obsessive tester

Which Root Touch-ups Work Best Between Salon Visits?

Photo: Corbis

My first gray hair showed up in my early twenties, like the punch line to a bad joke about overachievers. The next few trickled in at the rate of two or three per year until I had twins at 29, and half my head seemed to turn white overnight. Up until then, I had tolerated the strays and made no attempt to hide them. But at 30, I felt too young to be so gray, so I booked an appointment for a single process. Little did I know I had embarked on a tedious, decades-long commitment to retain my original natural brunette color. Immediately I began to resent it, as I could never get into the rhythm of a scheduled appointment, which would inevitably lead into parts of the month when silvery roots made it look like my hair was thinning and pulling away from my head.

Recently, I realized there were products designed to help hair-color deniers like me. I tested many of the nonpermanent products available for covering roots in between salon visits to see which ones were a mess and which were a godsend. From powders to lip-gloss wands to mini-spray-paint-bottles, there’s no shortage of companies trying to solve this problem. For two weeks past my much-needed dye job, I put these products to the test. Through rainstorms and bike rides, overnight, and with white dresses, I tried them all. Some were good for certain sections of the head, others good for keeping in your purse for emergencies (doesn’t it always seem like roots show up out of nowhere?), and a few were downright awful. Click through the slideshow ahead to get the full reviews and see which products I’d recommend the most. Because until they make that pill to eradicate gray, we’ll be using products like these when we don’t have time to get our hair done.

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Not Recomended

Twisting the bottom of this pen releases small amounts of dye into the tip, which can be dabbed on hair a few strokes at a time. At first I panicked thinking it wouldn’t dry, but after five minutes I could comb it through with the tiny brush it came with. If you have a few stragglers this formula might cover them. Personal mishaps included small, visible brown dots on my scalp where I failed to hold my hair at the right angle while drawing it on. They were easily smudged off with a finger, but it wasn’t ideal, particularly around the temples. —– Oscar Blandi Pronto Colore Root Touch Up & Highlight Pen, $23

Not Recommended

Like brown lip gloss for your roots, this felt sloppy and inefficient for serious root-hiding. —– Cover Your Gray Root Touch Up, $5.99

Recomended With Reservations

If you’ve ever used a brush to apply dry shampoo, you’ll be familiar with how this feels: powdery. On the plus side, it covers a lot of area, so you can use it liberally on the crown of your head and not worry about missing spots. On the down side, it never fully absorbs, so if it’s a hot day and you forget you have brown powder on your scalp and absent-mindedly scratch your head, be prepared for a fingernail full of soot. —– Jonathan Product Awake Color Root Touch Up, $19

Recomended With Reservations

In a blind test I would probably not be able to tell the difference between this and the Jonathan Product Awake Color Root Touch Up. So pick the one whose packaging you like more. —– TruHair Color-n-Lift Powder Brush, $19.95


Like a Sharpie, or a tiny shoe-polish applicator, you can use this pen to draw over your grays. Pulling your hair away from your head as you apply is key to avoiding blotting the dye on your scalp, but if you do misfire you can smudge any excess away with a finger. Coverage is decent, mess minimal, and once it dries none of the color will rub off on your hands. I didn’t find any use for the tiny comb. —– ColorMark TouchBack, $29.95


For truly neglected roots, this one covers them like gangbusters, but the tiny spray bottle is not for the timid. Pressing the nozzle releases a cold stream of dark color, and it takes at least three tries before you master getting the right amount of dye in the spot you want it (and it still freaks me out a little when applying around the hairline). But it didn’t get on my hands or anywhere else. It’s dark and very intense, but it held up after a sweaty day in the park, and I swear, even after I washed my hair there seemed to be trace bits of pigment still clinging to my roots. I will definitely be keeping this one in my bathroom cabinet to carry me through between visits to the colorist. —– Rita Hazan Root Concealer for Gray Coverage, $25

All-around winner

I was more than skeptical when I opened this compact and saw what looked like eye shadow with a large brush. But as I dabbed on the powder my grays disappeared and stayed covered all day. No mess, no dry time, nothing obvious. I could brush it around my hairline and it stayed put on my follicles, not my skin. I could take it in my purse and no one would be the wiser. Used in conjunction with the Rita Hazan spray, it’s not the cheapest option, but I think I just bought myself an extra week every month when I can skip the salon, which adds up to fewer overall trips each year and some savings in the end. I’m sold. —– Color Wow Root Cover Up, $34.50

Which Root Touch-ups Work Between Salon Visits?