Hair Coloring Terms Explained

Before you dye your hair  it is best to know what you are getting yourself into. Years ago I went to a friendly neighborhood hair dresser who bleached a chunk of the front of my hair with hydrogen peroxide and something else, I had no idea what that something else was, all I knew was that my hair was almost bleached to white- yikes!

I wish I had known what on earth I was getting myself into before I took the plunge. All I knew at the time was that my friends were all getting their hair color altered and I did not want to be left out. Needless to say, following anyone blindly without being armed with the proper information is never a good thing. Years later the front of my hair has not been the same since that hacked up dye job.

The same principle goes for persons who are trying to cover their gray hair with a variety of coloring methods. For years my mother used a certain brand of hair dye and she has lived to regret that decision because her once lustrous thick hair is but a shadow of the hair it used to be. Because she started to get her gray hairs from as early as her twenties she is genetically predisposed to premature grayness. My mother is wishing that I had written this article a long time ago. Anyway, it is not too late for those persons who are desirous of learning a thing or two about hair dyes.

The four most common hair color classifications are:

  1. Permanent
  2. Demi-permanent (sometimes called deposit only)
  3. Semi-permanent
  4. Temporary


Permanent hair coloring is usually based on an oxidation process. The process is a pretty simple two-step process which involves removing the original color of the hair and then depositing a new color, the preparation or base is usually in a colorless form, an oxidizing agent hydrogen peroxide is usually mixed with an alkaline ingredient – ammonia. The combo of hydrogen peroxide and ammonia usually lightens the hair, which provides a blank slate for the color to take.

Ammonia opens the hair shaft so that the dye can bond to the hair and it also speeds up the reaction of the dye to the hair. Peroxide is the oxidizing agent or what is called the developer. This oxidation process removes pre-existing color and decolorizes the melanin in the hair; after this process the color chosen for the desired hair color is bonded to the hair cortex. The final process is usually conditioning, which is important for the cuticle to be closed to seal in the new color and to protect the hair.


Demi-permanent does not mean that the hair coloring process is healthier for the hair. This just means that unlike the ammonia used in permanent hair colors, demi-permanent contains other agents like sodium carbonate. Like the permanent process a developer is used, however, the concentration of hydrogen peroxide concentration in the developer is lower as much as 10% lower. This usually means that the alkaline agents are less effective at stripping the natural pigment from hair than ammonia. The demi-permanent coloring process does not lighten hair, hence, it is less damaging to hair and more effective at darker colors.

The final color after a dying process is more uniformed and more natural looking after this process. It is gentler and marginally safer for hair than permanent coloring and is the preferred choice especially for damaged hair. Demi-permanents wash out over time after around 15 or more shampoos.


Semi-permanent hair dyes do not contain ammonia. Hence, the hair shaft is not opened up during the hair dying process and the hair’s natural color remains once the color washes out. This type of coloring works with the depositing of acid based dyes, which consist of very small molecules. These molecules are small enough to enter the hair shaft; the process can be aided by a weak peroxide solution. Shampooing hair after a few washes (maybe 4-6) usually dislodge these molecules and the hair color goes back to normal.


The pigment molecules in temporary hair coloring are very large and they cannot penetrate the hair cuticle. A single shampooing can remove the color as they just cling to the outer part of the hair shaft. These dyes come in many different forms like rinses, gels, sprays and foams. They can change up the look of your hair for a day and is easy to remove. Usually a single shampoo can remove all the dye from your hair. Excessively dry or damaged hair can hold temporary dyes if there is entry of the dye along the interior part of the hair shaft.

Disadvantages Of Using Hair Dyes And Hair Colors

Hair coloring with synthetic dyes  is a chemical process. This means that ‘natural’ hair ladies who have permanent hair colors your hair is processed and relaxed hair ladies who have hair colors (except for temporary colors) your hair is doubly processed. This means that all the risks and the adverse reactions from using chemicals applies to your situation.

Some of the bad effects of hair coloring are:

Hair breakage- Because coloring hair is a chemical process, where the hair shaft is stripped and the hair cuticle is opened, this can cause the hair to be damaged and break off over time. Coloring hair over a long period using chemicals such as ammonia will cause your hair to break off. The risk is doubly great for women whose hair has already passed through a chemical process such as relaxing. For natural hair ladies, the same applies especially if your hair is colored with lighter hair dyes.

Temporary skin irritation and allergy- some individuals are allergic to some colors, it is recommended by most commercial manufacturers that you do a test on your skin or a small patch of hair before attempting to color your hair.

Lead Poisoning and Other Chemical Poisons-check your coloring label for suspicious ingredients like lead or alcohols. These ingredients can seep into little cracks in the skin and cause damage to your system.


Hair Dye and Hair Relaxers  By U.S. Food and Drug Administration


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