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Since we’re stuck at home in quarantine for the foreseeable future, it’s understandable if you’re missing your hair stylist extra hard these days — especially as the weeks pass and your grays start peeking through.
Fear not, though, because hiding your roots and getting gorgeous color in the comfort of your own home has never been easier. Thanks to the many great at-home hair dye products out there — most of which are easy to use and wallet-friendly — you can keep your strands looking fresh as you not-so-patiently wait for the green light to book face time with your stylist.
Whether you want to cover up gray hair (although we fully endorse embracing your grays!) or you want to go for a subtle shade switch-up, not all at-home dyes are created equal. We enlisted the help of Melissa Trujillo, a stylist at the Los Angeles-based Nine Zero One salon, for tips and tricks to get your dream color without leaving the house.
How to choose the best at-home hair color for you:
Whether you’re an at-home hair pro or a first-timer, you’ll want to stick to subtle changes — now is not the time to take your jet black hair to platinum blonde. “If you make a mistake at home, it will cost a lot more money and time in the salon to fix it than a normal appointment would,” explained Trujillo. And with most salons closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, you might be stuck wearing a hat for longer than you’d like.
Trujillo recommends consulting with your go-to pro before picking out a shade, but generally, you’ll want to stay within two shades (lighter or darker) of your current color. “If you are choosing a root color, I would recommend choosing one that is the closest to your natural color. If you are in between colors, you can buy two colors and mix them half and half,” Trujillo told Woman’s World.
Generally, you’ll want to keep it simple — skip toners, glosses, and highlights, and avoid henna dye, which contains metallic salts that sit on the shaft of the hair and are much harder to remove should you decide you don’t love your new look.
Definitely stock up on more dye than you think you need, no matter the length or thickness of your hair. Running out of dye mid-processing is not ideal, so splurge on multiple boxes that you can return or save for later if you don’t use them.
How to apply at-home hair color:
Once you’ve chosen your color, you’ll want to make sure you’ve got everything you need at your disposal to prevent any messes. Be sure to wear an old shirt — preferably a button-down for easy changing — while also tossing an old towel around your neck before you begin.
Lay other old towels, garbage bags, or newspaper layers around your work area, and have an extra pair of gloves on hand to protect your hands. “To avoid staining your skin, apply Vaseline, or some form of cream or lotion to your skin around your hairline to act as a protective barrier,” added Trujillo. Even clear lip balm works in a pinch!
Place two mirrors at the front and back of your head for a complete view, and don’t skip the strand test. Test your dye on a few hidden hairs first, letting it fully process before you commit to an all-over color change.
Then, it’s go time: “To apply at-home color, make sure your hair is properly combed through and apply root color with a bowl and tint brush,” said Trujillo. This will offer a more precise application. She recommends beginning at the hairline and roots, since they require the most color and processing time.
“If applying an all-over color, apply on damp hair, working in sections to make sure all the hair is fully saturated. Comb through” to ensure full coverage. And follow the listed instructions or those given by your stylist to avoid over-processing, which isn’t safe for the health of your hair. Leaving it on too long can damage your strands or alter the color you’re after, so patience is a virtue here.
Lastly, wear a shower cap to keep dye from dripping while it processes, and voilà! Ready to switch things up? Keep scrolling to see Woman’s World’s picks for the best at-home hair color.
See more of our best product recommendations.
Best Strengthening At-Home Hair Color
Schwarzkopf Keratin Color Permanent Hair Color Cream
Where to buy: From $9.97, Walmart
Color processing can take the life out of your locks, leading to hair that feels (and looks!) dry, damaged, or downright fried. This permanent hair color contains keratin, a protein that helps strengthen your hair's protective cuticle, preventing breakage and split ends.
It delivers full coverage for grays and has a low-odor coloring experience, thanks to the brand’s Ammonia Control Technology. And with 18 vibrant shades, you’re sure to find the perfect pick for your desired color without sacrificing your hair’s health — what more could you ask for?
Best At-Home Hair Color for Sensitive Scalps
Madison Reed Radiant Hair Color Kit
Where to buy: $26.50, Ulta
Desperate Housewives star Terri Hatcher is covering her grays at home using this kit, and you’ll want to, too, when you hear the all-star list of ingredients it features: keratin, argan oil, and ginseng root will nourish, soften, and strengthen your strands.
Even better than what ingredients it has is what it doesn’t: the “6-free” formula is free of potentially irritating additives like ammonia, resorcinol, parabens, phthalates, gluten, and PPD, so you’ll feel good about using it. Plus, Madison Reed products are certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny, a group of animal rights coalitions that created an internationally recognized standard for identifying animal-friendly products.
Best At-Home Color to Nourish Dry Strands
Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Hair Color Creme
Where to buy: $6.97, Walmart
Whether your hair is feeling like straw due to harsh winter weather or changing hormone levels due to menopause, which can lead to a lackluster texture or dryness, you’ll want a dye that will help bring strands back to life. This at-home color is packed with avocado, olive, and shea oils to protect your hair and leave it feeling softer than it was before. It even comes with a separate ampoule for an added boost of grapeseed oil, giving extra moisture from root to tip.
Best At-Home Color for Covering Grays
Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel
Where to buy: $35, Dermstore
Grays are an unavoidable part of getting older, but that doesn’t mean you have to live with ‘em. This gel hair dye comes in four shades and is super easy to apply with the nozzle that comes included. Simply apply and let it sit on your strands for 30 minutes, then rinse it out. It works effortlessly to cover grays by blending into your base color, and it’ll also soften strands while it works, thanks to the inula flower extract, which also stimulates keratin production to keep each strand strong. Oat flakes provide protective and antioxidant properties for the scalp and skin.
Best At-Home Color for Textured Hair
Clairol Textures and Tones
Where to buy: From $5.95, Amazon
Protecting your hair’s natural texture is of utmost importance, and this three-step process helps hydrate your hair as you go, thanks to an ammonia-free formula that features jojoba oil and five botanical extracts, including jasmine, nutmeg, and aloe, for endless shine and softness. As an added bonus: it’s safe for use on natural or relaxed hair.
One recent buyer raved about her purchase, writing, “If you are looking for changing your hair color without damage and bleach, this IS the product for you. Because it doesn’t have bleach, it takes a little more product to see more color, but I honestly love this product. The outcome of your hair obviously depends on who did the coloring and how, but it made it super easy for me to do it myself and it looks amazing! My hair is dark brown/ black, and the color turned out great! I got so many compliments.”
Best At-Home Color for Redheads
Revlon ColorSilk Beautiful Permanent Hair Color
Where to buy: $2.69, Target
Red is one of the trickiest colors to maintain, even under the guidance of your go-to hair guru. That’s because red hair color molecules are larger and heavier than other colors, so dye has a more difficult time penetrating the shaft, which means your vibrant red is subject to fading fast with each subsequent wash.
This ammonia-free formula deposits pigments evenly while protecting your hair from UV rays that can accelerate the fading process. Nourishing silk proteins and keratin leave hair feeling soft and smooth, so it’s a top choice to keep your red hair looking bold and beautiful.
Best At-Home Color for Brunettes
Clairol Nice ’N Easy Permanent Hair Color
Where to buy: $6.99, Target
This cream formula comes in a slew of colors, but we’re partial to this one for its rich, multidimensional brunette shades that will provide a perfect mix of tones and highlights that will give you that youthful, natural hue you’re after.
With more than 30,000 reviews online (!), the rave reviews don’t lie. As one recent happy customer wrote, “First time ever using a store bought hair color while my salon is closed due to COVID-19. I purchased the 9N, light blond, left it on for an extra ten minutes, then ran it through my ends for 5 minutes. The color is spot on with my salon color and looks beautiful. I will definitely buy again and may think about continuing to do this on my own from now on and save the money at the salon! The conditioner is fantastic also and left my hair very soft.”
Best At-Home Color for Blondes
John Frieda Precision Foam Color
Where to buy: $11.92, Walmart
Blondes may or may not have more fun, depending on who you ask, but one thing is for sure — they’re notoriously tricky to nail down when it comes to at-home color. This foam, non-drip formula spreads easily to provide even coverage, saturating strands without streakiness or brassiness.
Plus, it comes with a post-color conditioner for extra hydration, sealing in your new buttery blonde for a flawless look that will turn heads without a trip to the salon.
Reviewers boast about ease of use and how natural the shades look once you’re done, with long-lasting color payoff being the ultimate bonus.
Best Overall At-Home Hair Color
Clairol Natural Instincts
Where to buy: $6.99, Target
A slew of shades mean the toughest part will be choosing one to try. This demi-permanent ammonia-free formula also has no added parabens, leaving you less likely to experience scalp irritation or dryness. Instead, coconut and aloe vera help soothe and protect strands, making this a gentle and effective way to cover grays and brighten up your color without spending a zillion bucks. It’s fade-resistant and lasts up to 28 washes, making it the perfect way to combat quarantine-induced color woes.
As one recent buyer put it: “I have never colored my hair at home - ever. With everything closed because of COVID-19, I was desperate. I went to Target and my husband helped with the color. I showed him what they do at the salon. I had a paint brush and a plastic container and he covered up all the roots and left the remaining highlights. It turned out great and the conditioner made it shine. Not sure why you don't shampoo afterwards — I am not a color expert, but hair looks really great.”