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12 Best Drugstore Hair Dyes for Professional Results at Home

Get pro-level hair color — for a fraction of the price.

hair dyes on a pink background

We updated this article in May 2022 to ensure all picks tested and selected by the Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab were in stock and reflect current pricing.

Color processing at a salon can cost anywhere from $75 to more than $500 — which can be worth it if you want to completely change your look, but for those who just want to add subtle highlights or touch up those pesky grays for $10 or less, you can absolutely do it at home. Today's at-home hair color options are easy to use and offer a quick and inexpensive way to update your look without the cost and hassle of a trip to the salon. The best at-home hair dyes from tried-and-true hair color brands last throughout regular shampooing, sun exposure and regular hot tool usage to remain shiny, healthy and vibrant.

But which boxed hair dye is best? To find out, GH Beauty Lab scientists rigorously test at-home hair color kits and products both in the Lab using technical instruments and on consumer testers to gauge their ease of use and effects, including color vibrancy, fading when exposed to water and UV, shine, the look and feel of hair after use and more.

Here, the GH Beauty Lab's best-tested at-home hair color products you can buy, plus top-rated editor and consumer picks, including boxed drugstore dyes for professional results and gray coverage on all hair shades.

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Best Overall At-Home Hair Color
Natural Instincts Demi-Permanent Hair Color

  • Great value
  • Covers evenly and resists fading
  • Leaves hair shiny

Numerous shades — especially dark hair like browns and reds — from Clairol's popular demi-permanent drugstore color impressed the GH Beauty Lab in evaluations. In Lab testing, the ammonia-free at-home dye offered even coverage, left hair visibly shiny, and was fade-resistant when used to cover up gray.

Best At-Home Hair Color to Cover Gray
ColorSilk Beautiful Color Permanent Haircolor

  • Ammonia-free
  • Complete gray coverage
  • Maintains shine

You can't beat this bargain: The GH Beauty Lab was especially impressed by Revlon's ammonia-free formula and the boxed dye earned perfect scores across the board in all categories. It covered grays completely, retained shine and didn't fade after four weeks. Great for dark hair colors (brunettes, black) and redheads, its auburn shade, Burgundy, was a top performer in Lab tests, covering grays well. The real hair samples it was tested on on kept their shine after multiple washes. "I have used other products with similar results but I would say that this product’s color last longer without fading and covered the gray hair also for a longer period of time," a tester reported. Another called it "one of the best hair colors I have used."

Best At-Home Hair Color for Damaged Hair
Olia Oil Powered Permanent Hair Color

  • Ammonia-free and non-irritating
  • Contains conditioning ingredients
  • Pleasant scent
  • Resists fading

A top performer in GH Beauty Lab testing, Garnier's permanent color is made with no ammonia and a high concentration of nourishing oil so it's gentle on hair that's damaged from treatments like keratin or thinning strands. The formula scored high for its pleasant non-chemical scent, ease of rinsing, and not irritating, and it didn't fade over weeks after application. "Made my hair feel extremely healthy and looked very natural," one tester raved.

Best At-Home Hair Color for Blondes
Nice 'n Easy Permanent Haircolor

  • Full coverage for blonde hair
  • Natural look that resists fading
  • Conditioning formula

In GH Beauty Lab testing, experts found that Clairol Nice 'n Easy was the best pick for light hair and has a gentler, more conditioning formula. While all brands tested for blonde shades have only scored average (or worse) for covering up gray, Nice 'n Easy stood out for fade resistance and keeping its shine. In Lab evaluations, it scored high for giving a natural look, 79% of testers said it left their hair soft and shiny and 90% said it didn’t cause irritation. "Easy to apply and left hair extremely soft, even without conditioner," a tester reported.

Best Natural At-Home Hair Color
Radiant Hair Color Kit
Madison Reed
Madison Reed

  • Formulated without certain chemical ingredients
  • Professional quality

In addition to boasting an "8-free" formula (meaning the brand claims it's formulated without eight of the more controversial or chemical ingredients often found hair color: ammonia, PPD, resorcinol, parabens, phthalates, gluten, SLS and titanium dioxide), Madison Reed is also certified cruelty-free by Leaping Bunny, a coalition of animal protection groups that have created an internationally recognized standard for identifying animal-friendly products.

Best Home Hair Color for Highlights
Superior Preference Glam Lights Brush-On Highlights
L'Oréal Paris

  • Includes highlighting brush for easy, targeted application
  • Brightens hair color

Highlighting your hair is pretty tricky to do on your own (we support hitting the salon for the best results), but L'Oréal's Glam Lights promises to make it easy by reducing it to two steps. Fill the included highlighting brush with the formula, and then brush it through your hair from root to tips. Though the GH Beauty Lab hasn't tested this kit, reviewers note that this DIY option can add brighter blonde to already-highlighted or lighter-colored hair.

Best Temporary Hair Color
Root Concealer Touch-Up Spray
Rita Hazan
Rita Hazan

  • Covers grays
  • Easily extends the life of hair color

A cult favorite among beauty editors and created by iconic celebrity hair colorist Rita Hazan, this waterproof and transfer-proof spray is easy to apply right where you need it most, thanks to a super-focused nozzle. The tinted spray conceals gray roots, makes hair look fuller, and can extend the amount of time you can squeeze in between coloring your hair.

Best Home Hair Color for Roots
Express Retouch Gray Hair Concealer
Now 21% off

  • Temporary color
  • Precisely targets roots to cover
  • Transfer- and flake-resistant

Hide grays between coloring with this GH Beauty Award-winning Garnier root cover-up, with a sponge applicator to precisely apply pigment. In GH Beauty Lab evaluations, it scored high with testers for not transferring or flaking, and staying in place. “Easy to use and very targeted,” a tester commented.

Best Red Home Hair Color
Color Boosting GLOSS+ Deep Conditioning Treatment

  • Semi-permanent color
  • Enhances red shades

  • Not for gray coverage

A reviewer favorite, this semi-permanent color intensifier from dpHUE takes effect in as little as three minutes and comes in Copper and Auburn shades perfect for tinting or boost red hair. And although the shades won't cover grays, the brand's co-founder, Justin Anderson, says "the deep conditioning will leave your hair feeling amazing."

Best At-Home Hair Color Booster
Color Depositing Mask

  • Fast-acting
  • Delivers even color
  • Conditioning effects

Test out a new hair shade or refresh the one you have as you deep condition strands with Moroccanoil’s innovative temporary color-depositing mask, a GH Beauty Award winner. The formula left strands evenly colored seven minutes after application and feeling soft and silky, GH Beauty Lab testing on hair samples found.

Best Bold At-Home Hair Color
Creamtone Perfect Pastel Semi-Permanent Hair Color Cream
Manic Panic
Manic Panic

  • Semi-permanent color
  • Array of vibrant and pastel shades

It seems every brand is making mermaid hair hues these days, but Manic Panic has 40 years of experience and a loyal following for vibant hair colors. The veteran fantasy-color company's Creamtone semi-permanent temporary colors are best for those who want a more pastel look when they go pink, blue or anything in between.

Best Bold At-Home Hair Color Enhancer
Daily Conditioner

  • Revives bold or pastel hair color
  • Easy to use

  • Not for gray coverage

All hair color fades, but it's especially noticeable with fantasy colors. An easy way to keep less natural shades vibrant: these color-depositing conditioners from Overtone. Made in a wide array of fun and pretty colors, it's intended to replace your normal daily conditioner to maintain unique hair color.

How we test at-home hair color

The GH Beauty Lab regularly tests at-home hair dye with both consumer testers and controlled Lab tests. In the Lab, scientists dye human hair samples in brown, blonde, red and black shades and evaluate the products for their gray hair coverage. They then assess each hair dye's color retention over a four-week period with a series of tests including 20 wash and dry cycles and 10 hours of UV light exposure. After, experts judge each sample on final gray coverage, shine and fade-resistance. Boxed dyes are also sent to a panel of women all over the country who evaluate them on factors such as ease of use and color performance, including gray coverage, color richness, uniformity and accuracy compared to the image on the box. They also provide real-life feedback on resulting hair shininess, softness and smoothness, as well as color fade over four weeks after application

good housekeeping beauty lab at home hair color testing
Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab
What to look for when shopping for the best at-home hair color

Choose your hair dye formula based on how long you want the color to last and your desired results. A quick primer from GH Beauty Lab Executive Director, Birnur Aral, Ph.D.:

  • Permanent: This dye often contains ammonia (to open hair’s cuticle) mixed with a developer (hydrogen peroxide) to lift and deposit pigment, changing the hair’s color until it grows out.
  • Demipermanent: Ammonia-free, it deposits dye with a developer and lasts up to 24 shampoos for subtle enhancement and to blend regrowth.
  • Semipermanent: It has no ammonia or developer and deposits dye only to soften gray or boost color, lasting about six to eight washes.
  • Temporary: This is both ammonia- and developer-free. Large color molecules adhere to strands’ outer layer and can be washed out in one to two shampoos.
How can I make my at-home hair color last?

After picking out the best at-home hair dye, there are a few things you'll want to do to keep your color vibrant and true for as long as possible. First, GH Beauty Lab pros recommend cutting back on washing your hair as much as possible, since contact with water causes dye to leach out of strands. Try applying a dry shampoo on days in between washes, and when you do suds up, make sure to choose a shampoo and conditioner formulated or color-treated hair. You can also give DIY hair color a boost to extend its life between dye jobs with an at-home gloss that matches your shade, suggests Rita Hazan, a celebrity colorist and owner of the eponymous salon in New York City. These glazes deposit subtle color pigments and enhance shine, she says

Why trust Good Housekeeping?

Sabina Wizemann, senior chemist in the GH Beauty Lab, came to Good Housekeeping in 2012 with over six years of prior experience as an organic chemist in the hair dye, cosmetic and biotech industry. She develops laboratory protocols using specialized lab equipment, conducts product testing across hair categories and oversees large consumer studies. She also reviews applications, substantiates claims and evaluates products for the GH Seal and beauty and sustainability award programs. With a background in hair dye research and synthesis, Sabina loves everything hair-related. Over her years in the Health, Beauty and Sustainability Lab, she conducted lab and consumer studies on at-home hairdyes, shampoos and conditioners, hair serums, hair volumizers, dry shampoos and more.

Birnur Aral, Ph.D., is the Executive Director of the GH Health, Beauty and Sustainability Lab and has deftly led clinical and consumer product testing in the GH Beauty Lab for almost 15 years. In addition to earning M.Eng. and Ph.D. degrees in chemical engineering, she recently added a professional certificate in sustainability management from Columbia University to her credentials. Birnur has been an active leader in conceptualizing many of our green initiatives, including the GH Sustainable Innovation Awards and our annual Raise the Green Bar Summit. Birnur and the Beauty Lab chemists also conduct the brand's annual Beauty Awards selection process, a yearlong effort for the team that involves assessing hundreds of products. She is also known for her work on investigative pieces like “Keratin Hair Treatments."

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