Highlight, Lowlight, Demi- or Semi-Permanent: What’s the Best Color Technique for You

So you want to color your hair. The good news is that you have a lot of options. But knowing which technique is right for you can feel overwhelming if you’re new to color treatments. Thankfully your SmartStyle styist is here to help.

But before you head in, here’s a quick overview of the most popular in-salon techniques and the pros and cons.


While permanent hair color isn’t really permanent—it eventually fades in time—one benefit is that it has the ability to lift natural, non-color treated hair. (Note: It does not have the ability to lift pre-existing, artificial hair color.)

Another benefit is that ammonia works by softening the hair so that the cuticle swells, which allows the color to penetrate into the hair shaft versus just the outer layer, as with temporary and semi-permanent hair color.

Long brunette hair with hair color

Because the results are longer lasting, the downside is that if you’re not happy with the results, “fixing” it will be more challenging.

Lastly, permanent hair color also is the only color product that can cover gray 100 percent.


Demi-permanent hair color is great for trying out a new hair color because it fades in about 4-6 weeks, depending on your hair’s condition. It contains low or no ammonia, so it’s gentler on hair.

Keep in mind, it doesn’t completely cover grays but can be used for gray blending.


While semi-permanent hair color isn’t permanent, it fades gradually so you don’t have a noticeable regrowth line. It’s more natural looking and is ideal for grey blending. And similar to demi-permanent, it contains no ammonia nor peroxide. It can last up to 24 shampoos.

To help keep your color looking fresh, give color protection products a try, like Redken Color Extend shampoo and conditioner.


Highlights do what the name implies. They’re meant to mimic natural highlights that come out after a few hours in the sun. Highlights create a lighter appearance and require retouching every 6-12 weeks.

Highlighting and low lighting are both partial coloring techniques. Hair is either blocked off or sectioned to target the parts of hair you want colored.


Lowlights work like highlights but instead of lightening hair, your stylist will darken strands of hair with colors that are the same level or darker than your natural color to create contrast. Lowlights need retouching about ever 4-8 weeks.

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Style Tip
Don't forget to shampoo color-treated hair with cool water. This reduces fading.
Style Tip