How to Cut, Color, & Highlight Your Hair at Home

So.  I got a bee in my bonnet last Monday and decided that it was high time I color my hair.  It was looking dull.  There were definitely a few little greys popping out on the tippy top of my head.  I needed some brightness.  (Do you see it down there?  Kind of a weird pic, but you can see my dark roots, dull hair, and raggedy ends…)

Then, I reasoned, if color would make my hair shinier and livelier, wouldn’t it look even BETTER if I tossed some highlights in there?  Sure, it would!  And these warm, sunny days have me craving those gold streaks that pop out in the summer.  No reason I couldn’t nudge them along…


And then I took a good hard look at my ends.  They weren’t really damaged, but they were pretty uneven and scraggly.  Fact is, my hair hadn’t been trimmed for over a year.  I wondered…


And then, my friends, I got to work.  I colored… then cut… then highlighted my own hair.

It was a bit of a time commitment, but I chose a day when I didn’t have many errands or tasks to get done.  The beauty of doing it all at home is that you can get things done during the “color development” time.


Using no coupons whatsoever (I KNOW– the horrors!  But I was in a hurry…), I was able to completely overhaul my hair for under twenty bucks.

Interested in taking on your hair all on your own?  Here are ten things to know before you try it:

  1. All-over color is easy.  I’m serious here.  Anyone (even my friend Jill‘s infamous drunk monkeys) can handle all-over, single-process color.  But don’t believe what the hair color peeps tell you– you’re not going to get rich, dimensional, perfectly streaked hair with a single process color.  Sorry.
  2. If you want to change your hair more than a shade or so, you really need a permanent color.  Sorry, again, but you can’t really lighten your hair with semi-permanent dyes.  You can definitely go darker, but it might fade oddly.  Might not.  But just be aware that, by their very nature, semi-permanent shades wash out so your hair color is constantly going to be changing. The further you’ve veered from your natural color, the more noticeable this will be.
  3. Strand tests might lie.  I once tested a highlighting product on a strand of hair down by my neck.  It warmed up the color a little, but nothing extreme.  I used it on streaks around my head and the ones by my face turned nearly WHITE.  So be careful.  I’m not particularly afraid of bold moves, but you might want to start out with less dramatic changes.
  4. You might want two boxes of color.  I have long, very thick hair and I almost always get by with one box.  BUT… I’m kind of cheap, er, frugal.  Also?  I have like twenty years of hair coloring experience under my belt.  Two boxes will give you a LOT more leeway and wiggle room.  If you have long and/or thick hair and aren’t super confident about the process, I highly recommend shelling out for two boxes.
  5. Your hair will NOT look like the lady’s on the front of the box.  It’s best that you know that upfront.  The little pictures on the side are closer, but still not the whole picture.  Rather than trying to replicate something on the box, ask yourself questions like these: “Do I want my hair redder/blonder/ashier?”  “Do I look better in warm or cool tones?”  “Am I aiming for lighter/darker/matching?”  “Do I need to cover gray?”  Once you’ve figured all that out, really read the descriptions and look for a color that will meet your needs.
  6. Highlighting is not hard.  It’s not easy, either.  If you’ve never, ever colored your hair, you might not want to start with this.  Putting highlights in your hair requires some precision, some basic knowledge of where that “brightness” belongs, and a little courage.  If you want to try it, I recommend standing in bright sunlight and looking in a mirror.  Pay attention to where your hair naturally glows or brightens– these are the areas to focus your (wo)man-made highlights.
  7. Highlights will not get rid of gray hair, but they might distract from it. ;)  If you don’t have many grays and just want some brightness, you can probably get away with skipping the dye and just adding some nice streaks.  As we move into the warmer months, this is a particularly appealing option!
  8. The pricier the product, the higher quality the tools.  Simple truth, my friends.  That color that goes on sale 2/$5 regularly?  It WILL color your hair.  It will also have thin plastic gloves and a skimpy amount of inferior conditioner.  That’s okay and all, but just be aware that it’s the price you pay.  You don’t have to pay a fortune, but those colors more in the $7-10 range will have thicker latex gloves and plenty of rich conditioner to keep your locks silky.
  9. Cutting your own hair is hard.  I don’t actually recommend it to most people.
  10. If you decide to cut your own hair, make sure you have a fine-toothed comb and good scissors.  For my long hair, I just tried to cut an even amount off all over (about 2 1/2″).  I don’t think I would attempt a dramatic change on my own head, even though I’ve cut lots of other people’s hair before…
  11. And, finally, do try to remember… it’s just hair.



What do you think?  Did I do alright?  Do you do your own hair or go to a salon?


linked to Top Ten {Tuesday} and Frugal Friday


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20 comments to How to Cut, Color, & Highlight Your Hair at Home

  • Carrie Cousino

    GORGEOUS! Wow! I want to know the brand and color that you used! Seriously. Your hair is about the lightness I’d like to take mine to right now. I love how at-home kits leave hair feeling so healthy and glossy afterward (I’ve done it at home once or twice, but mostly go to a salon)

    • Thank you so much, Carrie! I actually used L’Oreal Couleur Experte (which includes the color and highlighting products all in one box– easy peasy that way) in Toasted Coconut. The model on the front has lighter hair than I, but I was expecting that! :) My natural hair is light brown. It gets natural blonde highlights in the summer, but it gets pretty dull-looking in the winter months without help. Hope that helps!

  • I did my own highlights once. It totally sucked. I ended up paying a ridiculous price a few months later to do a full color process, real cut with a new style and highlights. I won’t highlight again on my own, but every so often I do a box of all over color. In HI and VA I never needed to color my hair. Now I don’t have gray, but with 13 months of rain each year my hair needs a little boost.

    • I started having grays right after C. was born… guess having a baby at 24 weeks when I already had a 10 months did that to me! ;) I don’t have much– and it’s all right on the top of my head. So weird. (So, really, you’d never even see it, LOL.)

  • You look great, I envy your hair cutting/coloring skills. I haven’t cut my hair in over a year as well…although I think I’m heading to a cheap salon today to get it trimmed up. I almost always do my own hair color, I have red hair and it’s very difficult to find the right hair color so when I dye it, I actually go for a medium brown. I end up having a more natural look.

    You did a great job styling your hair, if you don’t mind me asking, what kind of curling iron did you use? My iron kicked the bucket and I’m not sure what to replace it with.

    • So, this is a tad bit embarrassing, but I curl my hair on a set of Conair hot rollers I got for Christmas when I was in (*cough*) high school. But they still work! :) My hair is long and rather thick and I just don’t have the patience to do it all with a curling iron. With the hot rollers, I can wrap it all in less than 5 minutes and then just leave it for about 10. That works better for impatient me.

  • LOve it! My hair needs done so badly. But I have been trying to be cheap. Last time it was done was November. But no way will I do it myself. I have a lot of red in my hair. I have gone orange too many times! haha. But yours looks amazing.

    • Thank you, Theresa! My hair does not have much natural red (if any), but when we lived in Indiana we had a ton of rust in our water. I was a redhead the whole time we lived there! :O

  • Your hair looks amazing!!! I have been coloring, cutting and highlighting my own hair for years. I also cut hair for my husband and kiddos. Your tips are right on!

    • Thank you so much, Kristin! I cut hubby’s and the kids’ hair, too. I love how much money that has saved us over the years. Good for you for doing your own! I know the idea intimidates a lot of people. :)

  • Janelle

    I guess I’m quite the opposite of you; I have been cutting my own hair for several years now (after some experience cutting my mother’s and husband’s hair), but I am just not brave enough to try coloring my own hair! I’m thinking of just having it professionally done for a bit to see what I like before attempting it myself.

    • That impresses me, Janelle! I’ve been cutting my husband’s hair since we were dating back in college (something like 15 years!) and friends’ all along the way… but it made my hands shake to take the scissors to my own head. ;)

  • Carrie Cousino

    JL – I bought the exact same color as you and did it on myself this weekend. I love the outcome!! I already had salon highlights, but didn’t like how they turned out. The kit did an amazing job at evening out my colr, and turning it a beautiful blond-copper color similar to yours. I am so happy with the results! Thank you!

  • Lana

    Thanks for such great tips. I have had my hair highlighted for years and years, but now that I have a baby at home, I just don’t have the time for regular salon visits. My hair is a medium, dark brown and with blond highlights. However, I’ve done highlights for so long that it’s more like overall color now. Since the baby was born, I have been using Revlon Frost & Glow with a cap at home and I’ve been thrilled with the results. But there’s still a pretty big contrast between the underneath hair that’s not highlighted and also dark roots. I’m thinking of doing an all-over color with highlights but am scared, of course! Do you think the product you used would be good for me? I don’t have any grey (yet!) Thanks!!

    • I definitely think the type of color I used could work for you, Lana! Obviously, you’d want a different shade from the one I used, but they have lots of beautiful ones with various shades of brown as a base– some with blond highlights, some with more of a red hue. You might want to let the base color develop for the higher end of the range they give just to give your hair a chance to “even out” a bit before adding new highlights. Let me know if you try it! :)

  • Lana

    Thanks so much for the response! I looked at your photos again and my natural color actually looks pretty similar to yours, and my highlighted hair looks very similar to your colored hair. So, maybe I would use the same color as you? Would I just apply the color all over to lift my base and then re-highlight? Thanks!!

    • Yep! It’s really simple. A little time-consuming, but most if it is just “wait time.” There are very clear directions and two separate pairs of gloves included, so it’s pretty fool-proof. :) (The kit is pricier than a single-process color, but less than you’d expect to pay for a box of color + a box of highlighting… if that makes sense.)

  • You did a great job explaining how and what to expect when you color your hair. I will share this on my blog’s facebook page. You can also give yourself highlights or a color weave using foil, just like the salon. It’s easy to get professional results, especially if you have a friend to help out. For a great photo tutorial see

    Once you know how to do foils, it’s easy enough so long as you have the right products for the job! (I learned the hard way a long time ago that you must have bleach to give blonde highlights if your hair is dark – imagine bright orange clown streaks!)

    Thanks for the helpful tips!

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