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Can you imagine Marilyn Monroe as anything else but a platinum blonde? Or Julianne Moore without her red hair? But it’s not just celebrities who are famed for their iconic hair color—the hue of your locks makes a statement. That’s why we want our hair color to look as good as possible. The problem is, color processing at a salon can put a major dent in your wallet, whether you’re looking for highlights or a single process. Typically going to a professional starts around $75 and can easily top $500 at an upscale salon. So what’s a girl to do? Turn to the best drugstore hair dyes. If you’re looking to cover grays, touch up roots in between appointments, or want a whole new look, there’s a kit out there for you.
However, before you head to your local drugstore, you might want to take a few things into account. If you have a super sensitive scalp or skin, you might want to leave coloring your hair to the pros. Many at-home formulas contain ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and a chemical called paraphenylenediamine that can trigger a serious reaction. Even if you aren’t the sensitive sort, everyone can benefit from using a gentler formula that won’t damage your strands or skin. Many kits will specify when they are ammonia-free, for example, so look for those.
Another crucial tip is following the instructions. You might think that leaving the formula on longer will give you a deeper color, but companies invest a lot of time and research into getting their directions super precise, so always stick to them exactly. Going rogue never goes well. Luckily, today’s formulas are a lot more user-friendly, so there’s no need to worry about frying your hair or looking brassy.
Got all that? Now it’s time to select your next color. Below, the top drugstore hair dyes.
Best Overall: Clairol Natural Instincts
If you’re afraid of damage (and who isn’t?), this is the dye for you. This semi-permanent hair color is extra gentle on hair. The nourishing blend of coconut oil, aloe, and vitamins leaves strands healthier than its competitors, thanks to its lack of ammonia. It only takes 10 minutes for it to work its magic, leaving you with color that will last for 28 washes, covering grays and roots. The color is even, radiant, and natural looking.
Best for Highlights: L'Oreal Superior Preference Glam Lights
Highlighting your own hair isn’t always easy, which is why it’s often left to the professionals. But this kit makes it much more doable to do on your own by breaking the process down into two steps. First, fill the highlighting brush that comes with the kit with the formula. Next, brush it through your hair from root to tip wherever you want to deposit color. Yep, it’s really that simple. The brush is designed to blend the highlights easily, while the formula leaves strands glossy. And the process is quick, too. So much for guesswork!
Best for Root Touch-Ups: Clairol Nice 'n Easy Root Touch-Up 4 Kit
When you can’t make it to the salon for a root touch-up, this is the next best thing. Whether you always opt for at-home color or prefer to see a professional, this kit will stretch your hue between colorings. The permanent color perfectly blends into your shade to deliver 100% 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.
Best Brunette: John Frieda Precision Foam Colour
John Frieda is the drugstore brand that can nourish and nurture hair color like no other, as their line of shampoos and conditioners for each specific hue have proven, and their dye is no different. This kit makes at-home color a cinch and the clever foam formula simplifies precision color application, so you can deposit color exactly where you want it. The even saturation includes 100% gray coverage and leaves you with vibrant color. It’s speedy too, taking just 30 minutes of processing time.
Best Black Hair: Clairol Nice 'n Easy
When you have black hair, covering grays can be challenging. Luckily, this formula is known for being up to the task. Boasting 100% 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.
Best Blonde: Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Hair Color Creme
This little box does it all: You can cover grays, lighten dark roots, or just get a new hue altogether. The permanent formula goes easy on locks and nourishes with grape seed, shea and avocado oil, which penetrate deep into the hair. 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. It comes in a range of shades, but since blond hair naturally pulls warmth, blonds should look for a neutral or ash tone to avoid looking too warm.
Best Red: Revlon ColorSilk
Red hair dye has a tendency 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 and being ammonia-free condition to leave strands shiny and soft. Plus, the dye is infused with UV defense to protect color from the sun and extend its vibrancy. It boasts 100% gray coverage, too.
Our writers spent 4 hours researching the most popular drugstore hair dye on the market. Before making their final recommendations, they considered 20 different hair dyes overall, screened options from 15 different brands and manufacturers, read over 20 user reviews (both positive and negative) and tested 1 of the hair dyes themselves. All of this research adds up to recommendations you can trust.