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How Long to Leave Dye In | An Overly-Detailed Guide

Dying your hair at home can be an effective way to cut back on costly salon appointments and allow you a lot of flexibility and creativity to experiment with different hair colors.

If you’re new to dying your hair at home or just want to perfect the process so that you don’t inadvertently damage your locks, this guide to how long to leave dye in can help.

How to Leave Dye in Your Hair

Image for a piece titled how long to leave dye in hair showing a woman dyeing her hair

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Generally speaking, you should leave your hair dye in for between half an hour to 45 minutes, depending on the type of dye.

However, since all at-home dye kits are different, it’s good to refer to the box directions and do a strand test before committing to dying your whole head of hair. A strand test is when you dye a few strands of your hair to ensure that you’re getting the color you want. 

If you don’t leave your hair dye in long enough, your hair might not hold the pigment or even wind up a totally different color than you intended.

On the other hand, if you leave the dye in for too long, you could seriously damage your hair, so it’s essential to follow the directions to the letter. It’s entirely possible to have great results that rival those of a salon when you dye your hair at home.

This guide will teach you how to maximize your chances for success.

Prepare Your Hair Properly

First thing’s first; make sure that you properly prepare your hair before dying it. Although sometimes unavoidable, try not to dye damaged hair. No matter how gentle you are with the dye, there’s a great chance that you will damage it further.

Instead, make sure that your hair is as healthy as possible before starting by giving it a little bit of care. Hot oil treatments, hair masks, or bonding treatments like OlaPlex are great places to start.

Masks and hot oil treatments can infuse your thirsty locks with plenty of moisture. Since dying your hair deprives it of moisture, these treatments are a great way to ensure that your hair is fully prepared and has plenty of moisture stores to counterbalance the dye.

Bonding treatments are another excellent way to prepare your hair, as they can fortify and even repair damaged hair. The stronger that your hair is, the better it will respond to at-home hair dyes.  

You should also try not to wash your hair before dying it. Water strips moisture from your hair follicles, and you’ll need all that you can get to ensure a healthy and successful dye job.

Use Your Natural Hair Color as a Guide

Most at-home hair dyes have color guides either on the side or inside the box. These guides will tell you how you can expect the dye to look based upon the existing color of your hair.

For example, the color may look different on the roots versus on the dyed ends if you dye your hair. Don’t make the mistake of simply looking on the box to determine what color your hair will be.

Whether You’re Covering Grays or Not

If you’re trying to cover up your grays, you might want to leave your dye on for a little bit longer. Grays can be difficult to deal with, especially if you’re dying your hair a lighter shade of blonde.

So leave your at-home hair dye on for about 45 minutes to ensure that you get all of the coverage you need. If you dye your hair and have gray roots coming in, you can leave the dye on your roots and grays for 45 minutes and the rest of your hair for about half an hour.

Then, simply apply the dye to your roots and grays first, wait a few minutes, and proceed to put it on the rest of your hair. 

Your Hair’s Texture Matters

Another thing that will dictate how long you should leave your hair dye is the texture of your hair. Fine hair can soak up more dye quicker than other types of hair.

If you’re dying your fine hair for the first time at home, consider doing a strand test first, so see how long it takes for it to absorb the color. If your hair is medium or thick, you will probably have to leave the dye on for a little bit longer.

If you’re unsure, do a strand test to see. Another thing that will definitely affect how long you should leave hair dye in is how porous your hair is. Damaged hair tends to be a little bit more permeable, so if you’ve previously bleached your hair, or if it’s brittle, it will absorb dye faster.

Don’t Damage Your Scalp

Some harsher hair dyes and bleaches can damage your scalp, especially if you have sensitive or very dry skin. If you start to feel pain or a burning sensation, make sure that you wash the hair dye off immediately.

Not only can you injure yourself, but you might also damage your hair follicles, which could prevent new hair from growing properly.

If you’re dying your hair a substantially different color or bleaching it, you might want to see a salon professional who can use a more hypoallergenic dye than what you can find in your local drug store. 

Frequently Asked Questions

Woman dyeing her hair at a salon with brush

Alex Oakenman/Shutterstock

You can get salon-quality locks right from the comfort of your own home. These frequently asked questions and answers will point you in the right direction. 

What Are the Differences Between Hair Dye Types?

If you’re shopping for at-home hair dye, there’s a good chance that you’ve seen boxes marked “semi-permanent” and “permanent.” The semi-permanent dye washes out fairly rapidly; within about a month and tends to be less harsh than a permanent dye. The permanent dye lasts forever, but it can fade over time.

How Can I Dye My Eyebrows?

You can undoubtedly dye your eyebrows to match your hair at home, as long as you’re careful about it. Use a small brush to apply a little bit of dye to your eyebrows, be very careful not to get it into your eyes themselves, and leave it on for 15 minutes maximum.

Can I Drastically Change My Hair Color at Home?

If you want to drastically change the color of your hair, especially if you want to go lighter, it’s best to see a professional stylist. It’s far too easy to dye your hair very dark or hurt your scalp with bleach or peroxide.

Should I Dye Clean Hair?

Dye adheres best to dirty hair, so avoid washing it right before you color. Instead, make sure that your hair is prepared and fully moisturized before applying color.

How Do I Maintain My Hair Color?

If you want to maintain your hair color for the long run, avoid washing it for about a day after you color it. You can also use color depositing or protecting shampoos and conditioners.

So, How Long Should You Leave Dye In?

Although every at-home dye kit is different, you should generally leave hair dye in for between half an hour to 45 minutes for the best results.