The chemistry that transforms hair from a mousy brown to a deep chocolate brunette, or from a graying blond to a golden honey, may seem like magic. In truth, it's a torture test that leaves hair dry, dull, and rough — the very qualities that, ironically, make haircolor look drab. But if you're one of the 70-plus percent of American women who cover their grays or brighten their natural hue, don't worry: This is one test you can pass with flying (hair)color. Some easy changes in your hair-care habits, along with pro-recommended products, will renew your tresses' shine and vibrancy and restore your faith in your favorite box of color's ability to work magic.
Don't Drown It
"Color's worst enemy is water," says New York City haircolorist Ruth Roche. In fact, the latest research shows as much as 80 percent of color fade is caused by water alone, not shampooing or scrubbing, says Jeni Thomas, Ph.D., senior scientist for Pantene. Here's why: Dye strips the strands of their outer lipid layer. Like the natural oils found on your skin, lipids make hair feel soft and smooth, and their loss has a cascade of negative effects. For starters, hair becomes more porous, which is why, in the shower, colored hair absorbs and releases water easily. As it exits, water takes along with it some color molecules, explains Thomas. Your dye job, whether applied at home or in a salon, winds up literally going down the drain. To minimize this water-induced fading, take these precautions:
Think twice about becoming a redhead Red dye's large-size molecules leach out more quickly than those of any other hue. Whatever color you choose, stay within a few tones of your natural shade: Going from brunette to blond, say, requires bleaching, which makes hair especially porous and prone to color fade.
Avoid excessive rinsing in the shower "Once you've shampooed and conditioned, don't tilt your head back and let the water just run over it for several minutes," says Teca Gil-lespie, a scientist with P&G. And if you like to wake up under the faucet in the morning, try to spare your hair.
Stick to lukewarm or cooler "Heat makes dye leach faster: the hotter the water is, the quicker the color loss," explains Thomas.
Use a color-protecting shampoo They're specifically formulated to be both gentle and protective, says Redken haircolor consultant David Stanko. Steer clear of clarifying shampoos — which can be harsh and stripping — except on the day before your color appointment. "If you're going for gray coverage, use one to remove silicones, waxes, and hairspray resins," says Stanko. "Otherwise, instead of penetrating the hair shaft, some of the hair dye may attach itself to those coatings and then wash out, making your color fade faster."
Wash your hair less frequently Refresh on your off days by flipping hair over and spraying a dry shampoo at the roots to soak up oil. The new Suave Professionals Dry Shampoo ($3, drugstores) is colorless, so unlike most, it won't leave a white residue.
Beat a Dry Spell
If you feel your locks are fit to start a brushfire, the culprit, again, is that missing lipid layer. Your own scalp oils normally rely on hair's fatty layer as a transport system, says Thomas. Without it, they don't distribute themselves well down the length of the hair shaft. What's more, conditioners like silicones don't adhere evenly. So if you've been dutifully conditioning with no results, it's not your imagination — most of that conditioner has been rinsed down the drain. In short, your new hair chemistry demands conditioners specifically for color-treated hair.
Condition every time you shampoo, even if you have fine hair. "You really want to make sure you condition the longest part of your hair. The tips can be years old and have the most damage, whereas the roots are only a couple of months old," says Gillespie. Start at the ears and work your way down to the tips.