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The best hair dyes: Expert tips and 22 at-home hair colors to try

Stylists love these budget-friendly brands!
Kara Birnbaum / TODAY
/ Source: TODAY

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 hair 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 top 22 at-home hair dyes and top hair-dying tips from our experts.

How can you make at-home hair color last? | Tips for buying hair color | Is at-home hair color safe to use on all hair types? | Stylist-approved at-home hair dyes | Best root touch-up products | Other bestsellers to consider | FAQs | 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 said.

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," Mazzei explained.

Is at-home hair color safe to use on all hair types?

According to Mazzei, dyeing your hair at home is generally safe but "is not going to take into account the nuances of your particular hair, including porosity, hydration, type, etc."

One thing he notes is how easy is to dye your hair darker at home. However, if you're planning to go lighter or add highlights, Mazzei suggests booking a professional colorist.

"If you're going to cover your gray hair or stick in between two shades of your natural color at-home care is generally safe to use" added Bobby Tenanty, hair colorist at The Marie Robinson Salon.

For colorist and hairstylist Tatiana Dudely, the best way to dye your hair is with a licensed professional. "There are many factors to consider when deciding to color your hair, such as hair types, hair condition, where your hair color is starting from versus where your desired hair color is, and much more."

Best at-home hair dyes, according to stylists

Garnier Olia Permanent Hair Color

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."

L'Oréal Paris Excellence Creme Hair Color

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, adding, "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."

Clairol Natural Instincts Semi-Permanent Hair Color

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.

Wella Color Charm Liquid Hair Color

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," Potempa 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."

Best root touch-up products, according to stylists

Clairol Nice 'n Easy Root Touch-Up

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.

Rita Hazan Root Concealer Touch-Up Spray

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.

Oribe Airbrush Root Touch-Up Spray

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

Style Edit Root 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 sweat-resistant and waterproof. The pen also works great on thin hair, especially if you have a receding hairline that needs extra coverage.

Arctic Fox Semi-Permanent Hair Color

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 58,000-plus verified five-star ratings from Amazon reviewers who can't get enough.

Style Edit Root Concealer Touch Up Spray

With thousands of Amazon five-star reviews, 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.

Manic Panic Semi-Permanent Cream Hair Color

If you're tired of your color fading away, give this product a try. The 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 customers gave this product a five-star rating on AMazon for its uncomplicated formula and color-pigmented dyes.

"Manic Panic makes my hair feel smooth and the color stays at least a month or two depending on the color," said one shopper.

Schwarzkopf Simply Color Permanent Hair Color

With a strong over-four-stars average from more 5,700 Amazon reviewers 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.

Celeb Luxury Intense Color Depositing Colorwash Shampoo

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.

IGK Permanent Color Kit

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.

Revlon Colorsilk Beautiful Color

There's a good reason this ammonia-free permanent hair dye from Revlon has a five-star average from nearly 30,000 verified Amazon shoppers. It's a steal at under $10, and one reviewer says they have been using this hair dye for 10 years, preferring it to pricier brands.

According to Revlon, the formula delivers 100 percent gray coverage and has keratin and silk amino acids that condition your hair for silky, shiny results.

Dark and Lovely Fade Resist

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 percent gray coverage and will last for up to eight weeks.

Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Color Creme

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.

Madison Reed Radiant Hair Color Kit

Are you a novice when it comes to at-home hair care? Madison Reed will walk you through a questionnaire to help you choose the best dye to suit your needs no matter your hair texture, type or color. Whether you need to cover up grays or go for all-over color, this kit is a popular pick.

Revlon Total Color Permanent Hair Color

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.

L'Oreal Paris Superior Preference Permanent Hair Color

For eight weeks of color and 100 percent 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.

L’Oreal Paris Le Color Gloss

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.

Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel

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 comes also comes in four different colors, and the package brings a small applicator brush for root application.

Questions about hair dyes, answered by experts

What tips do you recommend for applying hair color at home?

If you decide to apply hair dye at home, Tenanty recommends using the applicator brush or getting a smaller brush, but she advises, "If you do it at home be careful not to overlap. I suggest you do it around your hairline where gray is more noticeable, or around your part." Furthermore, you want to choose one shade lighter when you buy at-home hair dye, she adds.

What hair dye is the best for dark hair?

"Dark hair tends to have an abundance of eumelanin, which is a type of melanin that gives hair its black and dark brown tone," says Dudley.

"Underneath those tones are lots of red, orange and yellow known as underlying pigment. When hair starts off dark and wants to go lighter, the hair is taken through a very strenuous process. The further away from the dark and the lighter the hair gets, the more the health of the hair is compromised. That’s why I absolutely love seeing coppers, reds and rich mahogany tones on dark hair. They don’t stray too far from their natural dark tone, and these tones are perfect for the fall season we are in," explains Dudley.

Usually, hair salons formulate their own colors and mix different tones. Over-the-counter hair dyes feature a color-numbering system (i.e., 10 being the darkest and 1 being the lightest). When it comes to choosing the right shade, Tenanty recommends choosing a shade or two lighter than your natural color.

What hair dye is healthiest for the hair?

Dudley recommends hair dye with pro-arginine as one of the ingredients. It's a type of amino acid that is found naturally throughout the existing structure of the hair and is used as an "alkalizer," according to the colorist. "Once the Pro-Arginine has completed its alkalizing duties and recognizes itself within the hair fiber, it goes into repair mode," she explains.

What is the best color for curly and dry hair?

Curly and dry hair have different textures, which require more care. Dudley recommends a low-ammonia or ammonia-free hair color to avoid scalp irritation and dryness. "Curly hair is actually finer and more fragile than most realize, especially if the hair is curly and dry. The chemistry of hair color has its limits as to how gentle it can be and [still] be effective at coloring the hair," she says.

What is the best hair color for gray hair?

"Permanent hair color is the best and go-to hair color to cover gray or white strands. It’s important to note that you want a color line that can give you 100 percent white hair coverage and not just gray coverage. White hair is completely void of pigment, while gray hair is a mix of pigmented hair as well as white hair," shares Dudley.

Meet our experts

  • Jamie Mazzei is a hairstylist and creative director of nuBest Salon and Spa. His work has been featured in high-end publications like Glamour, Good Housekeeping, Marie Claire and more.
  • Bobby Tenanty is an expert hair colorist at the Marie Robinson Salon with more than nine years of experience.
  • Tatiana Dudely is a hair care specialist and colorist with a focus on healthy hair care and coloring. She specializes also in braiding, relaxers, trims, treatments and more.