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.

  10. Hi,

    I am using Loreal Paris Conditioning Hair Colour - Casting Creme Gloss for the last few months. I can understand the color lasts only for 20+ shampoos. But I find that even though I shampoo the hair a day before coloring the day after coloring itself some strands of hair near the ear and near the partition of the hair show gray color. It is not because the coloring was not done properly. It is done by a professional only. But still this happens. Any idea why ?

    1. Hi there, it would be great if you can comment with your real name.

      So, there are several reasons why this may be happening and with casting creme gloss, many people have this complaint :) So don't worry, you are not the only one facing this.

      1. Virgin hair and new gray hair growing up from roots are most resistant to any kind of color. They don't take in color easily. For some people, their whole hair are naturally resistant to color and yes, healthy hair are also naturally resistant to color.

      2. Casting Creme gloss is mild and is supposed to be used either as a fashion hair color or for covering very few gray hair strands. If the grays are more, it is not optimum. It contains very less 'lifting' agents meaning less harsh chemicals so color is only deposited on the outside of the hair and very very few molecules go in.

      3. Now you mentioned shampooing your hair a day before coloring. If your shampoo has dimethicone or mineral oil or any other form of silicones, it forms a coating on the hair thereby preventing proper color deposit when you color your hair. And if you are using such a shampoo from a long time, there may be layers/deposit/build up of these silicones on your hair. These get washed out only with harsh sulphates based shampoos and if your shampoo has silicones, then instead of washing out, it keeps building even more after each shampoo session. So use a clarifying shampoo to clear any build up from your hair and then get your hair colored. Also avoid shampooing at least 4 days before and 4 days after the coloring. Just have your hair conditioned with the conditioner given in the color pack and tell the salon attendant not to shampoo your hair right after coloring.

      Hope this makes sense. Also, there is an article on how to take care of colored hair, under the Hair Care section above. Check that out.

    2. Hi Mam,

      There are some personal reasons for not revealing the ID/mail Hope you will allow me to write here still. THanks a lot for the detailed reply. Have one more question. My beautician tells me if I apply color on oiled hair - the color will not stick and that is why she asks me to shampoo it the day before. As per your answer I should not shampoo the hair around 4 days before coloring. Does it mean I shampoo the hair and fo four days do not apply oil and then color it to get best effect.

      BTW, even with thisCasting Creme coloring I have lost more than 50% of my hair. I have to do coloring every month and has been doing this for a few months now. Is there any oil massage or anything else which will help to lessen the hair loss ?


    3. Dear Janaki, your beautician is right here. You should not apply hair color or even Henna on oiled hair as the color will not bind to your hair. As such, casting creme is a demi permanent hair color which mostly sits only on the outside of the hair strand and when oil is there, the color won't be able to deposit there. Yes, you have to keep your hair unoiled for at least 2-3 days before coloring, unless you have a very oily scalp. People who have an oily scalp/oily skin will always face a fading problem. Their color and their make up slips off easily. I don't know what your scalp type is. Also, which shampoo are you using? Read the ingredient list and see if there are any silicones/ dimethicone in it.

      Every month is still a good gap because most people on chemical hair colors that come to me are coloring their hair every 7-10 days which is dangerous. Most don't even know the basics and spend lots of money on useless hair care products, but are still not able to maintain their color which is why they have to touch up every week to 10 days. And that is one problem I had faced with L'Oreal casting creme too. Some packs had way too much ammonia to burn my eyes, hands (even through gloves) and nostrils while some packs were mild. So they may have made the composition for casting creme harsher, I don't know. One of my knowns got a casting creme pack recently and she told me that the quantity has also been reduced to very little and it didn't even cover her head for a single application.

      For tips and maintenance, you can read my article 'Hair Care tips for chemically dyed hair' under the hair care section. There are more articles on that page, read all that are relevant to you. All the info is already shared there.

    4. I use the shampoo LoREAL used to give free along with the color. Called Color Protect
      Yes it has dimethicone in it. My scalp type is dry. Can you recommend any shampoo ?

      I find that (not sure whether it is the shampoo or hair conditioner given along with the color or the color itself) - my hair tends to stick together and appears less thick than it already is.


    5. :) It's the L'Oreal Shampoo which is the root to 70% of the problems you are facing right now and it is the one making your scalp dry too. I have had my share of L'Oreal woes right from hair colors to shampoos to conditioners, serums and hair masks. Trash your L'Oreal shampoo and try this shampoo: Your scalp will be healthier and color fade should also be less. Use it for 1-1.5 months and then get back to me. I am using it at present. The review link above is on my Kid's blog and I will be reviewing it here on this blog soon.

    6. Definitely I will use this shampoo and get back to you Diva. I hope I can call you that. And am very grateful for your detailed replies.
      One more question - if for some reason I for got to colour my hair and there is an unexpected function to attend - what can I do to cover up the gray hair ? Any paste of gel which can be used just for the evening ?


    7. Dear Janaki, I have now reviewed this shampoo on this blog too, you can check the details under the 'Hair Care' section. Feel free to call me as you like :) Diva sounds lovely too.

      There is a temporary way to color hair using food colors. Simply mix one bottle of black or darkest brown food color in coconut milk or any conditioner and apply lavishly on the head including roots and wear a shower cap or wear cling film to avoid dripping. Keep for min 2-3 hours and wash with plain water without using a shampoo. But this is more time consuming as compared to your current hair coloring method and it may be difficult to find food color in such a dark shade. So I am not sure how worth it is and this will wash off in one shampoo.

      The Henna and Indigo method you might have read on my blog needs a Henna base for Indigo to stick and cannot be started at such short notice as you will need time to buy the ingredients.

      Are you trying to give up on colors that you want it for only for one evening?

    8. I am not planning to give up on colors. But to at least reduce the number of applications. When I said gel or paste I was looking for something which works the way lipstick does. Apply it on the hair and get immediate effect. Anything to this effect ?


    9. Dear Janaki, you can use this Shahnaz Hussain Hair touch up. There is also a Shahnaz Hussain Hair Mascara available on, but that is costlier. And some crayon kind of thing also used to come from the same brand. These touch ups are not waterproof and you need to make sure you don't touch your hair when you have it on, else your hands will become black.

      Also, it would be great if you can complete become a member of the blog as mentioned in the blog policy.

    10. Sunshine,

      This is Janaki again. Your recommendation solved most of my problems. Almost a month has passed since I colored my hair and only very few gray hair seen. Thanks a lot. Can you also suggest a mild conditioner to use on my hair an hour after the coloring ?

  11. I subscribed to the blog. Is that what you meant ?


    1. Yes I meant 2 steps as mentioned in the Blog Policy: Subscribing by email and following on the Facebook/Google+ page. Hope you completed both steps.

  12. I used to color my hair a lot and stopped a year ago. Now I'm trying to find royal blue or navy blue in Pune. I have already got a purple for back up. But can anyone tell me where to find it.? Any type is fine temporary-Permanent

  13. Dear Aakanksha, royal blue hair color is available as a temporary spray-on can at a very reasonable price. Just click on the home tab above and you will get the details or click on the 'Hair Care' tab above and you will see an article on temporary hair colors India, where you can find the pics and the link to the color you are looking for. Hope this helps!

  14. Hi Gagan, I've been going through your blog and found it very interesting! I have subscribed here and also liked your fb page.
    I'm 37 years old and have been using hair color for the past 7 years once every 4-6 months (except during my 2 pregnancies period). Over the years my hairfall has increased, I can almost see my scalp :( and the greys have increased too. I have short hair (just above my shoulders)
    I really want to try the henna + indigo combination. My issue is that I suffer from sinusitis and applying henna makes it worse. Is there any other way to improve my bad hair?
    Please reply.

    1. Dear Anuradha, for years I stayed away from henna for the same fear that henna would cool my scalp and may give me cold. I even have nerve damage in one of my ears and doctor has asked me to avoid things that may give me cold. But the way I do henna and the ingredients I add, do not cool my scalp at all. I can give you a basic tip and you can try that first. If it works for you (I think it would), only then go ahead with the method.

      To continue with chemical colors, use Bubchen baby shampoo or try Rustic Art aloe shampoo. Stay away from conditioners and sulphates + silicones based shampoos. Use aloe vera gel on the scalp. If you do not have fresh one available, you can buy one from a brand named 'Forever'. You will need to find a distributor for it. It's a US based brand and is easily available in major cities. These basic changes will help you a lot in controlling hair loss.

  15. Hi Gagan...hope you are doing well...I would like to know list of temporary hair colour products which can be ordered in our country. .I am looking for natural tones like brown and black...sprays would be great as they would be easy to use..

  16. I use semi-permanent and it definitely colors the gray...

  17. Hi Diva, I find that after I started coloring my hair - it has become very light weight and starts sticking to each other making the hair thickness look lesser than what it actually is. If I spread out my hair with my hands it looks much better but only for an hour or so. Why is this happening and is there any way to make hair appear as thick as it is actually ? Shampooing is also not helping. - Janaki

  18. Hi Gagan. I am new to your blog and subscribed it through email.I hope this makes me a blog member. My mom is 45+ and she has been using a chemical hair dye based henna, which is in no way herbal,to cover the greys. She dyed them continuously for 8 years,after every 15-18days. But of late,after the hazards of chemical dyes (phthalates, ppd, hydrogen peroxide,etc), I was worried and asked her to switch to plain henna,as the dye faded,we realized that mom had 90%grey hair. So she tried henna continously for a long time,but as henna is cold and also renders her 90% grey hair only light reddish and not even closer to black, she is fed up and wants to switch to chemical dyes again,so that she doesn't look golden haired.I need your help dear. I want to save my mom from all chemicals and want her hair black too. Plz help me with a completely natural and safe solution which renders permanent black hair. Waiting for your help.


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