Everything You Need to Know About Temporary and Semi-Permanent Hair Color

Plus, it is less damaging?

Daydreaming about new reds, browns, or black hair color for upcoming season, but don’t want to fully commit? Have roots that you need to cover stat, but don’t have time to make it to a salon? Temporary hair color, i.e. color that fades over time with washing, is the ideal technique for someone wanting to experiment or conceal roots in a pinch. We asked expert colorists to break down temporary hair color, including how to pick the best temporary hair color, how to care for your new hue, and the best product recommendations to try.

<p>Stock Colors/Getty Images</p>

Stock Colors/Getty Images

What Is Temporary Hair Color?

Temporary hair colors are mainly used to refer to colors that wash away after a single shampoo. “Anything truly ‘temporary’ means it will wash out with one shampoo. Therefore the only true temporary hair color by definition is applied by spraying it on,” says Paul Labrecque, creative director and master stylist at Paul Labrecque Salon and Skincare Spa.

However, the term is also often used to encompass semi-permanent dyes, which last around 6-8 weeks depending on your hair type, how porous it is, and how frequently you wash. These formulas can come in many forms, including gels and conditioning masks. They’re great for beginners because they’re low-maintenance, don't contain bleach, and often formulated with conditioning and shine agents built in, meaning that they’re less damaging than permanent hair colors.

All that being said, anything with chemicals can have a drying effect on your hair. “For anyone, the best choice is to make sure ammonia isn't in any of the semi-permanent colors you're using,” says Labrecque. “Always go with the gentlest of chemicals as possible—this can vary based on any grays you have and plan to cover, the depth of color you want to achieve, and your base hue. In general, going darker will be less damaging than going lighter.”

What to Keep In Mind When Choosing Your Color

According to colorists, the main thing to consider when choosing a shade is that warm colors (like peaches, reds, oranges, and pinks) fade better and quicker whereas cool colors (blue, green, violet) will stick around for longer. Warm shades will also grab more evenly, so they might be a better option if it’s your first time dabbling into at-home color.

Regardless of the color you choose, it’s always recommended that you test dyes on an inconspicuous section of wet or damp hair first (perhaps a strand behind the nape of your neck) so you can see how your hair will absorb the color.

Can Anyone Use Temporary Hair Color?

Sorry brunettes, but blondes do have more fun in this territory. As a rule of thumb, the lighter your hair already is, the brighter a color will be since temporary colors only darken or tone hair (read: they don’t lift the base). In other words, if you want pink or purple hues and your hair is naturally dark, the hair must be pre-bleached (that’s why temporary colors are generally easier for bleached and natural blondes). That doesn’t mean you can’t partake if you have dark hair and prefer to stay away from bleach—consider colors like deep purple or blue, which can give a cool, subtle hue to brunette hair.

How to Care for Temporary Hair Color

Sudsier detergents and clarifying agents are the ones responsible for fading pigments. When dealing with a semi-permanent dye where you're going to want to keep your color around as long as possible, the most effective way to do so is using color-safe hair products without harsh detergents and sulfates. Hard water can also take a toll on hair color, so try adding a shower filter to remove damaging minerals and limiting the amount of times you wash your hair.

Best Temporary Hair Color Products

For all-over color, consider semi-permanent colors by Manic Panic or Crazy Color's Temporary Color range, but keep in mind this brand's products can adhere to those with porous ends and ultimately last longer than one wash. If you’re a brunette, some brands like Overtone offer colors specifically formulated to show up on brown and dark hair. When it comes to selective sections, Labrecque recommends L'Oreal's Magic Touch Up Sprays for concealing grays and/or roots in between color sessions.

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