The Difference Between Temporary, Permanent, Demi-Permanent And Semi-Permanent Hair Color


Every profession has its own language, and hair color is no exception. All you have to do is listen when a bunch of hair color pros get together and you’ll hear all sorts of terms being thrown around—like

Permanent Hair Color

What it is: Permanent hair color does what the name says—it permanently changes the color of your hair.

What it does: When mixed with a developer, permanent hair dye opens the cuticles that comprise the surface of the hair shaft and delivers dye deep inside. The cuticle then reseals, preventing the color from escaping.

What is doesn’t do: Permanent hair color will not fade away gradually so you will always see a difference between the new growth and the colored hair.

How it’s used: Permanent color is used to lighten or darken hair; change the color of hair and cover grey.

How long it lasts: Permanent hair color lasts indefinitely because it permanently alters the color structure of the hair.

Demi-Permanent Hair Color

What it is: Demi-permanent hair color is a low-ammonia formula that is generally mixed with a low-volume developer.

What it does: Demi-permanent hair dye gently opens the surface cuticle of the hair and allows dye to penetrate slightly into the hair shaft. The formulas are sheer. Demi-permanents can darken the hair or change the tone. They also add shine.

What is doesn’t do: Demi-permanent color formulas will not lift or lighten the hair or cover grey.

How it’s used: Demi-permanent hair color can be used to enhance natural hair color; deposit color over blonde or lightened hair; blend (but not cover) grey; refresh faded hair color; darken or lowlight the hair; correct hair color that has gone off-tone (turned brassy or ashy, for example) and blend highlights. A clear demi-permanent can also add shine and restore the luster of dull, damaged hair. Demi-permanent color is a great option if you haven’t had hair color before, since it will fade gradually without damaging your hair.

How long it lasts: Depending upon the health and porosity of the hair demi-permanent hair color lasts between 12 and 24 shampoos before it fades gradually.

Semi-Permanent Hair Color

What it is: Semi-permanent hair color is a gentle blend that contains no ammonia and does not need to be mixed with a developer. Because of this, it may also be referred to as a direct dye.

What it does: Semis deposit color onto the surface of the hair, functioning as a sheer coating. Unlike permanent or demi-permanent hair color, semi-permanent color does not penetrate the hair shaft. It alters the tone of the hair.

What is doesn’t do: Semi-permanent hair dye will not lighten your hair, cover grey or change your hair color.

How it’s used: Semi-permanent hair color can be used to deposit color over blonde or lightened hair; to blend (but not cover) grey; to refresh faded hair color; to correct hair color that has gone off-tone (turned brassy or ashy, for example) and to blend highlights with base hair color. A clear semi-permanent can also add shine and restore the luster of dull, damaged hair. Semi-permanent color may also be found in shampoos, conditioners and masks that can be used to maintain the tone of hair between salon visits.

How long it lasts: Depending upon the health and porosity of the hair, semi-permanent color can last anywhere between four and 12 shampoos before gradually fading.

Temporary Hair Color

What it is: Temporary hair color changes the hair color instantly. It’s often found in a powder, chalk or spray form.

What it does: Temporary hair dye coats the hair with color.

What is doesn’t do: It will not lighten, darken or alter the actual hair color in any way.

How it’s used: Temporary hair color can mask regrowth, coat grey hair, add sections or panels of color or be used to create fun designs or stencils in the hair.

How long it lasts: Temporary color washes out of hair with one shampoo.

Often, your stylist might use a combination of hair color types during your hair color service. For example, she may use permanent hair color to dye your new growth and then apply demi-permanent hair color to restore vibrancy or depth to the rest of your previously-colored hair. The bottom line is there is a hair color formula for every task, and your stylist now has more options than ever to create a look you love—safely and beautifully!

Pro tip: To keep your hair color vibrant be sure to use hair care products specially formulated for color treated hair.