The Contenders: Shampoos and conditioners created to increase volume, shine, softness, and smoothness, and to make hair more manageable--without fading color. Since the pairs are formulated to work together, that's how we tested them.
Testing Time: One week
Gold Winner: "I had strangers telling me my hair was gorgeous!" said one tester after using the Pureology Nanoworks Shampoo & Conditioner ($53 each, ). The admittedly pricey pair earned its splurge-worthy status, taking first place in our biggest testing category. Testers repeatedly commented on its "rich, thick lather," especially notable because the shampoo doesn't contain the common sudsing agent sodium lauryl sulfate, which can cause hair and scalp dryness. The color-protecting formula made it popular among panelists with colored strands. "It made my hair smooth and kept the color vibrant," said one. Volunteers also noted that it improved softness and combability, and the latter was confirmed in the lab. Both the Pureology and second-place Biolage (see below) received perfect scores for wet combing on the Instron, demonstrating their prowess at detangling and protecting strands from further damage. Still hesitant about spending big bucks on shampoo? Consider that a bottle is designed to last for 80 shampoos (about three months), thanks to its concentrated formula.
Coming in a close second, Biolage Rejuvathérapie Age Rejuvenating Shampoo and Conditioner ($18 and $19, respectively; ) is a more wallet-friendly alternative to our expensive gold winner. It aced the lab's combing test (see above), and consumers loved how the "clean- and fresh-smelling" duo also helped boost the smoothness and softness of their strands. "My hair felt silky after it dried," said one pleased volunteer.
Tip: None of the shampoos and conditioners added notable volume. Troubleshoot flatness with a styling product, like a mousse.
The Contenders: Masks, or deep conditioners, promising to remedy dryness, roughness, and dullness with an intense dose of conditioners along with rich, plant-based oils. Designed to be used once or twice a week, these are combed through hair, left on for anywhere from three to 15 minutes, and then rinsed out.
Testing Time: Two weeks
Gold Winner: Big-time bargain Age Beautiful Intense Strengthening Treatment ($10, or ) received top marks in both lab and consumer testing, ousting the pricier competition. Panelists gave it the highest rating for boosting their hair's softness, shine, and strength. "It added moisture and vibrancy to my hair. What a compliment it is when those half your age ask for your beauty secrets," reported one 62-year-old tester. "It made my hair very soft and easy to manage," said another. Wet hair swatches conditioned with both Age Beautiful and runner-up Redken (details below) were especially easy to comb through (the Instron recorded minimal friction). Age Beautiful also outperformed other masks in the shine evaluation conducted by our lab experts.
Silver Winner: Sliding in at number two, Redken Time Reset Youth Revitalizer ($17, ) also was the second-best bargain among anti-aging deep conditioners, which were a pricey group. "My hair looked and felt amazing after using this," said a panelist. The lab gave it points for its performance in the Instron test (see above). Affirming that victory, consumers classified Redken as a great detangler. Bonus: Testers found both Redken and Age Beautiful easiest to use, thanks to the squeeze-tube packaging that set them apart from the competition's tubs and jars. "I like that you can leave it upside down to eventually use all of the product," said a volunteer of the Redken.
Tip: Intense conditioning can do wonders for colored, curly, coarse, thick, or damaged hair. If your locks are thin, apply it only from mid-shaft to ends to avoid weighing down fine strands.
The Contenders: At-home haircolor formulated to completely cover gray for up to four weeks without making hair look or feel coarse or dry.
Testing Time: Four weeks
Gold Winner: A real deal, Revlon ColorSilk With UV Defense ($3.69, 40 shades, ) took top honors in lab performance, proving its mettle in the essential permanent haircolor measure, gray coverage, both immediately and at four weeks. Agreed a tester: "It covered my grays better and for a longer time than similar products I've tried." True to its name, it also scored high marks for fade resistance. The lab simulated a month's worth of UVA exposure and checked the color retention at each one-week mark. The color stayed vibrant, especially in the brown and blond shades. Consumers were especially pleased with the nonirritating, ammonia-free formula and scent. "Most brands will leave a strong 'just-colored' smell in the hair. This one didn't," said a volunteer.
Silver Winner: Couture Colour ($30, nine shades, or ) was a close second overall, and a panelist favorite for thorough gray coverage; rich, even color; fade resistance; and making hair shiny. "It stayed true to color and didn't fade. I loved the way it made my hair feel. It was amazing!" said one tester. Its shine-enhancing secret: a one-month supply of pequi oil treatment, derived from the Amazonian pequi fruit, instead of the usual conditioner included in a permanent haircolor kit. And, indeed, Couture Colour did edge out Revlon in the lab's shine-retention evaluation. Plus, testers were relieved that the dye didn't have a noxious smell. "I loved the scent. I never knew a haircolor existed that didn't have a chemical scent," reported a panelist.
Tip: To help dye-resistant gray, leave the color on for the longest recommended time possible.
The Contenders: Sticks, wands, sprays, combs, and marker-like pens designed to immediately color small areas of gray roots--for example, at the part or temples--and last until the next shampoo.
Testing Time: One week
Gold Winner: Irene Gari Cover Your Gray Professional ($7, three shades, or ) narrowly beat the competition in this extensive category, the only one for which our award is based solely on consumer testing. Panelists found Irene Gari covered gray the best and loved how well the shades matched their color. "It blended with my natural color beautifully and was very easy to apply," reported one. Our researchers noticed that it was especially popular with curly-haired testers; the lipstick-like stick was easy to maneuver and didn't get tangled in their hair. The caveat: Irene Gari comes only in medium brown, dark brown, and black shades. Redheads and blonds can try the runners-up below.
Silver Winners: It's a tie: Andre Walker Hair Make-Up Color Blend Wand ($12, five shades, or ) and QuickTint ($15, 10 shades, or ) finished just behind the winner. The differences between these two standouts came down to applicators and shade choice. Andre Walker was rated as the easiest to apply: "I like the option of two applicators," said one fan of the mascara-like wand at one end and lip gloss--type applicator at the other. QuickTint, a color-dispensing click pen and mini comb, offers the widest range of shades (including six variations of brown). "The color matched my hair really well and did a good job of blending in," said one enthusiast. Testers particularly liked that the product stayed put when they brushed their hair.
Tip: Use a light stroke when applying an instant root touch-up. If you're too heavy-handed, the excess may stick to your scalp, where it will be very noticeable and hard to wash off.
The Contenders: At-home kits that promise to color hair that's 50% to 70% gray, last through 28 shampoos, and improve the look and feel of hair. Unlike most permanent haircolors, these don't release noxious ammonia during processing.
Testing Time: Four weeks
Gold Winner: Clairol Natural Instincts ($9, 36 shades, or ) took the top spot. It placed first in the lab for both initial and final gray coverage and for shine retention on hair swatches. At home, after using Natural Instincts, testers found that their hair color was the likeliest to actually match the color swatch on the box and that this product had the least offensive smell. "A pleasant fruity scent," noted one. It also received the best marks from consumers for making hair smooth, soft, and silky, and (along with runner-up Garnier HerbaShine, details below) for fade resistance. Testers also praised its unique inclusion of Week 2 Color Refresher, a rinse-out treatment that delivers key pigments lost two weeks after coloring. "It gave my color a kick. I'm still happy at week four," said one volunteer.
Silver Winner: Scoring a close second in the lab, Garnier HerbaShine Color Crème With Bamboo Extract ($8, 18 shades, or ) got kudos from panelists for covering grays and providing rich, even color, as well as a call-out for being the easiest to mix and apply. "I had never purchased a demi before, and I thought it would easily fade or not adequately cover my gray, but this held up as well as any permanent color I have used," said one demi newbie.
Tip: While some demi-permanents claim to cover up to 70% gray, in our lab test, the color looked most vibrant on 30%-gray swatches. On those that were 70% gray, the color looked more washed-out.
The Contenders: Hair serums, lotions, and creams intended to make hair look shinier, thicker, and fuller. They also promise increased softness, smoothness, and manageability.
Testing Time: One week
Gold Winner: L'anza Healing Strength Neem Plant Silk Serum ($26, ) grabbed first place in overall lab performance, winning the shine evaluation and earning our visual-rating panel's highest score for imparting sheen to hair swatches. That success was confirmed in the Samba instrumental test, performed at an outside lab (TRI in Princeton, NJ), which showed that the serum increased shine on untreated hair swatches by 250%. Testers agreed, giving it the highest shine score. "It made my hair shine instantly," said one. They also gave it top marks for making their hair feel soft. In the lab, it tied with runner-up Biolage (details below) in Instron combability tests, demonstrating that it also made hair less prone to snags and breaks. "My hair just seemed way more manageable. I had happier hair," one panelist commented.
Silver Winner: Biolage Rejuvathérapie Age Rejuvenating Leave-In Densifier ($18, ) surpassed other leave-ins by impressing testers with its ability to thicken and strengthen their hair. "It made my hair seem thick and fluffy. This stuff works," reported a tester. The Instron test confirmed that Biolage does indeed help reinforce hair and prevent breakage. The trade-off: Biolage didn't perform nearly as well as L'anza at increasing shine.
Tip: Start by applying a drop or two, and gradually add more if needed. Too much of a leave-in treatment, particularly a serum, can make strands greasy or limp.
These permanent haircolor "minis" are a boon for gray coverage between colorings. We tested the only two on the market — L'Oréal Paris Root Rescue ($8, 12 shades, or ) and Clairol Nice 'n Easy Root Touch-Up ($7, 20 shades, or ), both designed to last three weeks — and they scored head-to-head. A few differences: L'Oréal garnered top consumer scores for providing seamless coverage and for the accuracy of the color's match with the swatch on the box. "It looked natural and blended with my existing color," noted one volunteer. Testers rated Clairol less likely to fade over three weeks than L'Oréal, and they especially liked Clairol's applicator: "The blue brush was the easiest I've ever used," said one. (L'Oréal has a comb-tipped bottle, not a separate brush.) For both products, some testers reported that the dye didn't cover resistant grays and complained of fading. Those results were echoed in the lab, where our experts found that root touch-ups faded more quickly than permanent haircolor. Testers were divided on the benefits of a root touch-up. Reported one convert: "The ease of it means I could use it often. It's much better for me than using an entire box of color." Feedback from an on-the-fence tester: "It only stretched the time between dyeings by maybe two weeks."