I don't know about you, but when it comes to trying out beauty looks, I love to change it up. This applies not only to makeup, but also to new hair looks that venture beyond the monotony of my favorite shampoos and conditioners, leave-ins, and tried-and-true hair wraps. And while there are a variety of hair cuts and styles out there that can facilitate giving you a new look every day, the adventurous among us may also be interested in trying out semi permanent hair colors, which can be applied from the comfort of your own home!
But how do you find the right temporary hair dye for you, and how do you go about applying it? We got in touch with Desirae Blais—a professional hair stylist, licensed cosmetologist, and DIY Vivid Color Expert for Sally Beauty—in order to familiarize ourselves with all things at-home temporary hair color. Read on for your easiest, hair-healthiest dye experience yet.
What To Look for in a Semi Permanent Hair Color
Considering the wide range of temporary hair colors on the market, it can be difficult to understand which one is the right one, and even more impossible to decipher the long lists of ingredients on the backs of the packages. To ease this shopping process, we had Blais break it down.
"I always suggest vegan/cruelty free products for temporary hair colors since these are made from natural ingredients like shea butter and vegetable dyes," she advises. "This will cause no damage and help moisturize your hair."
And when it comes to ingredients you should stay away from? Blais suggests "staying away from any temporary color that has hydrogen peroxide or ammonia, as these products will affect the cuticle and be a more permanent color, shifting your natural hair chemistry."
How to Apply Temporary Hair Color
Blais says that when it comes to temporary hair color, the safest way to proceed is on clean, damp hair. "This allows you a little leeway during application to make sure everything is fully saturated," she explains. "Always follow manufacturer instructions on processing time to make sure you maximize your results!"
How Long Does Temporary Hair Color Last?
Once the temporary hair color has successfully been applied, Blais says that it typically lasts "10-12 washes, depending upon how often you wash your hair or how light the canvas of hair they were applied to. Vivid color always lasts best on hair lifted to pale blonde or what I like to tell people—the color inside of a banana."
To make your color last as long as possible, she says you should "always wash with cold water, using color safe products. Also, use low heat and heat protection while styling where high heat will also result in color fading."
And when it's time to wash that dye out completely? She advises uses a clarifying shampoo, and adds that "hot water is the safest way to remove without damage to the hair canvas."
Best Semi Permanent Hair Dyes
Best Semi-Permanent Hair Color for Added Shine
This product is formulated without parabens, sulfates, or phthalates, so you don't need to worry about it drying out your strands or causing permanent damage. It's also a great option if you're looking to turn heads: Reviewer after reviewer marvels online about the shine that this delivers! The semi-permanent dye comes in 12 chic, natural-looking options from red to blonde to brown and just about every shade in between. Simply apply to clean, damp hair, leave on for 3 to twenty minutes, and rinse—it’s that easy.
Pros: free of parabens, sulfates, and phthalates; natural-looking results; vegan; cruelty-free; easy to use
Cons: more expensive than competitors
Customer Review: “My hair is very resistant to color but this worked well.” -Ulta
Best Semi-Permanent Hair Color and Conditioner Combo
Reviewers love this option, citing it as a low-maintenance way of maintaining the hair color of their choice. To use it, simply incorporate into your regular hair washing routine, and you’ll find that your color is not just maintained but intensified with every wash. What’s more, customers say that the formula doesn't stain their tub, clothes, or towels. It’s also infused with natural ingredients like coconut oil, rosehip seed, jojoba oil, and protein-rich keratin, all of which promote shine and hydration.
Pros: clean; conditioning; easy to use;
Cons: some users say the color is hard to wash out
Customer Review: “This stuff smells amazing and makes my hair feel silky smooth after I use it.” -Ulta
Best Semi-Permanent Hair Color for a Natural Look
This affordable formula incorporates aloe vera and coconut oil, which, per Blais' recommendation, are great for ensuring that your hair doesn't become damaged or frizzy as a result of the dye. The product is also designed to look and fade naturally by blending your natural colors—including gray hairs—with the dye so that your new 'do doesn't need to look jarring. The coloring process only takes about 20 minutes, and Clairol promises that the color will last for up to 28 washes.
Pros: paraben-free; made with natural ingredients; expert-approved
Cons: some users say it's not strong enough
Customer Review: "I’m glad I gave this product a try. It literally covered my stubborn grey hair with the first application." -Target
Best Semi-Permanent Hair Color for Light Hair
This super conditioning product, which comes in six colors, works best on blonde hair. According to reviews, users love the ease with which it washes out. It's also great for those with a creative, ever-changing mind: One pleased customer writes, "There [are] so many color choices and you can change it up without damaging your hair." The formula promises to dye hair in about 45 minutes, but can be left on for one to two hours for longer, more intense results.
Pros: vegan; cruelty-free; easy to use and easy to wash out
Cons: doesn’t work as well on dark hair
Customer Review: "Love it! My hair has been the healthiest with using this product instead of those harsh chemicals every two months." -Nordstrom
Best Semi-Permanent Hair Color for Vivid Results
Blais specifically recommends Strawberry Leopard for color that pops. She explains, "Strawberry Leopard has a hair care line specifically catered to vivid color hair and includes a shampoo, conditioner, heat protector, and color sealing spray to maintain the life of your new vivid hue." The formula is also infused with hair-healthy products like amino acids, shea butter, mango oil, Vitamin B5, and rice proteins—ideal for thin or damaged hair. And, according to the dye’s instructions, you can expect results in only 20 to 30 minutes.
Pros: vegan; cruelty-free; gluten-free; conditioning; protein-infused; expert-approved
Cons: some users said it dyed their skin
Customer Review: "Easy to use, beautiful colors, smells wonderful, and I get TONS of compliments on my hair. The straight-out-of-the-bottle formula makes it easy to experiment with combining different colors, either by mixing colors in a bowl or directly applying them to your head...Plus this stuff is loaded with super-bondy conditioning magic, which leaves your hair feeling amazing—something that has become more important as I age and my hair is no longer naturally smooth, but more like frizzy and wiry." -Sally Beauty
Best Moisturizing Semi-Permanent Hair Color
Blais says that this is one of her favorite temporary hair color lines, calling it "super moisturizing" and praising its large selection, vegan formula, and cruelty-free ethics. It’s also 100 percent vegan and cruelty-free, and incorporates natural, nourishing ingredients like coconut oil, promising to restore dry, tired hair. Reviewers rave about the feel of the cream-based product and about how long the color lasts. They also love how many shades there are on offer—an impressive 35, ranging from natural shades to neon hues.
Pros: moisturizing; many choices of shades; expert-approved
Cons: some customers say neon shades aren't as vibrant as promised
Customer Review: "I like this product. Vibrant color and stay for long time. Smells really good. There are many options so selection is great." -Sally Beauty
Best Semi-Permanent Hair Color for Mixing
Manic Panic's semi permanent hair dye, which promises to last for four to six weeks, is another of Blais' favorite options for temporary do’s. It comes in 21 shades of vibrant colors that are perfect for costumes and stand-out looks, including electric greens, Barbie pinks, and metallic silvers. In particular, Blais loves the brand for its "large color selections that can be mixed together to create custom colors." She also adds that, like her other favorites, it's vegan and cruelty-free.
Pros: vegan; cruelty-free; expert-approved; free of parabens, ammonia, and peroxide; easy to use and mix
Cons: some users say it fades unevenly
Customer Review: "I dyed my hair dark blue but missed a big chunk of bleached hair in the back. When I put this over it, it covered it perfectly! This shade was still very visible even on top of my dark blue hair. The shade still looked exactly as it did in the jar. This dye doesn’t have a strong chemical smell, and it doesn’t stain much as long as you clean it up quick." -Sally Beauty
Best Sweet-Smelling Semi-Permanent Hair Color
Countless reviewers rave about the great smell of this product, but rest assured that it's also quite effective, claiming to yield results in only three minutes. Plus, the formula is made from 95 percent natural ingredients, including protein-rich baobab seed extract and quinoa. "What I really love about this product is that it's great for refreshing my color and it's a really great moisturizing hair mask at the same time," writes one customer. "It's killing two birds with one stone."
Pros: vegan; cruelty-free; gluten-free; protects hair from UV damage
Cons: some users say it stains the skin and tub
Customer Review: "This is a great product when I need a root touch up! Its extremely easy to use and smells good. Its a bit thick so you need to rinse well or product will stay. The longer you leave it in, the more color payoff." -Splat
Best Semi-Permanent Spray-On Hair Color
Looking for a temporary hair color that's especially easy to apply? Consider this spray-on option from L'Oreal, which is great for very temporary looks (think: a music festival, a costume party, etc.). Unlike many at-home dyes, this option also doesn’t require any pre-procedure bleaching or hair lightening. One reviewer helpfully adds that if you're dealing with a greasy scalp, this also doubles as a "fabulous dry shampoo." It comes in 11 different shades, and is also handy for dying tips, side bangs, or for creating a streaked look.
Pros: free of ammonia and peroxide; doesn’t require pre-bleaching; easy to apply; works on all hair colors and textures
Cons: some users say it’s messy and sticky
Customer Review: “ The result was gorgeous shiny and beautiful. My natural hair color is a silvery gray. It is very dry so i only need to wash it a couple of times a week. At about day 3, it isn't oily, just a little dull. A light spray with this and it restores the shine and brightness.” -L’Oréal Paris
Best Semi-Permanent Hair Color for Curly Hair
This hair color is designed to sit on top of the hair shaft rather than penetrating strands, thereby preventing damage and making application easier. Made with curly and textured hair in mind, it also promises to help hold and scrunch curls—a true multi purpose product for those who like to keep their morning routines as simple as possible. One reviewer raves, "The product holds curls really well! It worked great for my hair type and I think it honestly helped with frizz too."
Pros: cruelty-free; vegan; free of silicones, sulfates, and alcohols
Cons: some users found it drying
Customer Review: “This is a really easy product to use and apply. It washes off your hands with soap so you don't have to use gloves. I find that once it dries, the color doesn't transfer. Also, the color is very vibrant, I did the ruby over black hair and you could see the red. I opted to use for a subtle color so just raked it through my curls vs. layering it for a more color payoff.” -Ulta
Meet the Expert
Desirae Blais is a licensed cosmetologist and hair stylist based in Maine. In addition to working as a hair expert for Sally Beauty, she also works as a stylist at Blush Beauty Me and creates content on Tik Tok.
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Gabrielle Ulubay is a Beauty Writer at Marie Claire. She has also written about sexual wellness, fashion, culture, and politics both at Marie Claire and for publications like The New York Times, Bustle, and HuffPost Personal. She has worked extensively in the e-commerce and sales spaces since 2020, including two years at Drizly, where she developed an expertise in finding the best, highest quality goods and experiences money can buy. As a film school graduate, she loves all things media and can be found making art when she's not busy writing.
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