Everything You Wanted to Know About Semi-Permanent Hair Dye (Including the 11 Best Ones to Buy)

So, you’re curious about dyeing your hair at home? Well, you’re certainly not alone. According to Nielsen, a marketing research firm, at-home hair color sales spiked 23 percent in the first three months of 2020 over the same time last year. Given the quarantine, this comes as no surprise since we’ve all been dipping into more DIY grooming lately.

Luckily, there are tons of great options to choose from, which we’ll walk you through below. But first, let’s talk about the difference between at-home dyes.

Semi-permanent hair color vs. other types of dyes

For starters, there’s temporary hair dye, which often comes in spray or chalk form and you can wash it out in as little as one shampoo (though some can last longer).

The next step up is semi-permanent hair dye, which generally lasts up to eight shampoos, at which point, it fades gradually. It doesn’t change your existing color so much as it helps with the tone of it, which is why it’s sometimes referred to as a “toner” or a “gloss.” Semi-permanent dye is a good choice for covering up grays quickly or giving your color a boost until you can see your stylist.

After semi-permanent dye comes demi-permanent dye, which is mixed with a developer so the color can penetrate the outer layer of your hair shaft rather than just coat it. Because of this, demi-permanent dye can last up to 24 washes.

Finally, there’s permanent hair dye, which involves more chemical processing. The pros are that it lasts the longest (up to six weeks) and can provide fuller coverage if you have particularly stubborn grays or want to switch up your color entirely. The cons are that they can be a bit more damaging than the others (due to the ammonia and hydrogen peroxide that are typically used to develop the color) and it will grow out with your hair, creating a visible line of demarcation as the roots come in.

Not sure of which one to try? We’d recommend starting with a semi-permanent hair dye—especially if it’s your first time. It’s a subtle way to enhance your color without having to make a huge commitment. And, since it’s not penetrating your hair shaft, it’s the least damaging option.

How to use semi-permanent hair color at home:

Step 1: First things first, always do a test on a small patch of skin (i.e., behind your ears) before coloring all over to make sure your skin doesn't have any reaction to the dye. Once you’re in the clear, clip your hair back into four even sections.

Step 2: Dab a bit of petroleum jelly along your hairline (as well as on the tops of your ears) to prevent staining your skin.

Step 3: Put on some gloves and mix up the color as instructed on the box. Then, give it your best shake.

Step 4: Apply the dye in a straight line down your center part. Massage it in with the opposite hand as you go. Do the same thing along all of your parts, working from front to back. Then, work through the sections, applying the color to your roots.

Step 5: Apply the color to the rest of your strands, pulling it all the way down from roots to tips. (You may need a second box if you have extra long or thick hair.)

Step 6: Rinse well with shampoo, then finish with the enclosed treatment or conditioner.

Look at you, master colorist! Ok, ready to shop? We’ve got the 11 best semi-permanent hair dyes ahead.

semi permanent hair dye john frieda colour refreshing gloss

1. John Frieda Colour Refreshing Gloss

Best Drugstore

One of the OGs, this wallet-friendly dye comes in a squeeze bottle that doles out six weekly treatments to keep your color vibrant. Available in seven shades from black to brunette and red or blonde, you use it just like you would a mask: in the shower, massaged and left in for three to five minutes and rinsed out.

semi permanent hair dye kristin ess signature hair gloss

2. Kristin Ess Signature Hair Gloss

Best For Shine

Like topcoat for your strands, this in-shower gloss gives just a tiny boost of color and instant shine so your hair looks healthier overall. Rather than a weekly treatment like the Frieda gloss above, this one requires a slightly longer application (10 to 20 minutes wait time) but can last up to a month before you need to reapply. Comes in 13 shades including various shades of blonde, brown, copper and black.

semi permanent hair dye christophe robin shade variation mask

3. Christophe Robin Shade Variation Mask

Most Hydrating

If you took a deep conditioner and added a blend of tone-enhancing pigments, you’d get this decadent mask. Created by a famed French stylist (whose chic clientele includes Catherine Denevue and Linda Evangelista), it’s a quick fix for brassy, parched hair. Massage a generous scoop onto freshly shampooed strands and leave on between five to 30 minutes (five for first-timers and gradually work your way up for more intensity). The color will begin to fade in three to five washes and is available in four shades: baby blonde, golden blonde, warm chestnut and ash brown.

semi permanent hair dye good dye young semi permanent hair color

4. Good Dye Young Semi-permanent Hair Color

Best For Bold Colors

This peroxide- and ammonia- free formula has a creamy, conditioning base and comes in an array of fun colors like “Narwhal Teal” and “Riot Orange” (which, fun fact, is Paramore singer Hayley Williams’ signature hue). Note: For brighter shades like these, it’s best if you already have light hair. Otherwise, use a lightening product beforehand to really make the color pop.

semi permanent hair dye dphue gloss semi permanent hair color and deep conditioner

5. Dphue Gloss + Semi-permanent Hair Color And Deep Conditioner

Most Subtle

Consider this your training wheels to semi-permanent dye. Rather than drastically alter your color, this gloss simply enhances your current hue and is as easy to use as conditioner. Apply to clean, damp hair, leave in for as little as three minutes (but up to 20 if you want a deeper boost of color) and rinse. Choose from 11 shades including three shades of blonde and brown, respectively, as well as auburn and copper.

semi permanent hair dye manic panic amplified semi permanent hair color

6. Manic Panic Amplified Semi-permanent Hair Color

For a slightly more robust shade selection than the rest, look no further than this cult favorite dye; it comes in every shade imaginable from a bluish silver to a soft coral. Highly pigmented and 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free, it’s ready to use right out of the bottle. The main difference with this formula is that you want to apply it to freshly washed, but completely dry (Tip: Wash your hair with lukewarm water. Hot water can fade your color faster.)

semi permanent hair dye madison reed root reboot
Madison Reed

7. Madison Reed Root Reboot

Best For Roots

Need a quick root touchup? This liquid dye gets the job done in 10 minutes flat (without messing with your underlying color). Thanks to a handy sponge-tip applicator, you can easily target any areas that need covering. Results last up to two weeks and it comes in seven shades from the blackest black to a light brown.

Buy it ($20)

semi permanent hair dye esalon tint rinse

8. Esalon Tint Rinse

Best For Blonde Hair

With over 6,000 reviews, this fan-favorite tint is broken out into two categories: boosters and balancers. Use a booster if you want to add vibrancy or enhance your color; go for a balancer if you’re looking to tone down any warmth or brassiness. Whether you have honey highlights or are a copper redhead, this rinse-out treatment will help bring out your color. (Tip: For best results, stick to the recommended two to three minutes.)

semi permanent hair dye overtone coloring conditioner

9. Overtone Coloring Conditioner

Best For Dark Hair

Darker hair requires more pigment, which is exactly what this semi-permanent color delivers. With no harsh ingredients and conditioning coconut oil, it’s a gentle way to play with color without causing damage. Though it’s formulated specifically for brunettes, the end results will vary depending on your starting hair color. So, if you have light brown hair to begin with, whatever shade you choose (there are seven in total) will convert to a brighter color than if you start with a dark brown base. Check the shade panel to get a better idea of what to expect.

semi permanent hair dye moroccanoil color depositing mask

10. Moroccanoil Color Depositing Mask

Best For Frizz

Fans of the brand’s bestselling oil will be delighted to know that this dual-purpose mask not only deposits color, but also has many of the same frizz-reducing (and hydrating) ingredients, like apricot and argan oil, so you get a sleeker finish. Tip: You always want to apply semi-permanent dye to clean strands so there isn’t any buildup or residue blocking the color. For this mask, leave it on between five and seven minutes before rinsing out and styling as usual. It comes in seven shades (and mini sizes).

semi permanent hair dye rainbow research henna hair color conditioner

11. Rainbow Research Henna Hair Color & Conditioner

Best Natural

For a plant-based option that is dye- and chemical-free, this centuries-old color comes from small shrubs that are dried and ground to a fine powder, which you then mix with hot liquid (usually water, coffee or tea) to create a creamy paste. The pigmented color is touted for its ability to cover even gray or silver roots and is safe to use on your brows, too. Choose from eight shades.

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Beauty Director

Jenny Jin is PureWow’s Beauty Director and is currently based in Los Angeles. Since beginning her journalism career at Real Simple magazine, she has become a human encyclopedia of...