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Scrolling past images of celebrities' flaxen, amber, and raven strands with perfectly painted balayage or face-framing highlights is a study in artistry. But sadly for those of us with fewer decimals on our paychecks, a color appointment that runs a few hundred dollars a session isn't always feasible. That's where less expensive options come in.
Sure, we've all had a store-bought hair color incident when we were younger that maybe rendered us a brassy shade of orange (the memories!), but today's options are more user-friendly than the unreliable formulas we'd sneak into our moms' bathrooms. To find out which at-home hair color yields the best results, we scoured reviews from some of the most beloved brands and consulted expert colorist Karissa Schaudt.
Keep scrolling for the best at-home hair color to try now.
Best Overall: Schwarzkopf Keratin Color Intense Caring Color
One of the biggest gripes with hair color whether in-salon or at-home is the nauseating smell that comes with it—but not this formula. It smells great and is formulated with a keratin complex to keep your strands feeling more fortified and looking shinier than before. Reviewers especially love that there's no pungent odor or stinging when using this product.
Best Budget: L'Oréal Paris Superior Preference Fade-Defying Shine Permanent Hair Color
Since 1973, L'Oréal has been using a fade-defying color system for a long-lasting dye that won't rinse away with each shampoo. The translucent gel formula delivers shine and dimension to encourage the natural shimmer you'd find in untouched strands. One reviewer found that the dye left her hair shiny and didn't fade after just a few washes.
Best Drugstore: Garnier Olia Oil Permanent Hair Color
Achieving vibrant color without ammonia is completely doable. Case in point: This oil-based formula uses natural flower oils to achieve bright, dimensional color by propelling pigments deep into the hair—no harsh chemicals necessary.
Best Fast-Acting: Clairol Professional Clairol Perfect 10 Nice'n Easy Hair Color
Perfect for those with tight schedules (or just the impatient type), Clairol's aptly-named Perfect 10 takes just 10 minutes to achieve long-lasting, shiny color. The advanced color crème allows for fast penetration into the hair fibers working selectively with the pigments inside the hair shaft, meaning there's less surface damage. One reviewer with stubborn grays and over-processed hair found the coverage to be excellent even still.
Best Foam: John Frieda Precision Foam Colour
A unique foam texture allows you to get into every square inch of your strands and scalp for precise color coverage and deep saturation. One reviewer describes it as so easy to use, it's "almost fool-proof."
Best for Highlights: Clairol Nice'n Easy Permanent Hair Color
Clairol's proprietary Color Care permanent crème conditions within each step for full, reliable coverage—no grays left behind. We love that it comes with three salon tones in one simple step, meaning you can achieve highlights and lowlights throughout your strands for up to eight weeks.
Best Lightening: Good Dye Young Hair Lightening Kit
Now, as a professional, Schaudt would never recommend bleaching your own hair at home. “It never turns out like you think it will,” she says, mentioning that improper timing and toning usually leads to less desirable results. However, if you can’t make it to the salon for one reason or another, reviewers have gotten some pretty good results with this kit from Good Dye Young.
Designed for all hair textures and types, the set includes a powder lightener and a cream developer that are infused with coconut oil to condition the hair and soy protein to protect and strengthen it during the bleaching process. Still, proceed at your own risk.
Best for Natural Hair: Dark and Lovely Fade Resist Rich Conditioning Hair Color
When it comes to coloring hair, maintaining moisture is crucial—especially when it comes to natural textures. Formulated specifically for natural hair types—both textured and chemically relaxed—Dark and Lovely’s Fade Resist Rich Conditioning Hair Color helps to protect the hair while it colors it. Infused with shea butter, avocado oil, and olive oil, it nourishes from root to tip while depositing vibrant, permanent pigment that lasts for up to eight weeks.
Best Shade Match: Madison Reed Radiant Hair Color Kit
While she’s never used these personally, Schaudt recommends Madison Reed’s hair color kits for coloring at home due to the detailed questionnaire that matches you with the brand's wide variety of colors. Even easier than the questionnaire? You can also text "hi" to 34757, then upload a well-lit selfie so you can get instantly shade-matched.
Schaudt is also a fan of the nourishing formula, which boasts keratin and argan oil, because it’s also six-free (so, no ammonia, parabens, resorcinol, PPD, phthalates, and gluten). Color safely and accurately.
Best Personalized: Color & Co Custom Haircolor Kit
Not sure where to start when it comes to coloring your hair? Color & Co is the next best thing to visiting a salon. When you shop for a personalized kit, you can choose between a free video consultation with a Color & Co stylist or a detailed hair color quiz to create your custom-blended color—which boasts salon-grade dyes and nourishing coconut oil—and achieve your ultimate hair goal. Each kit comes with personalized instructions and all the tools you’ll need, making the entire process a breeze.
Best Conditioning: Overtone Coloring Conditioner
For a dose of color and hydration, Overtone’s color-depositing conditioners are the way to go. “They're semi-permanent conditioners that are safe for all hair types, and they're cruelty-free,” says Schaudt. “If you’re looking for a toner to try at home, these work great and rinse out over time.”
The formula doesn’t lift or lighten the hair, but instead deposits a wash of pigment while nourishing it with a blend of shea butter, coconut oil, and avocado oil. It’s available in 15 shades ranging from ginger to black (including a rainbow assortment of fantasy hues), which are all free from ammonia, bleach, parabens, and sulfates to boot.
Best Fantasy Colors: Manic Panic Classic High Voltage Hair Dye Color
If you’re looking to bring some non-traditional hair colors into the mix, you can’t go wrong with Manic Panic. The iconic punk-founded brand’s High Voltage hair dye is semi-permanent, formulated with a conditioning base to prevent damage during the dyeing process. The offering includes a whopping 50+ shades ranging from vibrant jewel tones to bold neons and pastels, so trust that there’s a color for everybody. “These are key for at-home colors,” says Schaudt. “They work best on already bleached blondes and can be the quick change you’re looking for with easy directions.”
When it comes to any sort of at-home color, maintaining the integrity of your hair is crucial. With that in mind, we’re giving top honors to Schwarzkopf’s Keratin Color Intense Caring Color for its ability to strengthen the hair as it colors it. And, fine, also for the fact that it doesn’t smell terrible. We’re also big fans of Color & Co’s Custom Haircolor Kit, which gives you the ability to consult with a real hairstylist to create your own custom-blended shade. Plus, the personalized directions and all-inclusive kit make coloring your hair from home a way less daunting task. And while these don’t contain the most permanent form of dye, Overtone’s Coloring Conditioners are perfect for when you’re looking to take a new color for a test run. More importantly, they leave your strands much softer than they were before.
What to Look for in At-Home Hair Color Kits
Demi- and Semi-Permanent Formulas
When it comes to at-home color, Schaudt recommends avoiding permanent dyes and instead opting for demi- and semi-permanent formulas. “These are ammonia-free, meaning they are less damaging to the hair strand,” she says. “These are direct dyes that don’t shift your color, they just stain the hair strand with minimal to no damage.”
Even if ammonia-free, dyes can still be somewhat damaging to your hair. A great way to avoid this is by shopping for formulas that are chock full of conditioning ingredients—think hydrating oils and nourishing butters. The goal is to leave your hair in better condition than it was before you colored it.
Kits That Include All Tools
If you’ve ever colored your hair at home, chances are you, at least once, accidentally dyed your bathroom sink or hands in the process. To avoid a mess or scrambling to find suitable tools on a whim, Schaudt recommends shopping for kits that come with everything you need. “Developer, color, gloves, a bowl or bottle, and a brush are must-haves in order to mix and apply any color,” she says.
Avoid Formulas That Require Heat
Schaudt warns against any formulas that require heat. “If you’re processing color and it requires heat, it usually means you’re lightening or lifting your natural color,” she says. “This can result in unwanted warm tones.” That said, it’s best to leave lightening and lifting to the pros.
Meet the Expert
Karissa Schaudt is colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. Her specialty is creating beautiful, natural-looking color through balayage.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find enough at-home hair color brands from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we will evaluate the product ASAP