Looking For An Easy Hair Upgrade? Try a Demi-Permanent Gloss!


When I was 16, I bought a box of hair color at the drugstore and dyed my hair for the first time. It was deep red, and I loved the way it looked. Until my roots started to grow out. So, I bought a box of root touch-up and fell in love with my red mane all over again. Until ... well, you get the picture. Eventually, I got tired of the constant maintenance and just let it grow out. I still cringe every time I look at my passport photo and see half brown, half red hair.

Most of the time, I like my natural hair color. It’s kind of like an LBD—perfect for all occasions. Lately, though, I’ve been itching to throw on the proverbial sequined minidress with a new hair hue. But I didn’t want to get back into the endless root touch-up cycle. So I asked Jacob Leatherman, a senior stylist at Aquarium Salon in Chicago, for advice. He suggested that a demi-permanent color gloss.

What It Is

Unlike semi-permanent color, which fades quickly (typically within 4–5 shampoos), demi-permanent color lasts longer, washing out gradually over 4–6 weeks until only your natural hue is left. “It's good for people who like their natural color, but want to enhance it, whether by adding ashy or gold tones, or going a shade or two darker,” says Jacob. It’s also a way to test-drive a shade before committing to a more indelible version of it. Permanent solutions actually change the color of your natural locks by opening up the hair shaft and absorbing deeply into the cuticle; demi-permanent solutions deposit pigment just on the outside of strands. What does that all mean? You can only use demi's to go darker (for instance, if you wanted to go from brown to red, you’d have to choose a deeper shade of red). The other great thing about demi-permanent is that it typically contains much lower concentrations of the chemicals that can make hair look and feel brittle. If you’re worried about damage, this might be for you!

While there are a few demi-permanent options at the drugstore, Jacob recommends working with a professional. “Boxed colors look different on every person, depending on the undertones, texture, and health of the hair,” he explains. A pro stylist, on the other hand, custom mixes the exact shade you want. For my hair, Jacob used ammonia-free Keune Semi Color.

The Process

Keune's product can be applied wet or dry. In wet applications, a clarifying shampoo is used to remove product buildup and then the color is applied at the shampoo bowl. Since I rarely use hair products that cause buildup, Jacob opted for the dry application. First, he wet my hair with a spray bottle, focusing on the ends. (If the ends are dry, they can take on too much color and look darker than the rest of the hair.)

Colorists rate hair color on a scale of 1 to 10. Level 1 is black; Level 10 is white-blonde. So, next, Jacob custom mixed a hair color that would darken my Level 6 hair to a Level 3 or 4. He also added in ashy and gold tones to give it depth. After applying a cream to my hairline and ears to prevent my skin from staining, Jacob applied the color evenly to my hair. The color did stain my forehead a little bit, but it came off easily with facial scrub.

Then we let the color develop for 20 minutes. I was worried that the mixture would have that icky chemical smell I associate with hair dye, but instead, it had a light floral scent. Finally, Jacob washed everything out with shampoo and conditioner, then cut and styled my hair. I was told not to wash it for two days, to help the color last longer.

The Result

I was looking for a fairly dramatic color change, and that’s exactly what I got. While not quite black, my hair is a much darker brown, and I’m really happy with it. It’s also a lot shinier, another reason to try a demi-permanent hair gloss—there are even clear glosses that add just shine, no color. Since it’s not permanent, the color is going to lighten up a bit with each shampoo. I’m interested to see how it changes over the next 4–6 weeks. Check the comments below for updates!

Maintenance Tips

As with all hair color, you can extend the life of your gloss by using color-safe shampoo and conditioner, and shampooing only once every two to three days. You might also want to avoid direct sunlight, which can bleach even color-treated hair.