Are you bored with your everyday hair color and want to temporarily dye your hair bubblegum pink without breaking the bank?
That’s the beauty of semi-permanent hair color — you can switch up your look at the drop of a hat without the risk of long-term commitment. However, if not done right or if you don’t pick quality hair color, you’ll have to live with six to eight weeks of not-so-impressive locks or spend even more at the salon to get your beloved tresses back.
While a professional hairstylist will most likely recommend consulting a colorist before doing it, we asked the experts to share their favorite semi-permanent hair color when experimenting with your at-home hair treatments and how to keep the color looking fresh.
What is semi-perm hair dye? | What to look for | Best overall | Best drugstore | Most vibrant | Least damaging | Best for shine | Best for grays | Best for mixing | Best for light hair | Best for brunettes | Best for color-treated | Best spray | How do I prep? | FAQs | How we chose | Meet our experts
What is semi-permanent hair dye?
“Semi-permanent color works by depositing color onto the outermost layer of the hair, the cuticle,” Iowa City-based pro hairstylist Jamie Wiley says. It's a popular choice for anyone looking to add a trendy pop of color, with the option to switch back to one's natural color without a long wait.
“This type of color does not contain any ammonia or peroxide, which means it does not penetrate the hair shaft like permanent hair color does,” Wiley adds. The color sits on the hair shaft without penetrating the cuticle and gradually fades within six weeks, depending on exposure to natural elements and frequency of washing.
While this type of hair dye is considered safe for most people, it’s always best to check for allergic reactions inside your elbow before applying it on the scalp to avoid irritation.
What to consider when shopping for semi-permanent hair dye
Read through the label thoroughly before choosing a temporary hair color; keep an eye out for ingredients like ammonia or peroxide. “Will [the dye] give the hair a natural shine or leave it feeling dry and damaged?” Wiley says.
Additionally, Made Safe (a certification body that screens consumer products of toxic substances) recommends avoiding chemicals like p-phenylenediamine, DMDM hydantoin and methylisothiazolinone for their potentially harmful effects.
“[Semi-permanent hair dye] lasts six weeks, depending on how often you wash your hair and if you use color-safe shampoo,” says Wiley. Marco Pelusi, Hollywood-based hair colorist of Marco Pelusi Hair Studio, Inc., advises waiting anywhere between 48 to 72 hours before shampooing and washing your newly hued hair — "depending, of course, on the manufacturer’s recommendations."
Master stylist Edda Coscioni also recommends using heat protectant products to keep your color brighter for longer. "Using [these] when blow drying, curling or flat-ironing hair [will] help with fading.”
Type and formulation
Semi-permanent hair dyes don’t need to be mixed with a developer, so you can directly apply them to your hair. They’re available in forms like color-depositing shampoo/conditioner, color spray, hair mascara and hair chalk. Your choice depends on how easy you want the application to be and how long you want your color to last.
“If you are looking for a pop of color that will wash out quickly, then color spray and hair mascara/chalk is your best bet. If you want something that will last a little longer then semi-permanent hair color is better,” Wiley adds. According to Wiley, color-depositing shampoos and conditioners last the longest.
Your natural or current hair color
If you’re going for a fun, vivid hair color, your natural or current hair color can be the factor that decides how close to your vision the end result turns out. Basically, the lighter the hair, the brighter it will look after coloring it. As someone (Anjana) who tried to go temporary rose gold on my medium-brown hair, let me just say the results were disappointing.
“At-home hair color has come a long way, but one should still be careful when selecting the right shades, master colorist Joseph Mullen tells Shop TODAY. "A good rule of thumb is to stay as close to your natural [color] as possible to avoid the inevitable unwanted red or orange tones."
Best overall semi-permanent hair dye
Formulation: Creamy, non-drip | Best for: All hair types and textures | Longevity: 28 washes | No. of colors: 37
If you’re a brunette or redhead looking for a gentler coloring alternative, Clairol Natural Instincts has an ammonia- and paraben-free formula to help keep your hair looking and feeling healthy. This product was designed to feel more like a conditioner, leaving your hair feeling soft and "silky smooth" after every application, according to Rita Hazan Salon colorist Carlina Ortega. It's also packed with 80% naturally derived ingredients, including coconut and aloe vera.
“Since semi-permanents aren’t meant to cover gray hair 100%, they just blend in," says Ortega. "I find this color holds your gray better than others on the market."
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Excellent pick for those allergic to permanent dyes
Best drugstore semi-permanent hair dye
Formulation: Liquid | Best for: All hair types, esp. damage-prone | Longevity: 12 shampoos | No. of colors: 20
Clairol Professionals’ line of semi-permanent hair colors works perfectly for all hair types and textures; it has highly moisturizing aloe vera, jojoba oil and vitamin E. Plus, hair coloring with this is fun — you can customize your own color by mixing two or more shades to create a color your heart desires. According to the brand, it makes your hair 45% more shiny and even covers grays.
It can bring your dull hair back to life; a verified reviewer on Amazon said, “My hair was thin, dry and fine due to a recent illness. [The] reddish brown color makes me look healthier, more vibrant, but not fakey fake.”
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Because this uses oxygen to develop color, it's said to be healthier for your hair
Most vibrant semi-permanent hair dye
Formulation: Cream | Best for: All hair types | Longevity: 16-24 washes | No. of colors: 9
From the brand founded by Hayley Williams of Paramore and her long-time hairstylist Brian O'Connor, these vibrant semi-permanent hair dyes are formulated with the same thoughtfulness — high-quality, vegan ingredients and salon-grade pigments — that make up the rest of Good Dye Young's shop.
The nontoxic cream conditions hair as it deposits color; in fact, it's said to act like a moisturizing and nourishing hair mask. One reviewer, a mother who used this line with her daughter, noted, "We’ve tried multiple vibrant dye brands and lighteners, and this was by far the BEST! The color holds well, smells good and was easy to use! My daughter's hair is so soft, and you could never miss her with her bright red hair."
SOMETHING TO NOTE: The brand recommends waiting at least 24 hours before your first wash post-treatment
Least damaging semi-permanent hair dye
Formulation: Liquid | Best for: All hair types | Longevity: 3-4 weeks | No. of colors: 13
Blondes, listen up. The reason you have more fun might be because your locks give off a magical shine. If you want to keep that brightness, Jill Buck, senior hairstylist at Nine Zero One in West Hollywood, California, recommends looking for products with a peroxide level of 1.5% or less.
“Less peroxide means less damage and less room for error! If you chose the wrong color or something doesn’t go as planned, it’s an easier fix than permanent color,” she says.
The Kristin Ess Signature Gloss Toner will tone down warmth and extend color vibrancy between appointments for up to three to four weeks. The formula is silicone-free, keratin-safe and only requires a single application to give your hair a healthy boost. Brunettes and redheads can also add extra vibrancy to their hair with these short-term hair colors.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: It’s cruelty-free; it won't lift or cover grays because of the ammonia-free formula
Best semi-permanent hair dyes for shine
Formulation: Thick and creamy | Best for: All hair types, dull hair | Longevity: 10 shampoos | No. of colors: 12
Prolong the durability of your hair color and boost its vibrancy with the Gloss+ semi-permanent color and deep conditioning base. Its hydrating formula deepens dark locks and leaves a soft and shiny finish for up to 10 shampoos.
“The dpHUE Gloss+ is amazing! Made by a professional, this is safe to use at home and formulated with you in mind,” says Buck.
This is my (Anjana's) go-to for extra softness and shine; it works in three minutes!
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Some users say it added shine better than it left color; has a nice smell
Formulation: Shampoo consistency | Best for: All hair types | Longevity: 6-8 shampoos | No. of colors: 8
Bring your hair color back to life and say goodbye to brassiness, dullness and pesky grays. This Madison Reed product is rich with keratin, argan oil and ginseng root extract, all of which are said to help nourish your hair and add dimension.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: It does not cover grays; several users say tube could last longer
Best semi-permanent hair dyes for gray coverage
Formulation: Liquid | Best for: All hair types | Longevity: 4-6 weeks | No. of colors: 40
Most temporary hair dyes won’t cover grays, but this line by Adore will blend your grays in while brightening your tresses. It boosts shine and makes your hair extra-soft after one use, whether you're going bold with purples and greens or keeping your locks a more natural color.
With an average of 4.4 out of 5 stars on Amazon and over 20,000 five-star reviews, it’s a popular choice at an affordable price. A happy reviewer said, “My brown hair is about 25% gray and looks a bit blah, so I thought this might help it look a bit smoother (and shinier, of course). It did!”
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Longer and thicker hair might need more than a bottle
Formulation: Liquid | Best for: Sensitive scalps | Longevity: 5-7 shampoos | No. of colors: 4
When the roots grow in, it’s time to pull Christophe Robin’s Color Gel out. This temporary color solution is perfectly pigmented, hiding grays easily without any harmful oxidants and ammonia; it does so by blending those grays into the base color. This gel is also perfect for sensitive scalps — and anyone serious about capturing a fuller and more radiant looking ‘do in a pinch.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Tested on 270 people with sensitive scalps (94% reported no irritation)
Best mixable semi-permanent hair dye
Formulation: Thick cream | Best for: Pre-lightened hair | Longevity: 20+ shampoos | No. of colors: 35 (at time of publication)
Both Buck and Wiley recommend Joico’s Vivid Semi-Permanent Color Line. It's the go-to for over-the-top and intermixable pigments, from bright periwinkles and lime greens to alluring mauves and reds. Each shade is formulated with a special Quadramine Complex to keep each strand strong, healthy and shockingly shiny.
“This line is incredible and offers over 40 beautiful shades to try. This product doesn’t use developer, so that means it won’t lift your hair in any way,” says Buck.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Results tend to be more vibrant on lighter hair; process for at least 20 minutes before washing
Best semi-permanent dye for lighter shades
Formulation: Thick cream | Best for: Light brown to pre-bleached platinum hair | Longevity: 4-8 weeks | No. of colors: 16
Make your pastel rainbow hair fantasies come true with Lime Crime’s Unicorn Hair Tints. Available in over a dozen dramatic tints, there’s no shade too extreme for this collection. These work best with pre-bleached platinum to pale blonde hair to achieve more magical pops of color.
“Keep in mind that these colors stain the hair more than temporary colors would, so if you’re looking for a ‘weekend only’ color, I’d stick with a temporary [dye],” Ortega says.
I (Anjana) can attest to how well this product dyes hair: I experimented with this on my bleached hair for a music festival, and it looked exactly as advertised.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Lasts longer than the typical temporary dye (so plan accordingly)
Best semi-permanent hair dye for brunettes
Formulation: Thick, conditioning | Best for: All hair, especially brown | Longevity: 6-8 washes | No. of colors: 25
Before setting unrealistic expectations that your hair will look exactly like the color on the box, you need to accept that lighter or bleached hair will match the advertised colors most closely. That doesn’t mean you can’t add fun colors to darker hair. Arctic Fox makes a line of highly pigmented shades that can show beautifully on brown or darker hair. This highly conditioning product doesn’t have any harsh chemicals and can add a gorgeous blue, purple, green, or red tint to your hair.
This semi-permanent at-home hair color is the No. 1 bestseller under Amazon's Hair Color category, boasting over 61,000 verified five-star reviews. A verified reviewer with brown hair noted, “Using Purple Rain, my hair is a nice purple in good lighting.”
SOMETHING TO NOTE: It has a nice smell; it doesn’t smear
Formulation: Very thick cream | Best for: Medium-brown to light brown hair | Longevity: 20 to 22 washes | No. of colors: 15
What if we said there’s a way to color your hair in less than 15 minutes using only a conditioner? Something so easy couldn’t possibly exist, right? Wrong. No matter your starting hair color, oVertone can provide the right shade for you — whether it be a chic neutral tint or a head-turning hue. You’ll be shocked by the pigment produced by this boundary pushing (and inexpensive) product.
“If you’re looking for a bold color, I like oVertone semi-permanent color. It works perfectly on brunettes seeing as most temporary dyes work best on lighter hair. It’s also longer lasting compared to other brands,” says Ortega.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: For best results, apply to dry hair
Best semi-permanent hair dye for color-treated hair
Formulation: Thick cream | Best for: Color-treated hair | Longevity: Up to 7 washes | No. of colors: 4
Is your purple mane looking a little dull? Pick up one of these color enhancers (available in pink, silver, aqua and violet) for an extra boost in pigment without the in-salon experience or price. This hair pick-me-up nourishes as it colors: It's formulated with oat protein, amino acids and kakadu plum extract. The only outrageous ingredient in this conditioning treatment is the color.
Hairstylist and colorist Samantha Higgins only asks that you follow one crucial rule while using this: “Always, always wear gloves and take precautions to stain-proof your area!” Wiley also highly recommends this line.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: Limited color selection; you may get better coverage by mixing it with another conditioner
Best semi-permanent hair color spray
Formulation: Liquid spray | Best for: TK | Longevity: 1 wash | No. of colors: 7
If you’re looking for the quickest and easiest way to add bright colors to your hair without bleaching it first, get your hands on the L’Oréal Paris Colorista 1 Day Hair Color Spray. All you have to do is spray, let it dry, and you’re ready to go. The color intensifies as it dries, and you can wash it out if you don’t love it.
It’s highly pigmented and will show on all hair types, textures and colors. With over 4,700 five-star reviews on Amazon, it’s a popular choice for holidays, theme parties and music festivals.
SOMETHING TO NOTE: The spray is flammable and can get messy, so use with caution
How should I prep my hair for semi-permanent hair dye?
Once you've decided to add some short-term color to your hair, knowing the dos and don'ts is essential.
- Do cleanse the night before. "A good cleansing shampoo would be advisable the night before so as to remove any possible buildup on the hair," says Pelusi.
- Don't use other products. Pelusi also recommends avoiding the use of any product on the day of the color service.
- Do arrive with clean hair. "There is no need to do anything to prepare for the actual coloring of the hair, other than arrive with clean hair," says Coscioni.
- Do have a consultation with a stylist first. According to Coscioni, most people use semi-permanent colors because they are getting color for the first time. "Have a consultation with your hairstylist so you understand the outcome and the maintenance," he adds.
Questions about temporary hair dyes, answered by experts
What if I'm not happy with the color after application?
“Wash your hair with clarifying shampoo. Each time it will fade, but be prepared that it might not fully fade,” Coscioni says. Semi-permanent is not as powerful as permanent hair dye – but it does stain the hair and might not all come out.
“Malibu CPR (Color Pigment Remover) is an effective way to remove semi-permanent color,” Wiley adds. If nothing works, you might have to see a salon professional for a color remover service.
What's the difference between semi- and demi-permanent hair dye?
They are, in fact, two different types of hair color.
Coscioni notes that you can choose between the two depending on how long you want the color to last. “Demis usually last longer than semis — meaning you get more hair washes out of demi over a semi," she says.
Pelusi adds that semi-permanent hair colors are usually not mixed with a developer (activator), while demi-permanent colors are. Another key difference: "Semi sits outside the hair shaft, and demi sits just inside the hair shaft,” he explains.
Are semi-permanent hair dyes damaging?
According to Coscioni, semi-permanent hair dye is "one of the gentlest ways to color hair."
Permanent hair dyes last the longest, but that's because they penetrate the cuticle of the hair, altering its structure — that's not the case with semi-permanent hair color.
"Ordinarily, semi-permanent should be pretty gentle on the hair, as it simply coats the outer layer of the hair," says Pelusi. In fact, he adds that this type of dye could even help the hair feel healthier.
Do I mix semi-permanent hair dye with a developer?
The semi-permanent hair colors we recommend do not need to be mixed in with a developer. However, that's not to say you can't.
"Normally, semi-permanent hair-coloring acts as a gentle stain on the hair and, therefore, is generally not mixed with developer. When a hair color product is mixed with a developer, that's a strong clue that it's probably not semi," says Pelusi.
Coscioni, on the other hand, adds, "Yes, you can. It is best to have a professional do your hair color." Basically, it's best not to play scientist at home.
Can I use semi-permanent hair dye on wet hair?
The majority of semi-permanent hair colors are meant to be used on clean, dry hair. Still, according to Pelusi, "It’s okay to have slightly damp hair when applying any hair color, as the water helps open the hair a little bit. But the hair should just be mildly damp, and not soaking wet.” That's because super wet hair will not allow the color to penetrate the hair shaft.
Coscioni says it’s OK to use semi-permanent dyes on wet hair. But, “this will change how powerful it stains,” she adds. But always make sure to read the instructions on the color you’re using for best results.
How we chose the best semi-permanent hair dyes
To compile our list of the best semi-permanent at-home hair dyes on the market, the Shop TODAY team considered ingredient lists, color longevity, ranges of colors available, and how well each works for various hair types and textures. We also checked the price points, verified customer reviews and ratings, and the top sellers on trusted retailers' pages to help us narrow down our list.
In addition, we interviewed multiple professional hair experts (see below) to get their advice on how to choose the right hair dyes, how they work, and tips to care for the hair after treatment. Finally, our editors constantly check for current prices and retailer links, and replace sold-out or discontinued products with newer versions when available.
Meet our experts
- Jill Buck is senior hairstylist at Nine Zero One in West Hollywood, California. She's also a celebrity hairstylist and beauty coach.
- Edda Coscioni is a master colorist and precision cutter based in Chicago. She owns and is lead stylist at Salon Edda.
- Lindsey Esposito is a cosmetologist and balayage specialist based in New Jersey. In addition to in-salon services, she offers event styling and bridal styling services.
- Samantha Higgins is a professional hairstylist and cosmetologist at The Copper Comb in Edmond, Oklahoma.
- Joseph Mullen is a hairstylist and colorist at Blackstones Collective in NYC. He specializes in balayage, ombre and hair straightening.
- Carlina Ortega is a hair colorist at Rita Hazan Salon in NYC. She specializes in both the foil and balayage methods.
- Marco Pelusi is a Hollywood-based hair colorist and the owner of Marco Pelusi Hair Studio, Inc.
- Jamie Wiley is a professional hairstylist, author and educator based in Iowa City. She is the CEO of HAIRBOSS, a community and platform that offers educational resources and mentorship services to hairdressers.