Until recently, the only option besides permanent was semi-permanent hair color. Semi-permanent hair color works by coating the outside (cuticle) layers of hair with color. It also has some ability to penetrate the cuticle and spread into the cortex underneath. Most temporary hair color gradually fades away over the course of approximately six to 12 shampoos.
Using a harsher shampoo will cause them to fade faster. The other bonus is that these hair colors don't cause as much damage as permanent hair color, and they create shinier-looking hair. That's because the ingredients these products use fill in any damaged spots in the hair's cuticle layer.
Non-permanent hair color is harder to find in stores, however. That's because consumers want longer-lasting results and more dramatic changes than a semi-permanent hair color can provide. Semi-permanent dyes are best for enhancing and brightening the color that you already have or for covering up gray -- not necessarily for changing the color.
Demi-permanent hair colors are the new non-permanent. They work much like permanent colors, -- albeit with lower concentrations of peroxide and dye, and don't contain ammonia. According to professional hair stylist Beth Minardi, demi-permanent hair colors will not wash out, but they cannot produce as great a change in color as permanent dyes. Roots are less noticeable because the color changes are more subtle. But these subtle changes also mean that you are less likely to make a mistake. Perhaps this is why these products are so popular with consumers.
Clairol Natural Instincts (Est. $7.25) is a popular choice among experts and users alike. It gets high marks at TotalBeauty.com -- 7.9 out of 10 stars from more than 250 users -- and MakeupAlley.com -- 3.7 out of 5 stars from nearly 600 users. It's available in 22 shades, ammonia-free and processes in no time -- 10 minutes. Consumers say the easy-to-apply formula leaves their hair shiny and rich with natural-looking color. Many say the color fades gradually, and several users say they love the included weekly conditioner, saying it is worth the cost of the box itself.
This hair color does well in tests performed by Good Housekeeping, where it beats out other products for gray coverage and fade resistance. Natural Instincts also does well in tests performed by another professional source, although testers point out that it leaves streaks and unevenness on some hair samples. Testers also say that the gloves provided in the kit aren't as strong as those in other kits -- they ripped during use. A few users also report the color that their hair turned was not the same as on the box.
Since this is an ammonia-free formula, it lacks a chemical odor. Users say it has a fruity fragrance. If you're looking for a product that has more shades as well as a tolerable scent, Revlon ColorSilk (Est. $3.50) is a well-reviewed product with 40 hair colors. It's praised for its 100 percent gray coverage and like Natural Instincts it's easy to use because of the squeeze tube bottle.
Though ColorSilk is marketed as a permanent color, its ammonia-free formula means it's actually a demi-permanent color. This means the process is less damaging because it doesn't lift color to make hair much lighter than your natural color, but it is long-lasting. Ultimately, Clairol Natural Instincts is our Best Reviewed pick because of its glossy shades, long-lasting color and super-fast processing time.
There are a handful of hair color products that are aimed specifically at men. However, men can also use hair products that are marketed to women. It all comes down to preference. Hair dyes targeted to men, such as Just for Men (Est. $7.50), are much simpler to use than traditional hair dyes. Just for Men is a semi-permanent shampoo-in product that takes only five minutes to process. It colors the hair gradually with each successive shampoo, making changes less drastic.
Users at Amazon.com, where each shade gets high ratings from more than 100 users combined, say it works well, but is extremely messy, can splatter all over the room and can cause indelible stains on clothes. Just for Men is available in 11 shades for the scalp and the face. Just for Men Touch of Gray is available in four shades. Just for Men Autostop -- which is a comb-in formula -- is available in eight shades.