Whether you’re trying to cover up gray hair or make a fashion statement with your hair, hair dye is no longer a strange, counter-culture thing to use. It’s so incorporated into the mainstream that grandmothers use it without batting an eye. Yet if you’re new to dying your hair, this well-established world of hair coloring can be overwhelming. Here are the basics of hair dye!

Permanent hair color isn’t something you should rush into. It bonds with the hair strands and penetrates them thoroughly; it won’t come off until your hair grows out… and when you’ve dyed your hair the wrong color, it can seem like a long time until your hair actually does. Therefore, it’s probably a good idea to test the dye on a tiny part of your hair, or get a semi-permanent color before going permanently for another hair color.

Semi-permanent dye is the way to go wild. It won’t last long – anything from a few to thirty or forty washes – but it will allow you to keep experimenting for as long as you want to, so long as you take good care of your hair in between dye sessions. Some will fade a bit at a time, as you shampoo, so you don’t end up with a weird mix of colors as your hair grows out. Vegetable-based colors will last for only a short time, but don’t damage your hair or affect the natural color.

The actual color you choose to dye your hair is a personal decision, but you should also consider your skin tone when picking a color. If you choose a color that looks beautiful on a friend, it might not look all that hot on you, because her skin tone can be very different from yours. In general, lighter-skinned people should have lighter tones of hair. A deep chestnut, honey, or a mix of four or five shades of blond is the lightest someone with dark or tanned skin should go, while brunette is the darkest most light-skinned women should attempt to go. Black hair is very extreme and generally only looks good on those with natural darker skin.

If you’re dying your hair for the first time, consider visiting a stylist. A good stylist can advise you on the best hair colors to suit your natural complexion, and ensure that your dye job goes smoothly – blond, for instance, is a difficult color to achieve on your own.

You should also be aware the hair coloring can damage your hair, particularly if you use chemicals that are too strong, bleach your hair, or change hair colors often. The change from darker to lighter colors can seriously affect your hair, particularly going from brown to blond and back again. You’ll need to take good care of your hair to ensure it doesn’t become straw-like.

Hair color is a fun way to change up your appearance and make a statement, or just freshen your look if it’s been a while since your last makeover!