Allure March 11, 2023



So, What Exactly Is Demipermanent Hair Color? 


No, they didn’t just spell "semipermanent" wrong.

Changing your hair color is a surefire way to feel different and fresh. Unless… the color is bad. That new copper hair trend that looks so cute on TikTok isn’t looking as cute on you — and now you’re stuck with it, right?

If you used a permanent hair dye, yes. It’ll take a lot of tinting and color correction to get you back to a good spot. You have to add green or blue to neutralize the copper — it’s a whole thing. The process could take months and your hair will be fighting for its life by the time you’re through.

Now imagine you used a demipermanent color instead. Rather than trying to neutralize the orange or using ammonia on already bleached hair, that copper color will simply fade away after 24-ish washes. Demipermanent hair color is like semipermanent dye’s cousin that has a bit more staying power. While semipermanent color washes out within a few washes, and permanent color never truly leaves, hairstylist Larry Sims says demipermanent color lasts up to 30 washes, if you’re cool with forgoing super hot showers. Plus, demipermanent dyes don’t contain ammonia, so they won’t damage or permanently alter your hair the way a permanent dye will.

It’s the perfect hair-color solution for commitment-phobes, color lovers, and people who frequently proclaim, "I just wanted a change!" — and we should be talking about it more. (Because wow, I wish I knew this was a thing when I tried to self-color-correct an auburn, permanent box dye gone wrong and walked around with splotchy green-brown hair for a year.)

Meet the experts:

Rex Jimieson is a color educator and colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago.
Larry Sims is a hairstylist in Los Angeles and cofounder of Flawless by Gabrielle Union.
Kelly Dobos is a cosmetic chemist and adjunct professor of cosmetic science at the University of Toledo. 

What is demipermanent hair color?

Demipermanent hair color is a little more permanent than semipermanent color but less permanent than permanent color. On a scale of "this will never leave your hair" and "washes out instantly," demipermanent falls somewhere in between. 

It all comes down to a little something I haven’t thought much about since high school: chemistry. "There are many different chemistries that can be used to color hair, and the categories have some overlap," explains cosmetic chemist Kelly Dobos. "Permanent dyes involve the penetration of small color molecules into the hair, which are then converted into larger molecules through a chemical reaction. Those larger molecules become embedded in the hair." In other words, they won’t wash out. 

Semipermanent dyes, on the other hand, "rely primarily on diffusion of dye into the hair cuticle," says Dobos. "No chemical reactions involved." The dye molecules aren’t embedded in the hair, which means a semipermanent dye will continue to wash out with each shampoo. 

Demipermanent dyes fall somewhere in between. The magic (er, chemistry) is in the developer. "Developers help open the hair cuticle, allowing dye molecules to penetrate," says Dobos. Depending on the level of developer you use, it can also provide some "lift" or lightening of the hair. "The degree of lift is dependent on the concentration of peroxide in the developer," she continues. "The higher the volume number, the greater the lift." But a low-level developer, like a 10 volume, "allows pigment to deposit with no lift."

Okay, chemistry lesson over. Demipermanent dye uses a low-volume, mild peroxide developer (usually a 10 volume developer) to enable color molecules to penetrate and coat the surface layer of the hair cuticle — and just the surface layer. Because of the low concentration of peroxide, it won’t lighten your hair (good news, it won’t damage it either). So it’s not a great choice if you’re hoping to go blonde, but it is a great option for blending uneven color, adding lowlights, toning dull or brassy blondes, or adding richness and shine to any color. That being said, if you already have very dark hair, you’re definitely limited in what you can do with demipermanent color. In this case, blondes do have more fun.

The low-level developer gives the demipermanent color some staying power (semipermanent dye is typically applied without any developer), but a demipermanent dye job is only expected to last for about 24 washes before that color coating fades away.

Benefits of using demipermanent hair color

Colorist Rex Jimieson says demipermanent color has five major benefits over permanent color: "It has no ammonia, it’s easier to grow out, it adds more shine, it’s easier to change later, and it processes quicker."

No ammonia means demipermanent color won’t damage or dry out your hair the way permanent color will. And curly girls, rejoice: Demipermanent color won’t alter or damage your curl pattern — it’s totally safe for all hair types.

With a demipermanent dye, you’ll still get that obvious "I just dyed my hair" change without the commitment or damage that comes with permanent color. And because that color fades over time, you won’t have to worry about root touch-ups or blending new growth. Your hair should return to its original state after the color washes out entirely. 

"Permanent color needs touching up every three to six weeks to keep up with hair growth," says Jimieson. "While you might get eight or 12 weeks out of your root line with a demipermanent dye" because it will start to fade — thus, be less noticeably different from your roots — as your hair grows out. So it’s a great option if you’re on a budget or can’t make it to the salon every month.

Demipermanent hair color comes in a creme or a liquid — and it can be customized to your color needs. In a liquid state, demipermanent color can be diluted for a more sheer or subtle hue for those who are a bit color shy or looking for a less drastic change. 

How to use demipermanent hair color

Demipermanent hair color can’t lighten your hair, but there are lots of things it can do. Opt for a demipermanent dye if you fall within the below categories:

You want to go darker. Demipermanent hair dye can darken your hair by about three shades. But Jimieson recommends sticking within two levels of your natural color, "that way your underlying pigment will support the demi color the best." If you plan to use a demipermanent color regularly, "don’t pull it through the ends every time," he says. "Let nature soften the ends, so you don’t get buildup at the bottom."
You want to blend your grays. If you’re less than 50 percent gray, a demipermanent color can blend and tone your gray hair to shine through like natural highlights — it just won’t cover them entirely. "Keep in mind your color will be less opaque,” says Jimieson. “But that's why it grows out better."
You want to try a new, bold color. "I use demipermanent dye with high-fade, vibrant colors such as reds, purples, and blues," says Sims. “They’ll lose their vibrancy but fade slowly over time.” If you change your mind or want to try a new color next month, you won’t need to undergo an entire color-correction process.
You need a refresh. Demipermanent color can safely be used over the top of permanent color to refresh faded ends or touch up roots without causing further damage.
You want to try a new tint. Blondes can use demipermanent colors to try out fun new tints like pink or copper. (This works on darker hair too, but the results are much more subtle.) Most toners fall into the semipermanent category (they wash out really quickly), but you can use demipermanent color as a longer-lasting toner to brighten dull or brassy hair.

Demipermanent dye gives you a little more DIY leeway (if things get a little blotchy, it won’t be as obvious and will eventually fade away), but our experts say you should still head to the salon if you’re looking for a demipermanent change. "Demipermanent color can be used at home if you’re amazing at coloring your own hair," says Sims. "Otherwise, I would leave it up to the professionals."

How to make demipermanent hair color last

Your demipermanent color will wash out eventually — that’s the beauty of it! But you can make it last longer by limiting how often you wash your hair (dry shampoo is your friend) and "use a shampoo line that is color safe," says Jimieson. "Almost anything sold in a salon or prescribed by your colorist or stylist will work." These products are formulated to gently cleanse and condition without stripping the color. 

On the flip side, if you wound up with a color you hate, you don’t have to live with it for long. You can accelerate the fading process of a demipermanent dye by using a clarifying shampoo — just be sure to follow up with a super moisturizing conditioner because clarifying shampoos can be extremely drying.

Expert-approved demipermanent hair colors

Redken Shades EQ Gloss Demi-Permanent Color

"Redken Shades EQ is great for those who struggle to maintain cool or ash tones," says Jimieson. The super conditioning formula takes just 20 minutes to process and combats brassy blondes and other discoloration. 

Wella ColorCharm Demi Permanent Hair Color

Wella ColorCharm Demi-Permanent Hair Color comes in 21 shades from blonde to brunette. Add fashion tones using red or violet shades, or add shine and gloss to your existing color with a clear shade. 

Clairol Natural Instincts Demi-Permanent Hair Dye

Clairol Natural Instincts Demi-Permanent Hair Dye promises to last up to 28 washes. It’s made with coconut oil and aloe vera, so it’s super gentle and moisturizing.

L'Oreal DIA Richesse Ammonia-Free Demi-Permanent Creme Haircolor

"Use L'Oreal DIA Richesse for more impact on gray," says Jimieson. This formula offers up to 70 percent white-hair coverage and over 70 professionally formulated shades.