Hair Dyes

Reviewed by Madeline Hall, Hair Color Specialist

Hair coloring products can be classified into four categories: temporary, semi-permanent, demi-permanent, and permanent dyes.

Permanent hair dyes work by penetrating your hair’s cuticle and provide long-lasting results. Permanent dyes can be used to lighten or darken the original hair color or to cover up gray hair.

Demi-permanent dyes contain no ammonia but do have a low-volume developer. These are a great option if you want to refresh faded hair color and make your grays blend-in, but this type of hair dye cannot be used to lighten the hair. Demi-permanent color generally lasts up to 6 weeks.

Semi-permanent hair dyes are short-lived and usually lasts 6 to 10 washes. Their formula doesn’t include harmful chemicals and they don’t need to be mixed with a developer. They don’t penetrate into the hair cortex and only deposit color over blonde or lightened hair.

Temporary hair dyes just coat the hair with color and are meant to be used for special events and occasions. They usually come in a form of shampoos, gels, sprays, foams, and rinses. The color washes out with the first shampoo.

Permanent Hair Colors

Permanent hair dye generally contains a combination of the two main chemical ingredients – ammonia and hydrogen peroxide. These chemicals must be mixed together prior to application to permanently change the hair color.

Ammonia, in permanent hair color formulation, is used to create an alkaline pH which opens the cuticles and allows the hair color and the developer to penetrate the hair.

Hydrogen peroxide, also known as an oxidizing agent or the developer, helps strip your natural color and set pigment deeply into the hair. The developer comes in various concentrations to adjust to the pigment you need to neutralize and the results you want to achieve.

Permanent hair dyes work through a chemical process called oxidation and can lighten your natural hair color. When applied to the hair, the chemical mixture penetrates the hair shaft, removes your natural pigment, and deposits a new color. After oxidation, the dye molecules expand in a size and stay trapped inside the hair, giving it a new color.

Permanent dyes provide full coverage for grays and alter the color of your hair until it grows out.

Harsh chemicals used in permanent hair color can cause dryness and can damage your hair in the long run.

Demi-Permanent Hair Dyes

Demi-permanent dyes use alkaline agents milder than ammonia and a low-volume developer. The absence of ammonia makes them unable to open the cuticle completely and remove the natural hair pigment. Demi-permanent pigments create medium-sized color molecules that take some time to wash out. These colors can cover your first grays, darken your color or enhance shades of natural or previously color-treated hair. They are unable to color your hair to a lighter shade than your current color. The color washes out over time, lasting up to 24 shampoos.

Demi-permanent dyes work better for covering gray hair than semi-permanent colors, but they cover grays less effectively than permanent colors. They are also gentler and less likely to damage your hair than permanent dyes.

Semi-Permanent Hair Colors

Semi-permanent hair dyes coat the hair shaft and change the color temporarily to different shades, giving the appearance of beautiful and glowing natural highlights. These ammonia-free formulas are a gentle way to color your hair. Semi-permanent hair color will last for 12 washes, on average, depending on the products used and the condition of the hair.

The absence of ammonia and peroxide makes them safer and less damaging to the hair. The colors are particularly suitable for fragile, damaged, or fine hair.

If you frequently color your hair and don’t want to commit to a certain color, semi-permanent dyes are your best option. They produce the most vivid results on pre-lightened hair, creating beautiful fashion hair colors.

When used over darker shades, semi-permanent dyes work to enhance the current color or add a subtle tint that is visible in the sun.

You can leave the product in your hair for several hours without causing damage to the hair. On the contrary, semi-permanent dyes can improve the condition of your hair.

These coloring products have a nice smell and don’t irritate your scalp.

The Limitation of Semi-Permanent Dyes

Semi-permanent dyes cannot lighten your hair. If you have dark brown hair and want to achieve a more vibrant color, you must use bleach. If you dye over dark hair, the color will act as a highlight in sunlight only. They are also not recommended for covering gray hair.

All semi-permanent dyes continue to bleed from your hair during washing – especially red shades. They also tend to stain your skin, fabrics, sinks, etc. If you color your hair at home, make sure to carefully prepare your work area because the color may end up everywhere.

How Long Does Semi-Permanent Hair Dye Last?

Semi-permanent hair dyes only deposit color and don’t lift the natural pigment from the hair. The color generally lasts about 6 to 8 weeks. The following factors determine how long the dye will last:

  • Hair dryness – Color last longer on dry and processed hair than on virgin or oily hair.
  • Processing time – Longer processing time leads to a longer-lasting result.
  • Frequency of hair washing – Frequent washing will cause the color to fade quickly.
  • Color darkness – Darker shades will last longer than lighter ones.
  • The brand – The label informs the consumer how long the hair color will last. Semi-permanent colors by Adore Creative Image and Special Effects SFX will last longer than some of the other brands.

Application and Maintenance

  • Shampoo the hair before dying, but do not condition.
  • Wear a shirt you are ready to throw away as things can get messy.
  • Use Vaseline on your ears, neck, and hairline to prevent dye from getting on your skin.
  • Leave the product longer on your hair after applying for more intense color.
  • Rinse your hair with vinegar to help the color last longer.
  • Wash your hair with moderately cold water.
  • Switch to sulfate and sodium-free shampoo and conditioner.

Temporary Hair Colors

This type of hair dye does not last long because it merely covers the color your hair already has. When applied to the hair shaft, a temporary dye just coats the outer layer of the hair. It does not contain chemicals capable of stripping your hair of its natural color. It washes out fast because the pigments have nothing to cling to. Temporary dyes usually come in bright, attractive packages that are suitable for a single-use.

Reasons for Using Temporary Coloring Products?

You want your hair to look different and nice every time. But coloring your hair involves the use of chemicals. Temporary hair dyes are formulated for special events, when you want a new color to match your outfit or costume, but want to get rid of it the next day.

Another reason for using temporary colors is to experiment with different shades before committing to a permanent color.

People often use temporary hair colors to temporarily cover gray roots and avoid the over-use of potentially hazardous chemicals in permanent dyes.

Temporary dyes can increase the overall volume of the hair because they simply add an extra layer to your hair.

Types of Temporary Hair Dyes

Temporary dyes come in the form of gels, mousse, sprays, chalks, waxes, and colored mascaras.

Coloring Sprays

This is an extremely simple way to color your hair. It lasts only until your next shower and the colors come in a plethora of shades. These are often used for Halloween or for attending a sporting event.


Gels are water-soluble, easy to apply and may be used for styling as well as coloring. Gels also wash off the next time water hits your hair. Gels are ideal for kids and adults who seek “color without commitment.”


Hair chalk is perfect for individuals who want pastel-colored hair. They are easy to apply and wash out in the shower. They are perfect for darker hair where you cannot use most of the other types of dyes. You can get them relatively cheap and they are available in a variety of colors.

Colored Hair Mascara

Hair mascara is used to create temporary highlights or color desired areas in your hair. It works great for a night out and stays in your hair until you shower.

Color Depositing Shampoos and Conditioners

Color depositing shampoos and conditioners replenish color pigments lost during washes to refresh and intensify your existing hair color. When used on pre-lightened hair, they can give you a bold color that lasts for a few shampoos. The prolonged use may keep the color vibrant until you stop using the product.

Colorful Clip-In Extensions

These ingenious, extension-like inventions attach to your hair wherever you’d like them. They come in a large variety of colors and last until you unclip them.

rainbow clip-in hair extensions
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