In this report
May 2010 Ratings
What we found

Hair dyes

Some kits can help you skip the salon

Last reviewed: May 2010

If you're confident about your hair-coloring skills, or you have someone to help you, dyeing your hair at home offers a quick and inexpensive way to mask your gray, or simply update your overall look, without the cost and hassle of a trip to the salon. We tested 13 home hair-color kits and found that you really can wash that gray right out of your hair, and for less than $10 a pop.

Most of the products did a more-than-respectable job of turning our gray hair samples to gleaming brown ones. And four—Clairol Textures and Tones, L'Oréal Paris Superior Preference, and the men's and women's versions of Clairol Natural Instincts—performed excellently, giving tresses color that held its hue through 16 washings.

As with many of our tests, we went to extraordinary lengths—beginning with procuring a lot of hair (470 tresses of long, 90 percent gray human hair, to be exact). We divided the hair up among the products, then dyed according to the directions included with the products. Then we washed the hair with a color-safe shampoo and blow-dried it 16 times to simulate a month's worth of every-other-day washings.

Using a colorimeter, a device that measures color and color differences, we assessed the brown color right after dyeing and after two, eight, and 16 washes. Our trained sensory panelists evaluated the hair for how well the dye covered gray, noting those with streaks, blotches, and other signs of uneven color.

The Ratings (available to subscribers) are based on how thoroughly and evenly each product covered gray, as well as its ease of use and features (such as whether the gloves included with the product ripped during use or whether the dye contained ammonia, which might irritate the respiratory tract of some users).

Our tests also included three products that are marketed differently: Just for Men, designed for partial gray coverage (the "salt and pepper" look), and two root-treatment products from Clairol and Revlon. Those don't appear in the Ratings (available to subscribers) because they work differently from the all-over dyes.