If you’ve ever colored your hair, you’ll know that there are a lot of options to choose from. Seemingly endless shade ranges, coloring techniques and hair dye brands are enough to make the choice complicated. Perhaps one of the most important decisions to make, though, is the choice between permanent, semi-permanent and temporary dye.
It’s no surprise that hair dye can damage your hair—the process uses chemicals to lift the cuticle and deposit dye, or at the very least, coat your strands with color. However, which type of dye you choose and how often you apply it can make an impact on the damage your hair sustains.
The concept of “temporary” color often gets mistaken for semi-permanent dye, which is something very different. Usually, temporary hair color is considered to be a type of dye that is applied to the top of hair and coats the outside of the hair shaft.
This type of color does not last very long at all—in general, it rinses out after one hair wash. For this reason, temporary hair dye is only used for special circumstances, such as costumes. Temporary color is generally safe for hair, since it does not penetrate the hair shaft.
Semi-permanent hair color is a less invasive way to color your hair. Its name rings true, as the dye job only lasts for six to eight weeks and fades relatively quickly, especially if you’re washing your hair frequently.
Semi-permanent dye is thought to provide a more natural color and can add shine, or gloss, to the top of the hair. These dyes do not contain bleach, so they cannot lighten your natural color. They also do not contain harsh chemicals like hydrogen peroxide or ammonia, so they are far less damaging than permanent color.
Semi-permanent hair dye is beneficial in that it allows you to try out a new color without committing to it forever. However, it does have some drawbacks. Since it fades so quickly, you’ll need to make more frequent trips to the salon for touch-ups or new dye jobs, which could cause damage.
Permanent hair dyes are specially formulated to last a longer time than other hair dyes. They will not wash out over time, but they can fade. Usually, you’ll need to re-color your roots or give your hair a touch up after color fades or grows out.
This long-lasting color is the biggest benefit of permanent hair color. There are also usually more colors in permanent hair dye ranges.
Unfortunately, permanent hair dyes mix an oxidizer and ammonia in with the color. These chemicals are quite strong and can be damaging to your hair. The chemicals are necessary to lift the cuticle, dissolve your natural pigment and deposit color, which creates the permanence of the dye.
Which dye is right?
Ultimately, the type of hair dye you select should depend on what your goals are.
If you only need color for a day or two, a temporary hair spray will be perfect for you. If you want a hair color that only lasts for a short amount of time (for example, if you’re experimenting with a new color), you’ll be better off selecting a temporary hair dye. If you’re looking for long-lasting color that requires minimal touch-ups, permanent will be the best option.
The amount of damage you’re doing to your hair is also something you should consider. Temporary colors cause virtually no damage, so you don’t need to worry when using a spray-on color.
Semi-permanent hair dye won’t damage hair much in a single session, but if you plan to re-dye your hair over and over, damage can build up over time. If you only want to dye it once and let it fade, semi-permanent dye will be the least damaging while offering lasting color.
Permanent hair dye is more damaging right away, but it lasts much longer.
There’s no way to get out of damaging your hair in some way while coloring it. However, there are many ways you can help minimize the damage by properly caring for your color-treated hair after the fact. Make sure to deep-condition your hair regularly to reintroduce moisture and prevent your locks from becoming too dry and brittle.
Additionally, no matter how you color your hair, you’ll want to be careful when washing to prevent premature fading or washing away the color. Generally, avoid washing for at least one or two days after coloring your hair.
With careful selection of hair dye and post-coloring hair treatments, your new hair color will last a long time without causing lasting damage.