How to Use Semi-Permanent Hair Dyes and What Results Should You Expect?

Last Updated on December 15, 2022 by Gaga

Semi-permanent hair dyes are a gentle alternative to permanent hair colors. Unlike most permanent formulas, these dyes are free from ammonia and most of them don’t require a developer. Semi-permanent dyes simply stain the hair, without chemically altering the hair structure.

Semi-permanent hair dyes provide you with longer-lasting color than temporary dyes, but they fade out faster than permanent colors. Depending on the brand, base color, and porosity of the hair the color can last between 4-6 weeks and tends to fade gradually.

This low-commitment color is a good option for people who prefer colors that are easy to change. If you want to experiment with a new shade but are not ready to make a permanent commitment, a semi-permanent color is the best choice.

smiling girl with pastel pink hair

How do Semi-Permanent Dyes Work?

These hair dyes are not capable of lightening hair as most don’t contain peroxide. These highly pigmented dyes work by depositing pigments on the hair shaft without opening the cuticle and penetrating the hair.

When used on unbleached hair, they condition your strands and restore color vibrancy. To achieve vibrant colors and long-lasting results, you need to pre-lighten the hair.

This type of hair dye is easy to use, and in most cases, you can apply the color straight from the applicator. You can easily do it yourself as long as you follow the directions.

What Results to Expect?

The results may vary depending on your natural hair color and the porosity of your hair. Semi-permanent dyes are only capable of darkening existing hair colors. If a vivid color is your goal, you have to bleach your hair first.

You can skip bleaching only if you have very light hair or you just want to add a subtle tint to your dark locks. The lighter the hair, the darker the color outcome.

If you are a natural blonde, your hair will look richer and shinier after semi-permanent coloring because the pigments give your hair a boost of shine.

Charming girl with pink colored hair

Benefits of Semi-Permanent Hair Color

Semi-permanent hair colors have many benefits, especially if your hair is dry and porous:

  1. They are harmless: These dyes are free of ammonia, peroxide, and other harsh additives, so they are gentler on fragile hair than permanent dyes. Semi-permanent hair colors condition the hair and smooth the cuticle, leaving your hair smoother and softer than before coloring.
  2. Fade gracefully: When the color starts to wash out, it still looks beautiful. These colors gradually fade into a gorgeous pastel that is just as beautiful as freshly applied color.
  3. Boost shine: Semi-permanent hair dyes are often used to remove brassy tones from hair and to add instant shine to lackluster, dull hair.
  4. No noticeable regrowth: Semi-permanent colors fade nicely and evenly without the harsh demarcation line of grown-out roots.
  5. Low commitment: You can switch up the color without a long-term commitment. The color gently fades between services, so you can simply choose another color to experiment with.
  6. More volume: Fine and thin hair looks thicker and denser because the pigments instantly provide more volume.
  7. Easy to use: They are easy to apply, so you can easily do it yourself! You don’t have to mix anything and can apply the color straight from the bottle.

Can you Cover Gray Hair with a Semi-Permanent Color?

If you’re looking to cover a small percentage of gray, most of the semi-permanent dyes will do the job, blending gray hair nicely. The color fades without showing a harsh root line. Make sure to leave the coloring product to process for longer because gray strands can be stubborn about taking color.

If you have a lot of gray hair, a permanent hair dye will give you better coverage.

Clairol Natural Instincts Semi-Permanent Hair Dye is advertised to provide 100% gray coverage but this brand contains hydrogen peroxide in its formula.

young woman with fashion hair color using smartphone in bed

Will Fashion Colors Show up on Dark Hair?

The semi-permanent color will coat all of your strands, but the resulting color depends on the underlying color and the color you choose to apply.

If your hair is dark and you want a bright color, you have to bleach your hair until it is almost white to get an appropriate base for the desired color. Otherwise, vivid semi-permanent dyes will just slightly tint unbleached dark hair and the color only shows as a hidden tone in the sunlight.

If you have darker hair with highlights, the color will show up very vibrant on the highlighted strands while giving a nice tint to the rest of your hair.

Another problem with using funky colors on unbleached hair is that the color will fade quickly.

Although you typically have to pre-bleach your hair to play around with fashion colors, there are some exceptions. Splat Midnight Semi-Permanent Hair Dye and Lime Crime Unicorn Hair Dye for Dark Hair are formulated to give you fun hair color without having to pre-bleach your locks.

Young woman with mint color

How Long Does Semi-Permanent Color Last?

Semi-permanent colors will typically start to fade after 4-8 weeks, depending on the porosity of your hair, underlying color, and how often you wash your hair. The color loses brightness gradually with each wash. Use lukewarm water to minimize color fading.

Virgin hair is more resistant than processed hair, so the color pigments will not stick to the surface, and may wash out quickly.

High porosity hair grabs color pigments easily and holds them for longer than virgin or healthy hair. However, overly porous hair may fade unevenly.

beautiful young girl with pastel pink hair

How to Dye Your Hair with Semi-Permanent Hair Color

Semi-permanent color products come ready to use. The application is simple and can be easily done at home. Follow the instructions carefully.

  1. Wash your hair with a clarifying shampoo and repeat if needed. Don’t use conditioner!
  2. Dry your hair completely before starting the color application.
  3. Apply protective cream around your hairline and on your ears to prevent the color from staining your skin.
  4. Put on latex gloves, then apply the color onto desired areas and massage it in to coat the strands well.
  5. Leave the product in your hair according to the instructions on the bottle. For a more intense, longer-lasting color, leave the product in for longer than directed.
  6. Rinse the hair away from your face using cool to lukewarm water. Rinse until the water runs clear. Do not shampoo.

If you like your color to appear more pastel, dilute the dye with your conditioner.

To replenish the color, mix some of the dye with your regular hair conditioner and use the mixture for 10 minutes once a week or bi-weekly.

If you are using the same color, you can redo it once a month or more often if you like. But, if you are going to change your color, you might want to wait a few weeks after the previous color treatment.

How to Make Semi-Permanent Hair Dye Last Longer

  • Shampoo your hair less often as the color fades with each shampoo.
  • Use sulfate-free shampoos formulated for color-treated hair.
  • Wash your hair with relatively cold water and avoid using very hot water for that purpose.
  • Always follow with a conditioner!
  • Wait a week or two before going to swim in a chlorinated pool.
  • To keep your color looking fresh, periodically add a few drops of the color to your conditioner and use the mixture after shampooing.

The drawback:

These dyes can stain anything they come into contact with during color processing. The pigments may continue staining your hands, your clothes, your towels, and your pillowcase for another week.

To minimize the mess, use latex gloves, wear an old shirt, and cover all your bathroom surfaces with “throw-away” towels. Also, use old towels to cover your pillows and wear dark clothing for the first couple of days. Use a bathroom cleaner with bleach to clean the surfaces.

Popular Brands: Arctic Fox Semi-Permanent Hair Color Dye (very gentle and fades out gracefully), Special Effects SFX Hair Color Hair Dye, Pravana ChromaSilk Vivids, Iroiro Premium Natural Semi-Permanent Hair Color, Joico Intensity Semi-Permanent Hair Color, Splat Hair Color Kit,  Semi-Permanent Conditioning Hair Color by Punky, L’Oreal Paris Colorista Semi-Permanent Hair Color, and Lime Crime Unicorn Hair Semi-Permanent Hair Dye. 

young girl with blue colored hair

About the author

Dragica Mitrovic Gaga
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Gaga is a blogger and founder of the Softer Hair website. She often says that insomnia is to blame for her first blogging attempts. Being the night owl, she hated the morning alarm. She left her office job and returned to what she loved most - writing.


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