Choosing the Hair Color That Is Right for You


Hair color. You know you want it. Now you’re in the salon chair and your stylist is asking you the BIG QUESTION…..What type of color do you want today? Permanent, Demi-Permanent, Semi-Permantent, Gloss, Glaze, Tone. The choices can be overwhelming to say the least. Never fear, this post is going clearly define the types of color available and lay out the pros and cons based on your hair type, maintenance, investment, and lifestyle.

Every hair color available can be placed in one of four categories; permanent, demi-permanent, semi-permanent, and temporary. Each one provides different longevity and specific end results. In addition to understanding the differences, it’s also important to consider what you want to get from your color.

  • Permanent Color–Permanent color is the super hero of hair color. It can lift and deposit natural hair color and cover grey hair as if it never existed. This type of color starts with two components: color and a developer. The color can come in a tube or a bottle and is activated by the developer. Developer is basically super oxygenated water combined with conditioners and chemical components to effectively create the consistency needed for the color mix. When the two are combined, a chemical reaction takes place, swelling the cuticle, altering natural pigment molecules and depositing new color molecules. The good news is that the effects of this type of color are permanent. The bad news is the effects of this type of color are permanent. This means that as your hair grows, there will be an obvious demarcation between your natural and treated hair. Once you apply permanent color to your hair, you cannot color it back to your natural color. Unfortunately color manufacturers have yet to recreate natural hair color. Permanent color is always slightly warmer in tone. The only way to go back to your natural color is to just grow it back out. Trust me on this. You can color it close to your natural color, but never close enough that you won’t see regrowth over time.
  • Demi-permanent Color–There are many varying terms for demi-permanent color. Some may call it semi-permanent, maybe a toner, or a glaze. Whatever it is called, here’s why it’s so great. Demi-permanent color is deposit only. This means it cannot lighten your hair. It’s considered deposit only because it has no alkali source, therefore making it acid balanced on the pH scale. Demi-permanent color can contract the cuticle giving it incredible shine and making it feel super healthy. Like permanent color there are two components that combine to activate the color process: the color and the developer. The developer is much more gentle than developers used in permanent color. Once combined, these dye molecules penetrate the hair cuticle but do not develop deeper in the center of the hair fiber. Rarely, can grey hair be covered with this type of color, but it can be blended. This means it can take on a cast of the tone of the applied color giving it the appearance of highlights or dimension in the hair. If you don’t want the commitment of frequent salon visits, this is a great color choice. Demi-permanent color lasts approximately 6-8 weeks and fades gradually overtime. A shorter longevity means little to no regrowth line. Keep in mind that at the end of the 6-8 weeks the color is never gone, just faded. In the salon, as long as the affected hair is still present, we consider it “color treated”.
  • Semi-Permanent Color–Semi-permanent color, like demi-permanent color, has a short life span. This dye molecule is larger than a permanent or demi-permanent molecule, therefore it cannot penetrate deeper than the surface of the cuticle. Semi-permanent colors are generally bright, fun, pop color. It is only one component and when you open the container what you see is what you get. Manic Panic and Fudge are two brands of semi-permanent color. If you are looking to make a bright, bold statement this is the best color choice for you. With that said, know that in order to get the most impact of the color, your hair typically needs to be pre-lightened to a pale blonde to get the effect. Because this is a larger dye molecule and is truly just staining the cuticle, the life of the color is short. You may have bright hot pink on day one, faded pink by day two and baby pink by week three. Removal of this color can be a challenge. Lightener or bleach, which is used to remove most colors, in this situation can sometimes drive the color deeper in the hair. It takes the knowledge of an experienced salon professional to accurately remove semi-permanent color.
  • Temporary Color–Temporary color is any hair color product that lasts until you shampoo your hair. Tinted shampoos and conditioners are a couple of examples. If you remember your mom or grandma putting a “rinse” on her hair? That is also a temporary color. These are pretty forgiving products and are generally used to enhance the tone of hair or neutralize brassiness in blondes as their color oxidizes. Like anything else, too much of a good thing can be bad. If you overuse a temporary color product you can get an excessive deposit of the tone. If someone with blonde hair is using a tone correcting purple conditioner to eliminate yellow, when they use too much they may end up with lavender hair.
  • Lighteners–Last but not least, I want to touch on lighteners, otherwise known as bleach. Lighteners have come a long way over the years. Science has added conditioning elements to these products so that many times the hair can become healthier after a lightening process than before. Lighteners are the only product that can accurately remove artificial pigment. In the salon world we live be the rule “color can’t lift color”. That’s why when you decided to dye your hair black for that guy in the band and then decided it was a huge mistake (the guy and the hair color) you can’t just put brown hair color on top of it and expect to make it better. In many color situations, lighteners are the best and only choice to achieve your desired end result. Even permanent hair color has its limitations. If you are medium brown or darker and dream of being a hollywood blonde, color will never get you there. You need to use lightener. If you don’t believe me, call me when you used “pale ash blonde” on your hair and it became a lovely carrot orange. I will then suggest you come in to the salon so we can lighten it further with lightener (assuming it’s still in good condition).

Box color vs. salon color
Now that I’ve shared all of this information about color with you, please be thoughtful of how you use it. As a salon professional and colorist with 15 years in the business, I have around 30,000 hours of experience. I know not only how to choose the appropriate type of color for your hair and how to formulate it to react with your natural hair color, but I also know how to apply it in a manner that leaves your hair healthy and beautiful. Box color can save you money initially, if it goes well, and at first it might be great! But over time, there is the tendency for build up of color on the midshaft and ends, resulting in root color looking lighter than the rest of your hair. Or in the case of going lighter, the midshaft and ends become lighter than the base, causing porous and damaged hair. Eventually you will need to visit a salon to correct it. My color correction services start at $100 per hour and it usually takes more than one appointment to get color to an ideal place. So before you buy that box color at the grocery store, make a consultation appointment with an experienced colorist. Talk to them about what you would like your color to be, what type of investment is in your beauty budget and what type of maintenance schedule fits with your lifestyle. Trust their judgment. As you can see there are many types of color to choose from and one of them is perfect for you.