Whether you can't get into the salon or are looking to switch things up short-term with temporary dye, most of us have considered coloring our hair at home at least once or twice. When it comes to more complicated, dimensional processes like lightening your dark hair or getting strategically-placed highlights, we always err on the side of enlisting a professional. But if you're looking to dye your hair darker than its current shade, change the tone of your hair (perhaps from warm to cool), or work in a fun pop of color at your ends, experts agree it can be done at home (just don't expect salon-quality results). However, if your hair is already colored, we recommend consulting your colorist before trying to DIY things, especially if you're concerned about compromising your current color. Ahead, two colorists share the do's and don'ts of dyeing dark hair at home, plus the best hair dye formulas for dark hair folks to try.
Meet the Expert
- Ashley Branda is a colorist at Two01 Salon in Hoboken, NJ.
- Pepper Pastor is an Austin-based hairstylist and the lead artist for Kérastase.
Can You Dye Dark Hair at Home without Bleach?
Both Branda and Pastor say yes, you can dye darker hair at home—though both colorists stress the importance of, when available, seeking a professional stylist for any color services.
If your colorist is unavailable or you're determined to DIY, Branda highlights the importance of utilizing quality products in your at-home color quest. “If you follow the instructions and do your research, I do believe it is safe,” she says, while also suggesting that one of the safest, error-proof products aside from dyes is root touch-up sprays. “They are a great option for a change or gray coverage. It is temporary and will wash out after the first time but this is a product that most women should keep one or two shades of in their hair arsenal.”
Is it Safe to Dye Dark Hair at Home?
In short... no. If you’re a natural dark brunette and are itching to go blonde, your best bet is to leave that to the professionals. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as grabbing a box of blonde dye and calling it a day. To go lighter, you’ll need chemicals like bleach or lighteners, which are best left for professional use only. Of those at-home kits that promise to turn your hair blonde, Branda says, “Would I suggest it? Absolutely not. There is a lot of science behind hair coloring, you can cause a ton of damage, have unwanted tones, and cause serious injury.”
The same is true of trying to get an ombré or balayage effect on brown or dark hair. Pastor says that while there are at-home box kits available, “I highly recommend leaving that to the pros. The application techniques take a skilled individual in addition to knowing the appropriate amount of time needed for your specific hair type and desired shade.” Not to mention that hair lightener reacts differently with colored hair, so there's no telling what your result will be if you've dyed your hair before.
How to Dye Dark Hair at Home
But as for brunettes going darker or playing with different tones? You get the green light.
As far as what’s “safe” to pursue at home, Branda recommends those with darker hair colors can:
- Change the tone of the hair (i.e. warm to cool)
- Dye their hair darker
- Dye their hair blue, purple, or deep green
- Change their hair shade within the brown-to-black color family
- Enrich or intensify their current hair color
Pastor echoes a similar sentiment, saying, “There are a variety of gorgeous deep brunette shades, I recommend demi- or semi-permanent. (Only use permanent when you're trying to cover more than 50 percent of gray or existing color). Options available on the market can be deep chestnut, chocolate tones, and rich coppers. There are also violet tones where you could do sultry mahogany or burgundy shades.” She notes that it’s safe to apply these colors throughout the hair, but that if you have an existing balayage or ombré color, those areas will remain lighter.
The Best Hair Dye Products for Dark Hair
Before you click "add to cart" it's important to become familiar with the range of at-home coloring products that are available.
Permanent, semi-permanent, demi-permanent—it can be a little confusing. Pastor explains:
"Permanent colors are going to last the longest, semi-permanent may last six washes. My favorite is demi-permanent colors because those last about 24 washes—and for some people, this could be a good while. Demi-permanent colors also cover gray nicely and are more forgiving when you want to change your color in the future."
Semi- and demi-permanent colors are often confused with one another, but they do have some important differences. Unlike demi-permanent colors, which contain developers, semi-permanent colors do not, which is why demi-permanent dyes tend to last longer. In addition to home dyes, there are also rinses, toners, glazes, color depositing masks, hair chalks, and more. Ahead, we share the formulas that are most recommended for dark hair and at-home use.
Best For Single-Day Color: L'Oreal Colorista Hair Makeup
If you're looking to make a fun and funky change without commitment, check out Hair Makeup by L'Oréal. Specially formulated for brunettes, this leave-in temporary color is available in six shades and lasts for one wash. It's gentle enough for sensitive skin and is formulated without ammonia and peroxide. Simply apply to dry hair, comb or brush through to spread, then style as desired.
Best For Covering Grays: Demi-Permanent Dye
One of Pastor's "all-time favorite demi-permanent colors," Natural Instincts lasts for 28 washes while blending away grays in the 20-minute processing time. It's also made of 80 percent naturally derived ingredients and is available in 37 shades. "Demi-permanent colors cover gray nicely and are more forgiving when you want to change your color in the future," says Pastor.
Best For Commitment-Phobes: Spray-On Color
One of Branda's favorite go-to's for temporary fantasy color, Manic Panic's spray-on color works for all hair types and color levels, including dark shades. Available in eight vibrant shades, and vegan and cruelty-free, the spray is super simple to apply—just shake the can well, hold about 12-inches away from the hair, and apply to dry and pre-styled hair.
If you have naturally blonde, bleached, or damaged hair, this color may cling longer than a day and could require multiple washes to fully fade. With questions about your specific hair color, consult your colorist.
Best For Damaged Hair: Color-Depositing Mask
A deep conditioning mask and temporary color in one, this color depositing hair mask is available in seven shades and contains nourishing, hydrating ingredients. The Bordeaux shade is a deep crimson brown, ideal for light or dark brunettes. To use, section clean, towel-dried hair and apply a generous amount throughout. Brush with a wide-tooth comb for even distribution. Leave on for five to seven minutes depending on desired intensity, then rinse and style.
Best For a Slow Fade-Out: Coloring Conditioner
With no ammonia or harsh chemicals, these semi-permanent conditioners use the hair’s existing porosity to deposit color. Available in over 40 color options with many specifically formulated for use on brown hair, apply the conditioner to wet or dry hair (though dry hair is recommended for maximum color deposit) and leave on for about 10-15 minutes. Then rinse, and style! Users report this conditioner fades out slowly with each wash for a more natural transition back to your true hair color.
Best For Iridescent Color: Holographic Foam
A little sparkle never hurt anyone! For fun and temporary unicorn vibes, use this holographic hair foam that reflects shades of pink and teal iridescence thanks to moonstone extract. Vegan, cruelty-free, and color-safe, simply scrunch into sections of your hair for a more subtle effect, or apply liberally with fingers or a comb for a more opaque finish. When you're done having fun, simply wash out.
Best For Strategic Color-Placement: Hair Chalk
For some easy-to-apply, temporary fun, hair chalk is an excellent, affordable option. These chalk sticks slide on dry and are easy to comb through, depositing pastel color highlights to even the darkest shades of brown. Splat Hair Chalk is available in seven shades, including purple-y Violet Sky, and a golden Sun Kissed. Pro tip: chalk allows you to apply more precisely than paint-on color, so it's easy to add a pop of a fun shade to your face-framing layers (or anywhere else for that matter).