Google+ Honest Reviews and Lifestyle Tips: Difference between Permanent, Demi-Permanent, Semi-Permanent and Temporary Hair Colorants

Sunday, April 14, 2013

Difference between Permanent, Demi-Permanent, Semi-Permanent and Temporary Hair Colorants

Most of the queries I receive through email are about hair coloring. So I thought of doing this post.


Different tones of skin color, hair color and eye colors that exist in the world are due to a natural pigment called melanin found in our body. Our natural hair color depends on the presence of two types of melanin in the hair follicle: eumelanin and pheomelanin.

The more the presence of eumelanin in the hair follicle, the darker will be the natural hair color of a person. Similarly if less eumelanin is present, the hair is lighter. Pheomelanin is found in the skin and hair of lighter skin-toned people.


Melanin production decreases in the hair root over time (with ageing) and finally ceases. This causes change in our natural hair color over time. The decrease in melanin causes a person's hair to become lighter in color, which look gray when light reflects through them. When melanin production finally stops in a hair root, the new hair root grows out white because there is no melanin to color it. Each hair follicle grays out at a different time.

Image Source 1
Hair coloring is done for cosmetic reasons, to alter your natural hair color or to cover gray hair, which nature has stopped coloring.


Based on how long the coloring lasts, hair colors can be:
  • Permanent
  • demi-permanent
  • semi-permanent
  • temporary
Based on composition, hair colors can be
  • Chemical based
  • Organic
  • Herbal
  • Natural
In this article, I am going to explain the difference between permanent, demi-permanent, semi-permanent and temporary hair colors.

Cuticle or Outer covering forms a protective shell
Inner hair shaft consists of Cortex and Medulla that provide strength
Depending on the color type, hair color sits on the Cuticle or
may enter the middle layer Cortex

Any hair color that penetrates deep into the hair shaft and seals color into the hair cortex, is called a permanent hair color. As the name says, once you color your hair with a permanent hair colorant, the hair color stays and does not wash out with shampoo. These are Class 3 colorants.

The colored part of the hair shaft keeps moving down as new length of the hair grows out from the root. You then mainly need to touch up the roots only. You can freshen up the entire hair color with a full-head application once is 5-6 months or so.

Permanent hair colors are mainly chemical based and work on the principal of oxidation. The contents are initially white in color, and then the color develops on coming in contact with oxygen.

How permanent hair colors hair dyes work

Permanent hair colors penetrate deep into the hair shaft, remove the natural color pigment (melanin) from the hair and then deposit the new color. So it is possible to get a lighter hair color than what you presently have. They color all hair uniformly and therefore, very dark shades at times look unnatural and too black.

Permanent hair colorants are the most effective in covering gray hair.

Example: L'Oreal Excellence Creme hair color, Bigen Easy 'n Natural Hair Color, Garnier Color Naturals Nourishing Permanent Hair Color Cream, Revlon ColorSilk, Revlon Colorsilk Luminista, L'Oreal INOA, Wella Kolestint etc.


Demi-permanent hair colors are also known as deposit-only hair colors. These are Class 2 hair colorants. These do not contain ammonia but other less stronger chemicals like ethanalomine and a lower concentration of hydrogen peroxide. So these are chemically milder than permanent hair colorants.

The color is developed and deposited similar to permanent hair colors but hair's natural pigment is not removed. Therefore, demi-permanent hair colors cannot lighten your present hair color. You can only go for a similar or darker shade than your present hair color, and cannot dye your hair lighter with a demi-permanent hair color (without bleaching hair first).

How demi-permanent hair colors hair dyes work

The color is not as uniform as permanent hair colors and looks more natural. Therefore, new hair growth from the roots does not look as prominent and contrasting as in the case of Permanent hair colors. Demi-permanent hair color washes out in 12-28 shampoo washes and may last longer in case of very porous hair. After color washes out, hair are restored to their previous color.

These are suitable for damaged and fragile haired people who want to cover grays without further damaging their hair. These are the second best option when it comes to covering gray.

Eg: L'Oreal Casting Creme Gloss, L'Oreal Healthy look creme gloss, L'Oreal Color Gems Haircolor, Bigen Powder Hair color, Just for Men Natural Hair Color, Streax Hair Color, Garnier Nutrisse Hair Color, Clairol Natural Instincts Hair Color, Boots Semi- Permanent Hair Color (is actually demi-permanent),Ion Color Brilliance Intensive Shine Demi Permanent Creme Hair Color, Hair Color Chalks at etc. Henna also falls in the category of deposit only/demi-permanent hair colors but may become permanent with repeated application.


Semi-permanent hair colors or hair dyes contain further less ammonia and peroxide or neither at all. These are Class 1 hair colorants. Therefore only a small amount of color permeates through the hair shaft with the help of peroxide. These survive only 4-8 shampoo washes. Being chemically milder, they are suitable for fragile and damaged hair, however, cannot effectively cover gray hair. So these are not recommended for gray coverage.

How do semi-permanent hair colors hair dyes work

Example: Garnier HerbaShine, Ion Color Brilliance Brights Semi-Permanent Hair Color, N Rage Hair Color, Dark and Lovely Reviving Semi-Permanent Hair Color, Beyond The Zone Color Jamz Semi Permanent Hair Color,Manic Panic Semi-Permanent Color Cream etc.


Image source 2
Temporary hair colors do not contain ammonia, so hair shaft is not opened. The color just sits outside the hair shaft closely hugging the hair surface. They cannot penetrate into the hair cuticle as their color pigment molecules are large in size (larger those of semi-permanent hair colors). They just get absorbed on the hair surface only and easily wash out within one shampoo. However, on poor quality highly porous hair or bleached hair, they can be absorbed deeper and may stay longer.

How do temporary hair colors hair dyes work

These are mainly used for fun, for parties, for special occasions, when you would like to sport very bold, bright and funky colors. These are available as shampoos, gels, hair color sprays, foams and color rinse. All other hair colorant types come in colors close to natural human hair colors. But temporary colors are typically unnatural hair colors like blue, pink, purple, green,fuchsia, gold, silver etc. They can be used to highlight a few hair strands or on the full head.


  1. Great article Gagan, it will be very helpful for people who wish to color their hair or are thinking of doing it.:)

    1. Thanks Niesha :) You are right. A lot of people write in to ask which one to go for, so thought this might help.

  2. very useful article for me gagan. this will help me choose colors for my in laws.. and btw the pdf option is just superb.. used it saved this article.. :) thanks!!

    1. Thanks Supriya. I am glad this post helped in some way. I had put the PDF and print buttons keeping your feedback in mind :) when you had told you print some posts. Sadly I had to remove them recently as the host site has made some changes to the code. Will try to put it back if I can figure out a fix.

  3. very informative post..loved it..
    mine is permanent one n stays 5-6 months and alwyz grow from again need to go to get my hairs done..:)
    i think temporary one is also good option as no amonia...very nice post..:)

    1. Thanks for the feedback Tej as you are someone who always keeps her hair colored :)

  4. Thanks, but i still don't know what to choose :)I kinda scanned over the write but i think i should read the whole thing so i can get more info.

    1. Please read through and let me know if you need help. Please comment with your real name next time.

  5. hi gagan.. suggest me hair color for strips.. I want colored hair strips. .6 yrs back I used garnier multi color strips.. it resulted in dull hair brittle hair split ends & severe hair loss with baldness.. so suggest me hair color with no damage to hairs..

    1. Can you please comment using the name/URL option instead of anonymous profile?

      Unfortunately there are rarely any DIY highlighting kits available in the Indian market. I think Streax makes one and even L'Oreal does but I haven't seen them in the Indian market. You can google for India specific results.

      Also, as Indians have naturally dark hair, if you want lighter color highlights, you may need a pre-treatment to lighten (read 'bleach') your natural hair so the highlights can show on your hair. Such treatments are bound to leave hair damaged as the pre-treatment contains harsh chemicals to bleach the hair. Please check with a salon/professional, I don't have more information on this. If you want red highlights, you can mix cinnamon (daalcheeni) powder in conditioner and apply on specific sections of hair. Keep for a few hours and wash off.

  6. Awesome article !! I havent read a more informative & simple coverage of the hair colours !! Keep it up !

    1. Thanks a ton Aman. I just noticed this comment though it was left a month ago. This just made my day :)

  7. great knowledge ..liked this very much..

  8. Thank you for the indepth article. I do not want to use permanent colours as they have damaged my hair in the past. My hair is free of chemicals, using just shampoos and conditioning, for almost 2 years. I have visible greys which is early for someone in the mid 30s. So my sylist recommended L'oreal's Richesse ammonia free conditioning colour. It's supposed to be milder. I would like your opinion on whether this is a safe option or does it contain some longlasting harmful chemicals. I worked hard over two years to get back my natural healthy looking hair texture. With the impending wedding in the family I was hoping to change the gray black balance in my hair which is why I am re-thinking colouring. Please advise.
    Thank you.

    1. One of my blog members got L'Oreal Richesse done in Pune and had been getting touchups for the same in the past few months. Being Ammonia free was the sole reason she went for it. Initially she thought that her color was washing out pretty soon as she saw a substantial amount of grays on the 4th day itself. But later she came back and said it was new growth and the color hasn't really washed out. Now comes the safety part... her feedback is that she has now started gettin a LOT of hairfall within a few uses only and to be honest Jasmine, I am hearing the same feedback from users for every single chemical hair color brand in the market and I am not sure why, but India is definitely on a slide down to balding which is increasing in both men and women. I have 100s of case studies and user feedback on this.

      If you don't want to go for permanent hair coloring, why not get L'Oreal Casting Creme done for the function. It is demi-permanent and you can use it a day or two before the function. Demi permanent hair colors give a more natural look but you will need to choose a color similar to or darker than your present hair color.

      Having grays after 25 is completely natural and mid 30s is very far from that :) These days kids are getting grays from 16 or even earlier, which is sad!

  9. Hi Mam, gone through the details posted. very useful. I am using hair colors for almost 15 years, but without knowing what to use and how it works. after reading your blog and going thro your replies, I got a fair idea about the hair coloring process. Thanks a lot.


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