Click to follow
The Independent Culture
Temporary dyes let you

change your hair

without committing

yourself for good. This

week our panel tests

colours that are hair

today, gone tomorrow

From body-piercing and tattoos to plastic surgery, there are many dramatic ways of altering your looks. For the more capricious, however, such permanent and drastic changes are unappealing. Temporary hair dyes, on the other hand, are short-lived, painless and relatively inexpensive. They can be anything from a flashy fashion statement to a subtle and almost imperceptible enhancement. Lasting from as little as a couple of shampoos to a matter of months, so called wash-in-wash-out colourants are available in shades that can transform a blonde into a redhead, a greying fiftysomething into a raven-haired maiden.

There are many products to choose from, but are they worth it? Do the results justify the mess and effort involved? One of our panellists, Rachel Himbury, had sound advice for anyone thinking of colouring their hair at home: "Remember your Scout's motto - be prepared. Read the instructions; stay calm; cover your bathroom floor with newspaper; and, above all, have a shoulder to cry on if all goes wrong."


The guinea pigs were natural blonde Anja Madden; Bec Waterman, light brown haired; brunette Rachel Homer; black-haired Rachel Himbury; and greying Andrew Purvis.


We compared five different temporary hair colourants in various shades. Each of our testers tried out a selection of the products, in a shade of their choice, being careful to leave the allotted time between the applications required for each product. Each colourant was given marks for ease of use in application, the quality and intensity of the initial colour, how it affected the condition of the hair, how evenly the colour faded and value for money.


pounds 4.99; multiple applications; semi-permanent

"This looked too easy from the start: no pain, no gain," said Andrew Purvis of the "stick deodorant/liquid shoe polish 'semi-permanent hair colour stick' " which is supposed to glide on to hair. "At first it looked impressive; I had jet black spiky hair, wet through with opaque gunge. After 30 minutes I washed it off and the mess was appalling. It took three or four washes before dark blue, scummy water stopped coming out of my hair. The result was disappointing, very pale brown with the silver bits showing through - even slightly enhanced by the dye. My hair had been bronzed instead of darkened. The application is certainly easy, but the hassle quotient is still just as high. Disappointing."

Bec Waterman also found the push-up stick easy to apply. "This is the only one I feel I could do by myself. Also it seems to offer the best value as you can just put the lid on and use it again, whenever." The colour, though, was disastrous. "There was an unnatural greenish-auburn tinge which appeared to get stronger as the brown faded."

The other testers agreed. Rachel Homer found the "Chilli" shade she tested pale and short-lived. "This is the least messy dye I've used but not as easy to apply as it looks. The colour was OK - not very strong, though - and my hair felt really weird and tacky once it had dried. This improved with the next wash but by then most of the colour had gone too." However, she did like the fact that there was more than one application: "you need it because it fades so quickly," she said.

Anja Madden, who tried "Rye", was put off this product just from reading through the instructions. " 'Step 7: shampoo thoroughly and condition; Step 8: admire'. Yuk. It's supposed to 'glide on' in a revolutionary fashion," she said, "but its only effect was to give my hair the texture of chewing- gum. I wouldn't buy this again on principle, even if it worked."


pounds 3.99; one application; lasts 4 to 6 weeks

This product, which comes in a twist-together applicator (with a concentrated colour dye in one half, and a cream shampoo in the other) was the panel's favourite. Rachel Himbury found the "Auburn" produced "excellent colour and shine", though she had some reservations. She didn't like "the inane expression on the cartoon instruction girl's face, which was slightly confusing - she always looked pained. The gloves were the best of all those supplied; for once they didn't split. I'd certainly buy this one."

Andrew Purvis found the hi-tech mixing system the most satisfying. "There's something pleasingly gadgety about the way the two halves fit together - like a docking spaceship." However, he found its lack of viscosity made it splashy and messy to apply. "The pale colour of the cream made it less obnoxious to begin with, but it darkened with time and splodges slowly appeared on my white sink - a disappearing act in reverse."

"The great thing is, you only leave it on for 15 minutes - hardly time to get your gloves off. The dye soaks into the hair very quickly, so it doesn't drip after the first couple of minutes. The effect was a very even, uniform mid-brown. It looked natural and covered up all the grey brilliantly."

Further praise came from Bec Waterman, who tried "Brown". "This was very easy to apply, if a little fiddly. The colour was rich and warm and very close to the colour indicated on the packaging. This one definitely improved the quality and shine of my hair and faded gradually and evenly."


pounds 2.99; one application; lasts 6 to 8 washes

Applied straight from the can on to towel-dried hair, Wella Mousse comes in 12 colours. Rachel Homer tried "Chilli". "The unavoidable maroon scalp scrubbed off after a severe wash, leaving behind maroon hair," she lamented. "The colour was strong but purple (rather than the hoped- for powerful red). The shade improved massively as it faded, though this took far longer than the six to eight washes indicated on the pack."

Both she and Anja Madden found this sample awkward to apply. "It was impossible to avoid getting it everywhere. I've done these things before, so it wasn't just me - they're always messy but this one was worse than normal. There was masses of foam and I had to keep mopping up as quickly as I was putting it on. Cleaning up took ages. I wouldn't use it again."

Anja Madden agreed: "Wella Colour Mousse contained far too much gunk for even medium-length hair, but the instructions insisted you use the lot." However, she found that "Cinnamon", in spite of being left on for 30 minutes, failed to achieve the "dramatic" colour change assured on the packaging. "In fact the result was to neutralise any natural highlights in my hair. This effect, happily, lasted for only about four washes."


pounds 2.59; one application; lasts up to 8 washes

Like Loving Care, this product - a good performer, according to the panel - consisted of a bottle of colouring lotion and a sachet of after- colour conditioning rinse. "The instruction sheet, the size of a wall chart, is ludicrous," said Bec Waterman of the "Medium Walnut" she tried. "The colour change wasn't that significant but my hair was quite a nice texture." Rachel Himbury tested "Burgundy Brown" and found it lasted well over the eight washes suggested. "It has a very nice after-use conditioner and overall was easier to use than the others," she said, "I'd buy this one; it delivered."

Andrew Purvis also found this "cold, sloppy gel" easy to apply and thought the instructions were very clear. "The process was fairly simple until the time came to washing it out," he said. "What a mess! It looked as if someone had bled to death in my sink."

Of the colour he said, "My first impression was that my hair had changed subtly and naturally, but there was virtually no effect on the grey, just glints of bronze instead of silver. People said I looked tanned - but it was just that my scalp and hairline were stained mahogany!"


pounds 3.09; one application; lasts 6 to 8 washes

This purports to be the only semi-permanent dye designed to cover 100 per cent grey. Anja Madden did not find this two-step treatment (applying a colouring lotion, followed by a conditioning rinse) user-friendly at all. "After applying onto dry hair and then assuming a ridiculous plastic bag for 45 minutes, you've got to rinse and apply the 'colour sealant' - which you mix up with water beforehand, like a recipe," she explained. At the plastic bag stage, the colourant worked too well: "It not only 'gently covers all grey'," said Anja, "but anything else it comes into contact with - particularly ears and neck."

Andrew Purvis found this one easy to apply but agreed it was particularly messy to rinse out. "It ruined my bath and stained my skin dirty grey," he said. "It was as black and opaque as tar. Though there was no smell at first, this developed with time as the gunk became increasingly treacly and messy. Far more difficult to handle than the Boots product, which is used in exactly the same way."

Anja Madden complained: "The instruction sheet was particularly impractical - an A3-size sheet which just becomes damp and unwieldy in the bathroom. As for the colour, the 'Reddish Blonde' turned out to be an unlikely orange which washed out unevenly over about 10 washes."

Andrew Purvis, however, found that the "Dark Ash Brown" did have "a very dramatic effect at first which faded within a week or so. Any signs of grey were zapped, but the overall colour looked unnatural."


All products are available from chemists nationwide.