How to Color Your Dark Hair At Home (Without a Drop of Bleach)

Meet the Expert

  • Ashley Branda is a colorist at Two01 Salon in Hoboken, NJ.
  • Pepper Pastor is an Austin-based hairstylist and the lead artist for Kérastase.

Is it Safe to Dye Dark Hair at Home?

Both Branda and Pastor say yes, you can dye darker hair at home—though both colorists stress the importance of, when available, seeking a professional stylist for any color services.

If your colorist is unavailable or you're determined to DIY, Branda stresses the importance of utilizing quality products in your at-home color quest. “If you follow the instructions and do your research, I do believe it is safe,” she says, while also suggesting that one of the safest, error-proof products aside from dyes are root touch up sprays. “They are a great option for a change or grey coverage. It is temporary and will wash out after the first time but this is a product that most women should keep one or two shades in their hair arsenal.”

Can You Dye Your Hair Lighter at Home?

In short... no. If you’re a natural dark brunette and are itching to go blonde, you’re the best bet is to leave that to the professionals. Unfortunately, it's not as easy as grabbing a blonde dye box off the shelves (or on Amazon) and calling it a day. To go lighter, you’ll need dangerous chemicals like bleach or lighteners, which are best left for professional use only. Of those at-home kits that promise to turn your hair blonde, Branda says, “Would I suggest it? Absolutely not. There is a lot of science behind hair coloring, you can cause a ton of damage, have unwanted tones, and cause serious injury.”

The same is true of trying to get an ombré or balayage effect on brown or dark hair. Pastor says that while there are at-home box kits available, “I highly recommend leaving that to the pros. The application techniques take a skilled individual in addition to knowing the appropriate amount of time needed for your specific hair type and desired shade.” Not to mention that hair lightener reacts differently with colored hair, so there's no telling what your result will be if you've dyed your hair before.

Here Are Your Color Options For Dyeing Dark Hair:

But as for brunettes going darker or playing with different tones? You get the green light.

As far as what’s “safe” to pursue at home, Branda recommends darker hair colors can:

  • Change the tone of the hair (i.e. warm to cool)
  • Dye their hair darker
  • Dye their hair blue, purple, or deep green
  • Change their hair shade within the brown-to- black color family
  • Enrich or intensify their current hair color

Pastor echoes a similar sentiment, saying, “There are a variety of gorgeous deep brunette shades, I recommend demi or semi-permanent. (Only use permanent when you're trying to cover more than 50% of grey or existing color.) Options available on the market can be a deep chestnut, chocolate tones, and rich coppers. There are also violet tones where you could do sultry mahogany or burgundy shades.” She notes that it’s safe to apply these colors throughout the hair, but that if you have an existing balayage or ombre color, those areas will remain lighter.

The Best Products for Dyeing Dark Hair at Home

Permanent, semi-permanent, demi-permanent—it can be a little confusing. Pastor explains:

"Permanent colors are going to last the longest, semi-permanent may last six washes. My favorite are demi-permanent colors because those last about 24 washes —and for some people, this could be a good while. Demi-permanent colors also cover grey nicely and are more forgiving when you want to change your color in the future."

Semi- and demi-permanent colors are often confused with one another, but they do have some important differences. Unlike demi-permanent colors which contain developers, semi-permanent colors do not, which is why demi-permanent dyes tend to last longer. In addition to home-dyes, there are also rinses, toners, glazes, color depositing masks, hair chalks —and more. Ahead, find the formulas that are most recommended for dark hair and at-home use.

Best For Single-Day Color: L'Oreal Colorista Hair Makeup

If you're looking to make a fun and funky change without commitment, check out this Hair Makeup by L'Oréal. Specially formulated for brunettes, this leave-in temporary color is available in six shades and lasts for one wash. It's gentle enough for sensitive skin and is formulated without ammonia & peroxide. Simply apply to dry hair, comb or brush through to spread, then style as desired!

Best For Covering Grays: Demi-Permanent Dye

One of Pastor's "all-time favorite demi-permanent colors," Natural Instincts lasts for 28 washes while blending away greys in the 20-minute processing time. It's also made of 80 percent naturally derived ingredients, and is available in 37 shades. "Demi-permanent colors cover grey nicely and are more forgiving when you want to change your color in the future," says Pastor.

Best For Commitemnt-Phobes: Spray-On Color

One of Branda's favorite go-to's for temporary fantasy color, Manic Panic's spray-on color works for all hair types and color levels, including dark shades. Available in eight vibrant shades, and vegan and cruelty-free, the spray is super simple to apply—just shake the can well, hold about 12-inches away from the hair, and apply to dry and pre-styled hair.

If you have naturally blonde, bleached, or damaged hair, this color may cling longer than a day, and could require multiple washes to fully fade. With questions about your specific hair color, consult your colorist.

Best For Damaged Hair: Color-Depositing Mask

A deep conditioning mask and temporary color in one, this color depositing hair mask is available in seven shades and contains nourishing, hydrating ingredients. The Bordeaux shade is a deep crimson brown, ideal for light or dark brunettes. To use, section clean, towel-dried hair and apply a generous amount throughout. Brush with a wide-tooth comb for even distribution. Leave on for five to seven minutes depending on desired intensity, then rinse and style.

Best For Custom, Stylist-Guided Color: Color&Co

For a more personalized experience, you can get salon-quality hair color made custom for you thanks to Color&Co. With this service, you take a quiz or video- chat with a color expert who will analyze your hair profile and select a base color, adjusting the depth and tone for a perfect fit. The kit will come with the color, stain eraser, stain block and conditioner—everything you'll need for the at-home hair coloring experience without the guesswork.

Best For a Slow Fade-Out: Coloring Conditioner

With no ammonia or harsh chemicals, these semi-permanent conditioners use the hair’s existing porosity to deposit color. Available in over 40 color options with many specifically formulated for use on brown hair, apply the conditioner to wet or dry hair (though dry hair is recommended for maximum color deposit) and leave on for about 10-15 minutes. Then rinse, and style! Users report this conditioner fades out slowly with each wash for a more natural transition back to your true hair color.

Best For Iridescent Color: Holographic Foam

A little sparkle never hurt anyone! For fun and temporary unicorn vibes, use this holographic hair foam that reflects shades of pink and teal iridescence thanks to moonstone extract. Vegan, cruelty-free, and color-safe, simply scrunch into sections of your hair for a more subtle effect, or apply liberally with fingers or a comb for a more opaque finish. When you're done having fun, simply wash out!

Best For Strategic Color-Placement: Hair Chalk

For some easy-to-apply, temporary fun, hair chalk is an excellent, affordable option. These chalk sticks slide on dry and are easy to comb through, depositing pastel color highlights to even the darkest shades of brown. Splat Hair Chalk is available in seven shades, including purple-y Violet Sky, and a golden Sun Kissed. Pro tip: chalk allows you to apply more precisely than paint-on color, so it's easy to add a pop of a fun shade to your face-framing layers (or anywhere else for that matter).

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