Is semi permanent hair dye damaging? An indepth explanation of why it is

Aesthetic picture of white boy with green eyes dyeing hair red

With modern technology, semi permanent hair dyes have advanced from containing low volumes of harsh chemicals to none at all. Because of this change in traditional semi permanent formulas, there has been a lot of mixed information on whether the dye is damaging or not. 

So, is semi permanent hair dye damaging?

It is damaging because they require your hair to be lifted to some degree to work. Although the traditional formula have been improved by modern companies, semi permanent hair dye is still restricted by the color theory and requires your hair to be bleached to use a pigment lighter than your base color.These traditional modes of application is what makes semi permanent hair dye damaging. 

Keep reading for a more indepth explanation on the damaging effects of semi-permanent hair dye, possible cures and alternatives.

What exactly makes semipermanent hair dye damaging?

1. Your hair cuticles have to be lifted to some degree for Semi-permanent hair dye to work 

Hair dyeing equipment on white background

Semi-permanent hair dyes are almost similar to permanent hair colors. They serve the same functions but the former is a gentler option. So yes, semi-permanent hair dye is better and safer than permanent hair dye but that doesn't make it damage-free.

For semi-permanent hair color to be effective, your hair has to be lifted to some degree for it to work and last for 4 -9 washes. So most brands may not contain ammonia, bad alcohols, or parabens like permanent hair colors do, but they usually contain a low volume of peroxide to lift the hair cuticle (between 6 - 15%).

BTW, peroxide is the agent present in developers to lift the outer layer (hair cuticle AKA protein layer) of your hair strand for the dye to go in. The outer layer of your hair is made up of shingles of protein stacked upon one another, when the peroxide lifts these shingles, the bonds keeping them stacked upon each other are weakened and broken. This reaction is irreversible and so over time, your hair becomes more porous, weak, and less resistant to damage. 

The only advantage is that it doesn't deposit color deep within your hair cortex (innermost layer of your hair strand) like permanent hair dye does. This is because the molecules of semi-permanent hair dye are a mix of large and small molecules, while permanent hair dye is fully made up of small molecules that can easily penetrate through. Your hair won't damage immediately but as it wears and tears overtime and is continually processed, damage is certain. 

Related: Does dyeing damage your hair?

2. You need to bleach your hair to do a color two shades higher than your natural hair color.

White hairdresser dyeing girls hair platinum gold

One major restriction with semi-permanent hair dye is the inability to lighten your hair. It follows the color theory, where any color more than two shades lighter than your natural hair color won't show without bleach. 

Imagine an orange-colored wall. To change it to pastel blue, you would have to scrape the orange paint off or paint a white base for a pastel blue perfect result. If you want to change the orange wall to black, you would have to do the same. But if you want to change your orange-colored wall to copper, you can paint it right on top because it will blend in well. The white wall is bleach and the pastel blue is your new desired color, so for virgin black hair, you would have to bleach the black pigment in your hair cortex for the new color to show. 

If your desired color is two shades lighter than your base hair color it might show in a faint tint but not a vibrant burst of that color. So even though most brands pride in "no need for developer to activate the pigment", you would still need a developer to lift your cuticles and activate the bleach.

This is one major reason most hair color enthusiasts stick with temporary hair makeup. It doesn't follow the color theory. You can go from jet black to white or blonde to black in minutes since the pigment sits on top of your hair strand to color your hair. Curlfit hair makeup has outstanding hair coverage because its formula is super pigmented.  

3. Semi-permanent hair dye affects your hair proteins and lipids

Diagram of the structure of the hair lipids and protein on hair strand

This point is a subset of the first point. We mentioned earlier that the bonds in your hair are affected when using semi permanent hair dye. During this process, your hair lipids are also affected. 

"If your protein is the building blocks then your lipids are the cement" via System Professional 

Hair lipids hold your keratin or protein layer together and exist on the hair cuticle and inner root sheath. So if your lipids are condemned, your keratin will be condemned with it and both play a large role in the health and protection of your hair. 

4.Semi-permanent hair dye can cause moisture loss in your hair and make it dry

Semi-permanent hair color increases your hair porosity slightly and therefore reduces its moisture-retaining capacities. This especially poses a threat for high porosity hair, since their hair will be moving to a higher porosity after using a semi-permanent color. Moisture leaves your hair faster and makes it dry, then eventually causes damage.

NT: The higher your hair porosity the quicker the color will fade.

Related: What is hair porosity and the porosity test

5. They contain allergic preservatives

Most modern semi-permanent hair dyes have improved their formula to contain no parabens, PPD, and low volumes of ammonia and peroxide - some even don't contain them! After analyzing the ingredient list of a ton of dyes, we noticed one common ingredient - the preservative MCl. MCI is considered safe for use by the US FDA but can be harmful if left for a long time.

Allergic reactions and burns from MCI

MCI Allergic reactions 

Other disadvantages of semi-permanent hair dye;

  •  It is not DIY friendly. Semi-permanent hair dye follows the same procedure as permanent hair dye. If you want to get a blonde color from natural black hair, you need a high-volume developer to strip your hair completely of the brown pigment at a go. But high developers are too harsh for kinky or fine hair. So instead of risking the health of your hair, hairdressers use a low-volume developer to bleach your hair to a color near blonde in the color wheel, for instance, orange. Then your next dye appointment will be scheduled next week or month to bleach your orange hair to ash blonde (depending on your hair porosity and density). Doing it all at once can over-process your hair. To get extreme colors like ash blonde and pastel colors from dark hair, it's best to leave it for a professional hairdresser, especially if it is your first time. Professional hairdressers are experienced enough to determine what your hair can handle and can't. 
  •  It doesn't cover grey or white hair. Most people opt for temporary hair makeup to cover grey roots, since dyes specialized in covering grey hairs require a developer to work.

What type of hair color is the least damaging?

Curlfit temporary hair makeup aesthetic product photography

Between the three main types of hair colors, temporary hair makeup is the safest because its technology is not limited by the color wheel theory. They are designed to deposit the pigment on top of your hair cuticle, like a coat of color. This means it doesn't need a  developer or bleach to give your hair a burst of color. They are also perfect for all hair shades and types. Despite these positive features, temporary hair makeup differ from brand to brand, so it is important  to look out for denatured alcohols and other drying ingredients present.

You can trust Curlfit hair makeup. All Curlfit products include valuable ingredients like silk protein, argan oil and almond oil to improve the health and shine of your hair. It is not made with bad alcohols, peroxide, ammonia or any harmful ingredient.  

Tips to repair color-damaged hair

In case of color damage by semi-permanent hair dye, the first thing to do is assess the level of damage. Do you have split ends or fairy knots? What is the source of the damage? Is your curl pattern irregular? Once you've assessed the level of damage and detected its source, head over to our guide on how to fix color-damaged hair.   

In Summary,

  1.  The ingredients of semi permanent hair dye is not what makes it damaging, the application and processes are.
  2. To achieve a hair color two shades lighter or darker than your base hair color, you need to bleach your hair. Bleaching your hair restructures your hair cuticles to make it weaker and more prone to damage.
  3. The traditional semi permanent hair dye formula contains low volumes of peroxide, since your cuticles has to be lifted to some degree for the color to show.
  4. Semipermanent hair dye break down your protein and lipids over time and in turn cause dryness
  5. Most brands contain MCI, a preservative safe for cosmetic use but can cause allergic reactions if left on the hair.
  6. The best type of hair color for your hair is temporary hair makeup. Curlfit hair makeup in particular, improves the health and appearance of your hair.

Every hair is different and every brand of semi-permanent hair color has a distinguishing formula. Although most modern-day dyes have improved, some others haven't and the traditional method of use still stands. 

The status of your hair determines what your color experience is going to look like. By hair status, we mean your hair porosity, density, thickness, and texture. They play a major role in how you use hair dye. Every hair is different, so what works for another person with kinky hair, might not work for your kinky hair.


Do you think semi permanent hair dye is damaging to your hair? Tell us in the comments below!

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