Semi-permanent hair color is the unsung hero of the drugstore hair-care aisle. It’s the perfect solution for those who want to test the waters of a color change, but don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars and hours in the salon chair to do it. Unlike permanent hair color, which can last for a few weeks (sometimes even months), semi-permanent hair color lets you take a subtle new shade for a spin without the commitment.
But when it comes to selecting the best semi-permanent hair color for your strands, it’s good to know what it can (and can’t) do for you. Here’s a primer on the two types of temporary at-home hair dye:
Semi-Permanent Hair Color: If you want to add a gloss finish to your hair color or brighten up a dull ‘do with some shine and light pigment, semi-permanent hair color is your best bet. “This type of hair dye is used to deposit color at your level or darker,” says George Papanikolas, Matrix SoColor celebrity colorist . “It doesn’t have the ability to lighten hair, but semi-permanent hair color is great for covering or blending grays.” If you’re looking to go from brunette to blonde, a semi-permanent hair dye won’t cut it. “Semi-permanent hair color doesn’t penetrate into the cortex of the hair like permanent hair dye,” says Redken Global Artistic Director Kris Sorbie. “It only deposits color on the surface.” According to Papanikolas, semi-permanent hair color is often used in salons to tone brassy highlights or add shine to a lackluster mane, but it will only last you about 15 to 20 shampoos.
Demi-Permanent Hair Color: The major difference between semi- and demi-permanent dye is the lifespan and color deposit. Demi-permanent hair colors are a step up from semi-permanent, but a level below permanent. “[It’s] used to either richen your natural color or darken a lighter color,” Papanikolas says, adding that it’s ideal for refreshing faded dye jobs.
Demi-permanent hair dye, like semi, can’t take your hair lighter, according to Papanikolas. However, it will last longer (20-50 shampoos), which is especially good for gray coverage.
Whether you’re looking to add shine and gloss, or you simply want to try covering some grays on the cheap, these are the best semi-permanent hair colors on the market — with a few demi-permanent options, for you less commitment-phobe types.