Summertime is here and it’s time to start boosting your color care. Here, 16 surprising reasons your hair color is fading quicker than it should, and how to fix it.
Washing your hair too often
Pamella Gonzalez, colorist at Benjamin NYC, says excessive washing is the number-one cause of premature color fade. Maddison Cave, colorist at the Rita Hazan Salon, notes this is because the chemicals in hair color make our hair more vulnerable to water.
“Try washing your hair every other day or even every three days if you don’t get oily,” she says, also recommending using dry shampoo in between washes to keep it feeling clean. If you find you need to wash your hair frequently, Gonzalez suggests using a cowash shampoo with little to no detergents.
“It’s best to only use shampoo two to three times per week, using formulas that are sulfate-free,” adds Aidan Harty, senior colorist at Julien Farel Restore Salon and Spa at NYC’s Regency Hotel. “Try substituting a cream cleanser a couple times per week to gently cleanse the hair and scalp without disturbing the hair cuticle, which will help keep the color from fading.”
Using harsh shampoo
Nelson Chan, celebrity stylist and founder of Nelson j Natural Salon in Beverly Hills, explains that shampoos and conditioners containing sulfates and salts are often doing a number on your colored hair. “The solution is to look for sulfate-free and color-safe shampoos,” he says. Another no-no for colored hair: clarifying formulas. “Avoid any shampoo or scalp treatment that uses the terms ‘clarify’ or ‘detox,’ as they can strip the color,” adds celebrity hairstylist and founder of The Beachwaver Co. Sarah Potempa.
Harty says those with colored strands should also watch out for products that promise extra volume. “These often get the volume from opening the cuticle which fades the color,” he says. “This goes for shampoos and styling products. Sulfate-free is always best.”
“Human hair is one of the most absorbent materials around,” says Andrew Carruthers, director of education for Sam Villa, who says you should think about a dry sponge versus a wet sponge when it comes to soaking hair. “When that dry sponge is submerged into chlorine-filled water, how much more of that chlorine will it absorb versus a sponge that has already been saturated with clean water?”
Instead of skipping your swim, Carruthers says chlorine should be rinsed from the hair before it dries, noting that once hair is dry, the chlorine bonds to the hair and is very difficult to remove.
Failing to prep for the pool or beach
Before going into the pool or ocean, soak hair with clean or tap water, suggests Harty. “This fills the hair so it can’t absorb chlorine and salt water.”
Potempa agrees, suggesting you also apply a dollop of your favorite conditioner onto wet strands—she loves her Good Vibes conditioner—and putting hair into a braid before going for a dip. “This will act as a barrier between your hair and the chlorine/salt. When you get out of the water, hair will be soft, which makes it easier to brush,” she notes. “If hair is salty and tangled, brushing will damage the hair.”
Not air-drying hair
Celebrity hairstylist Lee Stafford says too much artificial heat on the hair is a recipe for hair-color disaster. “Try your best to reduce the amount of artificial heat on the hair by letting hair air-dry naturally a couple of days a week, or using styling hacks to style hair without any heat.” If you must blow-dry, Kathy Debski, colorist at SPACE by Alex Brown in Chicago, says to turn the heat down on your dryer to curb damage.
Washing with hot water
“Even if you are using the perfect shampoo for your hair type, water is a big contributor to fading,” explains Cave, adding that when washing your hair, the cooler the water temperature, the better.
“If your water is too hot, your hair cuticles are going to open for longer and color will fade,” says Stafford. “I always recommend washing your hair in warm water to help preserve your color.”
Using the wrong shower head
Another secret color-fading culprit: chlorine you didn’t know was in your water. “Every now and then, I see a client who has a green hue to their hair due to the chlorine in their water,” says celebrity hair colorist Ashley Wahler. “Investing in a shower head filter is a quick fix to that problem as well as keeping your color bright and hair shiny,” she says.
Not applying SPF to hair
“If you have a sunroof or are constantly outside, be sure to wear a hat,” stresses Wahler, adding that the sun can not only fade color, but it exposes the natural remaining pigments, which are usually the brassy and unwanted tones. “The sun produces harmful UVA/UVB rays, which can also burn the hair,” adds Jim Markham, celebrity stylist and founder of ColorProof. The good news: avoiding this is easy. “Invest in hair products with SPF or just spray a little bit of sunscreen on your hair,” says Gonzalez.
…and your scalp
Along with shielding your strands from the sun’s rays, don’t forget your scalp. “Treat your scalp as if it were your skin,” instructs Stafford. “UV rays from the sun break down the chemical bonds in dyes, which means color will fade if exposed in the sun for too long,” he says, recommending Coco Loco Holiday Hair Hero UV Spray ($11) to keep color salon fresh.
Skipping a thermal protectant
Markham says that heat protection is an absolute must if you’re using hot tools. “Heat styling can fry the cuticle, leaving hair frazzled, dry, damaged and broken over time.”
“The heat from the tools will damage the cuticle and cause the color to fade because of the unhealthy cuticle,” adds Debski. “Any products with thermal protection and moisture are highly recommended. I love the bumble and bumble Glow Bond Building Repair Styling Cream ($34). These products will help keep the cuticle fit to keep the color locked in.”
Another favorite: ColorProof’s HeatProof Anti-Frizz Blow Dry Crème ($32), which adds a layer of both color and heat protection.
Trusting any toner
If you’re getting your hair professionally colored, Potempa suggests talking with your hairdresser about the toner they’re using, as light/semi-permanent toner tends to fade quicker.
“Toner can also oxidize in the hot water or in the sun and being exposed to elements. This is where a purple shampoo should be used to act as an at-home toner to maintain a cooler tone between salon visits,” she says.
Carruthers warns that excessive heat, which usually comes from styling, can destroy the molecules in hair color. “Color fading increased dramatically as the industry introduced higher heat irons,” he says, adding that you should look for tools that only reach a safe temperature for color-treated hair. This Sleekr Professional Straightening Iron ($96) from Sam Villa does just that with their unique color-treated setting.
Never sealing cuticles
“Besides using sulfate-free/co-wash shampoo, apply coconut oil on the ends of your hair before shampooing to protect harsh water and shampoo from stripping your hair color,” advises Chan.
Once you’re done, rinse with cool water. “The cool water—and cool shot button when blow-drying—help to close the cuticle and lock the color in longer,” says Potempa.
Overlooking hair masks and treatments
Celebrity hairstylist Ricardo Rojas says that after your hair has been exposed to the sun and/or chlorine, it’s crucial to nourish it at its most fragile state. “I like to do a nourishing jasmine or coconut hair mask every three weeks for my clients during the summer months.”
“Without conditioner and treatments, hair color will fade long before your next salon appointment,” adds Stafford.
If you don’t have enough time to dedicate to a mask, reach for Sachajuan’s Intensive Hair Oil ($53), formulated with argan and sea buckthorn oil, for the same effect minus the time commitment (apply it to damp or dry hair and style as usual).
Dying hair red
“When considering which hues to dye your hair, maybe reconsider red,” advises Cave, explaining that while it’s glamorous, if it’s not your natural tone, the artificial red pigments tend to leave strands the fastest.
Using alcohol-based products
Cave warns against using styling products with alcohol listed as one of the main ingredients, explaining that it can quickly dry your hair out, making the color fade much faster.