A hair salon appointment is a commitment: You lose money, time — and even the comfort of your own home. Luckily, there are a plethora of at-home box dyes that line the shelves of drugstores so you can easily take matters into your own hands.
But if you typically shy away from maintaining your hair at home, we're here to help make it less of a daunting task. We spoke to professional hair colorists to get recommendations for the best box dyes and application tips so you can get the look you want at home without damaging your locks — or breaking your budget.
Whether you're looking for a fresh change or simply need a quick fix to cover up your roots or gray hairs, we've got you covered. Here are the best hair dyes and top hair-dying tips from our experts.
How to make at-home hair color last | Tips for buying hair color | Best overall at-home hair dyes | More stylist-approved picks | Expert-recommended root touch-ups | More bestsellers to consider | Meet our experts
How can you make at-home hair color last?
One of the best ways to maintain the color of your hair is by using a color-depositing shampoo and conditioner. According to Jamie Mazzei, hairstylist and creative director of nuBest Salon, these products slow down the fading process of the hair dye rather than prevent it.
"By using a color-depositing shampoo and color-depositing conditioner containing a semi-permanent direct dye, you can maintain your hair color and keep it free of fade until you need to color your roots again. Many customers even feel they can go longer between color applications by using a color-depositing shampoo and conditioner regularly," Mazzei says.
What to look for when shopping for the best at-home hair color
First, you want to consider if you want a permanent color in your hair or just change your 'do for the season. If you're trying to achieve the latter, Mazzei recommends opting for a semi-permanent dye instead of a permanent dye because the latter is much harsher on your strands.
"Before you shop, think about the color you want to dye your hair to help guide what color to pick at the store. It’s also a good idea to pick one color lighter than your ultimate goal. Most at-home hair dyes tend to look darker on real hair compared to the image on the front of the box," he explains.
Best overall at-home hair dyes
Best semi-permanent at-home hair dye:
Natural Instincts is a semi-permanent formula, which means it’s less of a commitment than permanent color, explained Fred Connors, owner of FRED salon in New York City. “It’s ammonia-free and infused with aloe and coconut oil, leaving hair softer and shinier than most permanent colors,” he says.
He also advises going lighter than the shade you want when using this product.
“Stay away from warmer tones as boxed dyes can pull more orange than you probably want. Stick to cool or neutral shades — they tend to deliver the best result,” he suggests.
Best root touch-up:
This Rita Hazan root touch-up spray is a favorite of celebrity hairstylist Irinel de León.
“It’s the ultimate secret weapon for covering any grays or sparse areas on the scalp or hairline,” she says. “It also doesn’t leave any residue on your pillow at night, and it’s good enough to use once and last you until your next wash as well.”
De León notes that using a root spray like this will not only cover up any incoming regrowth and grays, but it will also make your hair appear fuller in photos.
Best cover-up stick:
This instant tool will help cover your grays quickly if your favorite hair stylist is completely booked. The stick comes in four different shades and is both sweat-resistant and waterproof. The pen also works great on thin hair, especially if you have a receding hairline that needs extra coverage.
Best root touch-up spray:
With thousands of verified five-star reviews on Amazon, this root coverage will quickly conceal any gray matter above the scalp. The spray comes in eight beautiful shades, and its compact design adds a lustrous and natural shine to your roots.
“It adheres well, doesn’t smear, is precise and not messy to apply. I use it frequently (my hair grows rapidly) and continue to order,” shared one reviewer.
Best at-home hair dyes, according to stylists
This is a favorite of celebrity hairstylist and creator of the Beachwaver hot tool, Sarah Potempa.
“First and foremost, you need to know what level your natural hair color is considered. Hair color companies will have diagrams and charts that show which color and undertone each color provides,” she explains. “If you’re going for a drastic change, remember to go slow: one shade at a time. Depending on your hair and skin tone, you will have to do further research on what type of color will suit you.”
Joel Warren, master colorist and co-founder of Warren Tricomi Salons in New York City, loves this high-quality product because it delivers a salon-like finish.
“I like it because it’s an oil-based hair dye that leaves hair in amazing condition," Warren explains. "It's similar to the product we use at the salon and contains no ammonia, which is very important."
Jerami Brown, a colorist at Shin Salon in Los Angeles, likes this L'Oréal hair color line because "they have many options, clear instructions and the highest quality of ingredients."
Another expert colorist, Maisha Cogle, formerly of Butterfly Studio Salon in New York City, also recommends using the Excellence Creme for emergency gray coverage.
"It's easy to mix and use. It gives great coverage and results with rich tones, plus the additional benefit of conditioning," Cogle says.
Austin Medearis, another colorist at Butterfly, is also a big fan of L'Oreal and works with the brand's professional line in the salon. When applying color at home, Medearis suggests asking a friend for help to avoid missing any spots or putting too much color in one spot.
"Overlapping can cause color buildup and damage to the hair. Home color is extremely difficult to remove from the hair without causing significant damage," Medearis explains. "The developer in at-home colors can also be harsher than those used in the salon, as it is created to work on everyone and not formulated to your particular hair type."
Best root touch-up products, according to stylists
Celebrity hair colorist Rita Hazan tells us she likes this easy root touch-up kit, which is available in several different blond and brown shades. She recommends applying it along your hairline and sticking solely to the roots.
Another great tip: When selecting a color, Hazan says to go for a hue one to two shades lighter than what you think your hair color really is.
"At-home hair color tends to be a little darker than salon colors. Look for colors that sound natural like auburn, not cherry bomb," Hazan suggests.
Amber Maynard Bolt, a master celebrity hairstylist at Nine Zero One Salon, tells us that she loves Oribe's Gold Lust Repair & Restore Shampoo for colored hair — and the same brand also makes a root touch-up spray.
According to the brand, it's made with natural mineral colorants, rice starch to absorb oils and a UV absorber to protect strands from discoloration. The highly pigmented formula is designed to absorb dirt and oil and has a powder-like consistency for a quick dry-down. It comes in a range of colors including black, platinum white, light brown, dark brown and blonde.
Other bestsellers to consider
The Dark and Lovely brand is designed to provide the largest shade palette — 19 shades — for women of color. The conditioning treatment has shea, avocado and olive oils to provide nourishment and protect relaxed and natural hair while coloring. The brand says it provides 100% gray coverage and will last for up to eight weeks.
Production associate Audrey Ekman is a fan of this mask for its hydrating formula. "For a color refresh, which is essential every couple of weeks as a fake redhead, I love Moroccanoil’s color-depositing mask. It has all the hydrating benefits of their bestselling hair mask, plus it adds vibrancy to my color."
Like Dark and Lovely, this Garnier hair color has a blend of shea, avocado and olive oils. It also comes with a grapeseed fruit oil ampoule that you can pour directly into your mix. And for those who are scared about doing their own hair, multiple Amazon reviewers say it’s easy to use and apply. The Garnier website also has a hair color quiz that lets you virtually try on shades.
This temporary gel color is ideal if you want to extend your hair color appointment with your stylist. The formula offers a temporary color that washes out evenly after five to seven shampoos. This is a fast solution for those who need to cover their grays instantly. It also comes in four different colors, and the package brings a small applicator brush for root application.
For eight weeks of color and 100% gray coverage, L’Oreal’s Superior Preference line is another top-rated dye. It’s available in a variety of shades that deliver shine and deep color for just over $10. This bestseller sits among the top 10 hair colors on Amazon and has amassed over 12,000 verified five-star reviews.
Associate editor Shannon Garlin loves this and says, “I’ve always used L’Oreal Preference to refresh my brunette color, it never leaves my hair feeling dry and the conditioning treatment that it comes with is really moisturizing!”
With a perfect five-star rating from more than 8,000 verified shoppers and ringing in at less than $10, this hair dye is a crowd favorite. Shoppers rave about how well it works on sensitive skin and provides stellar color without any irritation from harsh ingredients.
If you’re tired of your color fading away, give this product a try. This semi-permanent cream is for the creative soul that likes to experiment. No need for squeezes or combing through. All you need to do is dip your hands into the jar and apply the color. The best part? You can mix and match any shade.
Over 13,000 verified shoppers gave this product a five-star rating on Amazon for its uncomplicated formula and color-pigmented dyes.
Give your hair a glossy finish with this semi-permanent hair that’s infused with high-conditioning coconut oil. The formula will provide a hassle-free experience with no gloves or mixtures required! The product is meant to add shine and depth in between colorings, according to the brand. Customers rave about this hair color because it also works as a conditioner and detangler.
From neon green to eye-catching pink, there is no shortage of bright and bold color options from Arctic Fox’s lineup of semi-permanent hair dyes. It has nearly 50,000 verified five-star ratings from Amazon reviewers who can’t get enough.
This hair color kit from IGK comes with everything you need before and after working on your new ‘do. It includes products like a color block barrier gel to keep dye from staining the skin around your hairline and ears, as well a stain-removing cleanser wipe to clear up any stained skin or work surfaces.
“This dye kit comes with everything you need to achieve salon-quality results at home, down to the gloves and stain remover,” shares production associate Audrey Ekman.
This clean and vegan formula provides long-lasting color but is still gentle on hair. It provides gray coverage that lasts up to six weeks and is made with shade-specific botanical ingredients that work to enhance the color of the dye to give you bolder results. Almost 200 (of 225!) verified Amazon reviewers gave this at-home dye a perfect five-star rating, with one reviewer, echoing others, noting that it doesn’t dry out your locks.
If you’re a novice to the dyeing process and aren’t sure you want to fully commit to a permanent color, this semi-permanent color-depositing shampoo is the perfect solution. Apply it to your hair and let it sit for a maximum of five minutes before rinsing out the excess. You can repeat the process until you achieve your desired color.
Ekman also loves this one because it works for in-between-dye sessions. This semi-permanent product is so deeply conditioning and boosts my color for silky soft, freshly colored strands. Their more sheer Glossy Glaze is also fabulous for a less intense touch-up.
Meet our experts
- Jamie Mazzei is a hairstylist and creative director of nuBest Salon and Spa.
- Fred Connors is the owner of FRED salon in New York City.
- Irinel de León is a Los Angeles-based celebrity hairstylist.
- Sarah Potempa is a celebrity hairstylist and the creator of the Beach Waver.
- Joel Warren is a master colorist and co-founder of Warren Tricomi Salons in New York City.
- Jerami Brown is a Santa Monica, California-based hairsylist and colorist.
- Maisha Cogle is an expert hair colorist.
- Austin Medearis is a master colorist at Butterfly Studio Salon in New York City.
- Rita Hazan is a celebrity hair colorist with her own namesake salon and line of products.
- Amber Maynard Bolt is a celebrity hairstylist and co-owner of AM Salon in West Hollywood.
- Bobby Tenanty is an expert hair colorist at the Marie Robinson Salon with more than nine years of experience.
- Tatiana Dudley is a hair care specialist and colorist with a focus on healthy hair care and coloring. She specializes also in braiding, relaxers, trims and treatments.