What's The Difference Between Semi-Permanent And Permanent Hair Color?

Let's set the record straight.

Woman With Blonde Highlights and Waves at The Salon
Photo: hedgehog94 / Getty Images

No woman can forget the first time she colored her hair. Sliding into that salon chair evokes a mix of emotions: excitement about finally getting those honey-blonde highlights matched by fear that you'll walk out looking a hot mess. Warm tones versus cool, highlights versus lowlights, or temporary versus permanent—the most crucial part of your first salon appointment comes down to picking the right thing. As any lady who has suffered the hair gods' wrath in the form of brassy blonde stripes knows, these are not decisions to be taken lightly.

Sure, the overwhelming collection of shade options is enough to make us break into a sweat; but it's just as easy to be bewildered between all of the different types of hair color. Take semi-permanent and permanent hair color, for example—what's the real difference? Well, turns out, these two coloring processes aren't nearly as similar as we assumed. (And chances are, you might be getting both.)

What Is Semi-Permanent Hair Color?

Up first, semi-permanent. Compared to permanent color, semi-permanent color is low maintenance and less of a long-term commitment, but it wears off in just about three weeks because it doesn't contain chemicals such as ammonia or peroxide. (Without these active ingredients, the hair color will not penetrate the cuticle and change its structure for long-lasting color.) Hair glazes and glosses are examples of semi-permanent hair color. These services majorly boost shine for natural or colored hair, as well as give vibrancy back to colored hair in between highlighting appointments. Since semi-permanent color doesn't last nearly as long as permanent, it's not prudent for ladies looking for an extensive change. It doesn't allow for major lightening or darkening, either. Odds are, you might be using this regularly for shine-boosting or color-reviving reasons.

What Is Permanent Hair Color?

Moving onto permanent hair color, you'll find the real deal: chemical processing—or oxidation. Ammonia and hydrogen peroxide act together to open up the cuticle, interact with melanin and keratin (those are responsible for color and texture), and change the structure in order to deposit dye. Permanent hair color can lighten, darken, or change the tone of your hair; and it'll last about six to eight weeks. It often needs a root touch-up about every four weeks because dark roots are noticeable as the hair grows out, especially if hydrogen peroxide was used to substantially lighten your natural color. (This is also the point when a gloss can revamp the color.) Permanent color fully covers gray strands, but takes serious upkeep. If you've been coloring your hair for a while, odds are permanent color is what you've been getting.

Choosing The Right Type Of Hair Color

Have you never colored your hair? Do you want to boost your shine? Is your hair color feeling dull, but your highlighting appointment is a month away? Semi-permanent might be for you. Clear hair glosses (read: no added color) are perfect for those who merely want a refresher on softness and shine. You can also enhance your chestnut brown or butter blonde with a dye gloss.

Are you looking to change up your hair color by adding highlights or lowlights? Are you a brunette trying to go bright golden blonde? Are your gray strands getting a little too frisky? Permanent hair color is the ticket. This processing is the most common form, and most agree that the longer-lasting color makes up for the added maintenance.

Get Inspired

If you're looking for summer hair color inspiration, look no further than these brilliant brunette shades and warm blonde hues. Or try one of these 15 Winter Hair Colors That Are Making Us Swoon. Now that you know what type of hair color you're asking for, it's time to pick a fresh shade.

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