Humans have been using hair dye as a way to alter their appearance for hundreds of years.
Henna, a red-orange dye, has a particularly long history in the world of hair color.
Its use dates back to ancient Egypt.
Centuries later, it became even more popular when it was used to create the signature color of Lucille Ball’s famous locks, earning her the title of “America’s Favorite Redhead.”
Henna is just one of the countless types of hair dye currently available.
With so many to choose from, it is important to be familiar with the different options.
20 Types of Hair Dye
1. Professional Hair Dyes
Hair dyes used in a salon and applied by a professional stylist are often made without some of the chemicals found in at-home box dyes.
The colors are also specially created for each client after assessing their hair type, previous color history, existing damage, skin tone, and personal preferences.
Such attention to detail means that having your hair dyed professionally will give you a custom color that isn’t likely to be used by every client who comes through the door.
Professional hair dyes may also last longer and can be less damaging to the hair.
This is especially important for long-time color clients as it may prevent overprocessed or over-pigmented hair.
The hair dye formulas used by a professional colorist are generally also easier to blend to create highlights, lowlights, or other hair color effects.
2. At-Home (Box) Dyes
The box dyes found in local drug and beauty stores are formulated to fit the color needs of many different hair types regardless of hair health or previous color treatments.
With that being the case, you will not receive the same personalized shade that you would through a professional color appointment.
Box dyes also often contain chemicals such as ammonia that can be harsh on hair and lead to damage and dryness.
However, at-home dyes are generally significantly more affordable than professional salon coloring and come in a wide variety of colors and shades.
They are also available on short notice and can be used when it is convenient rather than having to wait for a salon appointment.
With proper application, they can be an excellent hair color option.
3. Permanent Hair Dye
Permanent dyes are made to last.
While they generally contain ammonia and hydrogen peroxide as the main ingredients, they create an enduring shade that provides a uniform color treatment throughout your hair.
Permanent dyes work through a series of chemical reactions that remove the natural pigment from the hair before allowing dye molecules to penetrate the hair shaft itself.
This process is what gives this type of hair dye its long-lasting effect.
Since permanent hair dyes color all of the hair the same shade, it will not have any of the highlights that may make the color look more natural.
This can be especially noticeable with colors that are either much darker or much lighter than your actual hair shade.
It is also important to perform an allergy test on your skin prior to using a new permanent hair dye product as allergic reactions can occur.
4. Semi-Permanent Hair Dye
This type of hair dye is a good choice for individuals who are dealing with fragile or damaged hair.
It does not contain any ammonia or other harsh chemicals and is considered a milder alternative to permanent hair dyes.
Semi-permanent dyes are not able to remove the color from your natural strands as the dye molecules attach only to the outside of the hair rather than penetrating the shaft as is the case with permanent hair color dyes.
Therefore, this type of dye cannot be used to lighten the hair color but is instead used to create darker shades.
Semi-permanent hair dye is made of either natural or synthetic ingredients.
Henna and indigo make up the natural components of this type of dye while chemicals such as nitrobenzenes are found in the synthetic type of semi-permanent hair dye.
Semi-permanent hair dyes wash out after four to eight shampoos.
5. Demi-Permanent Hair Dye
Like semi-permanent dyes, demi-permanent dyes can only be used to darken your natural color.
This is due to the low amounts of hydrogen peroxide that permanent hair dyes use to strip the color from your natural hair.
They also lack ammonia and so cause less damage than other types of dye with higher levels of harsh chemicals.
Demi-permanent dyes work by attaching dye molecules to the outside of the hair shaft while also allowing some molecules inside as well.
This type of hair dye works well in coloring grays as long as you stay close to your natural hair color.
Keeping the dye close to your natural shade also helps to hide your roots and can provide a more natural look due to the less-uniform appearance achieved when compared to permanent hair dyes.
This type of dye usually washes out between 12 and 28 shampoos.
6. Temporary Hair Dye
Temporary hair color is a short-term dye (it usually washes out after only one shampoo), that comes in a variety of colors.
Shades range from natural hair tones to bright blues, pinks, greens, and more.
Temporary dyes wash out quickly because the dye molecules used are large (larger than those used in permanent and semi-permanent hair dyes) and unable to penetrate the hair shaft.
This makes temporary dyes a favorite for holiday celebrations, costume parties, and school dances.
Temporary hair color may last longer than one shampoo if you’re hair is already fragile or damaged from previous color treatment.
This can mean some of the dye can seep into the hair shaft and not wash out with the rest of the color, leading to an uneven color distribution.
7. Gradual Hair Dye
This type of hair dye can be a bit more complicated to use, and you may benefit from having a professional colorist assist you.
Gradual hair dyes are intended for those who want to alter the color of their hair without worrying about a sudden drastic change or about potential allergies and hair damage.
Gradual dyes can fade somewhat easily with shampooing which means they require consistent, repeated applications, and why a professional may be needed to assist with the process.
Since gradual hair dyes don’t contain harsh chemicals, they are not usually the cause of an allergic reaction and don’t require allergy testing on the skin prior to use.
This type of hair dye uses a different process to replace melanin in the hair that has been lost due to aging.
8. Ammonia-Free Hair Dye
Though some hair dye treatments require ammonia in order for the dye to properly enter the hair shaft, some individuals would prefer to use a dye that is completely ammonia-free.
This may limit the types of dyes available, but it also comes with an increase in health and hair benefits.
Ammonia-free products are gentler on your skin, scalp, and body meaning you’re not as likely to experience allergies or respiratory side effects from the harsh chemical.
They are also kinder to your hair as ammonia-free products won’t cause your strands to become brittle and dry due to moisture loss.
Though you may have to opt for a different type of hair dye or even a different type of hair look, ammonia-free dye products can still give you quality hair color and a natural appearance.
9. Paraben-Free Hair Dye
Parabens are commonly used in a variety of beauty products (including hair dyes) to preserve the quality and longevity of the product.
They are a type of chemical that has recently been linked to a number of health concerns including reproductive issues in both males and females.
It is also suspected that parabens cross the boundary of the skin and enter the bloodstream.
For this reason, many people are choosing to use paraben-free products to prevent the possibility of any health-related side effects they may cause.
Though there are a variety of hair dye products available that do not contain parabens, it is important that you carefully read the ingredient list on the packaging to verify the product is truly paraben-free.
Even hair dyes listed as organic or natural may still contain some parabens and therefore, it is always wise to check.
10. Cruelty-Free Hair Dye
Cruelty-free products have not been tested on animals.
Though it is more common today to find many cruelty-free beauty products, you should still check the box on your hair dye or talk to your colorist to ensure the manufacturer did not participate in testing on animals.
Animal testing was originally utilized to check for possible allergens in a product before it came to the retail market.
Cruelty-free dyes and products are now tested using a variety of methods that range from computer modeling to human volunteers to protect the safety and health of animals.
Cruelty-free hair dyes come in almost every type from permanent and semi-permanent to temporary.
Many brands are now completely cruelty-free and whose products are never tested on animals.
Cruelty-free hair dyes deliver high-quality hair color and can be found in professional salons as well as box dyes.
11. Natural Hair Dye
Natural hair dyes are not necessarily completely free of synthetic chemical ingredients.
Permanent hair dyes, even those that say “natural” on the label, still contain ammonia and hydrogen peroxide, both components that are required in order for the hair coloring process to work.
Rather than being completely chemical-free, natural hair dyes strive to use fewer synthetic ingredients and more components that come from naturally derived sources.
One of the benefits of using natural hair dye products is that they generally do contain fewer harsh chemicals than traditional hair dyes.
This can help limit your exposure to potential irritants and can help protect your hair from additional chemical damage.
Natural hair dyes can generally be found both in professional salons and in at-home box dyes.
12. Organic Hair Dyes
There are not many completely organic hair dyes on the market.
While henna is considered 100 percent natural and organic, it is not always healthy for your hair.
Henna contains metallic salts which can be hard on hair.
There are, however, many products that are organic in that they contain botanicals that have not been grown using pesticides.
Organic hair dyes generally also have fewer chemicals.
Though organic hair dyes may not have as many harsh chemicals as traditional hair dyes, it is important to remember that permanent dyes will still contain ammonia and hydrogen peroxide.
Some organic hair dyes may contain a selection of organic ingredients but not be completely organic as an entire product.
It is important to read the labels on the box or to ask your colorist what makes the product organic.
13. Hair Dyes in Natural Shades
Some individuals choose to color their hair because they want to hide the grays and whites that sneak in due to aging.
Others want to try a new look or experiment with a new shade.
There are many colors available today both in the salon and in box dyes that mirror the look of natural hair colors.
Using a natural shade when dying your hair also makes it easier to hide the color difference when your roots begin to show.
By utilizing highlights, lowlights, balayage, and a variety of other techniques, natural hair colors can give you an updated, youthful look.
While some people enjoy bold color variances in their hair dye style, others prefer to maintain a natural appearance that is closer to their actual hair color.
14. Hair Dye in Rainbow Shades
With the quality of hair dye today, there is almost no limit to the colors and looks that are attainable.
In addition to all of the natural shades, hair dyes also come in every color of the rainbow.
These types of dyes are usually available in everything from permanent to temporary varieties and can be achieved either in the salon or at home using a box dye.
As with all hair dyes, it’s important to know what type of look you are trying to achieve and if you have any allergies to the ingredients.
It is also important to note that colors won’t always look like they do on the box or other people.
The condition of your hair, its natural color, and color history will all play a role in the final color of your hair.
15. Root Touch-Up Dye: Brushes
As your hair grows out, its natural color begins to show at the roots.
If your hair dye is a drastically different color than your actual hair color, the difference can be very noticeable.
In order to extend the time between salon appointments or color applications, there are root dyes that can blend your new growth into the color of the rest of your hair.
Root dyes come in several different types including permanent, semi-permanent, demi-permanent, and temporary.
Some root dyes can be applied by using a brush that is included with the dye kit.
The brush is small, easy to handle, and is the right length and width to cover just the roots.
Brush applicators provide full coverage and are convenient to use on all areas of the head.
16. Root Touch-Up Dye: Sponges
Using a sponge to touch up your roots has several advantages.
This type of applicator allows you to create a more natural look for hair that is already dyed close to your actual color.
By lightly applying the root touch-up dye, you can create a natural effect as you blend.
You can also use a heavier application for fuller coverage and a darker, more striking appearance.
Sponge applicators can provide an especially dramatic effect on hair that is dyed in a bright, bold color.
By using one to apply a slightly darker shade at the roots, the overall color result can be eye-catching and unique.
Though this technique can be tried at home, the more complex sponge applications may best be left to a color professional.
17. Root Touch-Up Dye: Powders
Though this type of touch-up dye and applicator is quick and convenient, it is meant as a temporary solution only.
Root powders generally wash out the next time you shampoo.
However, they are great for a fast touch-up as you can use them just on the areas that will show with your hairstyle and not all over your head.
Root touch-up powders often come in a compact and are accompanied by a small brush applicator (similar to an eye shadow brush).
This type of applicator and dye allows you to easily apply the color where you need it and can even be used to thicken the appearance of fine hairs at the hairline.
It is available in shades that match most hair colors and dyes and is simple to blend into the rest of the hair.
18. Root Touch-Up Dye: Sprays
A spray dye is another temporary root fix since it usually washes out at your next shampoo.
Sprays are generally lightweight, easy to blend, and can create a lighter, more natural look.
This type of dye comes in many shades, and quality products are known to stay on even when they come in contact with clothes or pillows.
It also doesn’t take much product to cover an area so a can may last a while.
One of the downsides to root spray is that targeting small areas can be difficult as the spray spreads out once it’s released from the nozzle.
This may mean repeated applications or careful blending may be needed to cover such areas.
19. Root Touch-Up Dye: Dual-Ended Applicators
Some root touch-up dyes come with dual-ended applicators that allow for precision dye placement as well as easy blending.
These applicators have a sponge tip on one end (similar to what you’d find on lip gloss) and a brush on the other end (like a mascara wand).
Like other forms of quick root dyes, these types of touch-ups are only temporary and will wash out the next time you shampoo.
The only drawback to this type of root touch-up dye and applicator is that many brands currently only come in the colors brown or black.
But for dark hair colors, this dye hides grays and blends well.
20. Root Touch-Up Dye: Color Sticks
This type of root dye comes in an applicator that looks similar to a chubby eyeliner stick. It is easy to use and allows for very precise touch-ups, especially around the hairline.
It can also be used to make areas around the hairline appear thicker and fuller.
The root dye color stick adheres to the individual strands of your hair and dries instantly upon application.
It is also water and transfer-resistant.
Like with the dual-ended applicator dyes, many brands are currently only available in brown and black.