The Real Difference Between Hair Dyes, From Permanent Dye To Highlights

You should start your research way before you book your salon appointment.

We certainly got folks talking when we decided to explore what hair dye is really doing to our hair. The reality of how certain chemicals break down natural hair pigments and lift the hair cuticle is shocking, but we haven't given up our standing hair color appointment at the salon just yet. And we'd bet that you haven't either.

So if you are going to dye, which kind should you choose? To better understand the different types of hair dyes, we had Philip Kingsley's trichological expert Elizabeth Cuannane Phillips educate us on how the different types work and how to care for our color-treated hair.

Hair dye choices include ...

FYI, it's not possible to lighten your natural hair color without using a bleaching agent.
MilosStankovic via Getty Images
FYI, it's not possible to lighten your natural hair color without using a bleaching agent.

Bleach and highlights remove color from your hair by the process of oxidation. "Oxidation decolorizes the pigment in your hair shaft, which is why bleach will turn your hair almost white if it's left on for too long. Very bleached hair often gains a yellow tint, because keratin (the protein your hair is made of) is naturally a pale yellow," says Cuannane Phillips. "Hair needs to be tinted as well as bleached for the platinum blond look. It's impossible to make your hair a lighter shade without the help of a bleaching agent -- all of which are called 'oxidizing agents.'"

Semi-permanent or temporary hair color gives you a more natural color and is also easier to use. You can use semi-permanent dyes straight from the applicator as they don't have to be pre-mixed. Cuannane Phillips adds, "They last for about six weeks and tend to fade progressively. As temporary colors don’t contain bleach, they can't lighten your natural shade. Temporary dyes fade with shampooing and exposure to air. This means they need to be frequently reapplied, which can be damaging."

Permanent hair dyes are also known as "oxidation," according to Cuannane Phillips. This is because an oxidizer (such as hydrogen peroxide) and ammonia are mixed with the coloring agent before application. Permanent dyes don't have to be applied as often as semi-permanent or temporary colors. The formulation of permanent dyes is very complicated, and manufacturers go to great lengths to attain long-lasting color that does minimal damage to the strength and elasticity of your hair. There is a wider range of permanent color, and these color shades are often more natural-looking. However, permanent dyes can be more damaging to your hair. The chemicals used are stronger and the mixture usually has to be left on for a longer period of time.

There is a wider range of permanent hair colors, and these shades are often more natural-looking.
yuriyzhuravov via Getty Images
There is a wider range of permanent hair colors, and these shades are often more natural-looking.

Ammonia-free hair dyes are composed of monoethanolamine (MEA), an organic chemical compound that is a primary amine and primary alcohol. It is used as a replacement pH adjuster in hair color and used at lower percentages and coupled with emollient oils, making it less volatile and less damaging than ammonia. That being said, just like any other ingredient, the more it is used, the higher the pH and the greater the damage.

No matter how you color your hair, you need to take care of it.

All chemical processes reduce the elasticity (stretchability) of your hairs and increase their chances of breakage. Therefore, any hair that has been dyed or colored is vulnerable to damage. Cuannane Phillips adds, "While this is true, we're not suggesting you don't do it, but rather to be aware of how to take the proper steps to hydrate and care for your hair afterwards."

The best way to combat dryness, brittleness and breakage is to use a pre-shampoo deep conditioning treatment like the Philip Kingsley Elasticizer three days before and after bleaching or highlighting, and then weekly thereafter. "This plumps your hair with moisture, making it more elastic and less likely to snap. The correct pre-shampoo treatments also add shine, manageability and bounce," she says.

Colored Hair Treatments

Bleaching raises your hair cuticle, causing hairs to interlock and tangle easily, so it’s also important to condition after every shampoo to flatten the cuticle, seal in moisture, reduce knots and add shine. Lastly, use a smoothing product to help close and smooth your hair cuticle. This will help reduce moisture evaporation and also give your hair a glossier and healthier appearance. We suggest Olaplex Hair Perfector No.3, ColorWow One-Minute Transformation or Leonor Greyl Eclat Styling Cream.

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