The best permanent hair color
If you're brave enough to try a brand-new look, pick up a box of permanent hair color. Affordable and easy to apply, it's also simple to maintain your look long-term.
Permanent hair color is specially formulated to deposit dye that lasts for weeks without fading. In fact, many boxes come with pre-treatment products as well as post-color conditioner to maximize results. If you're wondering whether permanent hair color is an option, rest assured it's used by virtually everyone: women, men, and especially individuals with gray hair.
If it's time for a makeover, read our buying guide on permanent hair color. Our favorite formula is the L'Oréal Paris Excellence Creme Permanent Hair Color, which deposits multidimensional color for an all-natural look.
Considerations when choosing permanent hair color
Types of hair coloring
Semipermanent color: Semipermanent hair color is recommended for those who are new to coloring their hair or not sure whether a particular shade suits them. These formulas penetrate the hair shaft and stain the cuticle. On average, semipermanent color lasts through to a dozen shampoos.
Permanent color: For those who are committed to a color -- or ready for a dramatic change -- permanent hair color is the way to go. Permanent formulas build up color molecules in the shaft and stay put until hair falls out or is cut off. Make sure you like the result of a permanent hair color; if you don't, you may want to head to a salon for color-correcting services.
Allergies and sensitivities
Permanent hair color contains a variety of chemicals, which can cause skin reactions in some people. Most people experience mild tingling, but extreme reactions result in blistered scalps or hair loss. Always read the ingredient list to determine what's in the formula and whether you might react to it.
To minimize injury or hair loss, hair color manufacturers stress the importance of patch testing. This means trying the color in a small area (namely behind your ear) to see how your hair and skin take to it. If all is well, proceed with a full-head application. If not, consider formulas with gentler ingredients.
Importance of following directions
For the best results, follow the box's directions exactly. That means sticking to the recommended time period, using the gloves, and rinsing hair with cool water. It's also important to use the pre- and post-color products included.
Another thing to never do when using permanent hair color is to mix products and formulas. If you're looking for more dimension and tones, leave it to a professional and head to a salon.
What's in a box of permanent hair color?
Single-use dye: Most permanent hair color is packaged as single-use applications. If you don't use all of it in your hair, dispose of it appropriately. You can't use the leftover product, as already-activated color can damage your hair later on.
Application tools: Application tools are usually included with permanent hair color. They usually come with mixing bottles, attachment brushes, or separation combs. Like the leftover product, they're also single-use items that should be disposed of immediately after application.
Pre- and post-color products: Boxes may include pre- and post-color products. Pre-color treatment prepares hair and helps the dye to set better. Post-color products typically include conditioner, which is used immediately after you rinse out color. There's usually enough to use it at least weekly to maintain color.
Affordable choices for permanent hair color cost around $6, but it's best to stick to known brands to ensure a quality experience. Mid-range dyes cost closer to $10 per box and offer more in the way of nourishing and conditioning. Premium products cost as much as $30 per application, though they cause minimal damage and offer the best color results.
Q. Does color-safe shampoo make a big difference?
A. Yes. These shampoos include specific ingredients that help hair hold onto color as well as prevent it from changing or warping after washes. They often include UV filters or conditioners for added protection.
Q. How long should I wait between applications to cover my roots?
A. Four to five weeks is best before it begins to look unnatural and unkempt. It also means you have a smaller area to cover, so a single box will do the trick without needing a second one.
Permanent hair colors we recommend
Best of the best: L'Oréal Paris' Excellence Creme Permanent Hair Color
Our take: Reputable long-lasting color with a protective formula to combat damage.
What we like: Formula includes collagen, ceramide, and pro-keratin. Comes with pre-color treatment and post-color conditioner.
What we dislike: Can have mixed results on gray hair, and some shades pick up too many cool tones.
Best bang for your buck: Revlon's ColorSilk Ammonia-Free Permanent Hair Color
Our take: Affordable option for natural-looking color and UV defense technology.
What we like: Silk proteins add shine and condition hair. No ammonia, making it easier for those sensitive to smells.
What we dislike: Better for changing your shade by a few colors as opposed to total color changes.
Our take: Broad color range with a formula dedicated to long-lasting conditioning.
What we like: Includes avocado, olive, and shea oil. Offers 100% gray coverage and application tube is easy to handle.
What we dislike: Color fades quicker than expected on some gray hair.
Sian Babish is a writer for BestReviews. BestReviews is a product review company with a singular mission: to help simplify your purchasing decisions and save you time and money. BestReviews never accepts free products from manufacturers and purchases every product it reviews with its own funds.
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