How to Make Hair Color Last

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You've just spent money in a salon or time in your own bathroom getting a great new hair color, and now you want to do whatever you can to make that color last as long as possible! So, is there anything that really works to extend the life of your new hue? 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 #1: Shampoo and conditioners marketed as "formulated for color-treated hair" are nothing more than a marketing ruse— none of these will help your hair color last any longer than any other ordinary shampoo or conditioner. A review of the ingredients makes it crystal clear that these don't contain any ingredients capable of preserving hair color.

Shocker #2: You can stop shopping for styling products labeled "safe for color-treated hair." In terms of ingredients, these are no different from regular hair-care products. In fact, most hair- care products contain gentle ingredients which don't strip hair color. Even the alcohol in hair- styling products won't impact your hair color, because it evaporates before it can damage the hair.

Shocker #3: The main culprits involved in ruining your color-treated tresses are plain water, high-heat styling tools (flat irons and blow dryers), over-washing your hair, and unprotected sun exposure! How often you get your hair wet, shampoo, style with high-heat tools, and the amount of time you spend in the sun have the most impact on your color—more than any hair-care product you use, no matter what it claims or how much it costs.

Using Dry Shampoos for Longer-Lasting Color

Keeping your hair dry for as long as possible – that is, not getting it wet and not shampooing frequently - is one sure method for saving your color and preventing a fast fade. A great haircut and style and a dry shampoo are a great solution! Dry shampoos keep hair looking relatively fresh during those days where you forgo the traditional route because these products absorb excess oil from strands (rescuing you from the obvious "I'm not shampooing" look). If you've tried dry shampoos in the past and didn't care for them, you should know that they've come a long way since the obvious white cast formulas of yesteryear. Here are our top picks:

  • Batiste Dry Shampoo ($8)
  • Dove Refresh+Care Invigorating Dry Shampoo ($5)
  • Oscar Blandi Pronto Invisible Dry Shampoo ($25)
  • Aveeno Pure Renewal Dry Shampoo ($9)
  • Suave Professionals Keratin Infusion Dry Shampoo ($4.49)
  • TRESemme Fresh Start Dry Shampoo Color Care ($5.29)

The Right Shampoo & Conditioner for Color-Treated Hair

Generally, there is no difference between regular shampoos or conditioners and those labeled "color-safe," "color-preserving," "safe for color-treated hair," or something similar. That's because when a shampoo or conditioner is well formulated (and most are), they're perfectly safe for color-treated hair, and they have the same types of ingredients as products that don't brandish the "color safe" label. The difference comes down to marketing, not special formulas.

When shopping for shampoo, always look for one geared toward your hair type: 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 today's marketplace it's actually hard to find a bad shampoo or conditioner because there are only a limited number of ingredients that do most of the work in hair-care formulas—most brands lining the aisles of your local drugstore or salon are remarkably similar.

What makes the process of finding the right shampoo or conditioner difficult at times is getting taken in by the claims on the label. Hair care cannot stop the fading of color, nor can it permanently change hair in terms of thickening or "repairing" it (because hair is dead). Once you stop putting all your faith in the claims, you will have a much easier time finding the right formulas for your hair type and concerns.

While it's not always a perfect process, look for labels that indicate a match for your hair type (such as oily, fine, thick, or dry), then take a look at the ingredient list for cleansing-agent information as well as the amount of conditioning ingredients (like dimethicone or cetyl alcohol) present. Those with oily, fine, or thinning hair should avoid formulas loaded with fatty acids and oils and/or thick cream-based products; the exact opposite goes for those with dry, damaged, or thick and coarse hair.

Will Cleansing Conditioners Help Preserve Your Hair Color?

Many of you have asked us about cleansing conditioners from companies such as Wen and L'Oreal, 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 without cleansing the hair (and, more important, the scalp) much at all.

If your hair is extremely dry and damaged from color treatments or styling tools, you may find that occasional use of a "conditioner-only" type product is beneficial for restoring a healthier feel to your hair.

However, unless you have extremely dry, damaged hair, there is a risk that your hair will 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 those 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 it's a good idea to invest in a few inexpensive towels to use when applying them.

Sun Protection (for Your Hair)

Regardless of the season, 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 expect to make your hair color last. UV light damages hair, causing the dye molecules to oxidize and fade or, in the case of most blonde tones, turn brassy.

A hat is an excellent solution, but impractical for some, especially if you have long, thick hair. If a hat isn't your style, consider applying sunscreen to your hair to help protect it from fading. 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 (and there's some research supporting this), so it's worth a try.

SPF ratings listed on hair-care formulas with sunscreen are generally irrelevant because they cannot claim to provide a specific level of UV protection—so you're better off sticking with an actual sunscreen formula. But, to avoid creating greasy-looking locks, use a spray-on sunscreen that's alcohol-based for a light, quick-dry finish. You can find plenty of alcohol-based spray-on sunscreens at the drugstore from brands such as Neutrogena, Coppertone, Banana Boat, and Hawaiian Tropic.

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!

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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 helping you find the absolute best products for your skin, using research-based criteria to review beauty products from an honest, balanced perspective. Each member of the team was personally trained by Paula herself.

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