3 Ways to Save Money at the Salon (and Still Look Fantastic)

Do you regularly splurge on professional salon appointments?

If so, lean in close and let me tell you a little secret: For several years, I’ve written beauty blogs for some top-end salons, giving me access to expert stylists and industry tips—and I’ve learned that many of the services that you pay for can be performed at home for a substantial savings.

Without further ado, here’s a list of salon services and purchases you can skip altogether to help you save.

1. Color Your Hair and Cover Grays at Home With Professional-Quality Dye

If you color your hair regularly to keep grays at bay, the cost of upkeep every three to five weeks can easily reach over $1500 each year. Some frequent-dyers switch to at-home box color in an attempt to save and find that their hair suffers for it.

That’s because hair dye works by mixing two parts: your desired color with a developer. The developer’s job is to lift your hair’s cuticle so that pigment can be deposited inside.

The more permanent the color, the stronger the developer—those attempting to cover the most stubborn grays often have to use the strongest solution.

But, here’s the thing: At-home box dyes sold at the store have to work on everyone. They’re a one-size-fits-all strength, which means that the person with hair that takes quickly to color is still blasting their strands with super-strong chemicals formulated to handle locks that could double for steel wool.

Alternately, when having your hair colored at a salon, the stylist will select a developer strength to mix with your desired shade, meaning that your hair isn’t unnecessarily subjected to too-harsh treatments.

How to save on hair color? Get thee to a professional beauty supply store (my personal favorite being Sally’s, and purchase professional-quality products—including developer—then, mix the color yourself.

Pro Tip: Color correction services are massively expensive and time-consuming undertakings, which is why you should only attempt to color your hair at home if you plan to stick within a shade or two of your hair’s current color.

If you’re hoping to lighten your hair, you’ll need to apply bleach. This reveals undertones in your hair that can range from brassy-gold to red—all of which aren’t desirable and require toner to neutralize. Bottom line, leave going blonde to salon professionals.

4 Steps to Apply Professional Hair Color At Home

First, to get started applying professional color at home, you’ll need to make a one-time investment in hair coloring supplies, which shouldn’t exceed $15:

  • Salon-quality latex gloves
  • Plastic mixing bowl
  • Shower cap
  • Applicator brush
  • Applicator bottle

Next, it’s time to choose your color. Remember that you’re limited to shades within one to two steps from your current color. Instead, focus on the undertones offered by different dyes. These range from warm (gold, red, mahogany), to cool (violet, ash), to neutral—and should be clearly marked on the sample swatch.

Don’t be afraid to ask the employees in the store, they generally know their stuff and can help you pick a shade. Additionally, the beauty stores will usually offer three or four different brands and types of hair color—be prepared to know the following:

  • If you want a permanent, semi-permanent, demi-permanent or temporary (wash out) color.
  • If you want to color gray.
  • What undertones you’re hoping for.

Let the store’s employee know your answers to the above, and they’ll be able to direct you to which brand is best suited for your hair’s type and the results you want.

Now it’s time to pick a developer—this is the main difference between boxed colors from the drugstore and coloring your hair with professional products.

Developers generally come in volumes of 10, 20, 30, and 40. A developer of 10 is to deposit color only, meaning it doesn’t open the hair’s cuticle to “lift” your current color. It’s the least damaging and is the ideal for most colors to give you a true-to-the-sample swatch result—and is likely the number you’ll be sticking to.

When to go above a volume-10 developer? If you’re going slightly lighter than your current shade, the color you call for might require a higher volume of 30 or 40. The hair color you select will usually tell you which volume of developer to buy. If it doesn’t, the associate can point you in the right direction.

Once you’re ready to apply the color you’ve purchased, you can mix them according to the directions on the package. Most of the time, the ratio of color to developer is 1:1. Your bottle and bowl are both conveniently marked so you can easily measure out the right amount of product.

Using the brush you bought, start by applying color to your roots and cover your entire head before bringing it down to your ends. If you’re unfamiliar with what that looks like, check out this video tutorial showing how to apply hair color like a professional:

Your wait time for processing will also depend on the result you want, so check the package instructions for a guide. (I generally leave my color on for 30–35 minutes in order to cover my stubborn grays.)

Pro-Tip: Don’t wash your hair the night before you color. Color not only holds better to dirty hair—clean hair can be too slippery—but if you wash your hair before coloring, the dye or bleach may burn your scalp since it won’t have the natural oils to protect it.

Secrets to Stepping Up Your At-Home Hair Color Game

If you’re a novice at applying hair color to cover grays, you might notice something called “hot roots”—when the virgin-dyed hair near your scalp is several shades lighter than the ends.

This happens most often when you’re trying to cover advanced grays or attempting to achieve a shade more than one to two steps outside your current color.

Hot roots will fade after a few days, so they’re not the end of the world. However, if you’d like to avoid them altogether, apply a separate ash-colored toner on the roots for 15 minutes to soften the difference.

Another tip? Don’t forget to place your hair in a shower cap while waiting for the color to develop! The heat from your scalp assists in activating the product, and by allowing ends to hang loose, you may see a variation in shade from root to tip.

Finally, one of the best aspects of using professional hair color at home (aside from the savings) is that you can mix colors for a custom shade. After you’ve gotten comfortable applying a single color, try mixing different shades within the same brand to create a custom blend.

2. Save by Applying Deep Conditioning Treatments at Home

Deep conditioning treatments provide much-needed TLC to dried-out ends and lackluster hair. When professionally-applied, they certainly feel luxurious! However, paying for a deep conditioning treatment at the salon can almost double your bill.

Instead, pick up a professional-quality treatment at your local beauty supply store and follow these steps:

  1. Wash your hair with shampoo. There’s a rumor that deep conditioning treatments should be applied before shampoo to avoid weighing down fine strands. However, all that does is rinse your product down the drain.
  2. Apply the deep conditioner several inches away from your scalp. Instead, of shampooing before applying your hair conditioning mask, avoid flattening your style by applying the product starting at mid-way down your hair shaft (near the ears) down through to your ends.
  3. Wrap your hair in heat. To help the mask penetrate, wrap your hair around your head and then put on your shower cap. Wet a lightweight towel in hot water, and wrap around your head like a turban. The heat and moisture help your deep conditioner to be more effective.
  4. Leave it on for at least 30 minutes. With your hot town in place, your hair’s in for some major heated hydrating action.

Don’t apply your deep conditioner more than once or twice a week. That’s because over-conditioning hair can rearrange the keratin balance, causing it to break, shed, and split—which is also why you don’t want to leave your deep conditioning mask on overnight. Instead, follow the package’s instructions and repeat as needed.

Pro-Tip: Are you considering applying a gloss to achieve shinier hair? These products are like a liquid-cellophane wrapping that encases your strands of hair, protecting it from damage and adding sheen. However, both tinted and non-tinted versions of hair gloss are also available at beauty supply stores. They’re applied much like a deep conditioning treatment—just minus the heat.

See Also: How to Save Your Dry, Damaged Hair

3. Skip the Professional Products Sold by Your Salon

That myriad of shampoos, conditioners, and hot oil treatments most consumers must dodge before leaving the salon aren’t there for decoration—they’re also revenue for the salon.

Stylists will claim that offering products is just another way to educate their clients about aftercare—which might be partially true. But, why not just recommend that you buy one of the popular professional brands carried by your local drugstore?

One rep we spoke with admitted that the salon’s branded products were blended to be duplicates of products made by better-known brands. But, markups aren’t the only reason why they want you to buy a product in-house—when the bottles are empty, customers will have extra incentive to make an appointment.

Both branded salon products and the professional-quality ones you can get at your local store do contain a higher concentration of expensive ingredients like Vitamin B and avocado not found in typical drugstore brands.

However, you can get access to the same quality of products at, you guessed it, your local professional beauty supply store—and save the markup added to those bottles displayed on salon shelves.

See Also: Are Professional-Quality Hair Products Worth The Price?

Can’t Skip the Salon? Here Are Other Ways to Save During Your Next Appointment

The secret to savings without giving up your favorite beauty treatments is simple: Purchase professional-quality products at a supply store and learn how to apply yourself.

But that doesn’t mean you can avoid the salon altogether, and there are a few ways to save during your next appointment.

First thing’s first: Nothing is more expensive than paying for a cut that turned out to be a disappointment. To ensure that the money you do pay at the salon is well spent, it’s important to learn the lingo used by stylists to communicate different types of cuts.

Study up on the definitions for pretty much every useful phrase, from blunt-cut to inverted bob, before you make your next appointment.

If you don’t mind booking with a new stylist, check out local group discount sites like Groupon, Living Social, Crowd Cut which frequently feature hair services for less.

Just be warned that you might have to wait a few weeks before getting an appointment if you go this route—salons that offer Groupons often get booked up fast.

Next, have you ever been to a salon that lists the cost of their cuts by the experience of the person performing the service? Don’t be afraid to use the less experienced stylists at a high-end salon.

According to a salon rep we spoke with, those master stylists are great for initially mixing up custom colors or carving into hair that’s about to get a completely new style.

However, as great as their expertise is, it’s not going to make a difference if you’re going in to get a few layers cleaned up or a dusting trim.

While the least experienced of the stylists might have just graduated beauty school, these guys and gals are often regulated to shampoo duty. Basically, anyone you see on the floor is perfectly capable of giving you a good cut.

Finally, salon often sponsor loyalty programs, so be sure to ask about and sign up for them. Perks and rewards vary, but you can often earn a free service or credit toward services and products after you purchase a certain number, which can lead to long-term savings on the services that you can’t give up.

Read Next: The Science Behind Ionic Hair Dryers: Do Ionic Hair Tools Help You Style?


Autumn Yates

Autumn draws from a reporting background and years of experience working remotely, while living abroad, to focus on topics in travel, beauty, and online safety.


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