What Is Demi-Permanent Hair Color? The Answer Might Surprise You

Updated 02/23/18
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Truth: The business of hair coloring is a science through and through. And for those of us untrained in the art, it's also a tad intimidating. (Hence why we personally choose to leave it to the professionals—if you have a talent for successfully coloring your own hair, we commend you and please do tell us all your secrets.)

However. Just because we leave the painting and mixing to our favorite colorists doesn't mean we're not curious about the process. (We're pretty much hardwired to crave all the juicy details when it comes to what's happening on our heads.) And lately, we've been confused about something: What is demi-permanent hair color and how is it different than semi-permanent hair color? We've been receiving some mixed signals on the matter, so we decided to get to the bottom of it. So if you've ever wondered what demi-permanent hair color is, how long it lasts, and more, you're in luck. Keep reading as three expert colorists sound off on the topic and answer all our burning questions.

But First, What Is It?

First and foremost, it's important to differentiate demi-permanent hair color between crème and liquid formulas. According to Zoë Carpenter for Joico, a crème demi-permanent hair color is an alkaline, ammonia-free product that comes in a variety of shades and has the ability to either cover gray hair or blend hair color in a safe and natural manner. (In other words, it's not nearly as harsh as permanent hair color since it doesn't actually lift your base.) "This technology allows a wide range of hair color choices with lots of depth and dimension," Carpenter iterates. "It also allows for tone-enhancing contour and lowlights without any fading or damage to the hair strand." (PSA: Joico will actually be launching a full range of these colors in May.)

On the other side of the spectrum, demi-permanent liquid color is a bit different. "A liquid formula is great if you want to tone, blend, and add shine," says Carpenter. "It's also customizable so you can make it as sheer or as subtle as you'd like. It's the perfect antidote if you're a bit color shy or are new to color entirely."

So how is it different than semi-permanent hair color? "Unlike demi-permanent hair color, semi-permanent hair color is a deposit-only formula and won't require a developer or any level of peroxide," clarifies Dove hairstylist Cynthia Alvarez. "The color coats the outside of the hair and changes the tone rather than the color. This type of color usually lasts between five to 12 washes. Semi-permanent color is also commonly referred to as a stain, gloss, or a toner."

The Benefits

In addition to being an excellent option for women with textured hair (it won't alter or damage your curl pattern), Alvarez explains a few other key benefits of demi-permanent hair color as well: "Demi-permanent hair color results in a more obvious change for someone who wants to avoid damage or anything that's going to look like an ultra-dramatic change." As mentioned, this kind of formula doesn't contain any ammonia, but it does have just enough peroxide to open up the hair cuticle so that a suitable amount of color will be absorbed.

What Is Ammonia?

Alkalizing agent used in hair dye to open the hair cuticle so the color molecules can reach the cortex and deposit pigment.

However, if you're looking to lighten your hair, demi-permanent probably isn't the way to go. "It does a better job of darkening hair than semi-permanent does, but it doesn't lighten hair," Alvarez confirms. Demi-permanent hair color will fade and typically last 12 to 24 shampoos. Good to know.

How To Remove It

In addition to opting for an in-salon solution like a Malibu Treatment (a recommendation from Nine Zero One colorist Nicole Zeal), Alvarez also suggests regularly using a clarifying shampoo as a safe way to remove unwanted demi-permanent hair color.

"You can accelerate the fading process of a semi-permanent color by using a clarifying shampoo a few times a day. These shampoos are meant to strip your hair of all products and will quickly fade your color. If you don't have a clarifying shampoo handy, you can even use an anti-dandruff shampoo like Dove's DermaCare Scalp Invigorating Mint Shampoo ($5) to fade your color faster, if used repeatedly within one day."

One word of caution: These types of shampoos can be excessively drying to your strands (it's stripping away moisture in addition to the hair color), so just be sure to follow suit with an ultra-moisturizing conditioner or mask. (We've been having a long moment with Verb's Hydrating Mask $16.)

Parting Thoughts

"If you want to dye your hair at home, you're going to have a lot more leeway with a demi-permanent color," explains Alvarez. "Since the color won't be so dramatic, you won't have to worry about applying the dye perfectly. If you've never dyed your own hair before and are worried that you'll mess things up, you should definitely start with a demi-permanent color. You can always switch to a permanent dye later on if you liked the results."

Keep scrolling for a few of our experts' top product picks.

Joico LumiShine

Joico Lumishine Demi-Permanent Color $10
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One of Carpenter's favorites, she says this pick from Joico boasts Argiplex—a key bond-building ingredient that restrengthens hair while simultaneously boosting it with maximum shine.

Wella Color Touch

Wella Color Touch Pure Naturals Hair Color $12
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This vibrant demi-permanent hair color by Wella offers ultimate shine, tone, and color sans commitment and damage. It's one of Zeal's preferred choices for gorgeous pigment.

Redken Shades EQ

Redken Shades EQ Equalizing Color Gloss $12
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Extremely hydrating (due to a helping hand of strengthening wheat amino acids), this pick from Alvarez delivers unparalleled shine (thanks to shimmer-inducing silicone) and a non-harsh, hair-safe formula.

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