You just can’t beat the convenience and budget advantages of home hair colouring — unless you somehow give yourself green or orange hair and have to run screeching to a salon for a rescue-9-1-1.

Happily, that’s unlikely to happen. Home-colour formulas have improved and the companies who make them have expert online step-by-step and video tips as well as toll-free help lines in place for consumers. To get you started on the road to perfect home hair colour, here’s our list of top tips.

Think quality and quantity

If you have super-thick or super-long hair, pick up two boxes of hair colour so you have the extra on hand in case you discover halfway through that you don’t have enough.

Take precautions if you’re expecting

“Despite the cautioning, there are expectant mothers out there who just don’t want to give up their hair colour,” says Christopher Martin, colourist and co-owner at Shagg Salon in Toronto and consultant for Clairol Canada. He advises using an ammonia-free formula, or going with highlights, because highlighting colour doesn’t touch the scalp.

Know your limits

Want to make a big change? Note that you can’t go from brunette to blonde in one step. “A box colour won’t significantly lighten previously dyed hair,” says Nicole Dupuis, technical manager for L’Oréal Canada. If you do want to make such a change, she adds, “you need a specific lightening kit designed to bleach colour out.”

Assemble your backup team

If you’re uncertain how to proceed, you’re starting with very dry or damaged hair, or you’re trying something new, call your chosen brand’s toll-free help line or hit the related website for tips before you begin. They can help with a myriad of issues, from choosing a hair colour formula to counteracting brassy blond tones.

Do your homework

“Read the instructions very carefully,” insists Eric Del Monaco, official hair artist and colourist for L’Oréal Paris Canada and stylist at O Sole Salon & Spa in Toronto. Hey, read them twice (they’re important!), and follow them faithfully. The package insert will tell you everything you need to know, such as how to do a proper strand test (using the hair at the nape of your neck, Del Monaco emphasizes) — and why you shouldn’t skip it!

Wash your hair a day or two before
“You need the natural oils on your scalp to protect it,” says Dupuis — so let your hair get a little dirty before you dye. “Don’t comb or brush vigorously before colouring either,” she adds. “You don’t want to start with an irritated scalp.” If you’re a swimmer, use a lot of styling products in your hair or have been colouring for a long time and if your hair lacks shine, consider using a clarifying shampoo a couple of times leading up to the week you want to colour.

Hydrate extra-dry hair

Dry, brittle hair is more porous than healthy hair and absorbs colour more readily. A strand test is a big must so you know how long it’ll take to develop the shade you want, but also consider deep-conditioning hair beforehand.

Let your inner neat-freak take control

“Be as tidy as possible,” says Del Monaco. He also suggests being methodical about the process. For example, make a sketch on paper of the pattern you want for highlights before getting started.