Demi-Permanent Hair Color: Secret To Natural-Looking Color

The Secret to Natural Looking Hair Color

When you’re looking to alter your hair color—whether that means making it lighter or darker, covering up grays or simply adding a little oomph to your current shade—there are several ways to go about it.

You can use a semi-permanent product if you want the color to last for just a few shampoos (great, for example, if you want to toss in a pink streak for a party, but want it mostly faded away by the time you get to the office Monday morning). If you’re looking to make a more long-term commitment, you’ll want to seek out permanent color. Rather than washing out, this type of dye needs to grow out of your hair—and since hair only grows about half an inch a month, it can take a while for it to disappear completely.

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But somewhere in the middle lies the hair color sweet spot that many women crave. It’s called demi-permanent hair color.

“This type of product will stay in the hair for 28 shampoos,” explains Teca Lewellyn, a Procter & Gamble Beauty Scientist. “So, depending on how frequently you wash your hair, it will take about a month to a month and half to gently fade away.”

Here’s how it works: Demi-permanent hair color molecules get under the outer cuticle of the hair shaft but, unlike permanent dyes, they don’t penetrate the deeper cortex. “They basically get temporarily stuck just beneath the cuticle until they are washed out,” says Lewellyn. “The difference with permanent color is that the dye has to swell the cuticle to make it lift and allow the molecules to make their way into the cortex deep inside the hair shaft.”

Demi-permanent may not be the answer for everyone and every hair situation, but it does have several key advantages.

It can cover up to 70 percent of your grays.

“It’s a great solution for someone who’s just starting to go gray and wants to experiment with color,” says Lisa Evan, a colorist at Mario Russo Salon in Boston. “It gives a very natural result because the grays will take the color differently from the other strands, which means hair ends up with an almost highlighted look.”

MORE: How to Go Gray, Gracefully

You’ll never have obvious roots.

Permanent color invades the hair shaft and lodges itself there, well, permanently. So instead of fading away gradually, like demi-permanent color does, your hair stays whatever color you’ve dyed it, and as your hair grows, the new stuff at the roots will be the old color (or gray). With demi-permanent there’s no obvious line of demarcation so you don’t need to worry about touching up your roots every few weeks.

Your hair will look healthy and shiny.

“Demi-permanent is much gentler on the hair than permanent color,” say Evans. That’s because it doesn’t open up the cuticle as much or penetrate inside the cortex of the hair shaft. “The integrity of the hair is better when the cuticle stays intact.”

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It can enhance and add dimension to your natural color.

Demi-permanent hair color contains no peroxide, which means it’s much gentler on your strands, but also means that it won’t dramatically alter the color (especially if you’re hoping to go lighter than your natural shade). What it can do is warm up your color, give it more life and luster, blend away your grays and deepen your shade slightly. “It’s like what happens when you polish a wood table and the brilliance of all the different shades in the wood suddenly come out,” says Lewellyn. “You’re enhancing what’s already there.”

It’s hard to screw it up.

The downside of demi-permanent is that you can’t make a dramatic change (it’s not for you if you’re goal is to take your brown strands platinum blonde). But the upside of that limitation is that very little can go wrong. Plan to stick with a color that’s within one to two shades of what you’ve got and the result will be a beautifully enhanced version of your natural color.

You don’t have to make a big commitment.

“Demi-permanent color is a great introduction to hair color,” says Lewellyn. “If you’re nervous about the process, this is perfect because it’ll fade away within a month or so.” And because you won’t get obvious roots, you’re not obligated to keep coloring your hair on a regular schedule.

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A few demi-permanent colors to try at home:

Clairol Natural Instincts: Fortified with antioxidants, this formula helps hair defend itself against free radical damage during the coloring process. In 22 shades; $9.

L’Oréal Paris Healthy Look Crème Gloss Color: This ammonia-free formula leaves hair glossy while blending away grays. In 21 shades; $10.

Garnier HerbaShine Color Creme: Nourishing bamboo extract conditions hair while it colors. In 18 shades; $8.

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  • JulieForJesus

    Thanks for the information. Very helpful.

  • Steph

    I’ve been using a Wella demi for a few years and absolutely love it. It’s made my hair super soft and shiny, helped my curls to curl, and feels amazing on my super dry scalp. I’m currently growing out the colour (trying my natural for a while) and the dark brown is blending very nicely with my dark blonde roots. Just a few acv rinses and it’s blending great. No harsh chemicals required to lighten the colour.

    • kari

      Tried wella’s med brown but got black hair…looks awful n was too runny to want to try myself anymore

  • Jeroka

    I dyed my hair blackish blue with Demi permanent hair color towards the end of October 2015 so I could commit better to my Halloween costume. It’s now the middle of January 2016 and it’s only faded to a brownish color.. I’m a natural blonde, like ashy golden blonde. I’m scared that it isn’t going to come out and I want it out asap…
    Please help?

    • Tasha Sam

      Have you tried the Vitamin C Method?

    • Ayse

      Hey, how long did it take you to get rid of the color? I had to bleach my hair twice in 4 days and had to dye it with demi permanent hair dye after all to prevent the possible damage. I have finals (coming up) and cant redye my hair in the following 1,5 months. Will it last that long? I bleached my hair first then dyed it with demi permanent. Im really nervous. I dont want to end up with ginger hair next month.

  • arianna17

    I’ve been using Wella Color Charms for 5 years and would like to try something different I think I’m going to try the Loreal brand.

  • Maisie Smith

    I dyed my hair a gorgeous darker brown demi permanant colour over my what has ended up being a yucky copper colour. However, after washing it just once, most of the colour has gone, and that yucky copper colour is there, gross. I’ve used the same make of dye several times before with no problems, I’m so annoyed, as my hair is in awful condition as it is, so I can’t really afford to keep dyeing it. I’m so annoyed. : (

    • Ellen

      Maisie, that’s totally what I’m going through. I swore for YEARS by Redken Shades EQ in 03RB Mahogany, which was rich, dark and beautiful with stunning red highlights. Then, it stopped working for me. I have very long hair and the saturation on the top/new part of my hair wasn’t taking and the color turned into a crappy copper color. I switched to Clairol Natural Instincts, still couldn’t match the former dark color. Decided to go dark and color over the copper and purchased Dark Chestnut Brown from Umberto and used it two days ago. In the sun, you can still see the awful copper and it just didn’t seem to go as dark as I had hoped. I’m still having the saturation problem with new hair, I heard using a protein treatment would work but am skeptical. Hoping someone reads this and chimes in…

  • Jennifer Snyder

    Now wait a minute, when I do demi-permanent color I use a 10 vol. developer. Any developer is peroxide, so the statement that it doesn’t use peroxide is a little misleading. I does use peroxide but not a very high percentage. At least the brands I have used require at least 10 vol.

  • stephanie o

    wella is horrible. All i wanted was to cover my grays, I have brown hair now my hair looks black and not a nice black it, literally looks like cheap ass box dye. I got this service done at a salon too and paid for this nightmare. Please wash out 🙁