Almost 75 percent of American women and men color their hair. If you're one of them, there's a chance that you might not be completely satisfied with the result. No matter whether it’s a post-salon job that you’re not excited about or a DIY hair coloring situation gone horribly wrong, hair color snafus can and do happen. That’s where hair color removers come in, essentially acting as magic erasers to strip out the unwanted dye. The big caveat here? In an ideal world, it’s always best to have a professional do any kind of color removing and/or correction, cautions colorist Kristen Fleming, color director of 3rd Coast Salon in Chicago, who notes that it’s a complicated process even for the pros. That being said, if you are going to take matters into your own hands, here’s what you need to know.
“Every time color is removed from your hair you run the risk of damage, so I recommend looking for one that’s gentle, moisturizing, and free of bleach and ammonia,” advises Fleming. Los Angeles-based colorist and owner of Highbrow Hippie salon Kadi Lee agrees: “If these two ingredients are present, you’re just asking for more trouble.” Start by washing your hair with a clarifying shampoo, which will help remove some of the dyes and enhance the results of the remover, says Fleming. It’s also imperative to follow the directions of the particular product you’re using to a T—now is not the time for creative license.
Keep in mind that it’s always best to apply the remover to your ends first. “The ends of your hair tend to be more porous, so they’ll usually hold onto artificial color more stubbornly,” explains Lee. Also important: Make sure the product is evenly saturated throughout your hair to avoid ending up with a splotchy result, notes Fleming. And finally, once you’re done, both experts suggest following up with a reparative mask ASAP to add back much-needed hydration.
We conducted hours of research on the best color removers on the market, evaluating them on formula type, what types of color they're effective in removing, and how gentle they are on your hair. After consulting with two celebrity colorists, and considering dozens of formulas, we landed on the following best in show.
Color Oops Extra Conditioning Hair Color Remover
Contains hydrating ingredients
Effective for both types of color
Has a gentle effect
Both experts recommend this particular product. “It’s affordable and gentle, and even though your hair may feel dry after, it won’t be damaged,” notes Fleming. (Credit the addition of moisturizing soy proteins and aloe in the formula.) It works in just 20 minutes and is effective for removing both semi-permanent and permanent color.
Price at time of publish: $15
Active Ingredients: Hydrosulfite | Size: 60 milliliters | Application Method: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: Yes
One 'n Only Colorfix Hair Color Remover
Provides helpful instructions
Creates fast results
Only works on permanent color
This three-step system is customizable, allowing you to mix as much as needed based on the density and length of your hair. (There are also instructions for mixing it with shampoo if you need only slight color correction, rather than a complete one.) Just keep in mind that it’s specially formulated to remove unwanted permanent color, so if you’re trying to get rid of semi- or demi-permanent dye, it may not be as effective.
Price at time of publish: $18
Active Ingredients: Sulfinic acid | Size: 118 milliliters | Application Method: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Framar Kolor Killer Wipes
Good for removing stains from skin
Might take more wiping than desired
While these wipes don’t exactly fit the mold of all the other color removers here—they’re made for skin and not hair—let’s not forget that you may very well need to remove hair color from your skin. These wipes effectively take off stains from areas where you can end up with unwanted dye stains, think around your hairline or the nape of your neck, without you having to scrub and scrub. They’re also very gentle, boosting gently exfoliating lactic acid and hydrating aloe, and smell good too.
Price at time of publish: $15
Active Ingredients: Lactic acid, sea salt | Size: 100 wipes | Application Method: Wipes | Cruelty-Free: Unknown
Sephora Collection Heat Activated Color Fader
Has a gentle effect
This pick is best reserved to tone down semi-permanent color—i.e. if that pastel pink you were going for came out way too bubble gum-esque. Start by mixing one packet of the powder with water and shaking until it transforms into a gel, then working that through hair. True to its name, it is heat-activated, so pop on a shower cap and hit your hair with a blow-dryer for around 15 minutes to get it to do its thing. FYI, while reviewers do say it works, they do note that it doesn’t smell the best.
Price at time of publish: $10
Active Ingredients: Ascorbic acid | Size: 0.7 ounces | Application Method: Powder to gel | Cruelty-Free: No
Best for Use On Skin
Roux Beauty Clean Touch Stain Remover
Effective for skin, clothes, and hair
Easy on the skin during application
Brings quick results
Can’t be used all over the hair
Multi-tasking for the win: You can use this formula to remove extra color build-up from ends (remember what Lee said about them being the most porous and soaking up the most color?), as well as to clean up dye stains on your skin, and remove the color from clothes, too. FYI, this particular pick does contain ammonia, so it’s not a great pick to use all over your hair; save it for just small spots or to even out the ends.
Price at time of publish: $13
Active Ingredients: Ammonia | Size: 11.8 ounces | Application Method: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Bold Colors
Revolution Pro Hair Colour Remover
Works with all types of hair color
Removes product build-up
Requires multiple mixing steps
This can be a good option for anyone wanting to get rid of more bold colors, such as blues, pinks, and purples, says Fleming. The bleach- and ammonia-free formula removes not only color but also product build-up and pollution and also nourishes the hair while it lifts the color, she adds, thanks to hydrating baobab oil. It works on permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary colors, not to mention it is super affordable, too.
Price at time of publish: $12
Active Ingredients: Sodium oxymethylene sulfoxylate | Size: Unknown | Application Method: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Malibu C Color Correction
Clean and cruelty-free formula
Works very quickly
Might not work for every hair type
“This product is a staple in many colorist’s arsenals,” says Lee. Fleming is also a fan of the vegan formula, though notes that, like any other remover, while it removes color, the result may not necessarily be your desired hue. It’s fast-acting, too, getting the job done in just five minutes. Plus, the single-use packs are super easy to use.
Price at time of publish: $4
Active Ingredients: Ascorbic acid | Size: 0.17 ounces | Application Method: Dissolvable crystals | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Permanent Shades
Scruples Color Delete Permanent Hair Color Remover
Contains hydrating and strengthening ingredients
Minimizes breakage during application
Need to purchase a developer
Lee calls this a heavy-duty hair color remover; use it for hard-to-remove permanent shades. (Though you can either mix it with water to remove fewer amounts of color and with a developer, purchased separately, for more complete removal.) Still, despite its strength, it also boasts avocado oil, bamboo oil, and a protective complex to minimize damage and breakage, always a good thing.
Price at time of publish: $35
Active Ingredients: Bleach alternative | Size: 4 ounces | Application Method: Liquid | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Semi-Permanent
Color X-Change Phase-Out Gentle Dye Decolorizer + Intensive Hair Mask
Easy to use
Comes with included hair mask
Has to be left on overnight
Only works on semi-permanent color
This very affordable, single-use option is ammonia- and bleach-free, instead of relying on ascorbic acid to help lift color. It’s easy-to-use (just mix the packet of crystals with water to create a gel), though it does have to be left on overnight or for at least eight hours. FYI, it’s only formulated to lift semi-permanent color.
Price at time of publish: $10
Active Ingredients: Ascorbic acid | Size: 0.54 ounces | Application Method: Jelly-like cream | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Best for Fading Color
Good Dye Young Semi-Permanent Hair Color Fader
Easy to use
Provides much conditioning to the hair
Won’t remove color on its own
True to its name, this won’t remove color completely, but it will help fade it. It can’t be used on its own. Instead, it’s meant to act as a mixing medium that you add to one of the brand’s dyes to create a softer, more subdued effect. We also appreciate that the cream formula is also super conditioning and extremely easy to use.
Price at time of publish: $18
Active Ingredients: Sodium Cetearyl Sulfate | Size: 0.54 ounces | Application Method: Cream | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Removing hair color is a tricky process that’s best left for the pros, but if you do want to go the DIY route, the experts we spoke with agree that the Color Oops Extra Conditioning Hair Color Remover is gentle yet effective. Many colorists also use the Malibu C Color Correction, which works in just five minutes and has the added benefit of coming in easy-to-use, single-use packets. The Roux Beauty Clean Touch Stain Remover is a choice multi-tasking pick, effective for both removing excess color from porous ends, as well as dye stains on clothing and skin.
Meet the Expert
- Kristen Fleming is a sought-after hair color specialist in Chicago and Color Director of 3rd Coast Salon. With over 16 years of experience, she’s been educated by some of the best in New York, L.A., and here in Chicago. Her work can be found on models walking in New York Fashion Week, on magazine pages, and on her beautiful clients known as the "kristenscolorsquad".
- Kadi Lee is a Los Angeles-based hair colorist. She specializes in balayage, color correction, color changes for film, and natural/organic hair color. Lee’s current and past celeb clientele include Julia Roberts, Amber Valletta, Zoey Deutch, and Suki Waterhouse, amongst others. She recently opened her own salon, Highbrow Hippie, in Venice, CA.
What to Look for in a Hair Color Remover
Ammonia- and Bleach-Free Formulas
Hair color remover in and of itself is stripping and has the potential to damage your hair. The experts we spoke with warned that formulas that contain these additional ingredients are only going to be even more drying and increase the likelihood that the process really takes a toll on your hair.
Hydrating and/or Reparative Ingredients
In related news, if you can find a formula that touts hydrating or conditioning ingredients (butter, oils, silicones) and/or strengtheners such as keratin or proteins, you’ll greatly reduce the risk of damaging your hair during the process.
Indications as to What Kind of Hair Color It Can Remove
Not all types of hair color are created equal, so you want to ensure the remover you’re choosing is intended for use with the type of color you’re trying to eliminate. The box will usually specify whether the product is best for temporary, demi- or semi-permanent, or permanent color.
How do you remove hair color?
To remove temporary color, a wash or two with a clarifying shampoo and hot water should do the trick, says Fleming. For demi-/semi-permanent color (the two are the same thing) or permanent color, apply a hair color remover that is effective for these types of formulas on the mid-shaft, and work toward the ends, only applying the remover closer to the scalp and roots since the hair here will lighten much more quickly.
Does hair color remover damage hair?
The short answer: Yes, it can, especially if it’s not used properly. “Color remover is just as harsh as bleach, so you have to be careful and follow the directions explicitly,” warns Fleming, who also underscores the importance of always following up with a reparative mask afterward.
Can you bleach your hair after using color remover?
Because the removal process is harsh enough as it is, you’ll want to give your hair a little bit of a break and some extra TLC before continuing to bleach it, says Fleming. This means waiting anywhere from a few days to a few months, depending on the condition of your hair.
How is color remover different from bleach?
Color remover is bleach-free, and contains a color-reducing agent to remove semi-permanent and permanent color, while bleach acts to lighten hair. Just like bleach, color remover can cause breakage and damage hair, depending on its condition.
How do colorists remove color from hair?
Colorists will strip your hair to remove unwanted color, by using a sulfur-based hair stripper.
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 any hair color removers from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.
Hoffman MC, Karban LV, Benitez P, Goodteacher A, Laudenslager ML. Chemical processing and shampooing impact cortisol measured in human hair. Clin Invest Med. 2014;37(4):E252-E257. Published 2014 Aug 1. doi:10.25011/cim.v37i4.21731