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Hair Color Options

There seems to be some confusion in our industry when it comes to understanding and correctly "labeling" different types of hair color delivery systems. Today, I want to take a few minutes to offer some clarity on the options we have to utilize and why you would choose one over the other. The problem with not understanding or "labeling" these products and services is that it creates confusion. Confusion not just within our industry, but with clients as well. I hope this gives some perspective.

Temporary dyes

Temporary dyes will deposit only on to the outside layers of the cuticle and have no lasting effects UNLESS the hair is bleached and/or porous. If that's the case, just know that temporary dyes can stain the hair. Temporary dyes are products like "colored spray", "colored gel", "kool-aid", "gray coverage sprays" and so on. These are designed to typically wash away after one use.

Semi-permanent dyes

Semi-permanent dyes are typically pre-formed dyes. They don't need h202 to develop and are often what is used in "VIVID" colors or direct dyes. These are designed to be used mostly on previously lightened, and semi-porous har because they do not penetrate into the cortex in virgin hair but can penetrate into the cortical fibers of the hair right after a bleaching process. The hair is typically still swollen immediately after a bleaching service, so using a semi permanent dye right after can allow it to penetrate into the outer layers of the cortical fibers. If hair is extremely porous, these dyes can sometimes last longer than other types of hair color delivery systems because they have a tendency to stain the cuticle layers. Semi-permanent dyes to typically wash away gradually. Super important to educate your clients on the life span of their color when using a semi. Examples of semi-permanent dyes include direct dyes and some color shampoos + conditioners.

Demi-permanent color

Demi-permanent colors are typically created with both permanent dye intermediaries as well as pre-formed semi-permanent dyes. True demi-permanent color does not alter the natural hair because the alkalizer used is MEA versus ammonia. MEA doesn't have the capability or the power to shift natural hair, even in lighter colors. Demi- permanent colors are usually in a liquid or very loose cream consistency. Sometimes they can be clear, and others times have a hint of copper, gold, red or violet. When you see these tones in your Demi color, just know that they are the direct dyes in the mixture. The downside to using color with both dye intermediaries AND direct dyes is that often times the direct dye will fade off of the hair quicker (because it stays within the cuticle layers) than the dye intermediaries and can cause some undesirable results when faded.

Deposit only

A lot of us mistake Demi permeant with deposit only, and its simply not the case. Deposit only colors are generally created with permanent dye intermediaries but do not use MEA as the alkalizer. A true deposit only usually uses AMP (aminomethylpropanol) as the alkalizer. What AMP lacks in is the ability to LIGHTEN the hair, but it DOES have the ability to deposit into the cortical fibers. These colors typically will fade on tone because:

A- The hair wasn't lightened during the coloring process which means no undertone was created.

B- There are no direct dyes in the mixture so these colors can fade naturally, and on tone.

Permanent Color

Permanent color is created from small color molecules (dye intermediaries) that penetrate into the cortex and in turn, couple and increase in size. The typical alkali used in permanent color is ammonia. Because of its use of ammonia, most permanent color is the most versatile when it comes to creating hair colors. These colors will lighten and create undertone, as well as deposit and get amazing gray coverage. But be aware, when we refer to PERMANENT, it does not mean that the hair color itself is permanent. All this means is that it will permanently alter the chemical composition of the hair. Meaning, the when the dye intermediaries eventually fade, the hair will not revert back to its original color. It has permanently been altered and generally, lightened.


There is some confusion in this category. There are TONERS (products) and TONING (a service). Toning is a service. A SERVICE! What most of us refer to as toners are generally Demi-permanent colors. TONING is the process of finessing the tone + reflect of previously lightened hair with a dye that is sheer and translucent. Technically speaking, any of the above mentioned hair color products can act as toners.

I know that I won't see the day when every single one of us in the industry is on the same page, using the same verbiage but I hope at least that this can help clear up what each hair color does and at least will assist you in making educated choices!

Until next time,

Happy Hair Coloring!



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