Dying to try a new look, but unwilling to dip into your pocketbook to pay the high price at the salon? We tested at-home coloring products to find the best formulas, so you can look great and stick to your budget. We tested nine formulas that claim to cover grays and not fade. We dyed swatches of graying hair with the brands' best-selling shades, then washed and blow-dried them and exposed them to UV light to simulate a month of normal wear. You can thank us later.
Best Color for All Shades
Clairol Natural Instincts ($9) in both red and brown impressed us with its even coverage, shine, and fade resistance when used to hide just a little gray. Its blond shade gave results that were just as shiny, but it wasn't as good at covering gray, and it faded a bit.
L'Oréal ColorSpa Moisture Actif ($6.49) in Chestnut Reddish Brown had great gray coverage and shine; the brown and blond hues left a high gloss but hid grays less well. All faded some - what you'd expect from semipermanent color.
(Related: Find the Right Hair Color for You)
Best Color for Brunette Hair
Revlon ColorSilk ($3.69) in Dark Brown earned perfect scores on our tests. It covered grays completely; dyed hair retained its shine and didn't fade. The least expensive of the kits we tested, no-frills ColorSilk includes only enough conditioner for one application.
L'Oréal Excellence Creme ($9) in Medium Brown performed nearly as well, with only slight fading after a month of washing, drying, and UV exposure. It comes with a tube of great-smelling conditioner for weekly use between colorings.
Best Color for Red Hair
The Revlon ColorSilk auburn shade, Burgundy, was also a top performer, acing the gray-coverage and shine-retention tests. Red haircolor shades tend to fade, and this one is no different, with a bit of color loss after four weeks of washing, drying, and UV exposure.
Clairol Nice 'n Easy Perfect 10 ($14) in Light Auburn covered gray completely after only 10 minutes of application time (some permanent products take 25 minutes or more). Perfect 10's shine and color-retention scores were fair.
(Related: Get Your Dream Hair)
Best Color for Blonde Hair
It's a tie!
Clairol Nice 'n Easy ($8) in Natural Dark Neutral Blonde tied with ColorSilk as the best dye for fair hair. Every brand's blond shades were average at best for covering gray. Nice 'n Easy stood out for its high marks for fade resistance as well as shine retention.
Revlon ColorSilk in Ultra Light Natural Blonde and Nice 'n Easy got identical top scores at retaining shine and resisting fading, and an OK score for gray coverage. Lab technicians said that ColorSilk's products had a strong chemical smell.
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