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Unlike changing your haircut (which will have some pretty long-term consequences if you don’t like the results), changing your hair color is an easy way to switch up your look without any major commitment. And in that realm, temporary or semi-permanent at-home dyes are the lowest-commitment option of all.
Rather than altering the actual hair strand, these bleach-free dyes only coat the outside of it with color, explains Karissa Schaudt, colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago. Depositing temporary pigments that usually wash out after about 10 shampoos, they’re ideal for a result that lasts long enough for you to get a feel for your new hue but not so long that it’s the end of the world if you hate it. And if a week's worth of commitment is still a turn-off? Some will only last until your next shampoo. Temporary dyes are the best way to play with bold, fashion-forward shades, though there are plenty of natural colors available, too. The other upshot? They’re not damaging to the hair, which means they're especially great for someone who's always changing their color, notes Schaudt.
Check out the best temporary hair dyes below and get to DIY-ing.
Best Overall: L'Oréal Paris Colorista Semi-Permanent Color
Shades for both blondes and brunettes
Only available in fantasy shades
There are 16 shades of this formula available, split into options for blonde and brown hair. They’re bright and bold, though there’s also a clear mixer available that lets you create more of a pastel hue from any of the existing shades. Ammonia-free, it’s super gentle, not to mention affordable, as well. Expect results to last anywhere between four and 12 shampoos.
Active Ingredient: Amodimethicone | Type: Semi-Permanent | Shades: 16 | Size: 4 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Drugstore: John Frieda Colour Refreshing Gloss
Weekly use keeps color vibrant
Eliminates brassiness and dullness
Works in three minutes
Results are subtle
One bottle of this color-boosting gloss has six treatments, meant to be used weekly to keep your shade rich and vibrant. It deposits just enough of the tones you need, while also eliminating any unwanted brassiness or dullness, and works in just three minutes, an easy add-on step you can do in the shower. It comes in seven shades, offering an option for pretty much all hair colors.
Active Ingredient: Dimethicone | Type: Temporary | Shades: 6 | Size: 6 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Bold Colors: Lime Crime Unicorn Hair Semi-Permanent Hair Color Full Coverage
Nourishing and conditioning
Hair must be light or lightened for bold color
An array of 25 rainbow-inspired shades make up this collection. They’ll deliver the most saturated color when used on platinum or light blonde hair, though can also be used on dark blonde or light brown hair for a more subtle tint. The formula is completely vegan and cruelty-free, and, unlike lots of other hair color, actually smells good.
Active Ingredient: Hydrolyzed adansonia digitata seed extract | Type: Semi-Permanent | Shades: 25 | Size: 6.8 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Gloss: dpHue Gloss+ Semi-Permanent Hair Color and Deep Conditioner
Won't cover grays
A tinted hair gloss is choice for anyone seeking a more subtle, natural effect, and we particularly like this option. Rather than creating a dramatic color change, it enhances and deepens your current color—it comes in 11 shades—while also deeply conditioning hair. To that point, you can also use it as often as you want, since there’s no risk of damaging your strands.
Active Ingredient: Dimethicone | Type: Semi-Permanent | Shades: 11 | Size: 6.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Conditioner: Keracolor Color + Clenditioner
Keratin-based formula strengthens
Cleanses and conditions
Variety of natural and bold colors
Takes a few uses to build color
Yes, this delivers color—13 shades, a mix of both natural and vibrant options—but it also conditions, and even gently cleanses, your hair at the same time. All you have to do is use it as you would any shampoo or conditioner, working through wet hair and letting it sit (up to 20 minutes) before rinsing. If you’re starting with a darker base, you can repeat for a more intense result. The formula is keratin-based to boost strength and results can last up to 15 shampoos.
Active Ingredients: Coconut oil, hydrolyzed keratin | Type: Semi-Permanent | Shades: 16 | Size: 12 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Mask: Cristophe Robin Shade Variation Care Mask
Great for adding warmth to all hair colors
Minimizes hair porosity
Contrary to what it may sound like based on the name, this hydrating, color-depositing mask isn’t just for redheads. Yes, it enhances copper tones, but it works surprisingly well on red hair, brunettes, and even blondes alike (so long as you want color that has more underlying warmth to it). Plus, the formula is packed with hydrating almond butter and buriti oil, and specially formulated at a pH of 4.5 to minimize porosity of the hair. Why is that important, you ask? It keeps the color evenly distributed and minimizes the likelihood of ending up with splotchy spots.
Active Ingredients: Glycerin, buriti oil | Type: Temporary | Shades: 4 | Size: 8.3 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Highlights: IGK Amaro Ombre Highlight Spray
Easy-to-use spray formula
Provides UV and heat protection
Only lasts through your next wash
Temporary color can be tricky on highlighted hair, given that the base shade and highlighted pieces will pick up pigment differently. Enter this spritz, which you can use to strategically add dimension and pigment, essentially faking the look of highlights. The one drawback? It only lasts until you wash it out. Still, for a quick fix, or if you can go a few days without washing, it’s a great solution.
Active Ingredients: Hydrofluorocarbon 152a, coconut extract | Type: Temporary | Shades: 1 | Size: 5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Shampoo: Punky Colour 3-in-1 Depositing Shampoo + Conditioner
Cleanses and conditions
Repairs and strengthens with amino acids
Delivers intense color
Somewhat messy formula
The easiest way to color your own hair? With a color-depositing shampoo, of course. You just have to use it like you would a normal shampoo (although you’ll want to leave it on for a few minutes before rinsing and make sure to rinse your hands right after). Not only does this formula both cleanse and condition hair, but it also delivers surprisingly intense color, which can last up to 18 washes. Credit a unique delivery system that helps the pigments better attach to the hair, coupled with amino acids that work to retain color.
Active Ingredients: Glycerin, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and quinoa | Type: Temporary | Shades: 10 | Size: 8.5 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best for Brown Hair: Overtone for Brown Hair Coloring Conditioners
Infused with plant-based oils
Subtle on dark brown hair
Generally speaking, many of the temporary hair colors out there—particularly the more vibrant colors—are formulated to work best on hair that’s already bleached or super light blonde. Enter this line of seven different coloring conditioners, specially made to add color to medium, dark brown, and even deep brown hair. Granted, the end result will be less dramatic the darker your base is; still, it’s nice to see an option out there that’s just for brunettes. No matter which shade you pick, the conditioning color is loaded with hydrating and good-for-your strands ingredients to keep your mane soft and shiny.
Active Ingredients: Coconut oil, shea butter, avocado oil | Type: Semi-Permanent | Shades: 7 | Size: 8 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
Best Vegan: Maria Nila Colour Refresh
Softens with argan oil
Variety of natural and bold colors
Color intensity is customizable
Won’t cover grays
This somewhat under-the-radar Swedish brand offers standout vegan, cruelty-free hair products (they’re PETA, Leaping Bunny, and Vegan Society certified), including temporary hair color. The 15 shades feature a mix of brighter and more natural options, and there are also two sizes available. Also nice: You can choose the desired intensity based on how long you leave it on, anywhere from three to 10 minutes.
Active Ingredients: Argan oil, panthenol | Type: Semi-Permanent | Shades: 15 | Size: 10.1 fl. oz | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: No
When we’re looking for a fun and commitment-free hair color change, we’re looking to L’Oréal’s Colorista Semi-Permanent Color. It's available in a whopping 50 shades that last anywhere from four to 12 shampoos, plus it's super affordable. For vibrant colors that don’t require a hefty dose of bleach, we’re big fans of the Overtone for Brown Hair Coloring Conditioners. They come in a variety of natural and fantasy shades, deep conditioning the hair as they deposit color. And finally, we’re also loving the Keracolor Color + Clenditioner whenever our color needs a refresh. It not only provides a soft wash of temporary color, but it also conditions and gently cleanses the hair. Plus, it’s infused with keratin for a strengthening kick.
What To Look for in a Temporary Hair Dye
Make sure the dye you choose is actually temporary, warns Schaudt. Some might be labeled as temporary, but can actually contain ingredients such as bleach or ammonia, which will permanently change your hair color, she says.
Indication of How Long It Lasts
To that point, not all temporary hair dyes are created equal. Some will completely wash out after just one shampoo, while others will gradually fade with each wash and can last for days on end.
How does temporary hair dye work?
Rather than chemically altering the hair strand—either by removing pigment or depositing color into it—these simply sit on top of the hair, coating it with temporary color pigments.
How long does temporary hair dye last?
This depends on the particular product you choose; some will last longer than others, but generally, none will last more than a few weeks. (How often you shampoo also impacts the longevity.) To that point, if you’re using a temporary hair dye to create what you want to be long-lasting color, plan on frequent touch-ups, notes Schaudt.
How do you remove temporary hair dye?
In short, it’s not hard to get rid of temporary color if you’re unhappy with it. Since the dye is only on the hair's outer surface, something as quick and easy as washing with a clarifying shampoo will usually do the trick, says Schaudt.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Since she doesn’t color her own hair (not even with a temporary dye), she relied on expert intel and tons of reviews and consumer input when researching this article.