NEW YORK — The company that first made it nice and easy for women to color their hair at home says they’re about to make it much nicer.

Clairol’s new Perfect 10 hair-coloring kits significantly update the basic formula the market leader has used since 1956, incorporating knowledge from such unlikely places as parent company Procter & Gamble’s fiber care and prestige fragrance teams, researchers there say.

The goal was not just to make the end result better, but to improve the hair-coloring experience, says Patrice Louvet, general manager and vice president of global hair color at P&G.

“The mission to the team really was to think of hair color as makeup, skin care. Something fun you’d want to do,” Louvet says.

Consumers are likely to notice at least one difference right away — the smell. Rather than the acrid, chemical smell Clairol colors used to have, the new formula has a sweet fruity scent you’d expect from a tube of lip gloss.

“We started with the consumer and what they thought were the tradeoffs with hair colorants: the smell, the feel, that they were not always the right color,” says Louise Scott, director of research and development at P&G, who spent 10 years on the new coloring cocktail. “It was the core chemisty that was causing the tradeoffs,” she says.

So Scott and her team focused on reworking the entire formula, and developed something with less ammonia and a lower pH, they say. The new formula works in just 10 minutes, a big dip from the standard 30, also meaning less damage to hair, says Scott.

Nielsen Data estimated sales of hair-color products at food and drug stores were nearly $870 million during 2007, according to Clairol.

At-home hair color remains a different animal than the salon experience, even as technology makes the over-the-bathroom sink approach more pleasant.

At Aveda salons, for instance, scent has long been a part of the process, says David Adams, technical artistic director. Aveda has steered toward natural ingredients, even in hair color, he explains, including using lavender, lemon and rose.

“The scent is something you notice when you come in to the salon,” he says.

You’ll also get a smattering of other services, such as hand-massage or cosmetics help while your hair hue transforms.

But hair-color in a salon also comes with two other big differences: At-home color usually takes about a half-hour, while the process in a salon can approach two hours. And the Perfect 10 kit will retail for a suggested price of $13.99; a single-process coloring at Aveda starts at $90 in Manhattan.

Hair color is a commitment, Adams says with a laugh.