Types of Hair Color Products

red hair color

The differences between types of hair color can be difficult to navigate for individuals who have minimal experience with dyes and bleaches. An all-too-common scenario is when a woman walks into a drugstore, purchases a box of permanent color, and ends up with an unwanted shade. Though the picture on the dye box shows a certain color, it may not appear the same on every woman. Understanding the components of hair dye is vital to a successful coloring job.

Understanding the Different Types of Hair Color

There are four main types of hair dyes, each serving a specific purpose. Your knowledge of these different types is very important when it comes to paralleling your color results with the color on a box of hair dye. The amount of peroxide in a dye, combined with an alkalizing agent, is what serves to make a difference between hair colors. Do note that although ammonia is a common ingredient in many brands of hair color, not all brands use ammonia as an alkalizing agent.

Temporary Color

Temporary hair colors serve more to make a fashion statement than to actually dye the hair or cover grey successfully. Temporary hair colors do not contain peroxide or ammonia, so there is no color-lifting involved when these dyes are applied to the hair. The coloring particles in such formulations are also very large, so they theoretically cannot permeate the hair shaft. Color will gradually wash out from the hair in just a few shampoos. Again, theoretically, temporary color will wash out. However, there are exceptions to this rule. Hair that has been bleached or a hair cuticle that has been damaged by heat styling can be very permeable. This may allow the temporary dye to settle into the hair shaft. In such cases, temporary hair color may be much more permanent than desired. However, after repeated washes, the color may lighten considerably since its first application.

Semi Permanent Color

Semi Permanent dyes contain smaller particles than temporary color, so it more easily seeps into the hair shaft. However, since semi-permanent dyes contain only the smallest concentrations of peroxide and ammonia (or sometimes none at all), this color may not last considerably more than temporary color. Since grey hair is more porous than other colors, it may absorb the semi-permanent color for a longer period of time than the surrounding hair.

Demi Permanent Color

Demi permanent colors contain a low concentration of ammonia and peroxide. They can lift the base color of your hair about one shade. However, the purpose of a demi permanent hair color is not to lighten hair. The peroxide present in these formulations serves to make the hair more porous so that it can absorb the color particles. Demi permanents can cover grey fairly well, but this color will wash out after a few months.

Permanent Color

Permanent hair color can contain a much higher concentration of peroxide and ammonia. Though this color will fade slightly over time, the overall effect is permanent. The high concentration of peroxide manages to lift the base color considerably. The color of the hair is then supplemented by whatever shade of color particles you may choose.


Hair bleach is basically a high concentration of peroxide. In order for brunettes or darker hair colors to achieve lighter shades of hair, it is necessary to lift the color with a bleach and then (typically) apply a demi permanent color to seep into the hair cuticle.

Choosing a Color

Though choosing a flattering color is almost always done best with the guidance of an experienced hair colorist, you can choose on your own by studying color charts. Some of these color charts will be specific to the brand of hair color you use. For best results, you never want to alter your tresses more than just a few shades. Drastic changes in hair color may result in wildcard results.

DIY Hair Color


If you have attempted to color your hair with a drugstore permanent hair color and the results were less than satisfactory, there is a good reason for this. Permanent hair color usually only contains enough peroxide to lighten your hair three shades. If you are a natural brunette and have attempted to reach a golden blonde shade with just a permanent hair coloring kit, it is likely that your hair turned out some variation of orange. This is because the peroxide in your coloring kit could only lighten your hair to an orange/caramel color. The golden blonde particles were too light to be detected against this shade.

Black is also a tricky color to achieve from drugstore brands. Using a permanent black hair color on blonde or lighter hair shades may grant you bluish gray results. This is because the color undertones in black dyes are often blue. Your porous blonde hairs are being lightened further by the formula's peroxide, but the dye particles are not setting in properly. What adheres to your hair are the blue undertones.

It is important to know when to use a the right type of hair color, for example a demi permanent coloring solution instead of a permanent dye. The above results are the consequences of improper dye formulations being applied to the wrong shades of hair.

Home Coloring Tips

When choosing at-home color, you can increase your chances of having the shade you want by following these tips:

  • Don't choose a color simply by looking at the image on the front of the box. Look at the color chart, usually at the back or side of the box and compare your hair color with the results pictured for that shade. However, remember other factors can affect the dye, such as the porosity of your hair, so that it may not be an exact match.
  • For the best results, stay within two shades of your natural color.
  • Do a strand test before coloring and look at the color in natural light to ensure it is the shade you want.
  • Take the time to do the allergy test to avoid any possible reaction to the chemicals.
  • If your color turns out drastically different than what you expected, it's best to visit a salon to have it corrected. However, if the shade is slightly too dark, some women have had success using at-home methods such as washing the hair with dishwashing detergent, a baking-soda and shampoo solution, or a shampoo that has a high concentration of detergent, such as Prell.

Popular Brands

Most of the most popular home coloring brands are available at drugstores and mass merchandisers. Well-known and trusted names include:

  • Clairol: See popular formulas and try on a virtual hair color in Clairol's Try On Studio.
  • L'Oreal: This popular name offers over a dozen lines in home coloring, from the long-standing Superior Preference to the modern Feria line.
  • Garnier: The four lines from this coloring brand are infused with natural extracts to help keep hair healthy.
  • Revlon: This trusted name in household beauty offers the ColorSilk brand along with highlighting kits.

Color Preservation

To keep your shade lasting as long as possible, try to reduce the frequency with which you shampoo. When you do wash, use shampoos and conditioners formulated for color-treated hair. Every time you wash your hair, you're fading the color a bit. If you can stretch your every-other-day routine to every three days, your color will last that much longer. You can also use a color depositing shampoo to enhance your color and maintain richness. Be sure to protect your hair from the sun by wearing a hat or using products containing SPF.

Why Use a Colorist?

A professional hair colorist knows all about dye formulations and color undertones. She will know when hair needs to be lifted in order to be colored, or whether several coats of a demi permanent solution will accomplish the job. A colorist will also be able to determine whether hair is too damaged to endure another processing. Damaged hair is always a deterrent to a flawless coloring.

The cost of hair coloring varies from colorist to colorist and it will also be influenced by your desired procedure. Demi permanent colorings are generally less expensive than highlights, lowlights, and specialty colors. However, regardless of the expense, using a colorist greatly increases your chance of achieving your ideal color results without incurring excessive damage to your hair.

The right type of hair color for the look you want and for your specific hair can result in a beautiful new you. Understanding the differences and utilizing a professional colorist are ways to get picture-perfect results.

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Types of Hair Color Products