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We’re all for naturally sun-kissed blonde and subtly highlighted brunette, for sure. But sometimes you just want to think outside the natural hair color box and mix it up with a rainbow hue. Experimenting with bright shades is all the rage; scroll through social media, and you’ll see exactly what we mean. And the nice thing about dipping into a more dramatic dye? The majority of the options out there are semi-permanent, meaning they’ll gradually fade over the course of several weeks/shampoos. In other words, you can easily go bold without having to make any kind of serious color commitment.
Do keep in mind that the base shade you’re starting with will definitely affect the result; generally speaking, bright tones work best on bleached or blonde hair. If you’re starting with a darker color, you may want to consider lightening it first or seeking out formulas specifically made for brunettes. If the former, make sure that the bleaching part is done by a trained professional to minimize the likelihood of damaging your hair, advises Kristen Fleming, color director at 3rd Coast Salon in Chicago.
Ready to play? Take these bright hair colors for a test run.
Best Overall: Manic Panic Classic High Voltage Hair Dye Color
When you want to go really bold, this is one of the best—and brightest—formulas there is. There are over 40 shades to choose from in every shade you could imagine, including neons that glow under black light. The cruelty-free, vegan color is also gentle on hair, free of ammonia and PPD, and contains plenty of conditioning ingredients.
Best Drugstore: L'Oréal Paris Colorista Semi-Permanent Color
We especially like this drugstore buy for blonde or bleached hair; the five colors show up especially well on a lighter base. It’s ammonia- and peroxide-free to minimize damage, a big win if you do in fact already have bleached hair and will last anywhere from four to eight shampoos. While you can easily apply it all over, it also comes with an included brush that makes it easy to create rainbow-inspired highlights.
Best Semi-Permanent: Shrine Drop It Kit
There are lots of things we love about this pick, but the dropper formulation is probably our favorite. How it works: Simply mix in a few drops into a conditioner of your choice; one bottle holds enough for up to 30 applications. There’s a helpful guide on the box to show you how vibrant of color you’ll get based on the number of drops used, so you can tailor your bold hue exactly to your liking. (And since you then work it through your hair just like you would conditioner, the application process is super easy, too.) Speaking of, there are eight poppy colors to pick from, many of which can be mixed and matched, but all of which wash out in two to 10 washes and are super gentle on your strands.
Best Permanent: Garnier Color Sensation
Pick up this formula if you’re ready for and want to commit to an unexpected color; because it’s a permanent color, it won’t wash out. There are plenty of more natural colors to choose from, as well as a ‘trend’ line featuring eight dramatic shades; think a punchy purple and look-at-me-teal. The easy-to-use, no-drip formula stays put as you apply it, and an included conditioner ensures your new shade has plenty of shine and hair stays strong and healthy.
Best Bargain: Brite Instant Color
It makes sense that you may not want to shell out lots of cash for bright hair color, particularly if you’re not sure you’re going to love your vibrant strands (and/or you’re just doing it as a one-off novelty). Enter this very wallet-friendly, semi-permanent color. For less than 10 dollars, you get a creamy, conditioning formula that imparts vibrant tones that last up to 30 washes. It’s also vegan, cruelty-free, and contains no ammonia or parabens.
Best Metallic: Got2B Metallics
To really make a statement, consider not only a bright shade but a bright metallic. The dye, another rare permanent formula, comes in blue, red, and purple colors, all of which have a metallic gleam. (Credit a metallic shine booster in the formula that imparts this unique finish.) Rounding out the line are equally glimmery steel and silver tones.
If your hair past your shoulders, pick up two boxes for the most complete and even application.
Best for Brown Hair: Splat Midnight, No Bleach, Semi-Permanent Hair Color Kit
Per our previous point about bold colors being trickier for brunettes, this formula offers the best solution. Tailor-made for those with brown hair, you don’t need any bleach to achieve any of the five electric shades. Choose from magenta, blue, red, green, and ruby, all of which are surprisingly intense.
Best Color Depositing Conditioner: No Fade Fresh Color Depositing Semi-Permanent Hair Conditioner
These tinted conditioners are exactly what they sound like—ultra-hydrating conditioners infused with plenty of color. The application also couldn’t be easier. Work it into damp hair for five to 10 minutes, then rinse. (Once you’ve achieved your desired hue, you can then use it for less time to keep the shade true and vibrant.) And per the conditioner part of things, we also appreciate that it touts bond-building technology to maintain the integrity and health of your hair.
Best Wash-Out: Got2b Strand Up
Looking to go bright just for the night? This washout color is the greatest alternative. Think of it as hair makeup rather than hair dye, since experimenting with these vibrant tones is as easy as swiping on a new eyeshadow. The colored chalk comes in a compact; simply place a section of hair in between the two sides and glide it down, then repeat for more color intensity. You can seal it in with a spritz of hairspray, but don’t worry, it comes out after just one regular shampoo.
Best Shade Range: Lime Crime Anime Hair Color
When you want to go bright, but also want options, try this semi-permanent dye. Available in 25 colors, there’s a little something for everyone. Vegan, cruelty-free, and super conditioning, how long you leave on the color will determine the intensity: 30 minutes is standard, but you can leave it on for up to two hours. FYI, results are best the lighter your hair is, though the website does feature a helpful guide that shows what each shade will look like even on darker strands.
Bright hair dyes are a fun way to experiment with your look. There are plenty of low-commitment options out there, like our favorite, the Manic Panic Classic High Voltage Hair Dye Color (view at Sally Beauty), a semi-permanent option available in tons of colors that lasts four to six weeks. Looking for even less of a commitment? The Shrine Drop It Kit (view at Sally Beauty) comes in easy-to-use drops that let you customize the intensity of your shade and lasts two to 10 washes, while the Got 2B Strand Up (view at Ulta) washes out with just one round of shampoo. And while most bright tones come across best on super light hair, the Splat Midnight, No Bleach, Semi-Permanent Hair Color Kit (view at Bed Bath and Beyond) gets our vote for the unique tones specially formulated to show up on brown hair, no pre-bleaching required.
What to Look for in Bright Hair Dye
How Long It Lasts
This is a crucial piece of the puzzle. If the product is labeled as “temporary” or washout, it’s a one-time-deal situation and will come out with a shampoo or two. Semi- or demi-permanent color (which is what is often found in many color-depositing conditioners, FYI) will fade gradually as you wash your hair, usually lasting anywhere from five to 30 shampoos. And if you really want to commit to your bright shade, opt for permanent options, which need to grow out.
How long do bright hair dyes last?
Fleming says bright colors are the fastest to fade: “Most are just deposited on top of the hair and barely penetrate the hair shaft,” she explains. Plus, if you’re coloring pre-lightened hair, it’s likely more porous, which contributes to water pushing the direct dyes out of the hair quickly, she adds.
What bright hair dye color is hardest to remove from hair?
Red. “Red color molecules are the biggest, which both means it fades the fastest, but also makes it harder to remove from the hair,” says Fleming.
Are bright hair dyes damaging to the hair?
According to Fleming, bright hair colors like pink, purple, blue, and green aren’t damaging in and of themselves. Again, most are just being deposited on top of the hair. The issue becomes problematic if you have to overly lighten your hair beforehand to achieve that super bright result, which can leave it damaged, she says, again underscoring the importance of only letting pros bleach your hair.
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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.