Semi Permanent Hair Color vs Permanent, What’s The Difference?

LuxeLuminous is reader supported. When you buy through our links, we may get a commission.

Whether it’s the traditional tones of autumnal leaves or the vibrant unicorn hues of pink, blue, turquoise, and purple, when it comes to dyeing your hair these days, you have a multitude of options to choose from. It can feel downright overwhelming!

So, what are the things that you need to consider when wanting to color your locks? And, beyond the obvious, just what is the difference between permanent and semi-permanent hair dye?

In this article, we’ll explain semi-permanent hair color vs permanent.


What’s The Difference Between Permanent and Semi-Permanent Hair Dye?

Semi Permanent Hair Color

The main difference between permanent and semi-permanent hair dye is in the process they take in opening and closing hair cuticles.

Opening and closing the hair cuticles via chemical treatments is something you should be aware of, especially if you’re dyeing your hair for the very first time.

This cuticle process has the potential of damaging your hair if you get it wrong.

So, if you’re new to this and aren’t confident following the instructions, you might want to get a friend who dyes their own hair to help… or consider booking with a professional for a salon treatment!

Permanent Means Permanent!

Clairol Permanent Hair Color

Permanent hair dyes do exactly what their name implies — they change the color of your hair. This is because permanent hair dye changes the structure of the hair. The opening and closing of the cuticle during the chemical dying process, which deposits the color into the hair, causes the color to permanently change.

If you’re ready to take the plunge and are seeking a long-lasting option to hair color, then a permanent hair dye is your best option.

This makes them the best choice for covering gray hair.

If you choose to use a permanent hair dye at home, be aware that you will have to precisely mix it with a developer and activator. This means you’ll need more equipment, and it can get messy — as well as leave stains on your towels and anything else it touches!

Permanent hair dyes are only for the bold. This is because the chemical process is far more damaging to the hair (similar to bleaching), although the look you’re after will last much longer.

Semi Shimmy

Semi-Permanent Hair Color

Semi-permanent hair color will add instant color to your hair. However, it washes out much faster than permanent hair dyes (or at least it’s supposed to!).

Semi-permanent hair color comes in many formulations, including powders, liquids, and chalk. They allow you to experiment with different colors and shades without so much commitment and offer an instant touch-up to cover gray hair.

These dyes don’t involve bleaching in the coloring process, so they won’t lighten your hair. They work by depositing color on the hair shaft without using harsher chemicals like ammonia and hydrogen peroxide. There’s no developer involved here.

This non-invasive nature makes them less damaging to your hair than permanent hair dye.

The less opening and closing of the cuticles you do, the less damaging the chemical process is,. Dying your hair with semi-permanent color is a better option for those with dry or slightly damaged hair that want a new look.

They provide your hair with more natural color and can even add more gloss and shine to your hair by enhancing its tone.

And speaking of tone, hair toner and semi-permanent hair dye are not the same thing.

Color Fade

Semi-Permanent Hair Color Change

Lasting for up to eight weeks, semi-permanent hair dye won’t really damage your hair in one application. Just keep in mind that if you’re planning to re-do the process over and over again, it’s possible that damage will build up over time.

The color will fade with each wash, but if you’re a frequent hair washer, it may only last for about six weeks.

Semi-permanent hair dye is typically applied to hair that has been freshly shampooed hair because it offers the best results. It should be noted that semi-permanent hair dye can tend to present a bit darker on your hair than it looks on the bottle.

So it’s worth considering choosing a shade lighter than your own hair to get the exact color that you want.

If you’re not ready to fully commit to permanent color, then semi-permanent hair dye will give you the option to try something new without diving deep — especially if you’re wanting to experiment with a new color. 

However, since it fades quickly, depending on how often you wash your hair, you’ll need to do more touching up, which may mean more frequent trips to the salon — and possible damage to your hair and purse!

Another Option: Demi-Permanent!

Demi-Permanent Hair Color Change

So, now that you know the difference between permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes, there’s another option that washes out after around 20 shampoos.

This means it’s a great choice for those who just want to dip their toes into the hair dye mix.

Known as demi-permanent hair dye, this hair color is capable of only maintaining your shade or darkening it.

Acting like a toner, it’s perfect for temporarily covering any stray gray hairs if you don’t have many. It will highlight your stray grays to help them blend in more with the rest of your hair’s shade.

Demi-permanent hair color is also a good option for extending the time between visits to the salon. It works by depositing the pigment on the surface of your hair.

And unlike semi-permanent hair dye, you apply it before shampooing.

How To Make Semi-Permanent Hair Dye Into Permanent Dye

If you have a favorite semi-permanent hair dye that gives your hair the color you really desire, then you may be wondering if there is any way that you make it last longer so that you can keep rocking your locks with confidence.

Well, the answer to this is yes — and no.

Although you can’t technically turn semi-permanent hair dye into a permanent solution, there is something that you can do in order to stop it from fading faster than you’d like it to. 

However, if you choose to go down this route, then you won’t be able to do it yourself at home. You’ll need to visit a salon and have an experienced colorist do the job for you.

That’s because the color of your hair will need to be lifted, since semi-permanent hair dye only coats the outer cuticle of the hair shaft. And the only way to do this safely, without your hair breaking off, is to go to the hairdresser.

So, in order for the semi-permanent dye color to work like a permanent dye, the hair colorist will need to make your strands as light as possible first.

That’s because the color of your hair will need to be lifted, since semi-permanent hair dye only coats the outer cuticle of the hair shaft. And the only way to do this safely, without your hair breaking off, is to go to the hairdresser.

You should also be aware that if you choose this option, it will be a time-consuming process. You’ll probably have to make multiple visits to the salon, and the end result will also require a lot more maintenance than you’re probably used to.

All that extra maintenance means that you’ll end up spending loads of time, effort, and money to get the color you want to last for longer.

It might be easier to just reapply it when it fades!

Semi-Permanent Hair Color vs Permanent: Final Considerations

Semi-permanent and demi-permanent hair dyes are available to buy over the counter, so these are the options you’ll find in your local drugstore. If you choose the permanent hair dye option, you’ll have to visit a beauty supply store or a salon.

But the biggest thing you need to consider when deciding to dye your hair is that you have to make sure that your hair isn’t already damaged.

Your hair needs to be healthy because there’s no way to avoid even slight damage through the cuticle opening and closing process. You can minimize hair damage by making sure that you deep-condition your hair on a regular basis to reintroduce moisture.

You’ll also want to avoid washing your hair for at least two days after coloring to prevent premature fading.

So now that you know the difference between permanent and semi-permanent hair dye, your next decision is choosing what color — or colors — that you want to treat your locks to. Ready for the new lush, color for hair free of damage? Let’s go!

Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).