Which Dye Do You Want? Which Dye Do You Need?

When you’re hunting for a type of dye, you’ll notice a lot of different terms being tossed around, the most common being temporary, semi permanent, demi permanent, and permanent dye.

We’re all pretty familiar with permanent dye. You can get it in just about every drug and beauty supply store, and it’s simple to use. If you’re buying the box kits, you pretty much mix everything together, and follow the directions. You’re going to get color that will last, depending on the shade, for the life of your hair. Permanent dyes sit inside of the shaft of your hair and won’t wash out again when you shampoo. Now, here’s the rub, NO color, semi, demi, or fully permanent is going to stay looking EXACTLY like it did the day after dying, forever. It’s just not going to happen, so you’ll want to get that out of your head right now. The closest you’ll get to this miracle is with a jet black dye, and even then, you’re going to get oxidation, and, eventually, it’ll get lighter brown highlights if you don’t touch it up. Oxidation is what fades everything you’ve ever seen left in the sun. It’s a mild form of bleaching, and it’s unavoidable. No matter what “UV protective” shampoo you use, eventually, you’re GOING to fade out. Now, that’s ok, because eventually, you’re going to touch up your roots anyway, but it’s still going to make you crazy, particularly if you use a red shade. Reds, all reds, be they permanent or semi or demi permanent, REALLY like to fade, and they like to fade quickly. It’s the nature of the red beast. You’ll get maybe a week or two of that AMAZING shade you picked out before you start seeing the fade begin.

Day 8. Feel my wrath!

Damn you, “Permanent” dye!

Now, there are a LOT of pros to permanent dye, perhaps the best being white sheets and towels. When you use a permanent dye, you can have WHATEVER color sheets, towels and tee shirts you want! You’ll never stain collars on a hot day, or ruin towels and pillowcases with your hair, even when it’s wet. That’s a pretty powerful lure.


Don’t you love white sheets? So crisp, so clean, so, uggggg!

And, honestly, I’m not going to lie, a couple of years ago, I went crazy and dyed my hair jet black out of sheer exhaustion. I couldn’t take the maintenance anymore. I wanted to grab a random towel, not a dark one. I wanted to step out of the shower and not be worried for the bath mat. I wanted to lie on a couch with a wet head. I wanted to sweat and swim and do whatever I want outside without fears of fading and running and looking awful. So, I kept the black dye for almost 2 years. I got an edgy haircut and told myself it was just as cool. And, it really was cool looking, and low maintenance, but also, I felt like I’d given up on life. I’ve not had a “natural” hair color since I was 12, and I’ve not been 12 for a LONG time. I couldn’t do it, I had to return! Return to the land of dye. And so I did. The thing about permanent dye is that while it lasts a LONG time, and it’s super low maintenance, there’s also a limited selection of colors available to you. Revlon and L’Oreal would love to tell you there are infinite possibilities, and technically, if you’re making your own mixes, sure, that’s almost true, but you’re never going to see a truly permanent green, or blue, or Elmo red. That would be the holy grail of hair dye and whatever scientist discovers that magical formula will be the richest scientist alive. There are various stains available that are *almost* permanent that can give you those shades, but when they fade, they fade BRUTALLY and the process to get them done is often tedious and expensive.

This is where temporary, semi, and demi permanent dyes come into play. If you want to look like a cartoon, permanent is not the way to go. For rainbow colored hair, you’re going to want to go into the drippy, runny world of temporary dyes.

Rainbow hair

Her hair looks amazing, her towels? Not so much.

Before choosing a dye, ask yourself how committed you are. If you REALLY want blue hair, but for just one night? Temporary dye is your friend. You’re going to want to go with a spray, or with something like Dye Hard Gel.

Dye Hard is going to give you ridiculously bright color that’ll wash out the next day. It sits on top of the hair (imagine paint on a wall.) It’s suspended in a gel, so it’ll also style your hair, but it’s going to look like it’s got gel in it. As Jerri Blank might say, quandary.

The next step up is going to be semi or demi permanent dye. The difference between these two is the size of the dye molecule.  (Don’t be scared, this won’t get too sciencey.) Basically, semi permanent dyes have a slightly larger molecular structure than demi permanent dyes, and thus, they don’t get as deeply into the cortex of your hair. Neither of these dyes goes ALL the way in, and even demi will wash out again when you use shampoo, however a demi permanent dye is very likely going to leave a stain behind. When you use permanent dyes, the developer helps to raise the hair’s cuticle allowing the dye to penetrate, and when combined with the hydrogen peroxide, the molecules enlarge and become trapped inside the hair. With both semi and demi permanent dyes, you’re going to get a MUCH better result on pre-lightened hair. The reason for this is twofold, one, the pre-lightening process opens up the cuticle and allows the color to penetrate as deeply as possible (this is ONLY if you don’t condition first, see our tutorial for an explanation of this) and two, color shows up more brightly on a lighter background. Black or brown hair will eat up any bright color, blonde or yellow hair is a much better canvas to work on. Some dyes labeled semi permanent can often behave as demi permanent. Many colors put out by companies like Special Effects and Manic Panic leave enough of a stain that while they’re generally called “semi” permanent, for safety, it’s best to consider them demi permanents. A pale pink is absolutely going to fade out to almost nothing eventually, but a deep blue? That’s not going to disappear until you dye over it. It’ll fade, but the hair will always have a blue or green tint. That’s just the way it is. Now, much like permanent dyes have their pros, so, too, do the semis. You can get ANY color you want with semi permanent, and that color will be shockingly bright. You can mix colors without fear. Because no developer is used, there’s no awful smell (once you get past the bleaching stage) and most of these dyes are suspended in a conditioning base, so your hair will actually feel soft and smooth after putting them in. Finally, and something Glenn Close would clearly enjoy, you will not be ignored. This is attention getting hair. No doubt about it.

Now, as we discussed, the downside is basically the mess. On your hands, your tub, your towels, your sheets. So there you have it. If you’re going to look like a pretty peacock, you’re going to pay your dues. If you’re not up for that challenge, permanent might be up your alley.

There is ONE other option, and I hesitate to even mention it, but I feel that I must. And that option is:

Leave your hair alone.
Keep the color you were born with.
Go gray, then white, then die, without dying.
Many have done it before you, and many will do it after you.
This is something that you can try, but if you do, you’re a stronger man than I.

For some, that’s the way to go, but, personally, I prefer this instead.


Absolutely gorgeous.

I’m a hair dye for life kinda gal, what can I say? Eventually, I’ll give up and go permanent, but for now? I’m still riding that rainbow.

Back to the Attic

6 thoughts on “Which Dye Do You Want? Which Dye Do You Need?

  1. Harley

    I so badly want to dye my hair again but I can’t because of my job. They won’t even allow naturally colored wigs to be worn. Its so incredibly stupid and I hate it. Of course, I understand that brightly coloured hair is not acceptable in the work field, but why shouldn’t it be?

  2. Amalthea Post author

    That’s really awful. I feel your pain. That’s actually what got me started making falls, so people can have “normal” hair for work, but crazy hair outside of the office. The naturally colored wig thing seems a little crazy though! What do you do?

  3. Arely

    i Have dark brown hair , & im thinking of getting semi / demi hair dye on it , will it show ? or do i have to bleach it ? Please Reply !

  4. Amalthea Post author

    It depends on the color you choose. A color like deep purple or even blood red will leave some highlights in your hair, however, if you really want that “pop” you should pre-treat the hair. This does NOT mean bleaching it to white! You can simply make a peroxide treatment, leave it on for 20 minutes and rinse it (the hair will turn an orangey gold color) and that is enough! You can even lighten it with lemon juice and sit in the sun for a bit! ANY kind of pre-lightening is going to help the dye show through and the less you can do to your natural hair, the happier it will be.

  5. Brian Blacknick

    ” Go gray, then white, then die, without dying “.
    That line made me smile! I already have the gray and in places some white. I’m not too crazy about the next jump in the progression! LOL.

    Seriously though that was quite an informative tutorial on dyes!I’m a dye noobie and since I may be dyeing my hair and shaving it into a Mohawk on June 28th for a charity fundraiser I’ve been poking around the Internet looking for dye info.

    I’m leaning towards permanent dye. My wife would brain me if I stain her towels and bedding! I still am not sure if I’ll go with Special Effects or the Manic Panic brand. I’ve read pros and cons about both.

  6. Amalthea Post author

    The secret to not being brained by your wife is to buy yourself a couple of black pillowcases, and some black towels. Those in the know utilize these to keep linens safe and happy, and if your wife is the matchy matchy type, you can always hide your pillowcase shame under a sham 🙂

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