The Difference Between Semi and Demi-Permanent Hair Color

Written by Nina Aghadjanian

By now, we’re well-versed on the difference between balayage and highlights, and caught up on the latest techniques, including oil slick color and palm painting. Still, there’s a lot of ground to cover on the basics of color. Naturally, the effort to figure out the facts of our color falls to the wayside when we sit back, relax, and peruse a glossy as our colorist puts in work. For anyone who’s ever had their hair colored, ask yourself: Did my colorist apply a semi-permanent hair color? Or semi-permanent’s cousin, demi-permanent? Ahead, colorist Chris Greene from Meche Salon in Los Angeles, and editorial colorist Mauricio Bermudez, who mane-paints models like Katie Moore and Stella Maxwell out of Suite Caroline Salon in NYC, break down the differences between semi-permanent versus demi-permanent hair color.

Semi-Permanent Versus Demi-Permanent Hair Color: What’s the Difference?

Mauricio Bermudez: Demi-permanent color is a color that requires a developer, or a low level of peroxide, to be activated. It manipulates natural hair enough to darken it and can change the tonal value of hair from cool to warm. Demi-permanent color can also penetrate the hair shaft enough to blend gray hairs, without leaving a strong line of demarcation.

Chris Greene: Semi-permanent hair color is a type of hair color that contains no ammonia and deposits only. The color coats the outside of the hair and doesn’t change the color as much as it changes the tone. This type of color usually lasts between five to 12 washes. You may have heard semi-permanent color referred to as a “toner,” “stain,” or “gloss.”

Who’s the Ideal Candidate for Demi-Permanent Color?

Chris Greene: Ideal candidates would be anyone looking to blend grays, refresh their existing color, tone highlights, or for corrective color because it is a little stronger than a semi-permanent color. And refresh faded ends.

Who’s the Ideal Candidate for Semi-Permanent Color?

Mauricio Bermudez: Semi is ideally for everyone who wants to maintain their hair color in between color visits. A perfect example is Christophe Robin’s Shade Variation Care Masques which contain a minimal amount of pigment and can keep blondes from going yellow, reds from fading to drab, and brunettes from becoming oxidized and red/brassy. Semi-permanent color is also ideal for individuals who have pink, purple, blue, and any other color in the rainbow. I create custom semi-permanent color masques for clients who require lots of maintenance in between visits.

Chris Greene: Semi-permanent hair color is great for someone dyeing their hair for the first time or isn’t sure they want to commit to a color and want a subtle change. You won’t be able to make drastic changes with semi-permanent color.

Does One Last Longer Than the Other?

Mauricio Bermudez: It really comes down to an individual’s porosity and degree of tonal vividness. Both demi and semi-permanent hair colors are technically supposed to last anywhere from four to six weeks. But in my experience, demi-permanent colors last from two to five weeks, and semi-permanent colors start fading from the first shampoo post service. The lasting effects of both hair colors depend on the vividness of each color, the health quality of each person’s hair, and amount of times they shampoo their hair during the week. The type of cleansers/shampoos used will ultimately determine how long any type of hair dye will last and look fresh, so I always recommend high-quality shampoos.

Which One’s Better for Someone Who Likes to Change Their Hair Color Often?

Chris Greene: If you are someone who likes to change your color more often, semi might be better for you. It fades off the hair a lot more and is easy to remove if need be. I will say, it’s best to get your colorist’s opinion when talking demi-permanent versus semi-permanent. Everyone’s hair is different. Your colorist will be able to make the right and best choice for you based on your current hair situation and lifestyle.

No matter which type of dye you choose, you’ve probably wondered how often you should dye your hair. Find out once and for all HERE!