Is at-home hair coloring as good as professional hair dye?
Hair stylists are likely to say that the best hair color comes from professionals. Although this is true in some cases -- for example, if you're making a radical change in your hair color -- plenty of people have success dyeing their hair at home. What's more, Paula Begoun, author of "Don't Go Shopping for Hair-Care Products Without Me" and owner of the Paula's Choice web site, says women who color their own hair have the same rate of satisfaction as those who use professionals.
Begoun adds that drugstore hair dyes are just as good as salon dyes. "You may have heard that drugstore hair dyes are inferior or harsher than the dyes used in salons, but that is absolutely not true," she says. So don't be afraid to color your hair at home -- especially if you simply want to cover grays, or slightly lighten or darken your natural hair color.
Actually, the hardest part of coloring your hair might be choosing the color you want. To be safe, experts recommend going no more than two shades lighter or darker than your natural hair color when dyeing your own hair. Make sure to match your hair color to the chart on the side of the box -- that's a better indicator of the color you'll get than the model pictured on the front of the box.
However, Begoun says you should always see a pro if you are:
- Going more than three shades lighter than your natural color
- Dyeing light hair darker
- Dyeing your hair red (even if you already have naturally red hair, Begoun says red is just a very tricky color to get right)
- Fixing a bad dye job
Also, if your hair is severely damaged, professional hair color is your best bet for avoiding more damage. But for everyone else, a $7 drugstore hair coloring kit is a perfectly fine option: "If you dye your hair 6 to 12 times a year at a salon (6 salon visits is common), you could save $400 to $2,000 (or more!) by doing it yourself," Begoun says.
Labels can sometimes be misleading
Hair dye comes in a multitude of shades and strengths, both of which are described in entirely different ways at the salon than they are at the drugstore. For the purposes of this report, we focus on at-home hair color, which come in three strength levels: semi-permanent (level one), demi-permanent (level two) and permanent (level three).
What's most confusing about drugstore hair colors is that companies do not label their products in a consistent manner. Semi- and demi-permanent products, for example, are often labeled as "non-permanent." But the terms aren't exactly interchangeable.
According to celebrity hair colorist Beth Minardi:
- Semi-permanent hair color stains the outside of hair with dye that largely washes off after four to 10 shampoos.
- Demi-permanent hair color is used to match or deepen hair color, and to cover grays. It penetrates the hair's inner cortex (like permanent dye), but it can't lighten hair much. It lasts longer than semi-permanent color (28 shampoos, for one popular brand).
- Permanent hair color is the only kind that can dramatically lighten hair. It strips the hair's natural color away and opens the hair's cortex to deposit a completely different color.
The best hair color is long lasting, vibrant and fade-resistant
The vast majority of hair-color kits at the drugstore are permanent colorants. Most use ammonia, which open the hair cortex so it can be colored. But experts and users say some do it better than others, and L'Oréal Paris Superior Preference (Est. $9) continues to be Best Reviewed winner.
"This kit is 'every bit as good as professional color,' says Frank Galasso, an L.A. stylist who has worked with Gwyneth Paltrow," notes InStyle magazine. Editors there award L'Oréal Paris Superior Preference the title of best single-process color for 2015. "New York City hairstylist Danilo, who works with Cate Blanchett, praises the 'long-lasting, bright color.'"
In a leading expert test, L'Oréal Paris Superior Preference is a top pick. The kit does an excellent job covering gray, with even, streak-free color, and includes strong gloves that keep users' hands clean (in four of the 10 drugstore hair color kits tested, the gloves ripped during the test).
Users tend to be fiercely loyal to L'Oréal Paris Superior Preference, too. Many at TotalBeauty.com and Ulta.com say they've been using this formula for years and are still happy with the natural-looking results. Superior Preference comes with a classic squeeze tube applicator that most find easy to use. The tube has an extended tip, which makes it easy to reach roots, according to editors at Allure magazine. It comes in 53 shades, which reviewers say are vibrant, glossy and last for weeks -- up to eight -- without fading.
Runner-up L'Oréal Paris Excellence Creme (Est. $8) boasts an equally loyal fan base. While L'Oréal markets Superior Preference as its most vibrant and fade-resistant color, it says Excellence Creme covers grays the best. Several users say it really does, making Excellence Creme a favorite at TotalBeauty.com, Ulta.com and Amazon.com. Users also find Excellence Creme less drippy and messy than Superior Preference.
Hair color for roots stretches your hair color for another two to three weeks
One of the drawbacks of coloring your hair is that after a few weeks, you're sure to see the telltale signs of your natural or gray roots peeking through. Whether you have your hair colored at a salon or you do it at home, there are several products that can help you go a little longer between colorings.
Clairol Nice 'n Easy Root Touch-Up (Est. $7) gets great reviews from experts at Good Housekeeping and InStyle magazines, both of which say that this permanent hair color can easily buy you an extra two to three weeks between salon visits. Beauty expert Paula Begoun uses Nice 'n Easy Root Touch Up herself between salon visits. And InStyle magazine has named it the "Best Root Coverage" product for two years in a row.
"Even the wiriest grays are no match for this creamy pigment," InStyle says. "A stiff bristled comb nestles right into the root bed, allowing you to get dye this close to the scalp ... Oh, and did we mention it takes ten minutes?" Users couldn't agree more: Nice 'n Easy is by far the favorite root touch-up kit at Ulta.com, Target.com and Amazon.com.
The touch-up kit is available in 22 shades that blend in seamlessly with your base shade, according to users. Clairol also provides an online tool that helps you match Root Touch-Up shades to those of leading brands.
Most experts warn, however, that color-processed hair picks up new color faster than natural hair. It's important to apply new color directly to your roots only. To blend and boost the color of the rest of your hair, comb the color through to the ends a few minutes before rinsing.
Elsewhere in this Report:
Best Non-Permanent Hair Color | Best Hair Highlighting Kits | Buying Guide | Our Sources