

Tip 3: Get a Friend to Help

Sometimes, despite our best efforts, there are spots we just can’t reach properly.

This is where a friend comes in handy. They can help apply dye to the back of your head and check for any missed spots.

Plus, it’s always more fun with a buddy! Just make sure to choose someone you trust, and maybe return the favor when they need it.

Tip 4: Take Your Time

Rushing is a surefire way to end up with uneven color. I know it’s exciting to see the final result, but patience pays off.

Carefully work the dye through each section, ensuring full coverage. And don’t forget to follow the timing instructions on the dye package; it’s crucial for getting that even, vibrant color.

Tip 5: Check Your Work

Once you’ve applied the dye, do a once-over. Use a hand mirror to check the back and use your fingers to feel for any spots that might feel drier than others (a sign they might have missed getting fully saturated).

Watch & Learn: Hairdressers Guide To Coloring Your Own Hair And Not Ruining It

Here’s a great tutorial I always send clients to if they are thinking of dyeing their hair at home. Brad shows there’s a lot more to it then just slapping on some dye!

Mistake #7: Choosing the Wrong Color

hair dye mistakes and how to avoid them -woman with blue hair

Picking the right hair color is a bit like selecting the perfect outfit. You want something that not only looks great but also feels like you.

Sometimes, we’re tempted to jump on a bold new trend or drastically change our look overnight. While change can be exciting, choosing a hair color that doesn’t suit your natural features can lead to disappointment.

Here’s how to pick a color that complements your skin tone and natural hair color, and why sometimes it’s best to seek professional advice before making a big change.

Matching Color to Skin Tone

The first step in choosing the right hair color is understanding your skin’s undertone. Are you warm, cool, or neutral? A simple way to figure this out is to look at the veins in your wrist. If they appear blue or purple, you’re likely cool-toned.

If they look green, you’re warm-toned. Neutral undertones have a mix of both.

  • Warm Skin Tones: Stick with colors that have golden, caramel, or honey notes.
  • Cool Skin Tones: Opt for shades with cool undertones, like ash blonde, black, or burgundy.
  • Neutral Skin Tones: Lucky you! Most hair colors will complement your skin, but staying close to your natural color often yields the best results.
hair dye mistakes and how to avoid them -infographic wheel what hair color suits your skin tone

Considering Natural Hair Color

Your current hair color can also guide your choice.

If you’re thinking of going lighter or darker, it’s generally best not to stray more than two shades away from your natural color for the most flattering, natural-looking results.

Drastic changes can be striking, but they often require more maintenance and can lead to damage if not done correctly.

The Risk of Drastic Changes

Speaking of drastic changes, they can be fun but also risky. If you’re contemplating a major shift, like going from dark brown to platinum blonde, I would tell you to go see a professional.

They can assess the health of your hair, discuss what’s achievable, and help you understand the maintenance involved.

Drastic color changes take bleaching, which can be harsh on your hair. A professional can ensure it’s done safely and help you manage the health of your hair throughout the process. That’s what we’re here for!

Mistake #8: Leaving the Dye on for the Wrong Amount of Time

hair dye mistakes and how to avoid them -woman rinsing out hair dye

Getting the timing right when dyeing your hair is super important.

It’s a bit like baking; leave your cake in the oven too short a time, and it’s underdone. Too long, and it’s burnt. With hair dye, the stakes are your hair’s health and the tone of the color. This is why timing matters and how to nail it.


Not leaving the dye on long enough might seem like the safer option, but it can lead to color that’s uneven or much lighter than you hoped for.

Under-processing means the dye hasn’t had enough time to properly deposit or develop the color, leading to a finish that’s patchy or lacks depth.

This can be especially true for those covering greys or going for a significantly darker or richer tone.


On the flip side, leaving the dye on too long in hopes of getting a deeper or more vibrant color can backfire. Over-processing can severely damage your hair, leading to dryness, breakage, and a dull appearance.

Plus, the color might end up looking overly saturated or unnaturally dark, far from what you were aiming for.

Following Instructions Is What It’s All About

Every hair dye product is formulated differently, and the developers have spent a lot of time determining the optimal amount of time for their product to stay on your hair.

That’s why it’s so important to read and follow the instructions on the box to the letter. They’re there to ensure you get the best results without damaging your hair.

  • Patch and Strand Tests: Remember those tests we talked about earlier? They’re not just for checking reactions or color—it’s also a good opportunity to test the timing. The recommended time on the box is a general guideline, and a strand test can help you see if you need to adjust slightly for your specific hair type.
  • Set a Timer: Once you’ve applied the dye, set a timer. Guessing or going by feel can lead to those timing mistakes we want to avoid. Whether it’s your phone, kitchen timer, or something else, make sure you have a reliable countdown going.

Mistake #9: Not Looking After Your Color

hair dye mistakes and how to avoid them -woman with glossy hair brushing it

So, you’ve nailed the color, and you’re in love with your new look. Fantastic!

But the journey doesn’t end here. Maintaining that gorgeous color is just as important as the steps leading up to dyeing.

Without the right care, your vibrant color can quickly fade, leaving your hair looking less than stellar. Here are some essential tips to keep your colored hair looking fresh and vibrant for as long as possible.

Use Color-Safe Products

First things first, switch to shampoos and conditioners formulated for colored hair.

These products are designed to gently cleanse without stripping away color, helping to extend the life of your dye job.

Look for products that are sulfate-free and have a low pH level to keep your hair cuticle sealed and color locked in.

Wash Less Frequently

It might sound simple, but washing your hair less often can actually extend the life of your color.

Every wash can fade your color a little more, so try to limit shampooing to two or three times a week. In between washes, dry shampoo can be your best friend to keep your hair looking and feeling fresh.

Cold Water Rinse

Hot water can open up the hair cuticle, allowing color to wash out more easily.

When you do wash your hair, finish with a cold water rinse to seal the cuticle, lock in moisture, and help maintain your color’s vibrancy.

Protect Your Hair from the Sun

Just like your skin, your hair can be damaged by the sun.

UV rays can fade your color and dry out your hair. Whenever you’re out in the sun for extended periods, wear a hat or use hair products with UV protection to keep your color from fading.

Use Heat Protectant

If you’re using heat styling tools, always apply a heat protectant first. It’s really that simple!

High temperatures can not only damage your hair but also fade your color. A good heat protectant will shield your hair from damage and help keep your color looking its best.

Regular Trims and Treatments

Regular trims help prevent split ends from working their way up the hair shaft, which can make your color look dull and lifeless.

Once a week deep conditioning or gloss treatments can revive the look of your color, add shine, and improve hair health.

Hydrate and Nourish

Finally, keeping your hair well-hydrated and nourished will really help keep your color.

Use leave-in treatments or hair oils to keep your hair moisturized and healthy. Healthy hair holds color better and will keep your color looking fresh and vibrant for longer.

Parting Words

Wrapping this up, diving into home hair dyeing is a bit like a fun experiment with your look.

I’ve shared these tips so you can skip the common slip-ups and head straight to stunning results.

Remember, it’s all about treating your hair with a bit of love and patience. Keep it healthy, follow those instructions, and don’t shy away from asking for help when you need it.

Here’s to your next great hair day—may your color be as vibrant and fabulous as you are! Good luck!

Found your perfect shade? We’d love to see it! Tag us on Instagram @colouredhaircare or Facebook and share your hair dye success stories. Looking for more hair care tips? Check out How to Look After Colored Hair: 11 Expert Secrets For Long-Lasting Color.

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Our Research & Review Process

To ensure our recommendations are as comprehensive and reliable as possible, we’ve undertaken an extensive research effort.

We cite scientific evidence and journals, collect real user reviews and gather impartial perspectives from hair stylists, users, and experts in the field.

Additionally, we conduct hands-on testing by using products and applying hair dyes not only on our own locks but also on real human hair extensions and hair pieces of different hair type, textures and lengths.

This rigorous approach allows us to provide you with insights into which products genuinely live up to their promises.

As always – please consult with a professional hair colorist or stylist for advice on how to color your own hair at home. It’s different for everyone!

This article was written and reviewed by:

  • Enza Piazza, Hair Stylist & Color Consultant
    Hair Stylist & Color Consultant

    I’m Enza Piazza, your go-to hair stylist and color consultant with over 23 years of professional salon experience bringing vibrancy and life to hair of all hues. My Italian roots from sunny Sicily infuse passion into every snip and color, a passion that’s been recognized with top honor awards including bridal and party hair at the National Hairdressers Federation’s Championships. After training in Surrey, UK’s most prestigious salons including Head Master Academy, I embraced the entrepreneurial spirit and set up Enza Hair Styling, offering tailored hair care for 13 years, and treating each client like family. Away from the salon, I cherish moments as a proud Nonna to grandson Joseph and as a playful companion to my Jack Russell, Bo.

  • Nicola Freeman, Creative Director & Content Lead
    Creative Director & Content Lead

    With over two decades of passionate hair dyeing experience, I've experimented with nearly every shade imaginable. My journey began long before blogging; as an award-winning copywriter in London and New York, I shaped narratives for iconic brands. However, when friends sought advice during lockdown for at-home hair dyeing, I realized my true calling. Beyond being your hair color expert, I'm a mom of two girls, wife to artist Tony, and an avid soccer player!