How to Make Hair Color Last


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No matter where you color your hair—at the salon or at home—you want to make that new shade lasts as long as possible. When it comes to making your hair color last, there are things that can help, but it's likely not what you've been told or what you've read in beauty magazines. Read on to find out how to make your hair color last longer, every time.

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Do You Need Special Products for Color-Treated Hair?

Shocker—generally speaking, there is no difference between regular shampoos and conditioners versus those labeled "color-safe," "color-preserving," "safe for color-treated hair," or something similar.

There is one study indicating that a hair-care ingredient, polyquaternium-55, has the potential to help prevent dyed hair from fading by both binding to hair to prevent color loss and also working to control how much water “soaks in” to the hair.[1] However, as promising as that sounds, it doesn’t show up in shampoos and other hair-care products with any regularity (we were only able to find it in a few products from smaller brands).

With that in mind, our advice is to stop shopping for styling products labeled "safe for color-treated hair," or at least don’t shell out the big bucks for them if you do. In terms of ingredients, these are no different from regular hair-care products—it comes down to marketing, not special formulas.

When shopping for shampoo, always look for one geared toward your hair type, i.e. dry, damaged, frizzy, and so on. Don't worry about finding "sulfate-free" shampoos because the cleansing agents in sulfate-free shampoos have the same impact on hair as sulfate-based shampoos (really).

In fact, most hair-care products contain gentle ingredients that don't strip hair color. Even the alcohol in hair-styling products won't affect your hair color, because it evaporates before it can damage the hair.

Here is what can fade your color: Plain water, high-heat styling tools (flat irons and blow dryers), over-washing your hair, and unprotected sun exposure! The amount of time you spend in contact with each of these will affect your color far more greatly than any hair-care product you use, no matter what it claims or how much it costs.

Using Dry Shampoos for Longer-Lasting Color

Minimizing how often you shampoo your hair is one sure method for extending the life of your color. A great haircut and a dry shampoo can help you do that. Dry shampoos absorb excess oil from strands so you can longer in between washes.

If you've tried dry shampoos in the past and didn't care for them, don’t throw in the towel just yet—things have come a long way since the formulas of yesteryear.

Top-performing dry shampoos under $10:

  • Batiste Dry Shampoo
  • Dove Refresh+Care Invigorating Dry Shampoo
  • Psssst! Instant Dry Shampoo Spray

And one splurge-worthy dry shampoo:

  • Living Proof Perfect Hair Day Dry Shampoo

Will Cleansing Conditioners Help Preserve Your Hair Color?

Many of you have asked us about cleansing conditioners, specifically their claims to be better alternatives to traditional shampooing when it comes to making color treatments last.

Because the primary cause of hair color fading is water exposure, cleansing conditioners are no more a solution than using a gentle shampoo when it comes to keeping hair color vibrant. In fact, when using a cleansing conditioner, you're really just skipping the shampoo step and using a conditioning rinse—this doesn’t truly cleanse the hair (and, more important, the scalp) much at all.

If your hair is thick and extremely dry and damaged, you may find that occasional use of a "conditioner-only" type product is beneficial for restoring a healthier feel to your hair, but other hair types will likely end up looking flat and greasy, so proceed with caution. Remember, the "conditioner-only" method isn't any more beneficial for preserving hair color than an ordinary, gentle shampoo.

Color-Depositing Conditioners

While color-depositing conditioners can't work miracles, they can boost the vibrancy of your color-treated hair. Experiment to see how often you should use your color-depositing conditioner—some find a few days a week beneficial, others less often. While the shampoo versions of these products can add some amount of pigment, you can get more dramatic results from the conditioner formulas.

We recommend color-depositing conditioners from brands like John Frieda, Aveda, and Bumble and bumble. For best results, leave a color-depositing conditioner on your hair for at least three minutes, then rinse.

Note: Color-depositing shampoos and conditioners can potentially build up on hair, weighing it down. In addition, color-depositing hair-care products can stain fabric, so don’t use your best towels when using them.

Sun Protection (for Your Hair)

Regardless of whether it's summer or winter, if you're going to spend a long day in the sun, protecting color-treated hair from exposure to UV light is vital if you want to make your hair color last. UV light damages hair, causing the dye molecules to oxidize and fade or, in the case of some blonde tones, turn brassy.[2, 3]

Wearing a hat is an excellent solution, but that’s not always practical. What can you do instead? Try an alcohol-based spray-on sunscreen as the last step once your hair is styled. Be aware, however, that it is unknown how much sun protection your hair will get because sunscreens have not been thoroughly researched to determine how they work on hair. Still, it's reasonable to assume you'll get some protection, so it's worth a try.

The alcohol in these spray-on sunscreens won't harm your hair like it can your skin (remember, hair is dead) and, because these formulas dry quickly, you can use them almost like an aerosol hairspray (minus the hold) as the last step in your hair styling routine. Think of it as the protective finishing touch for your style!

If you'll be spending more than a few hours outdoors in direct sunlight, you can reapply the sunscreen a couple of times. Also, if you frequently run your hands through your hair, or you get it wet, you will want to reapply the sunscreen because it's uncertain how much will cling to the hair shaft when disturbed.

Follow these tips and you'll be pleasantly surprised at how long your hair color will stay around!

The Best Skin (and Hair) of Your Life Starts Here: The same type of in-depth scientific research used to create this article is also used to formulate Paula’s Choice Skincare and Hair Care products. You’ll find products for a range of concerns, from acne and sensitive skin to wrinkles, pores, sun damage, and even dry, damaged hair. See Paula's Choice Hair Care.

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References Cited

  1. Zhou, Y, et al. Protection of oxidative hair color fading from shampoo washing by hydrophobically modifi ed cationic polymers. J Cosmet Sci. 2009;60(2);217-38.
  2. Santos Nogueira AC, Joekes I. Hair color changes and protein damage caused by ultraviolet radiation. J Photochem Photobiol B. 2004;74(2-3):109-17.
  3. Sebetic K, et al. UV damage of the hair. Coll Antropol. 2008;32(2):163-5.

About the Experts

Paula Begoun is the best-selling author of 20 books on skin care and makeup. She is known worldwide as the Cosmetics Cop and creator of Paula's Choice. Paula's expertise has led to hundreds of appearances on national and international television including:

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The Paula's Choice Research Team is dedicated to busting beauty myths and helping you solve your skincare frustrations with research-supported expert advice—so you'll have the facts you need to take the best possible care of your skin.

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