I offer professional advice and knowledge about all things hair dye. Discover the terminology, chemistry, and processes behind dyeing hair.
Dyed hair is different than undyed or "virgin" hair, not just because its color has been altered, but also because the entire structure and integrity of hair changes when it is chemically treated. There are a number of ways to maintain your hair after it has been colored, and by learning how to take care of dyed hair properly, you can keep your color and style looking pristine.
How is Dyed Hair Different From Normal Hair?
Dyed hair can differ from virgin hair in a few key ways:
- The hair is more porous
- Cuticles are often damaged
- Structural weakness
- Less elasticity
- It can be weak when wet
- More prone to split ends
- More prone to breakages
- The dyed color will fade
All of these differences are a result of how dyes tend to affect the different parts of your hair and understanding the structure of hair helps to show you how to address these issues properly.
Components of Hair
The hair shaft is made up of three key parts:
The cuticles sit on the surface like scales and act as the entry shaft to the hair's inner body. These cells open when exposed to heat or alkaline conditions, which is important because it allows shampoo to penetrate and clean the hair, but if they stay open continuously, it can lead to problems.
Cuticles that no longer function correctly can leave the hair feeling rough and cause it to lose moisture and suffer from chronic dryness. A more noticeable side effect of cuticle damage is the rapid fading of even permanent dyes because the cuticles aren't sealing the hair shaft.
The cortex is the most important part of your hair. It comprises 90 percent of your hair's weight and contains all the pigment and structural material that gives hair its shape and color. If the cortex is damaged, hair can literally stretch apart like wet tissue paper.
Science hasn't been able to determine what the medulla's function is or if it even has one. All that is known is that the medulla forms the core of the hair shaft. It is possible that it assists in lending the hair shaft structural integrity, but cases where it seems to not be present in some people suggest any structural role it has isn't too important overall.
The Effects of Damage to the Hair Shaft
When damage occurs to the hair through chemical treatments like hair dye, this is because the cuticles and cortex have been affected. The ammonia in hair dye and bleach causes the hair shaft to swell in response to the high pH it causes. The cuticles are then forced open to allow the entry of the dye solution.
Damage to the cortex mainly occurs because of the oxidation from peroxide in the hair dye solution, and this leads to a breakdown of protein. Because your hair is made of a protein called keratin, this oxidation damage is gradually breaking down the material that forms your hair.
If you've heard horror stories about hair melting off, that's because the keratin has been completely destroyed and the hair can't maintain its form. When you sustain damage to the cortex, your hair will be much more likely to break, and it loses elasticity, causing it to be weaker when wet.
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Hair Care Tips
In learning how to take care of dyed hair:
- Dry it naturally where possible
- Gently blot with a towel
- Don't brush or comb whilst wet
- Always use heat protection products
- Limit use of heated styling tools
- Apply smoothing serums
Caring for Dyed Hair
When looking after dyed hair, your main concern is to treat and reverse the damage that has occurred to the structure of the hair. Because dyed hair is weaker when wet, you will need to avoid brushing it.
Brushing it whilst wet raises the chances of breaking of stretching the hair. You should gently pat your hair dry with a towel rather than using rough wiping motions, and wrap the towel around your head to help soak up the excess moisture.
Wherever possible, dyed hair should be allowed to dry naturally. Hair that is dried with the aid of a blow dryer will be at a greater risk of sustaining further damage. The heat from a blow dryer causes damage and it also opens the hair cuticles, preventing the hair from sealing properly after it is washed.
If blow drying your hair is unavoidable, ensure that you use the lowest temperature possible and only after applying a heat protective product. Silicone serums will protect against both heat and cuticle problems by smoothing the hair shaft and acting like a barrier to keep in hydration and protect from humidity. They will also cut down on frizz, which colored hair is prone to.
Just as you should avoid using a blow dryer, styling tools like flat irons and curling rods should also be kept to a minimum when you have dyed hair. Use these tools only after applying a heat serum, and on the lowest setting that will give you the results you desire.
Try to cut down usage to 2–3 times a week at most for your hair to be in the best condition. When you style your hair, do so only when it is dry, as pulling on wet hair to put it into a ponytail or other style can cause breakages and split ends.
If your hair is damaged, it isn't too late to revive its condition and bring it back to life. Hair that has suffered from several chemical processes can be treated with protein treatments, deep conditioning, oil masks, and rest.
Hair Problem Diagnosis
Prone to frizz
Trim + split end products
Smoothing serum / leave in conditioner
Lack of shine
Prone to humidity
Protein treatments are a relatively recent invention compared to other treatments that have been available for decades, and they are a lifesaver for anyone with severely damaged hair. Not only do they prevent breakages, but they repair the actual structural damage that has occurred to the cortex, strengthening your hair back closer to its original condition.
Choosing a Product
When selecting a protein treatment, choose a good quality salon brand, because this will ensure it contains the strongest formulation and will actually repair your hair. Many salons that offer protein treatments will also sell the treatment product to take home, or you can purchase from a beauty supply store where you have the chance to browse through a couple of different brands.
Redken's Extreme CAT treatment is one of the most effective protein treatments available and is a surefire product to take home and try. Joico's K-Pac Reconstructor is an effective alternative and also works to deep condition the hair. If you use a product like Redken CAT that is a liquid spray, this is a pure protein treatment and it is stronger but doesn't feature added deep conditioner. For hair that is prone to dryness or that has just been bleached, you will still need to use conditioner after using the Redken treatment.
How to Use
Protein treatments should be applied after shampooing your hair and before you condition by leaving the product for up to 5 minutes and then rinsing. You can use them once every few days for heavily damaged hair, and gradually decrease usage as your hair becomes stronger and healthier.
Conditioning treatments are the other side of the coin when it comes to hair treatments. Whilst protein treatments generally benefit the structure and integrity of the hair with flow-on effects to the appearance of your hair, conditioning treatments act as a direct remedy to dryness, frizz, and rough textures. They hydrate hair, increase the shine, and make it feel nicer to touch.
When to Use
Colored hair is often dry and hard to style. Because the cuticles are damaged, it doesn't retain the correct levels of hydration, and it feels rough to the touch. Conditioning treatments can help you whenever you're dealing with these problems, and they are especially useful right after you bleach your hair. Bleach dries hair out more than any other treatment, and a strong conditioning treatment can return the moisture levels back to normal much more quickly than regular conditioners.
How to Use
To use conditioning treatments, replace your regular conditioner with the treatment after shampooing. The conditioning treatment has to be left in for longer than regular conditioner in order to penetrate the hair thoroughly and produce the best results.
You can wrap your head with a hot towel to increase the penetration and allow you to relax in comfort whilst it works. After 5 - 10 minutes, or as directed on the product, you can rinse it out as normal.
It is important to note however that whilst conditioning treatments can make your hair feel nice, they will do nothing for structural damage, so the use of a protein treatment is always important as your primary care tactic when it comes to reversing damage.
- How to use hair smoothing serums
Hair smoothing serums have a multitude of benefits. Find out what they are and how to use them.
- How to choose a shampoo
Find out how to take care of dyed hair with a shampoo that will benefit your hair and keep it looking and feeling great.
Everyone's Hair Is Different
When caring for dyed hair, remember that what works for one person does not always work for someone else. Your hair is as individual as you and you may need to try a few different products before you know what it likes. Once you've worked out the kinks in your regime, you'll be on the right track to healthier and more beautiful colored hair.
Do you have a question about how to take care of dyed hair or need help with products? Leave a comment for tailored advice.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
Mary Olsgaard on August 06, 2017:
I had my hair which was woven. The roots went gray. I used a brown but it was dark brown. It is too dark brown. I want to lighten it . What can I do?
Marta on April 16, 2017:
Thank you so much,
Deborah on January 07, 2017:
My hair has gone gray and I my was red so I color it red it is dry ,brittle, unmanageable and thinner in the front what can I do to fix all of these issues? I need help!!!!
Hair Care on June 16, 2016:
Thanks for sharing this, it helps me understand more about the damages dyed hair get and how to treat it.
ghazal on June 11, 2016:
I recently dyed my hair with permanent hair dye and after that, two weeks later, I had spiral perm(tied) for the first time. Now I am very worried that my hair are damaged. Can you please tell me that:
1. what products and routine I should use to avoid further damage and repair my hair health.
2. what products are safe and healthy to use to define my curls like mousse or creams which keep my hair soft and not like straws after drying.
Maffew James (author) on November 16, 2015:
Apologies for the late reply, and I'm glad you've found my articles helpful. All the best, and thank you for the kind words.
ShivaGrey on October 07, 2015:
So happy I found you Maffew James, LOL! And so very grateful for ur advice. I am a stylist myself & I sometimes think we hurt ourselves the most in terms of what we do to our hair. As in, we would never do to our clients hair what we do to ours, like experimenting & so on. Anyway, thank you again. Shiva
Maffew James (author) on July 21, 2015:
Thank you. I'm glad you've found them useful!
Bridget on July 19, 2015:
Love your hubs!! I have found answers to so many questions I've had. Thank you so very very much!!! :) :)
Maffew James (author) on April 02, 2014:
That's great. Life's too short to have the same hair color all the time :p
Jess H from Oregon on March 28, 2014:
Thank you for the tips! I dye my hair all the time so this will come in really handy! :)
Maffew James (author) on March 18, 2014:
Thank you, I'm glad you like it :)
Amie Butchko from Warwick, NY on March 18, 2014:
Thanks! This is a really helpful and informative hub that contains information the usual individual would not know. Thumbs up!