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Colorists charge a premium for their services because they're professionals; they know the ins and outs of hair color more than the average person. Still, that level of expertise comes at a certain price—which, depending on how often you switch up your hair hue or touch up your roots, can add up fast. The good news? You can DIY your hair color without ever leaving home with boxed dye available at the drugstore.
However, there a few major things to keep in mind. “First, read the instructions fully and completely,” says celebrity hairstylist and Olaplex ambassador Christin Brown. "Next, while this may seem obvious, follow those instructions to a T. Do exactly what they say." Finally, in related news, don’t leave the color on for longer than is recommended, she warns. Following this simple advice can go a long way toward ensuring you end up with your desired end result.
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.
Best Overall: Clairol Natural Instincts
Coloring your hair at home can be intimidating, especially if you're worried about damaging your strands. But with Clairol Natural Instincts, you can put all of your boxed dye fears at ease. The formula is ammonia-free and boasts a blend of coconut oil, aloe, and vitamins to condition the hair. 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.
Best for Damaged Hair: Schwarzkopf Keratin Color Permanent Hair Color
You don't have to risk the health and integrity of your hair to cover up greys. This cutting-edge formula features a unique anti-breakage technology (K-Bond-Plex) that repairs the hair's inner structure. The result? Intense color and less breakage.
Best Brunette: John Frieda Precision Foam Colour
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% gray coverage and leaves you with vibrant color. And with just 30 minutes of processing time, your schedule will free up to check things off your to-do list.
Best Blonde: Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing 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.
Best Black: Clairol Nice 'n Easy
When you have dark raven hair, covering grays can be challenging. Luckily, this formula is 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 of your entire bathroom.
Best Red: Revlon Colorsilk Beautiful Color Permanent Hair Color
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 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.
Best for Root Touch-Ups: Clairol Nice 'n Easy Root Touch-Up
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 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 for Highlights: L'Oréal Paris Superior Preference Glam Light
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 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.
Best Wax: Mysteek Naturals Color Pop
This color wax is perfect 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 strands.
Clairol Natural Instincts earns our highest seal of approval, a gentle, ammonia-free color that works in just 10 minutes and lasts up to 28 shampoos. If you’re simply looking to touch up your roots, try another one of the brand’s options, Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Root Touch-Up. And for those who want to experiment with fun or trendy hues in a commitment-free way, a temporary color wax, like Mysteek Naturals Color Pop, is a great choice.
What to Look For in A Drugstore Hair Dye
Ammonia is a powerful hair lightening ingredient, but the chemical can also be irritating for those with sensitive 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 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).