Best Permanent Hair Color

Updated July 2021
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
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How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

40 Models Considered
22 Hours Researched
2 Experts Interviewed
60 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best permanent hair color

Going gray? No worries! Changing your hair color is a quick and easy way to achieve a fresh new look. More than a third of adult women and a tenth of adult men in the U.S. opt to cover their gray with chemical color, in fact. Treatments range from occasional temporary rinses to monthly root touch-ups.

Permanent hair color isn’t just for those who want to hide gray, either. Are you dreaming of living life as a redhead? Fantasizing about what it might be like to go jet black? Permanent hair color offers a way for the curious to experiment and perhaps find an entirely new aesthetic in the process.

Read on to learn more about permanent hair color products and their application. We’ll also discuss the decision to permanently color hair and all that it entails. When you’re ready to dive into a new color, we invite you to check out the hair color products spotlighted here.

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Permanent hair color in shades of medium to dark brown shows the least amount of visible growth.

Key considerations

Whether you’re trying to turn back the clock or simply turn a few heads, permanently changing your hair color is a major commitment.

Why hair turns gray

Before you attempt to slow down or reverse the graying process, it is enlightening to understand why hair turns gray as we age. First, you need to know that there is no magic age when we start turning gray. Some people have gorgeous silver hair in their 20s; others do not go gray until their late 70s. Genetics has a lot to do with it.

Our hair follicles are made up of pigment cells called melanocytes. As we age, our melanocytes slow down and cease producing pigment. As pigment production ceases, new hair growth is devoid of color, and hair appears silver, gray, or white.

In the majority of individuals, genetics determines the onset of premature gray hair. However, certain medical issues can cause hair to turn gray sooner than anticipated. These conditions include early menopause and thyroid disorders. Medical research suggests that vitamin B12 deficiency, anemia, obesity, stress, and smoking can also contribute to premature graying.

Types of hair coloring

A diverse array of hair coloring products exists, but these products come down to two main forms: non-oxidative (semi-permanent) hair color and oxidative (permanent) hair color.

Semi-permanent color

If you are not ready to make a total commitment to coloring your hair, consider a semi-permanent color. This product penetrates the hair shaft and stains the cuticle. Semi-permanent hair color lasts up to ten shampoos. If you don’t like the shade, you are not stuck with your color choice.

If it is your first time coloring your hair, you might want something even more temporary. Consider a tint that is easily washed out. Temporary tints are not absorbed by the cuticle of the hair shaft and fade with a couple of shampoos. A temporary tint lets you try on a color before making a permanent commitment.

Permanent hair color

Permanent hair dye outlasts any other type, and it accounts for more than 80% of the market. This product lasts longer by building up color molecules within the hair shaft. Permanent hair color lasts until the hair falls out or you cut off the colored portion.

Skin reactions

Be mindful of potential allergies. The ingredients found in permanent hair color can cause serious allergic reactions, including a red, blistered scalp or hair loss in some people.

Perform a patch test before applying a product to your whole head. This is especially critical if you have issues with sensitive skin or dermatitis. Place a small dab of the coloring agent behind your ear. Do not wash the spot for two days. If you do not manifest a rash, itching, burning, redness, or irritation after that time, you can be relatively confident that you will not have an allergic reaction to the hair product.

If the first product you try provokes an allergic reaction, try a different color or a different brand.

Following directions

It is imperative that you adhere to the directions on the package. The following bullet points apply to most, if not all, permanent hair color products.

  • Allow the color solution to remain on your hair only for the recommended time period.
  • Wear gloves when coloring your hair. The dye will stain your skin and nails.
  • Rinse your hair well with cool water after coloring.
  • Avoid mixing hair color products. The result could be disastrous.

Care after coloring

To keep your newly colored hair bright and beautiful, choose hair care products with a low pH that are touted to be “color-safe.” Color-safe shampoos, conditioners, and detanglers soothe and close the cuticle. This keeps the color locked in and helps your hair stay shiny and manageable. Avoid hair products that are marketed as “volumizing,” as they open the cuticle, robbing the hair shaft of color. Also avoid using hair products that say they thicken hair, as these types of products will coat your mane and weigh it down. Furthermore, avoid shampoos marketed as “deep cleansing,” as they can strip the hair of color.

Cautions and concerns

Use only on healthy skin. Do not use permanent hair color on an irritated, cut, or abraded scalp. If you are subject to breakouts, scalp fungus, psoriasis, or eczema, wait until the problem has cleared up and your scalp is healthy before applying permanent hair coloring.

Only color the hair on your scalp. Never apply permanent hair coloring to your eyelashes, eyebrows, mustache, beard, or other body hair. Doing so risks a reaction to the chemicals in the product.

Protect your eyes. If hair color chemicals get in your eyes, you could experience burning, swelling, and even blindness. When applying permanent hair coloring to your scalp, be very careful not to get the coloring solution in your eyes.

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Did you know?
Balayage, or creating a natural look with “melted” color, uses multiple shades with a deeper color at the hair roots and a lighter shade toward the ends.



Permanent hair color is packaged in single-use amounts. If your hair is short and you don’t use the full amount, properly discard the unused portion. Do not save the leftover solution for another application. If your hair is extremely long or thick, you may require two bottles of the product.

Color guide

Most brands of permanent hair color come with a helpful color chart that shows you how the color will appear when applied. Keep in mind that these charts serve as guides only. The results you achieve at home may vary considerably from the picture.


Conventional permanent hair color contains ammonia or a combination of ammonia and ethanolamines, p-phenylenediamine, and hydrogen peroxide. These strong chemicals penetrate the hair shaft and achieve permanent color. However, they may also weaken and damage hair.

Organic formulas are ammonia-free. They use ethanolamines (non-ammonia ingredients) to activate color. If your hair is dry and prone to breakage, you may find an organic permanent hair dye to be the best option.

Application tools

Many brands of permanent hair color include with purchase a handy pair of disposable gloves along with brushes, spatulas, or measuring spoons for ease of application.

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For your safety
Healthcare providers suggest not using permanent hair color while pregnant or lactating.


Rubber gloves: Segbeauty Black Reusable Rubber Gloves
Avoid staining your hands when applying permanent hair color at home. Always wear a flexible pair of disposable gloves while applying a coloring agent. If you’d like to stock up, this 20-pack from Segbeauty comes at a reasonable cost.

Protective smock: Perfehair Salon Robe Smock
Permanent hair color products not only color your hair, they can also stain your clothing. A washable, protective smock helps you avoid ruining your clothing. This professional-grade smock from Perfehair is roomy and chic and comes with a black terry towel.

Color-safe shampoo and conditioner: PURA D'OR ColorHarmony Shampoo and Conditioner Set
After applying permanent hair color, follow the manufacturer's instructions regarding when to shampoo. Most brands suggest you wait 48 hours. This color-safe shampoo and conditioner set from PURA D’OR is designed to preserve your hair’s color, shine, and body following a chemical application.

Hair detangler: Carol's Daughter Black Vanilla Moisture & Shine Creme
To avoid damage, do not brush your hair while it is wet. Follow your shampoo and conditioner with a dab of hair detangler to help prevent breakage and split ends. This “combing creme” from Carol’s Daughter smells lovely and helps create shiny, happy hair.

Permanent hair color prices

Budget-friendly: When shopping at the lower price range, you will find permanent hair color products selling for $2.50 to $6. Some of these products are excellent, but we advise you to stick to brands that are tried and true.

Mid-range: From $6 to $10, you will find even more name-brand permanent hair coloring products. Those closer to $10 might boast additional impressive features or benefits, including multi-faceted hues and bold color choices.

Expensive: Organic permanent hair coloring products in the highest price range sell for $10 to $30 per application. If you’re looking for a gentler approach to coloring your hair, this may be the way to go.

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Ammonia, a key ingredient in many permanent hair color products, can severely damage and weaken hair. Take steps to protect your hair’s health before and after coloring it.


  • While the brilliant crayon colors so popular today are a fun way to express one’s personality, keep in mind you cannot go from brunette to hot pink: hair bleaching is required first.
  • Avoid wearing contact lenses when applying permanent hair coloring at home. If any of the product gets in your eyes, rinse well with cool water.
  • Keep in mind that end results vary. Your hair may not look the same as your friend’s hair, even if you both use the same coloring product. If your hair has hard water buildup, has been previously colored, or is particularly porous, your results may be different than someone else’s.

Other products we considered

Schwarzkopf makes a keratin-based hair color cream that restores luster and strengthens the hair against breakage. Not only that, but it can add incredible volume to your mane. This product is an excellent value for the money, and it’s available in several intensely gorgeous shades.

For easy coloring and touching up roots, John Frieda Precision Foam Colour is a nicely priced product that’s easy to apply and is blended to match skin tones. This permanent hair color is predictable with color tones that blend in gray without brassiness.

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If your natural eyebrow or facial hair color is out of balance with your hair color, use a lighter shade of eyebrow pencil to feather in a blending tone.


Q. When trying to blend away gray, should I choose a color shade lighter or darker than my natural color?
Hair coloring experts advise to go with a shade somewhat lighter and warmer than your natural shade. This subtlety helps minimize root maintenance. When highlights are added that do not touch the scalp, gray blends better, and you can go longer between touch-ups.

Q. I want to try different shades before I decide on something permanent. How long do temporary and semi-permanent hair colorings last?
Temporary and semi-permanent hair colorings fade over time depending on hair’s porosity. The more porous the hair, the faster the color fades. Most semi-permanent hair coloring lasts from six to ten shampoos.

Q. I finished chemotherapy recently, and my hair is starting to grow back. Can I use permanent hair color?
If you’re undergoing chemotherapy or have recently finished chemotherapy, talk with your doctor before applying permanent hair color. As you know, chemotherapy drugs can cause hair loss. These toxic chemicals affect the formation of the delicate hair shaft. Because these drugs can remain in the system for weeks or months after treatment, the skin, fingernails, and hair will need time to recover.

Some healthcare practitioners advise waiting until your hair is at least 6 inches long before applying permanent hair color.

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