Hair » Semi-Permanent Hair Color Guide: Benefits, Uses & Removal

Semi-Permanent Hair Color Guide: Benefits, Uses & Removal

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  • Semi-permanent hair dye is a no-ammonia, no-bleach and no-developer hair color that coats the hair surface to alter its tone without damaging it.
  • Depending on the dye you buy, semi-permanent hair color can last anywhere between 4 and 12 washes, fading gradually.
  • Washing your hair less frequently with lukewarm water, protecting from heat damage, and deep-conditioning are the main ways of prolonging the life of your semi-permanent hair color.

With so many colors and such a low commitment, you can bet that we love semi-permanent hair dyes here at Glowsly! Semi-permanent hair colors come in every shade of the rainbow, and they’re quite easy to use at home. They’re by far the most fun you can have dyeing your own hair.

Today, we give the low-down, discussing what makes a semi-permanent hair dye and how it differs from other types of hair color formulas. We also give some important tips for dyeing and maintaining semi-permanent hair color and finish with advice for hair dye removal. So, go and get colorful!

In this article:

What Is a Semi-Permanent Hair Dye?

Semi-permanent hair dye is a type of hair color made without any ammonia or bleaching agents. It works by depositing color into the outer layers of the hair, which causes absolutely no damage! In fact, most semi-permanent hair dyes are formulated with a lot of moisturizing agents, so they can double as deep conditioning treatments.

Because they only coat the hair, semi-permanent dyes cannot change the hair’s lightness level. Because of this, they often don’t show up in darker hair. Additionally, they will also start to fade once the hair has been washed a certain number of times. 

Semi-Permanent vs. Temporary vs. Permanent Hair Dyes

So, we’ve already explained what semi-permanent hair dye is, but then how does it compare to other formulas?

First, there are temporary hair dyes that are effectively washable formulas. They cover the outer part of the hair while semi-permanent dye sinks in a little bit, even if it doesn’t get deep into the hair shaft. As a result, they will come off the first time the hair is shampooed! They’re often used by children or for costumes.

As for permanent hair dyes, the difference is stark. Permanent hair dyes come with a developer, which is usually based on peroxide or ammonia. The developer lifts the hair cuticle and can also remove some pigment from the hair.

The result is that the hair strand undergoes a serious and permanent change, while the shade of the dye itself will take hold if it’s much darker or lighter than the color the hair was previously. Permanent hair dyes can still fade a bit but not as much as semi-permanent ones, and they can also be slightly damaging to the hair.

What Is a Semi-Permanent Hair Dye?

Does Semi-Permanent Hair Dye Damage Hair?

Because semi-permanent hair dye does not contain any developing agents, it’s extremely gentle on the hair! In fact, semi-permanent hair dyes are usually formulated with skin-nourishing proteins and conditioners, so they’re actually able to moisturize and strengthen the hair while changing its colors.

How to Dye Hair with a Semi-Permanent Color?

Using a semi-permanent hair color is ridiculously easy! You don’t need to worry about mixing together different creams or powders: you just open up the tube or jar and get going!

However, it’s important to remember that semi-permanent colors don’t show up on darker hair colors. This is especially true if you’re looking at a semi-permanent dye in a fashion color. For the color to turn out true to the box, the hair almost always has to be bleached first until the point where it’s a very light blonde.

For natural blondes or anyone with dark blonde hair or lighter, the color will still show up, but it won’t be as dramatic. If your hair isn’t light enough, check out our bleaching guide to learn more about how to lighten it. 

Before starting to dye your hair, make sure to set an action plan in place. Are you dyeing your hair all over with one color, adding streaks, combining a few colors, or just adding some dyed tips? Whatever you choose, you’ll need to part your hair accordingly and consider placement. Once you have that mind, you’re ready to go! Just make sure you have all the necessary tools on hand.

Semi-Permanent vs. Temporary vs. Permanent Hair Dyes

You Will Need:

  • The semi-permanent hair color (or colors) of your choice
  • A hair dye applicator brush
  • Hair clips
  • Shower cap
  • Disposable gloves
  • Petroleum jelly
  • An old shirt
  • Dark-colored towel

The Process

  • Start out by just making sure you have everything. Nothing is worse than starting to put dye in your hair and realizing you’re still wearing your favorite shirt! Change into an old blouse, get your gloves ready, drape a towel over your shoulders, and then you can get started.  
  • Your hair should be clean and dry when you start out. Make sure there is no leftover hair product hiding in your strands!
  • Always start any dyeing session by sectioning off your hair. Using the sharp end of the hair dye brush, part your hair according to how you plan to actually dye it. This will help you work on one section at a time.
  • After sectioning, you can apply some petroleum jelly to your forehead, temples, and ears to prevent your skin from staining.
  • Open up your semi-permanent hair dye. If it comes in a bottle, you can squeeze it out into a bowl or squeeze it directly on the brush, while if it comes in a jar, you can just dip in. You can also mix your own blend of colors in a bowl.
  • Pull down the section of the hair you’d like to start with and separate from it an even smaller piece of hair.
  • To dye, use the brush to apply the semi-permanent hair color, either starting at the roots and pulling downwards or starting a little away from the roots for a grown-out look.
  • Keep dyeing the hair in small pieces, and once you finish one section, move on to the next one.
  • Once all of the parts of your hair you’d like dyed are covered, clip them up gently to avoid getting color on hair you don’t want to dye.
  • If you’ve covered your whole head, pop on a shower cap to avoid making a mess with your hair.
  • Depending on the instructions, wait between 15-30 minutes for the dye to take hold.
  • Finally, remove the shower cap and clips, and pop in the shower to rinse out the semi-permanent hair dye with cool water. You might have to rinse it a few times but don’t shampoo or condition.
  • That’s it! You can now dry your hair however you like (although we suggest on low heat), and enjoy your new look!

How Long Does a Semi-Permanent Hair Color Last?

While it depends on the person and the formula, in general, semi-permanent hair dye will last for around 6-12 washes, depending on the formula and on whether the hair had been bleached before dyeing. In very light or bleached hair, the semi-permanent hair color can be very persistent, and while it will fade, it might still leave a stain behind.

How to Dye Hair with a Semi-Permanent Color?

Tips for Keeping Your Semi-Permanent Hair Color Bright

Semi-permanent hair dye fades before you know it, but we do have a few tips and tricks that’ll help you slow down that fading process, so you can enjoy your semi-permanent hair color for longer.

  • Since semi-permanent hair dye washes out as you shampoo your hair, try to limit shampooing. If you can handle it, only shampoo once or twice a week.
  • Hot water also speeds up fading, so only wash or rinse your hair in lukewarm water.
  • Stick to shampoo with a gentle, non-foaming, and sulfate-free formula. Depending on how you’ve dyed your hair, you might be able to find a color-refreshing shampoo that’ll actually deposit more color!
  • In general, heat damages the hair and speeds up color fading, so try to avoid heat styling as much as you can. Blow-drying the hair on low heat (ideally with a diffuser) is the safest form of heat styling you can still experiment with.
  • The sun is another factor that can fade hair color, so try to wear a hat when going outside or use a UV-protecting hair spray or oil.
  • Chlorinated pools are another danger, so before hopping in, get your hair wet with regular water. This will saturate your hair and prevent the chlorinated water from seeping in. Another option is to actually apply a hair mask instead.

How to Remove Semi-Permanent Hair Color?

Semi-permanent hair color will fade on its own after you’ve washed it enough times, and that’s also the safest way to remove it. If you’d like to speed up fading your hair, you can use a cheap, stripping shampoo for a few days in a row (just make sure to condition well afterward). You may find that that will be enough to redye your hair!

If you want more extreme removal, you can try the following methods.

Color Oops

Color Oops is an ammonia-free formula available at Ulta and Amazon that is made specifically to pull the color out of the hair. It’s intense stuff, but any hair dye removing process can damage the hair.

You apply it to your hair a little like you would a hair dye and allow it to process for 20 minutes. Then you rinse it out for another continuous 20 minutes. Afterward, you can shampoo and check the condition of your hair. If you want to redye, you can do so right away with a semi-permanent hair color, but wait a few days if you intend to use anything more intense.

How to Remove Semi-Permanent Hair Color?

Vitamin C

Using vitamin C is a common DIY method for hair dye removal. Like Color Oops, it can also take its toll on the hair. With this method, you’ll want to start with damp hair.

  • For this method, you will need crushed vitamin C tablets or powder and a stripping shampoo (some users choose dandruff shampoo, while others use dishwashing detergent). Combine a 50-50 mixture of the shampoo and vitamin C in a bowl and mix it well. If the mixture is too thick, just add more shampoo.
  • Massage the mixture into your hair, and once your entire head is thoroughly covered, pop on your shower cap and wait for around an hour.
  • After that, you can rinse out the vitamin C mixture, and your semi-permanent hair dye will come out as well.
  • Make sure to deep condition afterward to revive your tresses. 

Bleaching Again

Finally, if none of these methods work, you might just have to bleach your hair again. Some people choose a total bleaching session, which can be quite harsh, while others choose a bleach bath, which is only mildly less aggressive.

Note that we don’t actually recommend this method – it’s a last resort, and it’s better to talk to a hairstylist before taking such extreme measures since over-bleaching the hair can cause serious damage and may even cause extreme breakage and loss of length. 

For a bleach bath, mix your bleach powder and developer (ideally a low-volume like 20) together in a bowl and then add shampoo at an equal amount. As with the vitamin C treatment, apply this mixture to damp hair but don’t massage it in too much, or it may hurt your scalp. Check on your hair every 10 minutes to see how it’s coming along, and once it’s lightened enough to your satisfaction, rinse it out in cool water and condition your hair.

Photos via @sim0nemurphy, Instagram