The 14 Best Drugstore Hair Dyes of 2023

Our best overall pick is Clairol Natural Instincts

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woman with red hair

 

Rochelle Brock / Refinery29 for Getty Images

Today's boxed hair dye formulas have gotten a major upgrade, and many contain ingredients to help add shine and condition your hair while you color. This is ideal for those who want to touch up roots at home, or for those who like to switch up color often, without paying a salon premium price. We tapped celebrity hairstylist Christin Brown for her advice on using drugstore hair dye at home, and she gives this DIY practice her seal of approval. “First, read the instructions fully and completely,” she says. Next, and while this may seem obvious, follow those instructions to a T. Do exactly what they say, says Brown.

Byrdie Researched & Approved

Our best overall pick is Clairol Natural Instincts, which boasts an ultra-nourishing blend of coconut oil, aloe, and vitamins to leave your hair shiny. Plus, we love that it takes just 10 minutes to work. We also love Garnier Olia Brilliant Color, which is an ammonia-free permanent dye that's also packed with nourishing oils, delivering intense moisture and shine along with even, beautiful color.

Whether you're looking to save some money or are unable to make it to the salon, we've rounded up the best drugstore hair dyes worth trying. We conducted hours of research on the best drugstore hair dyes, evaluating each formula on active ingredients—paying careful attention to nourishing actives like oils and conditioners—as well as type, considering semi-permanent, permanent, glosses, and everything in between. We also considered different dyes for different types of hair textures, colors, and needs. After consulting with a celebrity hair stylist, we narrowed down our list to land on these top-rated formulas to leave your hair healthy and shiny.

Best Overall

Clairol Natural Instincts

4.9
Clairol Natural Instincts Demi-Permanent Hair Color

 Target

What We Like
  • Works in just 10 minutes

  • Conditioning formula

  • Ammonia-free

What We Don't Like
  • Not permanent

Coloring your hair at home can be intimidating, especially if you're worried about damaging your hair. But with Clairol Natural Instincts, you can put all of your boxed dye fears at ease. The conditioning formula is ammonia-free and boasts a blend of coconut oil, aloe, and vitamins. The result is hair that looks radiant with enhanced color and shine. As for timing, 10 minutes is all it takes for it to work its magic, leaving you with color that will last for 28 washes, covering grays and roots. That's way less time than it would take in the salon chair, so really, it's a no-brainer.

Price at time of publish: $23

Active Ingredients: Coconut, aloe vera | Type: Semi-permanent | Shades: Sahara light blonde, spiced cider light warm brown, cinnaberry medium auburn, and more | Size: 1 application | Application Type: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Brunette

John Frieda Precision Foam Colour

john freida precision foam colour

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Easy to use

  • 100% gray coverage

What We Don't Like
  • Processing time is longer than most

This kit makes ​at-home coloring a cinch, and the unique foam formula simplifies precision color application so you can deposit color exactly where you want it. The even saturation includes 100 percent gray coverage and leaves you with vibrant color. 

Price at time of publish: $13

Type: Permanent | Shades: Dark cool espresso brown, medium natural blonde, dark red brown, and more | Size: 1 application | Application Type: Foam | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Blonde

Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Color Creme

Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Hair Color Creme

Courtesy of Walmart

What We Like
  • Conditioning formula 

  • 100% gray coverage

What We Don't Like
  • Can be a bit drippy

This little box does it all: You can cover grays, lighten dark roots, or get a new hue altogether. The permanent formula goes easy on your hair and nourishes with grape seed, shea butter​, and avocado oil. This conditioning action helps hair hold onto the color from root to tip, extending the life of the shade, leaving you with a rich, bold color.

Price at time of publish: $8

Active Ingredients: Grape seed and avocado oils | Type: Permanent | Shades: Mahogany brown 415, true red 66, dark beige brown 72, and more | Size: 1 application | Application Type: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Celebrity stylist Christin Brown tells Byrdie that when using boxed hair dye you should "never leave the color on for longer than is recommended," for best results.

Best Black

Clairol Nice 'n Easy

Clairol Nice 'n Easy Permanent Hair Dye
Courtesy of Amazon.
What We Like
  • Smells better than many other formulas

  • Non-drip formula

What We Don't Like
  • Contains ammonia

When you have dark raven hair, covering grays can be challenging. Luckily, this formula is up to the task. Boasting 100 percent gray coverage, it makes it look natural with a range of luminous tones and highlights. Even though it’s heavy-duty, you don’t have to worry about that chemical smell—this one has a fresh, floral fragrance instead. It conditions along the way, leaving hair shinier and softer than when you started. Plus, the non-drip formula won’t make a mess of your entire bathroom.

Price at time of publish: $8

Active Ingredients: ME+ molecule | Type: Permanent | Shades: Ultra light cool summer blonde, medium copper blonde, medium cool brown, and more | Size: 1 application | Application Type: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Red

Revlon Colorsilk Beautiful Color Permanent Hair Color

4.9
Revlon ColorSilk

Target

What We Like
  • Has a built-in UV protectant

  • Conditioning formula

What We Don't Like
  • Processing time is longer than most

Red hair dye tends to fade fast, so you’ll want a formula with major staying power, and this one does the trick. Thanks to Revlon 3D Color Gel Technology, the permanent dye delivers a natural look from root to tip with a boost from the multi-tonal color that gives dimension. The combination of silk proteins conditions to leave hair shiny and soft. Plus, the dye is infused with UV defense to protect color from the sun and extend its vibrancy.

Price at time of publish: $23

Active Ingredients: Revlon 3D Color Gel Technology, silk amino acids, keratine amino acids | Type: Permanent | Shades: Dark brown, soft black, dark ash blonde, and more | Size: 1 application | Application Type: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best for Root Touch-Ups

Clairol Nice 'n Easy Root Touch-Up

clairol nice n easy root touch up

Courtesy of Ulta

What We Like
  • Easy to use

  • Works in just 10 minutes

What We Don't Like
  • Shade range could be more expansive

Whether you always opt for at-home color or prefer to see a professional for root touch-ups, this kit will stretch your hue between colorings. The permanent color seamlessly blends into your shade to deliver 100 percent gray coverage. The precision brush makes it a cinch to apply and speeds up the process. It only takes 10 minutes to color roots and grays, but the hue lasts up to three weeks.

Price at time of publish: $15

Type: Permanent | Shades: Extra light blonde, light auburn/reddish brown, blue black, and more | Size: 1 application | Application Type: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Permanent

Garnier Olia Oil Permanent Hair Color

Garnier Olia Oil Permanent Hair Color

Walmart 

What We Like
  • Ammonia-free

  • Conditioning formula

What We Don't Like
  • Shade range could be more expansive

This formula is not only ammonia-free, but it's also is made of 60 percent moisturizing oils. The result? An intensely nourishing formula that not only colors beautifully and evenly (including covering grays completely), but also leaves hair super hydrated and shiny, a surefire way to make your hue look even better, no matter which color you choose.

Price at time of publish: $17

Active Ingredients: Sunflower, meadowfoam, passion flower, camellia, and other flower oils | Type: Permanent | Shades: Light neutral brown, dark rose quartz, lightest silver blonde, and more | Size: 1 application | Application Type: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Semi-Permanent

Schwarzkopf Color Boost Vibrancy Booster

Schwarzkopf Color Boost Vibrancy Booster

Courtesy of Target

What We Like
  • Easy to use

  • Customizable

What We Don't Like
  • Shade range could be more expansive

No matter whether you’re a DIY newbie or want to give your color a little extra TLC but not necessarily change it, semi-permanent formula is the way to go. This is one of our favorites, largely for how easy it is to use—and how customizable it is. How it works: Simply add in anywhere between one to five drops, depending on how intense of an effect you want, into your standard conditioner, and leave it on for five minutes. The effect is increased vibrancy and enhanced tone—a great option to use in between full-on colorings or just on its own—and the results last up to 20 washes.

Price at time of publish: $10

Type: Semi-permanent | Shades: Red, golden, dark cool, brown, cool blonde, icy | Size: Multiple applications | Application Type: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Temporary

Mysteek Naturals Color Pop

Mysteek Naturals
What We Like
  • Shades that work on all hair colors

  • Minimal ingredient list

What We Don't Like
  • Can be a little messy

This color wax is excellent for those that want to experiment with new colors without the commitment. It's chemical-free and comes out in one wash, so you can play with bright and bold colors to see which one is right for you. Users say that the pigments are vibrant enough to bring color to even the darkest hair.

Price at time of publish: $20

Type: Wash-out | Shades: Royal purple, bougie blue, fyah red, glowing green, and more | Size: Multiple applications | Application Type: Wax | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes

Best for Highlights

L'Oréal Paris Colorista Bleach Highlights

L'Oréal Paris Colorista Bleach Highlights

Courtesy of Target

What We Like
  • Unique applicator system

What We Don't Like
  • Can cause damage if not used properly

First, a big caveat: Highlighting your own hair is definitely trickier than applying a single process and really is a technique best left up to the pros. That being said, if you feel extremely confident in your DIY abilities, this is the product to use. It comes with a unique, three-pronged brush/comb hybrid that lets you comb the lightening formula through hair for the most natural effect possible. And it is meant to be used with the brand’s semi-permanent vibrant color line, which you can then apply after the fact if you want to rock a bold rainbow hue.

Price at time of publish: $11

Type: Semi-permanent | Shades: Highlights, all-over, ombre bleach | Size: 1 application | Application Type: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Gloss

Kristin Ess Signature Hair Gloss

Kristin Ess Signature Hair Gloss

Courtesy of Target

What We Like
  • Wide variety of shades

  • Ammonia-free

What We Don't Like
  • Won’t actually deposit new color

True story: Glosses are one of the pros’ top secrets to scoring beautifully shiny, healthy color. Think of it almost as a top coat for nail polish, a must to ensure the end result is as pretty as possible. This ammonia- and silicone-free formula does exactly that, helping to keep color shiny and vibrant while also helping to neutralize unwanted tones (think brassy ones on brown hair or yellowish ones on platinum hair) but without necessarily changing your color; results last three to four weeks.

Price at time of publish: $15

Type: Semi-permanent | Shades: Copper penny, platinum, ruby, chocolate cosmo, and more | Size: 1 application | Application Type: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Ammonia-Free

Schwarzkopf Simply Color

Schwarzkopf Simply Color
What We Like
  • Ammonia-free

  • Gentle on hair

What We Don't Like
  • Shade range could be more expansive

Ammonia is an effective hair color ingredient—in both at-home and in-salon color— but not only can it take a toll on your hair, but it’s also a very common skin sensitizing ingredient. Enter this pick, which is ammonia-, silicone-, and alcohol-free (all ingredients that can potentially damage your hair) yet still imparts long-lasting permanent color and complete gray coverage. Bonus points for the addition of oat milk, soy protein, and argan oil to help keep hair extra healthy.

Price at time of publish: $11

Active Ingredients: Botanical oat milk, soy protein, and argan oil | Type: Permanent | Shades: Jet black, dark chocolate, medium natural copper, light golden blonde, and more | Size: 1 application | Application Type: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Professional Kit

Madison Reed Radiant Hair Color Kit

Madison Reed Radiant Hair Color Kit

Ulta

What We Like
  • Dermatologist tested

  • Great for hair

  • No harsh chemicals

What We Don't Like
  • Smaller amount of product than most

Whether you're looking for gray coverage or to switch shades, this enriching formula is an excellent pro-recommended choice. The permanent dye contains no harsh ingredients and is 100% ammonia-free, PPD-free, resorcinol-free, paraben-free, pthalates-free, SLS-free, gluten-free, and titanium-dioxide-free. The kit comes with gloves, cap, barrier cream, cleansing wipe, plus the signature Madison Reed Color Protecting Shampoo & Conditioner, Reviewers note how soft and shiny this formula leaves box-colored hair, and we totally agree.

Price at time of publish: $30

Active Ingredients: Keratin, argan oil, and ginseng root extract | Type: Permanent | Shades: 15+ | Size: 1 application | Application Type: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No

Best Natural

Biolage Haircolor

4.4
Matrix Biolage Haircolor

Courtesy of Sleekshop

What We Like
  • Hydrating formula

  • Gray coverage

  • Comes with botanical gloss

What We Don't Like
  • Reviewers note some color discrepancy

For those looking for a botanical-based boxed color, this is a great choice. The cream formula is not only inexpensive, but it’s also free of a litany of ingredients, including ammonia, parabens, sulfates, silicones, and phthalates. (FYI, it does contain resorcinol, however.) The cream formula doesn’t drip, and the permanent color lasts for up to six weeks, while also completely covering grays.

Price at time of publish: $24

Active Ingredients: Hemp seed oil, sesame oil (brunettes), black tea (dark hair), cranberry (reds), chamomile (blondes) | Type: Permanent | Shades: 16 | Size: 2.5 fluid ounces (developer), 1.7 fluid ounces (cream colorant), 1.7 fluid ounces (conditioning gloss) | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No

Final Verdict

Clairol Natural Instincts earns our highest seal of approval. It's a gentle, ammonia-free color that works in just 10 minutes and lasts up to 28 shampoos. If you prefer a permanent color, we love Garnier Olia Brilliant Color, an ammonia-free color that delivers a ton of moisture with a blend of oils.

Meet the Expert

Christin Brown is a celebrity hairstylist and the owner of Full Spiral Salon in Santa Barbara. She’s an Olaplex ambassador and a Deva Certified Curl Specialist.

What to Look for in a Drugstore Hair Dye

Ammonia-Free

Ammonia is a powerful hair-lightening ingredient, but the chemical can also irritate the skin: “Finding an ammonia-free hair dye can be beneficial for both sensitive skin types and for novices who are coloring their hair for the first time,” advises Brown. Pay attention to the guidelines on the box that show the end result on different base colors, and make sure that it matches your natural hair as closely as possible, too.

Level of Permanence

Not all hair dyes are created equal. Permanent color will stay put until it grows out, while semi- or demi-permanent shades gradually fade or wash out. (How long they last will be indicated on the box.) While the latter two options will yield more subtle results, they’re also a good way to go if you’re not entirely sure of the color you want or if don’t want to end up with an end result you hate (and then have to wait for it to grow out). 

People reach for boxed hair dye to touch up their roots—which requires a formula that's specifically designed to cover grey hair. Grey hair often develops at the temples first, so covering greys requires a little bit of know-how.Opt for a hair dye that's up to the task, like Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Root Touch-Up, which made our top picks.

And for those who want to experiment with fun or trendy hues in a commitment-free way, a temporary color wax like the Mysteek Naturals Color Pop included in our roundup, is a great (and low-commitment) choice.

FAQ
  • Is drugstore hair dye safe for all hair types?

    Yes, in theory. That being said, if your hair is super damaged or overprocessed, you may want to take a pass. Improper application can quickly end up taking a toll on your hair, so it may not be the best idea for you.

  • How long does drugstore hair dye last?

    It depends on the formula. Permanent color lasts until it grows out, demi- or semi-permanent will fade over the course of a few weeks (most usually last about 28 washes), while temporary hair dye only lasts until you shampoo it out.

  • Is boxed hair dye bad for you?

    According to the Cleveland Clinic, there's no conclusive evidence that boxed hair dye (or salon dye, for that matter) is linked with severe health issues. That said, the FDA warns against using any hair dye with paraphenylenediamine (PPDA), which is a common allergen. Read ingredient lists carefully and stop use if you notice any scalp redness, irritation, itching, or blisters. If any of these signs appear after using hair dye, you should contact a dermatologist immediately.

  • How do you pick the correct shade?

    Boxed hair dye includes a chart that's located on the box itself or in the product description. Look for your beginning color, and try to find pictures of where your hair will end up. Bear in mind that developer that comes with at-home permanent kits is stronger than the ones used at a salon, so often, your hair will come out a little lighter. To account for a strong developer, choose a shade that's a touch darker than what you're going for.

    If, however, you're using a semi-permanent dye, bear in mind that you won't be using a developer. For semi-permanent dyes, choose a shade that's a touch lighter than the color you want to end up with. When you use this method, you're more likely land on the color you want to end up with.

  • How can you make your at-home color last?

    In order to make your at-home color last, consider using a color depositing shampoo and conditioner. This will help keep your color from fading as you wait for your roots to grow in.

Why Trust Byrdie

Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Since she has her hair professionally colored, she relied on the input of experts and plenty of consumer reviews to compile this list.

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 drugstore hair dyes from Black-owned and/or Black-founded businesses to meet this percentage. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at contact@byrdie.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.

Updated by Jill DiDonato
Article Sources
Byrdie takes every opportunity to use high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial guidelines to learn more about how we keep our content accurate, reliable and trustworthy.
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