As someone who has been coloring her own hair for a decade, I can attest that it can be a fun, self-care ritual, rather than a hair-frying, nerve-wracking one. The trick for me has been to figure out exactly what I need (gray coverage, blonde but no brassy tones) and find the best at-home hair dyes that work for my hair type.
To help you find the best way to color your own hair at home, I researched the best dyes for different hair needs and reached out to Makenna Smith, a professional hairstylist in Raleigh, North Carolina. Here's what she had to say:
Tips for going lighter: “It’s important to have virgin hair that has no color on it,” Smith says. She also recommends looking for words like "ash" or "cool" to avoid brassy tones.
Tips for going darker: Colors tend to come out darker than they seem on the box. “Start with a shade that matches your natural hair color. This allows you to see how the color takes and you can always go darker,” Smith recommends.
Tips for choosing a shade: Smith suggests to her clients that they use their skin tone as a frame of reference for picking the right hue. Oftentimes, she suggests they look at their veins to help them pinpoint their undertone, which is typically divided by warm, cool, or neutral. "If your veins have more of a blue tinge, you will look best in neutral, cool, or ash tones. If your veins look more green, you will look best in warm browns, gold, and copper tones.”
If you can't quite pinpoint your vein color, another helpful trick, according to the at-home hair color experts at Clairol, is to put on earrings or a necklace and look in the mirror: "Cool tones tend to look better in silver jewelry while gold compliments warm tones." And if you really think you look good in both metals (or have both green and blue veins), you could be neutral, which means you'll look good in most colors!
Tips for gray coverage: “Chemicals are the name of the game when it comes to gray coverage,” says Smith. Dyes that are ammonia-free, though safer to use, are not your best bet if you’re mainly looking to cover gray hair.
Application tip: “The hairline grabs color more densely, so unless you’re covering a large amount of gray hair, apply color to the hairline last,” Smith suggests. This is especially true if you’re going red.
With these pointers in mind, check out my picks for the best at-home hair color, which include options for touch-ups, those with skin sensitivities, gray coverage, and the top picks for blondes, brunettes, and redheads.
1. The Best Dye For Root Touch-Ups
Application time: 10 minutes
Both, Allure and Oprah magazines have voted this kit the best at-home root touch-up dye. Equipped with a brush for easy application, the dye comes in more than a dozen shades made to match both box and salon shades seamlessly. Reviewers confirm that it’s excellent at covering up grays too, so it’s a great choice if you’re looking for coverage in addition to color.
Fans say: “I've been going gray since I was 21 years old. I'm 32 and I've graduated from coloring my hair with box dye ALL the time, but those $70 between color root touch ups every 6 weeks were really killing me. Not to mention that I'm a new mom and it’s pretty difficult to get away for 3 hours. I've been using this product for a few years now and even my stylist knows about it. She doesn't have any issues coloring over it and I save myself $60 between colorings!”
2. The Best Hair Color For Stubborn Grays
Application time: 30-40 minutes
My personal favorite, this L’Oréal dye has amazing gray coverage and many natural-looking shades to choose from. I get compliments on my hair color regularly from people who assume it’s my own. The formula comes with a pre-treatment ceramide serum to protect delicate ends and a keratin conditioner which lasts in my long hair through 5 shampoos. With a 4.2-rating on Amazon and more than 1,000 reviews, I'm definitely not the only fan of this L'Oréal color.
Fans say: “My eternal search for the perfect hair color has ended! I have used many different products over the years and this is by far the best one. I get 99% gray coverage and the color won't rub off on my sheets or towels. Almost no fading (I do use sulfate-free shampoo), pleasant smell, easy to use, leaves hair healthy and shiny.”
3. The Best Temporary Color That's Also Great For Sensitive Skin
Longevity: Washes out in approximately six weeks
Application time: 20 minutes
With an ammonia- and paraben-free formula, this temporary hair dye is a great choice for anyone with sensitive skin and scalp. The formula is also enriched with vitamin E and coconut oil for softer, shinier locks. The dye is available in more than a dozen shades, and the color washes out in approximately six weeks. Temporary dyes like this one are not known for their gray coverage, but this one does the job well. According to reviewers, leaving it on for an additional five minutes can help.
Fans say: “I couldn't wait to leave a product review for this! My hairdresser told me no way would semi-permanent dye cover all my gray - so I dealt with severely damaged hair for YEARS. I finally tried Natural Instincts... my hairdresser was shocked at the coverage, the health and thickness of my hair after finally leaving permanent hair dye in my past. I LOVE this brand and will never ever go back to anything else. My hair is about 80% - not gray- *silver* (ugh) and this product has 100% coverage. (Leave on for one hour before rinsing)”
4. The Best At-Home Hair Color For Brunettes
Application time: 30 minutes
The vibrant brown shades of these Schwarzkopf dyes are a favorite of reviewers, who swear their hair looks healthier after coloring. The dye comes with a pre-color serum to protect hair cuticles and a conditioner that coats hair strands, locking in moisture and that beautiful, brunette shade. The line of dyes also has great gray coverage.
Fans say: “I must say that this is the best hair color I have ever used. My hair is soft and shiny, and all my grey is covered. My hair is a beautiful rich brown, better than I hoped for! I read a lot of reviews prior to purchasing this product and decided, as suggested, to go with a lighter shade. The color I wanted was a medium to dark brown, so I chose Cashmere Brown which is more of a light to medium brown. The color went on very easily, with no drips, no odor and no stinging. I put the color on the roots and the healthy new growth first and left on for 20 minutes, after that I covered the rest of my hair and left on another 20 minutes. It rinsed out effortlessly. I used the conditioner and left on longer than suggested. The results were perfect!! Exactly what I wanted.”
5. The Best Hair Dye For Black Hair
Application time: 25-30 minutes
The six black shades available in this Garnier line will leave hair shiny and full of depth. Conditioning plant oils, like avocado and shea, keep damage in check during and after coloring. The price is incredible, as is the 2,300 nearly rave reviews. Plus, there's a selection of 45 shades, making this an even more exceptional pick for any hair color. The dyes are also a hit with customers looking for gray coverage.
Fans say: “Love this color, stays longer than other blacks, plus makes your hair look really shiny after drying your hair and adding your oils. This is my fourth time using this, love it.”
6. Best For Blondes
Application time: 25 minutes
Good Housekeeping found these dyes to be the best for blondes because they are exceptionally good at helping cover grays. Several of the more than 270 Amazon reviewers share a similar sentiment: "[The] color was true to what I wanted," raves one. "I turned blonde instead of gray years ago and this color is comparable to the color used by my beautician previously." The three-dimensional hues add highlights and depth to hair that reviewers love. There are more than 20 shades of blonde to choose from, but if your hair is prone to pick up yellow and gold, stick with colors that have “cool” or “ash” in their names.
Fans say: “I love [Cool Summer Blonde]! I usually go to the salon, but after using this I'll never pay for highlights again. I've got three different shades of blonde out of 1 box. Very subtle and natural looking - love it. Very happy with the results.”
7. Best For Redheads
Application time: 20-25 minutes
Of all the hair colors, red shades are the quickest to fade, according to Garnier's hair color tips blog. The auburn dyes in this line by Revlon, however, get high marks for their vibrancy. The hair color is enriched with UV defense to keep strands from getting bleached by the sun and help them hold on to color for longer. It’s also one of the few permanent formulas that’s ammonia-free.
Fans say: “For someone who has been dying their hair every month for the past four years, I've learned a thing or two about hair dye, and this brand is by far my favorite. Not only is it less damaging to your hair (and wallet) than other dyes, but they have the best selection of reds! I receive a lot of compliments on how natural and pretty the color is whenever I use the Bright Auburn or Light Auburn shades, and find that even the faded color is quite pretty. Like all red hair dye, it tends to fade quickly, but I've found that with proper care the color can stay pretty vibrant up to about two weeks, holding the reddish tones for three or four. I'd recommend this brand for anyone considering going a ginger tone or anyone who doesn't want to fry the hell out of their hair with other boxed dyes. Overall, perfect hair dye at the perfect price.”
8. A Color-Depositing Conditioner That Comes in 15 Vibrant Shades
Longevity: Washes out after approximately 10-15 shampoos
Application time: 3-20 minutes
You can use this conditioning wash on wet or dry hair to soften strands and deposit temporary color. Even better? there are so many unique shades to choose from — think teal, purple, rose gold, and hot pink. The longer you leave it in, the more vibrant the resulting hue. If you want to maintain the color, keep alternating with your regular conditioner until you're ready to try something new. Many of the colors will work on darker hair, as well. If your hair doesn’t take color easily, definitely use it on dry hair and leave it in for the maximum 20 minutes.
Fans say: “Love love love!!! This worked surprisingly well for maintaining the purple in my hair! I recommended it to several friends for other colors (purple, pink, and blue) and they all loved! Price is fair for quality of product; it does as they say-maintains, moisturizes, and smells great! Will absolutely buy again when I color next summer!”
9. Henna Powder For An All-Natural Alternative To Traditional Hair Dyes
Application time: 2-3 hours
What makes this henna dye special is the wide range of colors it offers. Pure henna will turn most hair an orange-red, but these dyes combine henna with other natural dyes, like indigo and false daisy, for a range of 11 shades of browns and reds. The dyes are all also free of ammonia, parabens, metallic salts, preservatives, and peroxides, They’re also free of PPD, which can be a major cause of allergic reactions with box dyes. The application process is more involved than most at-home hair dying kits— the manufacturer recommends new users follow a two-step process, which involves letting the mixture develop over the span of a few hours — but it’s a much safer alternative.
Fans say: “This stuff is fantastic. I'm turning 40 and I have some grays coming in. I am looking forward to my all white hair, but until then I gotta cover up this salt and pepper. This stuff is perfect. With box dyes, I've had the WORST reactions [...] I tried this 3 months ago and I'm so excited to do my second treatment...I absolutely love this product.”
Also Consider: This Set Of Hair Coloring Tools
A great set of hair dying tools, like this one, can make at-home coloring easier and give you better results. This reusable set of tools is only $7 and comes with three different tint brushes, clips, and a bowl for mixing your dye. With a 4.6-star rating, it’s a favorite among budding home colorists.
Fans say: “Perfect for at home hair coloring. The clips are larger than expected, and hold hair nice [and] firm on top of my head. The bowl [is] a nice size and has a little rubber lining on the bottom which keeps it from sliding around when your dipping your brush back in it. The variety of brush sizes is perfect and the comb is nice for parting and detangling.”
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Makenna Smith, professional hairstylist in Raleigh, North Carolina