Spray colours come in aerosols and are perfect for parties where you want to create an effect for just one night. Colours include neon pink and green as well as silver and gold. Try Stargazer Colour Spray, £3.00 (www.stargazer-products.com; 0208 680 4545).

  • Wash-in wash-out types do just that, boosting the hair’s natural colour for just one wash. They are usually available in one-use sachets or small tubes. Try Wella Shaders & Toners, around £1.39.
  • Semi-permanents have a deeper level of penetration than wash-in colours but still fade away after eight to 12 shampoos. They are often referred to as level one colourants. Check the box to see how long a particular product will last and do not forget that the colour will fade a little each time you wash it.
  • Demi-permanents are at level two and last up to 28 washes with a fade that is barely noticeable. Try L’Oréal Casting Crème Gloss, £5.99 in 32 shades.
  • Permanent colours are just that and are termed level three. There might be some initial fade with permanent colours, as you may have to retouch the growth at the roots every few weeks and either grow it out or change the colour when you no longer like it. Try Clairol Nice ‘n Easy, around £5.50 in 50 shades.
  • Choosing the colour
    The number of shades available can make choosing the right one confusing. Use the picture on the front of the box as a guide only, as you have to add your own colour into the equation and that may give quite a different result. As a rule of thumb work out which skin tone you are – there are warm and cool skin tones.

    • Warm skin tones have fair to medium golden, golden brown or darker skin and eyes that are hazel or brown. Hair colours that suit are deep, rich browns, auburns and shades with golden or red highlights or golden blonde.
    • Cool skin toneshave fair, rosy or olive complexions with hazel, blue, grey or green eyes. The hair colours that suit are wide and varied but it is best to avoid golden or red tones as they can make the skin look sallow.

      If you are still unsure, go for a shade close to your natural colour, just to give it a boost and a shot of lovely shine, or go a shade or two in either direction.

      Chemicals that count
      With levels one and two small molecules of colour coat the hair. Each time you wash your hair, you wash some of the molecules away until you are left with your original colour. For level three, there are a lot more chemical changes taking place: ammonia fi rstly lifts the cuticles of the hair – the exterior layer – allowing the new colour to penetrate deep into each hair shaft. Meanwhile, hydrogen peroxide works on fading the hair’s natural colour so that the new colour can take hold.

      If you feel a little nervous about the chemicals used in permanent hair colourants, there are gentler versions. Naturtint, for example, is an ammonia-free permanent hair colour. It is also certifi ed natural and organic, costs £8.99 and is available in 30 shades (call 0845 6018129). Along the same lines is Tints of Nature by Herb UK (call 01590 613490), this one is winner of the Best Permanent Hair Colour in Your Hair magazine's 2011 Best Products Awards; it also costs £8.99 and comes in 24 shades.

      Avoiding problems
      There are a few things you need to consider when colouring your hair at home:

      • Common reactions to the strong chemicals used in some hair colours – particularly in permanent shades – include itching and burning. So it is important to follow the product instructions carefully, even if you have used the product before. You will probably be advised to do a patch test on the skin to see if there is a reaction and a strand test on a small section of hair, to see what the end result will look like. It is also important to leave the product on the hair for no longer than the maximum development time, as this too may cause a reaction. See www.becoloursafe.com for more.
      • If your hair was previously lightened and you want to go darker you may at best fi nd the result is patchy in places or, at worst, is a murky green colour. Best to go to a hair salon for this kind of colour change.
      • Another time it is best to go to the salon is if you want a dramatically different change to your colour. Home hair colour has its limitations so big changes should be left to the professionals.
      • Be careful about colouring your hair after any other chemical treatment such as relaxing or perming it. It is best to wait at least two weeks before applying a semi or demi and for permanent colours, and it is advisable to go to a salon as the chemical combination is potentially damaging.
      • If you are pregnant and want to colour your hair, be aware that you may be more sensitive to some of the chemicals than you would be otherwise and so the skin test is even more important. If you have any concerns, speak to your pharmacist or visit a hair salon for professional advice.

      Tips to help
      These little nuggets should help you get the best from home hair colourants:

    • Applying permanent hair colour usually means making a series of partings over damp hair and squeezing the product onto the hair at the roots and working it through. You then massage the rest of the product over the mid sections and through to the end and then wait the required time before rinsing and shampooing. Always follow the instructions of your specifi c product – and always wear the gloves provided.
    • If you have long hair or even thick medium length, it is quite likely you will need two packs of the colour to have enough.
    • You can colour your hair if you have some grey, but check the pack before you buy as some products will only cover a small amount of grey. For the most natural effect, choose a colour as close as possible to your natural colour – a semi or demi should give the results you want without being too harsh on your hair.
    • Most permanent colours will have instructions for root touch-ups, as well as for colouring from fresh. Covering root growth usually involves applying the product to the root area only and leaving for a set amount of the development time before massaging it through the rest of the hair and leaving to develop for the remainder of the time.
    • Permanent hair colours and some semi and demis come with their own post-colour shampoo and/or conditioner. It is worth using these as they lock in the colour and really boost shine.
    • Have a specific hair colouring towel or you will end up with a whole load of them covered in splodges of dye.
    • Put a layer of cold cream or Vaseline round the hairline to prevent your skin from staining from smears or drips. And mop these up as soon as you notice them. The corner of your towel dipped in a little warm water and then lightly rubbed over the drip should get rid of it without leaving a stain.
    • Maintain the colour and shine with a shampoo and conditioner for coloured hair. You can get some that are simply for coloured hair, such as Dove Therapy Colour Radiance Shampoo and Conditioner, £2.99 each. Others are targeted at specifi c colour groups – try TRESemmé Colour Thrive Shampoo and Conditioner in Blonde or Brunette variants, from £2.99 each.

    What’s new
    The latest trend in home hair colourants is to do with the formula – a mousse to be exact. Mousse products are far less likely to spill or drip, and they are easy to apply as they are simply massaged in without the need for making small partings over the scalp – it is much easier to do the back of your head with a mousse. Try Nice ‘n Easy Colour Blend Foam (permanent), £6.99 in 18 shades or Casting Sublime Mousse (up to 28 washes), £6.99 in 12 shades.

    Liz Silvester
    freelance health and beauty writer