At-Home Hair-Color Kits to Use for Your DIY Dye Job

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

I'm not ashamed to admit that I've taken that slow loop around the boxed dyes section in the drugstore, spending way too much time fantasizing about our next dream shade. Hair-care brands have made it relatively easy for you to switch up your color at home, whether you're working with vivid rainbow hues or shades of blonde and brunette. Still, there a few things to know before diving hair first into the world of DIY hair dye. The first rule of thumb — and a solid piece of advice to live by — is that looks can be deceiving. It may seem like your dream shade is staring right at you, but our best bet is to turn the package around and see how the formula will actually look on your hair type, explains hairstylist Andrew Fitzsimons, who the Kardashian-Jenner family has on speed dial.

"Be sure to thoroughly consult the chart on the side or the back, which gives a better indication of where your hair color will end up, based on your beginning hue," says Fitzsimons. Dana Ionato, a colorist at Sally Hershberger's Downtown salon in New York City, agrees: "The color always ends up lighter than the model's hair on the packaging [because] the developer in at-home permanent dyes is very strong — stronger than the ones we use in the salon — so it lifts the color and makes it lighter than what you see on the box."

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Even if you do consult the back of the box for guidance, it can still be tricky to figure out your perfect shade. According to Ionato, for at-home permanent dyes, your best bet is choosing a color that's a touch darker than what you're going for because of the strong developer. And for semi-permanent dyes, it's the opposite. "Semi-permanent formulas don't have a developer, meaning they get darker and darker the longer you leave them in your hair, so it's safer to choose a color that's a bit lighter from the get-go," she explains.

According to Fitzsimons, conditioning is also a crucial step you don't want to miss. "Doing a deep conditioner at the end of the dyeing process seals the cuticle so your strands stop absorbing the color," he says. "If you skip conditioning, you'll end up darker than you expected."

Madison Reed Light Works At-Home Highlighting Kit

Madison Reed's Light Works At-Home Highlighting Kit helps you achieve the balayage of your dreams in the comfort (and convenience) of your own bathroom. The set comes with a patent-pending, wishbone-shaped applicator that deposits a lightening cream with a bleaching agent along each section of hair to distribute a perfectly-spaced balayage effect. It also comes with a toner, which is standard in the salon highlighting process, but rare in-home kits. These, plus an innovative post-treatment mask that's included in the box, are the reasons we gave it a 2018 Best of Beauty Breakthrough Award, honoring it as one of the best launches of the year.

Manic Panic Semi-Permanent Hair Color Cream

Go all Katy Perry and dye your entire head blue or try a carefully-placed streak of purple or maybe even soft pink tips. It's your world. Manic Panic's Semi- Permanent Hair Color Cream dyes are classic and still carry some of the boldest shades like Purple Haze, Green Envy, and Electric Banana. Brush them on your lightest section to avoid ruddiness. And commitment-phobes rejoice: The color rinses out in four to six weeks.

Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Color Crème

For strong and hydrated hair

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"I like Garnier, especially for blondes. They have options ranging from ashy (for cooler tones) to more golden if you want a warmer look," explains Fitzsimons. Made with a blend of avocado, shea, and coconut oils, Garnier Nutrisse Color Crème is available in 45 shades, so there's something for everyone.

Arctic Fox Bleach, Please Complete Hair Lightening Kit

Arctic Fox's Bleach, Please kit comes with everything you need to lighten your hair in preparation for pastel colors like cotton candy pink, lilac, or platinum. You get a vegetable-based cream bleach made without beeswax, a mango and cocoa seed butter-infused developer, and a pair of latex-free gloves. What's more: The bleach has a violet base to help cool down yellow tones, just like a toner or purple shampoo would.

Kristin Ess Rose Gold Temporary Tint

If you want pink hair without the long-term commitment, then consider trying Kristin Ess's Rose Gold Temporary Tint. The Best of Beauty winner is an innovative, in-shower hair-color product that creates a temporary pink hue that lasts for up to three shampoos, depending on your hair type and color. In regards to the latter, it's worth noting that the tint will show up brighter on lighter strands. Simply spritz a liberal amount on wet hair after shampooing and conditioning, do a little dance for one or two minutes, and then rinse. You can't beat the price — or the results.

eSalon Made for You Custom Hair Color

Take the guessing out of coloring your hair. eSalon's Made for You Custom Hair Color is a service that allows you to get a color kit made just for you. After answering a set of questions about your hair texture, skin tone, amount of grays, and so forth, one of their colorists whips up a bespoke batch of permanent or semipermanent dye, delivered right to your door.

Revlon Total Color Hair Color

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Revlon's Total Color Hair Color is its new vegan cream formula made without ammonia, sulfates, silicones, and phthalates. Infused with a conditioning blend of hemp and camellia oils, it's gentler on both the hair and scalp than some of its competitors — plus, it offers long-lasting permanent color that won't fade on you after just a few washes.

Overtone Chocolate Brown Complete System

Whether you want to go chocolate brown, espresso, jet-black, or bright pink, Overtone has you covered with its handy color kits, which help you achieve your desired hue and maintain it, too. The Coloring Conditioner works with your hair's porosity to gently deposit semi-permanent color while deeply moisturizing with coconut oil. Apply the conditioner of your choice to clean, dry hair and let it sit for 10 to 15 minutes before rinsing thoroughly. Then use the Daily Conditioner every time you wash your hair afterward to keep the color looking fresh and vibrant.

Clairol Root Touch-Up Permanent Crème

The Clairol Root Touch-Up Permanent Crème makes it easy to cover your grays (if you want to) or dye your roots. The kit comes with a fail-proof applicator brush that allows you to apply the color in a few easy strokes. Watch your hair transform in 10 minutes, with one application lasting up to three weeks.

Splat Natural Semi-Permanent Hair Dye

Splat Natural's Semi-Permanent Hair Dye features hyperpigmented colors that are fun and kind to Mother Nature. They come in sustainable packages that use 90 percent less packaging than other box brands. It is also the first 95 percent natural bold color line on the market, which means you can switch it up on the regs and feel good about it.

Rusk Deepshine Direct Ready-to-Use Cream Color

Volume and structure for your hair

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Fitzsimons loves Rusk's Deepshine Direct Ready-to-Use Cream Color for anyone looking to try a vibrant shade. "This is a great at-home option because it comes ready to use," he says. "You don't have to worry about dealing with a developer and mixing everything properly."

Vidal Sassoon Pro Series Ultra Vibrant Permanent Hair Color

For brunettes, Fitzsimons loves Vidal Sassoon's Pro Series Permanent Hair Color. "These take a little longer to use, but the end result is much richer than other options on the market," he tells ishonest. The kit promises up to eight weeks of color that looks like you just twirled out of the salon.

L'Oréal Paris Superior Preference Fade-Defying Color & Shine System

Butterfly Studio Salon founder and stylist Kattia Solano recommends L'Oréal Paris's Superior Preference line. She favors it for its "state-of-the-art technology" and because the dye performs well on different hair types. "I suggest keeping it as simple as possible," she says of selecting your color kit. She recommends semi-permanent shades and using a kit to cover grays.

"Try to keep color within one to two shades of your natural color so that you don't turn your hair orange," she tells ishonest. If you're going darker, go about three shades darker. If you have dark hair, never try to go lighter at home — instead seek out a professional."

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When we tried the kit for ourselves, the extended applicator tip reached even our most stubborn roots, and the glossy brown color lasted for weeks without fading. But surprisingly, our favorite part of the kit was the multi-use conditioner. It made our strands so glossy and sleek, we want another kit just to get the conditioner again.

Clairol Natural Instincts Ammonia-Free Hair Color

Knowing some of the nuances of how dye behaves is key when applying color on your own. Hairstylist Kendall Dorsey reminds ishonest of "hot roots," which is a term for when the heat from your head accelerates the dye developing time, resulting in two-toned roots. To avoid this, apply color to the roots halfway through your processing time. He also recommends doing a patch test before dyeing your full head, and to make sure you've bought enough color.

"If your hair is any longer than your shoulders or super thick, you might want to consider buying two or even three boxes of color," he says. "There's nothing worse than getting halfway through and realizing you won't have enough to finish." Dorsey is partial to Clairol's Natural Instincts Ammonia-Free Hair Color, which the brand reformulated to make it ammonia-free and last for up to 28 washes.

John Frieda Precision Foam Colour

"Anyone who's applied hair color knows that dripping is an annoying part of the application process," says hairstylist Damian Monzillo about the advantages of foam application. When you use John Freida's Precision Foam Color, you're left with a "clean bathroom and hairline," he says. To ensure no one knows you've just dyed your hair, Monzillo recommends using a little bit of Vaseline on and around your hairline skin to prevent any color lines from sticking around. Monzillo also advises dividing the hair into ½-inch sections when dyeing to allow the color to absorb better. This may seem like overkill, but the results are better when you take your time.

Activates the microcirculation of scalp and strengthens the hair follicles to stimulate hair growth

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Also, keep in mind that most box kits come with 20 volume developer, this means that it can lift hair "exactly one level lighter than where you currently are."

Colorist Rona O'Connor also loves the whipped texture of the dye. "The light consistency is easy to work through the hair, so the color stays even from roots to ends." After one application of Dark Chocolate Brown, we were left with pretty, rich brunette strands (and not a single drip on our walls).

Christophe Robin Temporary Gel

Apply the tinted Christophe Robin Temporary Color Gel straight from the bottle (no mixing required) and rinse it off in the shower. Once you're done, you'll find that your color is more vibrant — and your grays less apparent — through at least four shampoos.

Manic Panic Amplified Formula

If you want even more of a punch to your vivid hue, Amplified is Manic Panic 2.0. The range of funky colors (with names to match) lasts 30 percent longer than the brand’s High Voltage Classic color line, perfect if you want to keep your color around for more time. Bonus? It's also cruelty-free, vegan, and made without PPD or ammonia.

Garnier Nutrisse Ultra Coverage Nourishing Color Creme

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In roughly 25 minutes, you can get reflective color full of depth and dimension with Garnier's Nutrisse Ultra Coverage Nourishing Color Creme, which won a 2018 Best of Beauty Award for best permanent color. Icing on the cake: This full- coverage dye comes with a small vial of grape seed fruit oil to help protect your hair while it's processing.

Color Wow Root Cover Up

Color Wow's Root Cover Up, a 2018 Best of Beauty Award winner for best root coverage, is a mainstay on the desk and bathroom counter of ishonest executive beauty director Jenny Bailly because it covers grays in a pinch. The pressed powder comes in eight shades (from platinum to black), is free of waxes and dyes, and has the texture and finish of real hair. And because it contains fancy double-ended zinc particles that attach the pigments to each strand of hair like microscopic magnets, this powder won't budge, even through a downpour or a swim.

L'Oréal Paris Féria Wild Ombre

Going to a salon for ombré hair color is ideal, but not always possible. L'Oréal Paris's Féria Wild Ombre lets you customize your grown-out highlights by brushing on color a few shades lighter than your base shade. For a dramatic effect, paint the color on your strands from chin length to tips. You can also keep things subtle by holding the brush vertically and sweeping it over small, staggered sections, focusing on the ends, suggests colorist Christophe Robin, global color designer for L'Oréal Paris.

Garnier Olia Oil Powered Permanent Color

The oils in this Garnier's Olia Oil Powered Permanent Color formula aren't just for deep conditioning — they also help deposit color onto strands. In other words, your shade will last longer and look richer than it would with a typical at-home kit. We went balls-out and tested the most difficult of all hair colors to maintain: cherry red (060). And, yes, it lasted until our roots grew in four weeks later.

Clairol Nice 'n Easy Hair-Color Kit

Free your hair follicles

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Clairol barreled into 2018 with a new take on an old classic. The brand revamped the formula for its Best of Beauty Award-winning Nice 'n Easy hair dye using the ME+ molecule, which is supposed to diminish the risk of developing an allergic reaction to the dye, if you don't already have an existing allergy to it. Of course, even with the upgrade, you still get the same gorgeous at-home color that makes this a drugstore staple.

DpHue Root Touch-Up Kit

Executive beauty director Jenny Bailly used DpHue's Root Touch-Up Kit, a 2017 Best of Beauty Award winner, eight hours before a flight and found that her grays were seamlessly blended. "This one gave me full coverage and rich, shiny color that lasted until I could make it to my professional color appointment — a month later, before my next trip."

Revlon Colorsilk Buttercream

Perfect for those with damaged hair, Revlon's Colorsilk Buttercream prevents oversaturation of dye so color comes out evenly from roots to tips. Plus, the mango, coconut, and shea butters in the ammonia-free formula made our hair noticeably smoother and shinier.

John Frieda Luminous Glaze Clear Shine Gloss

Shining, shining, shining, shining, yeah. Bring your color back to life with John Frieda's Luminous Glaze Clear Shine Gloss — a seven-time Best of Beauty Award winner. This gel-cream miracle in a bottle also makes your hair super soft and shiny.

Manic Panic Pastel-izer

If you love those bold Manic Panic colors, but want to turn down the intensity a few notches, then the brand's Pastel-izer is what you need. It allows you to not only lighten your color, but to also make sure it doesn't fade out after a week.

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