What is Semipermanent Hair Color?

There are 4 hair color options. Find out which is best for you.

Jessica Biel ombre hair color. Carlos Alvarez/Getty Images

The difference between semi-permanent and permanent hair color is how long you want the color to last and how much of a change you want.  In this article, I'll explain the 4 hair color options and help you figure which one is best for your hair.

Temporary Hair Color: Washes Out After 1 Shampoo

Temporary hair color washes out after only one shampoo. It comes in the form of hair mascara meant to mask gray growth at the roots or hairline.

It can be spray-on color or come in the form of color-depositing shampoo. 

Semi-Permanent Color: Washes Out in 6-12 Shampoos

If you're looking to subtly deepen your natural hair color or add a layer of color (such as a red tone on brown hair), a semi-permanent color is your best option. Keep in mind semi-permanents darken hair. Because they don't contain ammonia or peroxide, semi-permanent color can't lighten hair.

Semi-permanent color washes out over a period of time (six to 12 shampoos, depending upon the formula), so if you don't like the color, you don't have to live with it for too long. Another benefit of semi-permanent color: Because the color is temporary, you won't have to deal with noticeable roots.

A Longer-Lasting Option: Demi-Permanent Color

Want a longer-lasting option? Consider a demi-permanent color, which, like semi-permanent color, deepens and intensifies your natural color but will only lighten hair one shade.

The difference is demi-permanent color lasts 12-26 washes, depending on the formula.

According to NYC stylist Eva Scrivo in her book "Eva Scrivo on Beauty," (buy it online) this color is good for covering up a few gray hairs, refreshing hair that has previously been colored, deepening the hair color, lightening it a shade or altering the tone of the hair.

The Longest Lasting Option: Permanent Color

Permanent hair color has to grow out. It won't wash out.

If you want a more dramatic change (two or more shades darker or lighter than your natural hair color), a permanent color is a better option. It's also the best choice for covering up gray hair.

According to the book "InStyle: Getting Gorgeous," (buy it online) permanent hair color contains a blend of peroxide and ammonia and removes pigment from hair while also depositing new color. It won't wash out and instead has to grow out. You'll need to re-touch roots every 6 to 8 weeks.

Note: When you're coloring your own hair, stylist Louis Licari suggests in InStyle magazine, to choose "the exact name over the eloquent one -- Medium Ash Brown instead of Sunlit Brown." He also suggests you get 2 boxes if you have thick, curly or long hair so you don't run out of product as you apply it.

For more on hair color, don't miss:

  • At-Home Hair Color: Biggest Mistakes Women Make
  • The Year's Hottest Hair Color Trends
  • Should You Color Your Own Hair or Go to a Pro?
  • Help! I Colored My Hair at Home & It's Wrong. It is Permanent?