Whether you’re looking to boost your current shade, cover your grays or try the latest color trend, dying your locks can feel like a big decision. And the work’s not done once you’ve settled on the perfect hue; you then need to consider the different types of hair dye available in order to get the best results, depending on various factors including your budget, desired upkeep and hair condition. Our advice? Before you book your salon appointment or grab that dye box in the beauty store, learn a bit more about your options below.
8 Different Types of Hair Dye, from Temporary to Permanent
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First, What Is Hair Dye?
Hair dye aims to change your natural hair color. It can either alter the shade from light to dark (or vice versa) completely or it can enhance your natural hue. Some hair dyes may also cover up gray hairs or refresh dull strands (due to previous color or sun exposure).
How to Choose the Best Hair Dye
In order to spend less time in the haircare aisle post-treatment and more time rocking a shiny new hue, you’ll want to do your homework. Here are a few factors to consider when choosing the right hair dye for you:
- Cost/Commitment: Ask yourself, “Are you looking to get your hair dyed in a salon or are you going to attempt to color it at home?” This question can make a huge difference when it comes to cost, time and commitment. For example: If you’re thinking of bleaching your hair, most experts will recommend getting it professionally done. But if you’re just looking to boost your natural hair color, then you may want to opt for a hair gloss or temporary hair dye. And for covering up your grays, an at-home treatment could be just the thing.
- Ingredients: Certain types of hair dye feature ingredients that may not be suitable for sensitive scalps. Permanent hair dye, for example, typically contains ammonia, peroxide and colorless dye precursors (PPD) in order to alter the hair and strengthen the color, three ingredients that can cause irritation or an allergic reaction. If you’re coloring your hair for the first time, the pros recommend doing a patch test first and looking out for any type of reaction before applying to your hair.
- Longevity: Need a quick fix or a lasting color? The answer to this one can shorten the pool of hair dye choices. Think: If it’s only for a night out, grab a hair chalk. But if you want to finally make the switch to being a redhead, a permanent color is the way to go.
- Hair Condition: If you have bleached, chemically-treated or colored hair, you’ll want to be mindful about the type of hair dye you use. Consider consulting with a hairstylist before taking the plunge, so you can avoid damaging your locks.
Ahead, you’ll find eight different hair dyes with a few pointers from our panel of hair colorists. Plus, we included a few brands you should have on your radar when you’re ready to color your mane.
Meet the Experts
1. Temporary Hair Dye
- Pros: Low stakes, no chemicals, affordable option
- Cons: Can be difficult for dark hair, frequent application, may transfer
As the name implies, this hair dye serves as a temporary look. The formula coats the outside of the hair shaft but won’t penetrate deeply to leave a lasting shade. So, if you’re looking to experiment with a new shade, this option will provide a pop of color for the day (or a little longer, depending on when your next shower is). Don’t expect temporary dye to dramatically lighten (or darken) your hair, or stick around until next weekend, since this product rinses out completely after shampooing. This treatment is the most affordable and lightweight of the group as it has no ammonia. Because no developer is required, you’ll usually find it in a chalk, wax or spray form.
2. Semi-Permanent Hair Dye
- Pros: Lasts 4 to 12 washes, gentle treatment, ammonia-free
- Cons: Temporary, won’t lighten dark hair, minimal gray hair coverage
Semi-permanent (or direct dyes) are another great short-term option. However, this product lasts longer than a temporary hair dye with 8 to 12 washes depending on your hair health (or porosity). “Semi-permanent hair dye is what will be used for most vivid colors,” explains Blais. “It’s just a good way to test out natural colors without commitment. These colors will overlay on your hair strand without chemically compromising your natural hair chemistry,” she adds.
Plus, the treatment doesn't contain ammonia or developer, which makes it ideal for sensitive scalps, brittle strands and/or damaged hair. If you’re looking to add more shine to dull locks, cover gray hair (or regrowth from a previous dye job) or enhance your natural hair color, a semi-permanent should be right up your alley.
3. Demi-Permanent Hair Dye
- Pros: Lasts 12 to 20 washes, gentle treatment, a great color refresh
- Cons: Won’t completely cover grays, developer is involved
When it comes to demi-permanent hair dye, expect a longer color time and stronger results compared to semi-permanent dye. That’s because demi-permanent features low levels of hydrogen peroxide and a developer. The formula penetrates the hair shaft (rather than coating it), to give a more permanent touch. “Demi-permanent hair color helps open the cuticle and allows just enough of an opening for the dye molecule to create a change. This type of color is great for blending grays, enhancing natural color, refreshing color, toning highlights or for any corrective work,” says Patterson.
As a result, demi-permanent hair color can last around 12 to 20 washes before it’s rinsed out completely. Similar to semi-permanent, it’s also a gentler option and fades gradually over time. “Demi-permanent is my favorite way to introduce someone to hair color. It’s very easy to apply and relatively straightforward. If you don’t love it, good news—you won’t see that “line” growing out as it gradually fades off of the hair after a few washes,” adds Patterson.
4. Permanent Hair Color
- Pros: Can last for weeks/months, can lighten/darken hair, covers gray hairs
- Cons: Contains ammonia, major commitment, constant touch-ups
If you’re looking for a full color that won’t wash away after shampooing, a permanent hair dye might be the one for you. “Permanent color has the ability to lift, lighten and then deposit color. It's typically used for gray coverage or when you want to go lighter,” explains Papanikolas. The formula often features ammonia, hydrogen peroxide and PPD to penetrate deeper and seal the color longer. According to Papanikolas, you can lighten the hair one to four shades depending on the developer.
This treatment lasts longer than any other hair dye, ranging from weeks to months if you go into the salon for regular touch-ups. The major downside? To maintain the shade, you have to see a stylist every four to six weeks due to regrowth. Another factor to consider is that the color doesn’t fade gradually like the other temporary options, so you have constantly cover your roots. Note: If you’re doing a permanent color for the first time, consider a patch test to observe any allergic reactions.
5. Root Concealer
- Pros: Quick solution, no full commitment, different options
- Cons: Some are temporary, might need constant application
If you’re only interested in covering your gray hairs then a root concealer is just what you need. This type of hair dye offers a quick fix without having to color your whole entire head. These applicators usually come in many forms (i.e., stick, spray, etc.), so you can apply at home or take it on the go. Plus, some products range from a temporary solution that you can wash out after shampooing or a permanent pick that’ll last you a few weeks.
- Pros: Helps lighten hair, great if you’re thinking of going blonde
- Cons: Can damage hair, big commitment, expensive
If you're looking to go blonde or try a lighter shade (like platinum), bleaching your locks can be the right move. Bleach is a chemical treatment that uses an alkaline agent (like hydrogen peroxide) to open the hair cuticle and strip away your hair's melanin (aka your natural hair color). The longer you leave the dye on your hair, the lighter your strands will become.
Hair bleaching can be tough on locks, particularly if not done properly. To prevent fragile, brittle strands, it’s highly recommended to have a professional perform this treatment. It’s also helpful to maintain a dedicated hair care routine post-treatment that will keep your hair moisturized and protected. In a previous PureWow story, DaRico Jackson, a celebrity hairstylist advises those with bleached hair to use a nourishing purple shampoo and a hair mask to help neutralize brassiness and reduce breakage.
Bleaching can also be time-consuming and a big commitment, especially if you have naturally dark hair, which might take multiple trips to the salon to get the perfect shade. Additionally, this option doesn’t fade gradually, so monthly touch-ups are a must just like with permanent hair dye.
7. Hair Gloss
- Pros: Enhances natural hair color, affordable, quick solution
- Cons: Temporary, won’t dramatically change hair color, subtle tint
In the last few years, hair gloss has been the trendy hair treatment to try both at home and at the salon. This hair dye is often mistaken for a demi-permanent color as it has similar features, including the ability to add shine, neutralize brassiness and enhance your natural hair color. The big difference lies with the longevity and application. A hair gloss can last for a few weeks before it starts to fade gradually. While it can be done in a salon, there are plenty of at-home products available that make it simple to apply all over the head without any mishaps.
- Pros: Natural ingredient, lasts 4 to 6 weeks, reduces dandruff
- Cons: Harder to remove, long time to set, mixed results
If you’re looking for a natural alternative, look no further than henna. This ancient ingredient derives from henna plant, lawsonia inermis, and is mainly used for its staining abilities. It’s traditionally used in places like Egypt, India and parts of Africa as a dye method for the skin and hair. When it comes to coloring your locks, it’s been proven to add shine, reduce dandruff and strengthen strands. It’s also hypoallergenic and chemical-free, which makes it a great pick for sensitive scalps and fragile hair. A few cons: the color can vary depending on your natural hair color and, similar to permanent hair dye, it can be difficult to remove once it’s applied to your hair. But on the bright side, henna route can last for up to six weeks with aftercare.
One More Thing
Once you pick your hair dye, it’s important to take care of your hair. The experts agree that adding color-safe shampoo and conditioner to your regimen can help strengthen, moisturize and protect your strands. Another way to boost your color and keep your hair healthy is to use a hair mask once a week. This extra step prevents color from fading and prevents dry, damaged strands before your next touch-up.
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