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What’s the Best Type of Hair Color for You?

We’ve got you(r strands) covered.
  • Wendy Rose Gould
February 19, 2024

Experimenting with your hair is one of the easiest ways to transform your look. Figuring out which color you want to try, is of course, a key part of the equation (and if you need help on that front, you can test drive different hues in real time with our Virtual Hair Color Try-On tool). But equally important is determining which type of hair color to use—because as any color enthusiast knows, not all hair color is created equally. Ahead, we’re covering everything you need to know about different types of hair dye. You’ll learn the difference between permanent and semi-permanent hair dye, discover the pros and cons of a natural type of hair coloring called henna, and discover temporary hair color products like root concealer and hair gloss. Find your match and get ready to fall in love with a new hue, below.

1. Temporary Hair Color

What it is: Single-use, wash-out color

What it does: Coats the hair shaft in pigment

What it doesn’t do: Lighten the hair or permanently alter the hair color

How it’s used: Applied to dry hair, typically via a spray or foam

How long it lasts: One wash

Temporary hair dye is both the quickest and least permanent type of hair color on the market. Unlike permanent and semi-permanent hair dye, temporary hair color coats only the outside of the hair shaft in pigment. When you shampoo, the color easily washes out, and your hair will return to its original shade. The biggest benefit of this type of hair color is that it provides the opportunity to experiment with a new hue without the commitment. You can also change up your shade as often as you’d like—without incurring damage.

If you want to take a fun hair color for a spin, try the L’Oréal Paris Colorista Hair Makeup Temporary 1-Day Hair Color Spray. It comes in a number of vivid, playful shades and washes out easily with shampoo.

Editor’s tip: Repetitive use of temporary hair color on damaged hair can stain your strands over time. Fight damage and condition your mane with a once-weekly application of L’Oréal Paris Elvive Total Repair 5 Damage Erasing Balm Rinse-Out Mask.

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2. Semi-Permanent Hair Dye

What it is: Short-term hair color

What it does: Provides rich color for a short period of time

What it doesn’t do: Lighten or permanently change your hair color

How it’s used: Applied to hair to amplify color between salon appointments, conceal grays, or experiment with short-term color

How long it lasts: Up to eight washes

If you want to stretch that temporary look a little bit longer, a semi-permanent hair color will do the trick. These dyes are generally formulated without ammonia and don’t require developer, so they’re gentle on your strands. Like temporary hair color, they work by depositing pigment onto your hair’s outer shaft. However, semi-permanent hair color lasts longer than temporary dyes—around eight washes.

Semi-permanent hair colors are a great option for gray hair coverage when you can’t get to the salon right away. However, these short-term color formulas have other benefits too. You can use one to blend your roots when growing out permanent color or use a semi-permanent dye to add shine, luster, and color to dull-looking hair. They also, like temporary dyes, afford the opportunity to play around with different hues without a lasting commitment.

To enjoy these benefits, try the L’Oréal Paris Colorista Semi-Permanent Hair Color. The lineup features 11 fun shades, including hues specifically designed for brown hair.

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3. Demi-Permanent Hair Dye

What it is: Medium-term hair color

What it does: Provides rich color that gradually fades with time

What it doesn’t do: Lighten or permanently change your hair color

How it’s used: As a replacement for permanent hair color or as a longer-lasting alternative to semi-permanent color

How long it lasts: Up to 24 washes

When you want something in between semi-permanent and permanent hair color, reach for demi-permanent hair dye. Like semi-permanent hair dye, this type of hair color is generally ammonia-free and won’t damage your hair. It is, however, mixed with a developer. This allows the pigment to penetrate the hair shaft rather than simply coat it, so the color lasts longer—up to 24 shampoos.

4. Permanent Hair Color

What it is: Long-lasting hair color that won’t wash out

What it does: Chemically processes your hair to permanently alter the color

What it doesn’t do: Wash out over time (though some formulas may fade slightly)

How it’s used: In professional salon settings or at home to lighten, darken, or change the hair color

How long it lasts: While the color may fade some with time, it is permanent until you dye your hair again or your hair grows out

If you're looking to stick to one hair color for a while, go for permanent hair dye. This type of hair dye involves a more complex chemical process that permanently alters your hair color. Because permanent dye penetrates the hair cuticle, your color can last for weeks or months without visible signs of fading. Despite its long-lasting benefits, permanent hair color will eventually have to be reapplied to new hair growth. Keep in mind that depending on your base color and goals, you may have to color your hair more than once to achieve your desired look.

Check out our best permanent formulas for at-home color below.

L’Oreal Paris Excellence Creme Universal Nudes

Enjoy 100% gray coverage and rich, radiant color with this ammonia-free permanent hair dye. The gentle formula contains a Pro-Keratin Complex and helps protect your hair as it colors, resulting in vibrant, natural-looking color.

L’Oréal Paris Excellence Creme Permanent Triple Protection Hair Color

For those who have stubborn grays to cover, we recommend this permanent hair color. It offers 100% gray coverage on all hair types and protects as it colors for rich, radiant, long-lasting results.

L’Oréal Paris Superior Preference Fade-Defying Shine Permanent Hair Color

This permanent hair color will give you fade-defying color for up to eight weeks. It’s available in 50 luminous shades, including rich browns, shimmering blondes, and warm, inviting reds.

L’Oréal Paris Féria Multi-Faceted Shimmering Hair Color

This fashion-inspired hair dye will transform your mane for a gorgeous, dimensional look without wreaking havoc on your strands. Each of the 38 vibrant shades is custom-blended by L’Oréal master colorists to deliver brilliant, long-lasting results. Best of all, the at-home kit comes with a bonding care complex conditioner that helps reinforce weak hair bonds for up to 40% stronger hair.*

*Versus hair not treated with bonding care complex conditioner.

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5. Root Concealer

What it is: Temporary hair color that’s applied only at the roots

What it does: Conceals gray hair and new growth

What it doesn’t do: Deliver permanent results

How it’s used: Applied directly to the roots for targeted coverage

How long it lasts: Up to 24 washes, depending on the type of hair dye formula

If simply covering your gray roots is what you’re after, you may not need (or want) a full dye job. In that case, a temporary root touch-up could be the best way to help maintain your natural color. Root concealers are a type of hair color product designed for targeted application at the roots. They come in a range of formats, with longevity dependent upon the formula you choose. While semi-permanent and permanent hair color root products provide longer-lasting results, temporary root cover-up sprays are among the easiest ways to quickly conceal gray roots.

These sprays distribute a fine mist of color that washes out with your next shampoo. Though temporary color sprays aren’t a permanent solution to new growth (hence the name), they can come in handy for last-minute touch-ups. If this is what you need, try the L’Oréal Paris Magic Root Cover Up. It’s a spray formula that works its magic in just seconds for seamless coverage that lasts until your next shampoo.

Editor’s tip: If you want permanent coverage but don’t need an all-over dye job, try L’Oréal Paris Magic Root Root Rescue 10 Minute Root Hair Coloring Kit. It includes a precision applicator that distributes permanent dye as a quick fix for gray roots.

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6. Hair Bleach

What it is: A type of hair color product that lightens your hair

What it does: Strips hair of its natural color to make it white or yellow

What it doesn’t do: Add color to the hair

How it’s used: To create highlights or lighten hair prior to coloring

How long it lasts: Permanent, though it will require touch-ups and sometimes requires toning with purple shampoo

You’ll notice that several of the types of hair colors we mentioned above don’t lighten hair. That’s where hair bleach comes in. If you’re a natural brunette and want to experiment with blonde or a fantasy shade, you’ll need to bleach your hair before adding your desired color. Bleach is also used for balayage and highlighting the hair.

The L’Oréal Paris Feria Hyper Platinum Advanced Lightening System Bleach is a great at-home option for lightening dark strands. This advanced system lifts up to eight levels for pure, brilliant platinum results.

Editor’s tip: Bleaching your hair can contribute to damage. To help nourish your lightened strands, consider adding a hydrating leave-in conditioner, like the L’Oréal Paris Elvive Total Repair 5 Protein Recharge Treatment, to your daily routine.

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7. Henna

What it is: A semi-permanent, natural type of hair dye with reddish-brown tones

What it does: Tints your hair reddish-brown

What it doesn’t do: Lighten or permanently alter your hair color

How it’s used: Applied directly to the hair for a subtle reddish-brown tint

How long it lasts: Up to six weeks

Henna isn't only used to adorn the skin with swirling designs; it's also used as a type of hair color product. Derived from the henna plant, henna hair dye typically gives hair a reddish-brown hue and provides shine and vibrancy in the process. It’s applied directly to your strands like traditional permanent or semi-permanent hair color kits and lasts for about four to six weeks. The downside: It only comes in one color, so it doesn’t leave a ton of room for experimentation.

8. Hair Gloss

What it is: A shine-enhancing hair treatment

What it does: Imparts a clear gloss and/or sheer tone to enhance your base color

What it doesn’t do: Lighten or significantly change your hair color

How it’s used: To add a vibrant, glossy finish to any hair color

How long it lasts: Up to 10 days

If maintaining your shade or adding just a tint of color to your hair is what you’re looking for, consider opting for a hair gloss. While you can head to the salon for a glossing treatment, you can also DIY at home with the L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss One Step In-Shower Toning Gloss. It’s suitable for all hair types and textures and leaves your hair feeling soft and healthy.

Choose a shade that’s close to your current color if you’d like to enhance your existing hue, or opt for the clear version for shine, sans tint. Then, apply the formula to clean, damp hair and leave it on for about 15 minutes before rinsing. You’ll be left with smooth, shiny hair that feels deeply conditioned.

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