20 Reasons Your Hair Color Is Making You Look Washed Out

20 Reasons Your Hair Color Is Making You Look Washed Out featured image
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You’ve probably been there: You tweak your hair color, and all of a sudden, your skin looks—for lack of a better word—kind of “lackluster.” Here’s what the experts say cause your hair color to make you look washed out, as well as easy ways to prevent or correct it.

1 / 20

Your Hair Wasn’t Clean

This one is tricky, says Marcy Cona, global creative director of Color & Style at Clairol, as we’re told not to go overboard with the shampoo, but hear her out: “Consumers aren’t shampooing their hair as often, they’re applying color on hair that’s got a lot of product buildup, which can interfere with the coloring process and encourages fading.” Her advice for getting (and keeping) vibrancy all-around: Apply color to clean, dry hair. “Ensure you’re shampooing the day before so that you’re not trying to apply the color with too much product buildup.”

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2 / 20

…Or You Shampooed Too Often

We swear there’s happy medium here, but if you read directions, you should be good. “Shampooing too often can also lead to the rinsing out of color,” Cona says. “You should always follow the shampoo instructions on your hair color package.”

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3 / 20

You Picked the Wrong Product or Color

When going the at-home route, Cona says to look for hair dyes that contain tools to help condition, protect and retain color. “For example, Clairol’s all-new Bold & Bright line features TrueColorSeal technology that protects against water-fading and Color Boost Glaze to refresh vibrancy between colorings. Additionally, if you’re picking between two shades and in doubt, always choose the lighter shade to avoid a color you don’t want.”

Getty Images / Anna Efetova
4 / 20

You Went Out of Tone

We talk a lot about tone in this one, but that’s because the best answer to why you might be washed out is also the simplest: The hair color could very well be the wrong tone for you. “Typically, clients with lighter, cooler skin tones look better in neutral to cooler tones, so I recommend staying more tone in tone,” says celebrity stylist and colorist Jonathan Colombini, who is also L’Oréal Paris’ creative director of style and color. “That being said, warmer to olive skin tones can really get away with a variety of tones.”

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5 / 20

You Lack Luster

Another reason your hair color could be washing you out is if your current color is faded or lack luster, says Colombini. His at-home solution: “For a quick fix, I recommend using use L’Oréal Paris Le Color Gloss ($16). It’s an in-shower at-home toning gloss that corrects brassy, faded tones, leaving the hair with a glassy shine and luxurious feel.”

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6 / 20

You Didn’t Adjust Your Shade Slow Enough

As AJ Lordet, eSalon’s east coast color ambassador, says seasonal hair-color changes are always in demand. “Traditionally, in rising temperatures clients want to brighten their color. Surprisingly, this season is showing a departure from the usual summer blond, and we are seeing clients deepen their allover shade. Both options are beautiful, fun and fresh. Making a hair color change is incredibly exciting, but there’s nothing more frustrating than having your newly updated color wash you out. To avoid this, I recommend adjusting your shade slowly over time, rather than making huge color jumps. Extreme color changes, either too dark or too light, can look unnatural or unflattering against the skin.”

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7 / 20

You Don’t Even Know What Your Skin Tone Is

Might sound kind of silly, but most of us probably don’t have this one totally figured out. “With any new shade, it’s important to consider your skin tone,” says Lordet, and adds that an easy way to figure it out, is by taking a sheet of white paper and placing it next to your skin. “If your skin looks yellow or golden next to the paper, you have a warm skin tone. If your skin appears red, pink, or rosy, you have a cool skin tone. To really make your color shine, try to keep your hair color undertone the opposite of your skin tone.”

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8 / 20

You Went Out in the Sun

This isn’t necessarily a “I-spent-the-weekend-at-the-beach” problem, but an every day one that can affect color that you may have liked at the beginning, but not so much a couple of weeks out. “When hair color starts looking washed-out, it’s because oxidization from the sun strips away the richness of the color,” says Peter Oon of New York’s Oon Arvelo salon. “Refreshing your hair color with a gloss and conditioning treatment in-between your color appointments at the salon will help maintain your healthy hair and prevent the color from fading. Another tip to help slow down the oxidation process is to stay out of the sun or wear a hat, especially at the beach. Also, keep away from swimming pools with chlorine.”

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9 / 20

You Went “Over”

“Overly lightening the hair can certainly add to a washed out skin tone,” Lordet says. “If you are going for a natural shade of blond and accidentally go a bit too light, your skin can end up looking lackluster. If this happens, have your colorist slightly darken your base color. The depth in the root color will create a natural contrast adding warmth back into the skin.” Plus, as she adds, right now, platinum blond is having a huge moment and can look gorgeous on a multitude of skin tones. “If you are set on going platinum, be sure to ask your colorist to tone your hair to combat any unwanted brass that naturally occurs when lightening the hair. Reducing the underlying golden or yellow tones cools down the hair and looks brighter and more flattering against the skin.”

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10 / 20

You Broke the “Three-Shade Rule”

While Lordet says she’s a huge fan of dark hair colors, selecting the right shade from brown to soft black can make a huge difference on the skin. “An overly dark shade can end up looking stark or have a matte effect. In general, I like to stay within three shades of the natural hair color when darkening allover. Going more than three shades can make the skin look dull and drab.” Her easy tip if you do go too dark: Simply pick up a clarifying shampoo. “A clarifying shampoo will help lighten the dark color from hair gradually and gently. After a few shampoos you will notice subtle highlights returning to your hair.” 

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11 / 20

You Didn’t Go for Dimension

Oon says that it’s not always just going “too far” in one direction that creates a washed out look. “It can also happen when you don’t add in multidimensional shades and tones when you switched it up. Likewise, going too dark sometimes may create a sharp contrast between a person’s complexion and their hair color, unless you have a warm milky undertone in the color.” 

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12 / 20

And You Ignored Your Brows

Yes, Lordet says, it’s all about the brows. “A full brow has continued as a strong trend and I don’t see it going away anytime soon. Being a focal point on the face, brows are a wonderful gauge for hair color shade. As a good rule of thumb, keep your base color close to your natural brow shade. This helps create a softer hair-to- skin contrast, which enhances the face. For brunettes transitioning to blond, choose a base color a shade or two lighter than your eyebrows. Going slightly lighter will prevent the hair from looking brassy and prevents damage or breakage. A slightly darker base anchors the allover color. After softening the base, have your colorist paint in some highlights concentrating around the face. The highlights will add a summery brightness to the color with little required maintenance.”

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13 / 20

You Walked Right Past the Makeup Area at the Salon

You know that makeup area at your salon? It’s not just there for special occasions. “With any hair color change I recommend a slight adjustment in a client’s makeup,” Lordet says. “Enhancing your face with some highlighter and mascara will bring out the eyes and make the skin glow. If your salon has a makeup artist on site, head over and test out a new lippy to go with your fresh locks.”

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14 / 20

You Went Darker Around Your Face 

According to celebrity hair colorist Bianca Hillier, it’s important to have a lighter shade around your face—and that holds true if you are doing a single-process color or covering grays because it will create, what she calls “a fluid color” between the hairline and the base. “These hairs are finer in the hairline, so they can grab the color faster and actually look darker than the rest of the hair if not specifically formulated lighter by your colorist. If you really want to give some natural-looking pops of color to contour the face, make sure to ask your colorist to add a few lighter pieces around the hairline.”

15 / 20

You Ignored Tone When Tackling “Fantasy” Colors 

Hillier says those trendy “fantasy colors” can be tricky since they aren’t technically natural colors. Her advice: Take tone into consideration. “If you have pink undertones in your skin, stay away from cool tones like mint and lime green. Instead, ask your colorist for warmer tones like peach or pink so the hair does not contrast and enhance your skin tone. Same holds true if you have yellow in your skin or you have warm tan skin, stay away from purples and try something warmer, like a magenta, to enhance your skin tone.” Regardless of tone or hair type, Hillier adds that her number-one rule for keeping up good color is hydration. “Try a weekly moisture mask like Olaplex No 8 Bond Intense Moisture Mask ($30), which contains their patented breakthrough technology to relink disulfide bonds for stronger, healthier hair.”

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16 / 20

You Didn’t Include Your Eye Level in the Mix

This is a random one on the list, but hear Richy Kandasamy, colorist and R+Co collective, member out: “There are two important things to take into consideration in selecting your hair color: your complexion and eye level. Evaluating or choosing a shade based on the correct eye depth, will help add to or strengthen your chosen color level. Your hair color will act like a frame to your face. It’s all about creating balance. When it comes to your overall shade, understanding your complexion is essential, so that the color does not wash you out. We have eight complexions: fair, neutral, golden, pink, olive, tan, dark and deep, plus two variants for each category, depending on the season, it can be cool or warm. The main objective is always to try to enhance the complexion’s appearance—not the opposite.”

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17 / 20

You Used Too Harsh of a Shampoo

Yes, the products you use at-home really do matter, stresses Jason Lee, hairstylist, colorist and founder of hair-care line Mela & Kera, who counts it as the top culprit contributing to washouts. “The number-one reason why your hair color is making you appear washed out is because you’re not maintaining your color properly with the right hair-care products at home,” he says. “So, beyond all of the technical reasons such as going too light, not enough dimension, the wrong color for your skin tones—which are all 100, percent correct—the number-one reason we find in salon as to why people’s color washes them out is because they aren’t investing in the right aftercare. One thing to note here is that hair color is just pigment in the hair that is either deposited or removed to achieve your desired hair shade. The truth is, that pigment can slip out over time and go brassy or too light if you’re using shampoos that are too harsh and if you’re using direct heat on your hair without heat protection. This level of hair color fading causes you to also appear washed out and can clash with skin tones.”

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18 / 20

You Ditched the Heat Protector

Besides shampoo, Lee says a good heat-protector is vital, and here’s why: “When you don’t have heat protection, your color molecules will slip out of your hair faster, causing fading which is why by the time you get to your colorist, you feel as though your color is washing you out,” he says, and recommends Mela & Kera Balayage Exceptionnel Exquisite Blowout Crème ($36), as it was designed specifically to help blow-dry the hair and is a heat protector. “The right hair care products will ultimately help with fading from stripping the hair when washing and excessive heat damage that causes your color to fade out. There once was a myth that all hair products were created equally, but I can assure you, that is not true.” Cona concurs and says, in a word, the heating elements can be harsh. “After dying your hair, you should limit your usage of hot styling tools and/or tools like blow dryers that will further damage your hair.”

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19 / 20

You Went “Too Icy”

This one comes back to the skin tone and contrast connection and is specifically something that can happen with blond highlights: “If your hair color is making you look washed out, it’s usually because you didn’t choose the correct color for your skin tone,” says Chase Kusero, celebrity colorist and cofounder of IGK. “If your hair color shares similar undertones with your skin, your face and hair will lack contrast. For example: if you have blue, green and violet undertones in your skin, you’ll want to avoid cooler hair tones.” As far as fixing it, Kusero offers up these product picks: “You can try to correct the color of your hair by using toners, like IGK’s Color Depositing Hair Masks ($29). For example, if you find that your blonde highlights are too white or icy and are washing out your fair complexion, you could try the Color Depositing Mask in shade, Honey Please to help add some golden tones to your hair. Toning is not so simple with darker hair colors. For this, you might consider adding some highlights to your hair that can be toned to a complementary color.”

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20 / 20

You Skipped a Strand Test

Sounds kind of simple, and Cona says she can’t stress this one enough for solidifying good results for at-home color: “Do a strand test! This will enable you to see the end result of the dye.”

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