MA BEAUTY TIPS: A Beauty Guide to Seeing a Pro Vs. DIY

We’re living in the golden age of DIY beauty. Thanks to an endless supply of how-to blogs and vlogs at our fingertips, it’s easy to find out how to do almost any beauty service from the comfort of our own bathrooms — though this doesn’t always mean we should.

Sometimes, it’s easy to know when you need to go see a professional, but other times, women make the mistake — either in an attempt to save money or an overdose of hubris — of handling it themselves. Most of the time, these little DIY attempts turn out fine, but when it goes wrong, it can lead to issues such as lasting skin damage, hair loss, and even (gasp) bodily injury. At the very least, you might end up with an unfortunate new look and have to live to tell (and show) the tale.

Along with good advice, there is a lot of misinformation floating around on the internet as well — and the average person may not be able to spot the difference when googling “how to treat cystic acne.” So how do you know when it’s okay to DIY and when you should go see a professional? It depends not only on the beauty treatment, but also on the person attempting it.

Ahead, we lay out 10 beauty services and how to know which route — DIY or pro —to take for each.

When To DIY
Opinions on boxed hair dye are strongly divided. Some feel that it’s no big deal (and even love the result that they get from boxed dye), while others insist that it’s not the same as getting your hair professionally colored. No matter which camp you fall in, it’s totally understandable to be tempted by the fun of changing up your hair color overnight with a cheap box of dye. We say go for it — as long as you follow a few guidelines.

Don’t attempt to go more than one or two shades lighter or darker than your current hair color. If you have very thick or long hair, you should buy two boxes to make sure you have enough. And remember: When choosing a color, don’t go by the picture of the model on the box. Instead, look for undertone keywords (for example, look for ash or cool instead of warm or golden if you want to avoid brassy undertones) and do some online research to see how a particular dye looks on someone with similar hair to yours.

When To See A Professional
It’s time to book an appointment at a professional salon if you want any of the following done: taking dark hair to blonde, taking any hair color to white blonde, ombré or balayage, or coloring hair that’s already been colored or bleached recently (since it is more prone to damage and unexpected results). Once you’re happy with your dramatic hair color change, you can keep going back to the salon for touch-ups or, if you feel confident enough, you can try at-home maintenance. If going the latter route, be sure to watch your stylist carefully and ask any questions before going home and doing your own root touch-ups or toner refreshers yourself.

When To DIY
When you’re looking to save a little cash and time, you can definitely do a trim or dusting at home. Follow this guide and use quality shears made for cutting hair, not your regular scissors. Be sure to go slow to avoid any disasters.

As for bangs…now who doesn’t have a memory of a late-night fringe decision that ended in some unflattering baby bangs? With that warning, bangs are up to you. Trimming fringe you already have is pretty easy (here’s how), but remember, lots of salons will do it for you for free. Cutting new bangs is a little trickier, but also totally doable. If you feel confident, go for it and use this as your guide. If you’ve never had bangs before and don’t feel too comfortable with a pair of scissors, go to the salon to guarantee (well, almost) your first experience with bangs is a good one.

When To See A Professional
If you want anything more drastic than a trim, go to the salon. If you’re suddenly seized by the desire to have Michelle Williams hair (yeah, us too) and there’s no time to waste, get to the salon, lest you chicken out. How hard could it be anyway, right? NO. STOP. PUT THE SCISSORS DOWN. This also applies to pixie cuts, lobs, even undercuts. An undercut is actually very easy to keep up on your own with clippers, but it’s best to have a professional do the original shape first. (You can totally shave your head at home, though.)

When To DIY
A little bit of plucking here and there to clean up the edges, get rid of stray hairs, and keep brows looking tidy is totally fine. (Though some eyebrow experts do not want their clients to pluck in-between visits). Just know when to put the tweezers down. You don’t want to get carried away (it happens!) and drastically change the shape or size of your brows. And remember, the 10x magnifying mirror is not your friend.

When To See A Professional
It’s best to see a professional brow shaper under two circumstances: if you want to have your brows completely reshaped (especially if you’re trying to grow them out) or if you can’t trust yourself with the tweezers. Either way, find a professional that uses a technique you feel comfortable with, whether that means simply tweezing, waxing, or threading. Like your hair, it always helps to bring a few pictures of the kind of brows you want.

When To DIY
Never. When it comes to harsh dyes and chemicals near your eyes, it’s better to err on the side of safety. If you aren’t going to head our advice, make sure to use a vegetable dye and be extra-careful not to get any near your eyes (and of course, do a patch-test first).

When To See A Professional
Always. Benefit’s Brow Bar is just one of the places that offers both services. But wherever you go, make sure to carefully research your chosen salon online before letting anyone put dye near your eyeballs.

When To DIY
Looking for a bit of pampering or a quick way to revitalize your skin without spending too much money? Go ahead and turn your bathroom into a DIY spa this weekend using our tips from superstar aesthetician Joanna Vargas. Just be careful not to use anything that irritates your skin, such as harsh scrubs, especially if you have sensitive skin.

When To See A Professional
Sometimes, it’s hard to truly relax and feel pampered unless someone else is doing all the work for you while you lie back. If you need a special treat after a stressful week or your skin is spiraling out of your control, go ahead and shell out for that professional touch. When it comes to extractions beyond your basic whitehead, that’s also something that should left to the pros.

When To DIY
For some women, a weekly DIY mani-pedi is a source of relaxation and satisfaction. Not only do you get to enjoy the results of your creativity, but you also get to spend the money you saved on your gorgeous nail polish collection. You can even purchase DIY gel and acrylic nail kits these days. Another big plus is that if you’re worried about the exploitation of nail salon workers, you can ease your mind by doing it yourself at home.

When To See A Professional
For other women, nail painting is more of a hassle than it’s worth. Not everyone can paint a straight line (let alone intricate designs) on a tiny canvas without messing up — especially when using their non-dominant hand. If this is you, don’t feel bad. Keep your nails shaped with a nail file and stock up on sheer or clear polishes for a neat, put-together look most of the time, and splurge at a nail salon whenever you’re in the mood for a more exciting polish color or fun nail art. And if you’re in New York, check out our guide to the best (non-exploitative) nail salons in NYC.

When To DIY
First off, it depends on what area of the body we’re talking about. Your upper lip is one thing, but it takes a special kind of woman to feel confident about giving herself a Brazilian wax or even an eyebrow wax (and more people will see that one). If you’ve been waxed before and you’re familiar with the method and your pain tolerance, go for it. Just be warned: ingrown hairs, bruising, and even burns are all very possible if you don’t know what you’re doing.

When To See A Professional
If you’ve never gotten waxed before, your first time should definitely be with a professional who can take you through the process calmly and gently (well, as gently as possible). If you have any doubts about being able to do it yourself, see a professional. It’s better to do that right out of the gate rather than show up embarrassed at a salon with half your bikini line hairy and the other half partially covered in dried wax.

When To DIY
Everyone has self-treated the occasional zit. It’s no big deal. Just spot-treat with your weapon of choice, whether that’s tea tree oil or salicylic acid (just don’t use toothpaste). Then,follow these steps.
Just avoid picking at it. Sometimes, a purifying charcoal mask helps too, but don’t dry your skin out too much with harsh products and cleansers, since that can make it worse. Make sure you’re washing your makeup off entirely every night and wash your pillowcase often.

When To See A Professional
Once you’ve tried all of the aforementioned DIY solutions and you find that your acne isn’t improving, it’s time to see a professional. This is especially the case if your acne is cystic (the large, painful kind) or causing a lot of scarring. Don’t attempt to treat this yourself because you may just make your skin more irritated. The same thing goes for other persistent skin conditions, such as rosacea and eczema. A dermatologist can help you figure out what’s best for your skin.

When To DIY
Self-tanner has come a long way in recent years. You can save time and money by doing it yourself at home without worrying about ending up with orange streaks. Just make sure you purchase a well-reviewed or recommended product and follow all of the steps.

Exfoliate first and be extremely careful on your elbows, knees, hands, and feet. You can’t go wrong with the classic Tanwise Dark Bronzing Mousse (seriously, the mousse, not the impossible-to-blend lotion variety). Buy an applicator mitt to protect your hands. Trust us, it’s worth the extra money.

When To See A Professional
And by professional, we don’t mean a tanning booth — avoid those at all costs. Though there are great at-home tanners, if you can spend a little extra cash, it’s always nice to get a pro spray tan to make sure everything is even. We recommend splurging before a big event like a wedding or before your first beach vacay of the season (just don’t forget your sunscreen).

When To DIY
If you feel confident in your abilities to do your own makeup for a wedding (maybe even your own wedding) or some other important event, then go for it! After all, if you do your makeup daily, then you already have most, if not all, of the supplies you need. Plus, you probably know better than anyone else what works best for your face when it comes to the color, coverage, and finish of makeup. If that’s the case, then proceed with a few guidelines. Do a trial run at least once before the event and photograph the final look (with and without a flash) to make sure it looks just as good on camera as it does in person. You may also want to invest in a good setting powder or spray to make sure your makeup lasts for the entire event.

When To See A Professional
If you don’t often wear makeup or you’re not 100% confident in your ability to create the look you want for your big event, it’s best to see a professional. You can book an appointment at places like a MAC store or even at burgeoning makeup salons like Rouge New York. MAC also offers free application of false lashes (although the lashes themselves cost $20), which can be a godsend if you’re hopeless at applying them yourself.

Alternatively, you can pop in for a free makeover at Sephora or any beauty counter in a department store — this is best for trying out a look and picking up some techniques and product recommendations a few weeks before your event. Just be sure to purchase a product that you like in exchange for the free service.

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