- Whether you want to go for a bold makeover, stay subtle, or just cover up your gray, L'Oréal Paris Excellence Créme Permanent Hair Color gives you at-home hair color that looks just as good as anything you'd get at the salon.
I've always been of the philosophy that it's good to have fun with your hair. After all, you can always cut it short, grow it out long, style it in a different way, or change the color if you don't like it or grow tired of it.
My hair has been long, short, straight, and curly over the years, along with everything in between. And when it comes to color, I've tried just about all of them: every shade of brown, reds from subtle auburn to fire engine bright, dark blonde, black, burgundy — you name it. Currently, my hair is its natural dark brown towards the back, but a bright blue reminiscent of Marge Simpson in the front.
I've been dyeing it since my teen years, which were more decades ago than I like to admit, and in those many years, I've learned a few things about at-home hair color, including the fact that while you don't have to spend a bundle, the super-cheapies can be rough on your hair, and if your hair is longer than your shoulders, you need two boxes to cover it thoroughly.
Other things to keep in mind when considering coloring your hair at home:
You can maintain your current color, go darker, or cover up gray with permanent hair color. What you cannot do is lighten your hair with hair color alone. To go lighter, you'll first need to bleach out the existing color in your hair.
The picture on the box is just a guideline — it's not the exact shade you'll get when using the product. Your actual results will vary based on your starting color, whether or not your hair is already chemically processed, how often you color your hair, and your technique when applying the dye.
Hair color is a messy business. While you can usually wipe away color from glazed porcelain surfaces, such as your sink bowl, forget about removing permanent hair color from paint, wallpaper, unglazed tile, carpet, or any other fabric surface. Wrapping an old towel around your shoulders before applying color helps greatly to reduce drips and drops on the floor.
If you're a hair-color virgin, you might be overwhelmed when you get your first look at the at-home dye section of your discount store, beauty supply shop, or even the supermarket. There are a lot of brands and product lines out there, all claiming to be the best.
That's why, in the name of beauty, we decided to assemble our list of the best at-home hair dyes currently available. And while we really like L'Oréal Paris Excellence Créme Permanent Hair Color, you should also check out the other hair products on our list, along with our reasons for choosing them.
Here are the best at-home hair color kits:
- Best overall: L'Oréal Paris Excellence Créme Permanent Hair Color
- Best semi-permanent hair color: Clairol Natural Instincts
- Best 10-minute application: Clairol Nice N' Easy Perfect 10 Hair Color
- Best for root touch-up: Clairol Nice 'n Easy Root Touch-Up Kit
- Best bright hair color: Punky Colour
- Best natural hair color: Herbatint
Prices and links are current as of 3/20/2020.
The best overall
L'Oréal Paris Excellence Créme Permanent Hair Color provides natural-looking coverage that's easy to apply. It's also really affordable and easily found in many drugstores.
For several years now, L'Oréal Paris Excellence Créme Permanent Hair Color has been my go-to product when I want natural-looking hair color. There are several things I love about this permanent at-home dye.
It's available in a wide range of shades from very natural to a little bit out there, it includes not just a single-tip applicator but also comes with a comb applicator that makes it a breeze to color the hair fringing my face, it doesn't run or drip, it does a great job of covering my gray, and it doesn't smell too bad. The kit also includes a pre-color moisturizer that helps the color absorb evenly from roots to ends.
TotalBeauty shares my love of Excellence Hair Cream, writing that it provides "long-lasting, silky coverage" that doesn't damage hair and covers grays completely. And with 30 shades to choose from, you're sure to find just the right color for your own hair.
Pros: Comb-tip applicator, pre-color moisturizer, excellent selection of colors, reasonable price, not too thin or runny
Cons: Like most at-home colors, results can be darker than anticipated$6.63 from Walmart $5.20 from Amazon
The best semi-permanent hair color
If you don't want to commit to permanent hair color, but just want to add a temporary dose of color, you can't go wrong with Clairol Natural Instincts.
Semi-permanent hair color contains no ammonia, so it doesn't open your hair shaft the way permanent color does. This means that semi-permanent hair color only coats the outside of each hair shaft instead of penetrating it. As a general rule, semi-permanent hair color lasts for a month or so, washing away a little bit with each shampoo.
If you'd like to try out a change of hair color temporarily, want a natural-looking hair color that goes easy on your locks, or just want to add a bit of richness and shine to your hair, Clairol Natural Instincts is the product to reach for. Although it won't cover gray as well as permanent hair color, it does a fine job if you only have a little bit of gray.
Good Housekeeping chose this as a top pick, writing, "We found the at-home dye offered even coverage, left hair shiny, and was fade-resistant when used to just cover up a bit of gray."
There are nearly 30 natural-looking colors to choose from.
Pros: No ammonia, so the product is easier on your hair and scalp than permanent color; natural-looking colors that do a fairly good job of covering gray hair
Cons: As with all semi-permanent hair dye, the color fades and washes out within a few weeks$7.99 from Ulta $6.92 from Walmart
The best 10-minute application
If you're in a rush, you can cover up gray hair or improve on your own color in just 10 minutes with Clairol Nice N' Easy Perfect 10 Hair Color.
This is another favorite hair dye of mine. I've used Clairol Nice N' Easy Perfect 10 Hair Color many times over the years, and sampled most of the brown and auburn shades the line offers. It cuts down the tedious waiting period from the typical 25-30 minutes of most permanent hair colors to a mere 10 minutes, but it still offers natural, shiny coverage.
On the downside, some the product smells strong, but since it'll only be in your hair for 10 minutes, it shouldn't be too difficult to get through it. The color selection isn't as good as some other lines. There are only 14 shades, most of which are in the brown family.
Pros: Takes less than half the time of regular hair colors
Cons: Strong odor, relatively small selection of colors$13.49 from Ulta $19.98 from Walmart $17.51 from Amazon
The best for root touch-ups
You can stretch out your salon color or at-home dye job with Clairol's Nice 'n Easy Root Touch-Up Kit.
Yet another must-have hair product in my ample collection of such things, I love the convenience of Clairol Nice 'n Easy Root Touch-Up Kit. Basically just a miniature container of hair color, it comes with a small brush that makes it simple to apply the color to hair along the part and around the forehead.
Another plus of the product is that it only takes 10 minutes to work its magic, leaving gray hair completely colored and matched to the rest of your hair. The smell is rather pleasant by hair color standards, as well.
With more than 20 shades available, you can match just about any hair color perfectly.
Pros: Quick cover-up for gray hair along the part and temples, many shades to choose from
Cons: This is a small container, so you'll only be able to cover up the most obvious areas of gray. Expensive, considering the small amount of product
$7.99 from Ulta $6.99 from Target
The best bright hair color
If your goal is a totally unnatural hair color such as blue, green, or pink, Punky Colour offers a great selection of shades.
Whether you want a rainbow of colors on your head, or just a few highlights of hot pink, bright blue, or even bright yellow, Punky Colour is there for you. A caveat, however: all bright-and-crazy hair dyes are semi-permanent at best, so if you want the longest-lasting unnatural hair color, you'll need to visit a salon. Professionals have access to longer-lasting, deeper-penetrating products.
Still, for at-home use, Punky Colour does a great job, and lasts for a couple of weeks, depending on how often you wash your hair. It also must be noted that if your hair is dark, you'll need to bleach away the color before applying Punky Colour, otherwise it won't show up. This is true of all of the "unnatural" hair colors.
Fashionista also really likes Punky Colour, praising its relatively good staying power. They do comment that the containers are small, however, so if your hair is much past your shoulders, and you plan on coloring all of your hair, you'll need at least two jars.
There are 12 colors to choose from, including cotton candy, purple, green, and yellow.
Pros: Fun, bright colors and no harsh odor or chemicals
Cons: Color washes away fairly quickly, which may actually be a plus if you only want to play with unnatural color for a special occasion or short time. You'll need to buy an application brush and gloves separately.$9.99 from Ulta $8.00 from Punky Colour
The best natural hair color
Herbatint is a lot more natural than most of the big names in the beauty aisle and its formula includes walnut shells, rhubarb, and other herbal sources.
If you want to color your hair, it's almost impossible to avoid all synthetic or strong ingredients, but Herbatint lets you come a lot closer to your goal.
This permanent hair color covers gray very well and leaves your hair healthy and shiny. It includes moisturizing aloe vera, along with colors derived from walnut shells, rhubarb, and other herbal sources.
Bustle chose this as a "Vegan Hair Dye That Actually Works," writing, "Lots of semi-permanent vegan hair dyes are great for delivering a hint of pretty color, but aren't as effective in coloring grey hair. This permanent hair dye provides vibrant color without ammonia, parabens, and alcohol and gets rid of greys in a flash."
On the downside, Herbatint isn't as fast as most at-home hair colors. After mixing and applying the color, you'll need to wait at least 40 minutes before rinsing it out. Still, that wait may well be worth it if you want to avoid the chemicals commonly found in hair dyes.
There are 30 colors to choose from ranging from light blonde to black.
Pros: No ammonia or parabens, pigments derived from natural ingredients
Cons: Takes longer than most other hair colors$15.00 from Walmart $11.99 from Amazon
Check out our other haircare buying guides
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