These are the Crazy Things That Happen to Your Hair When You Color It

Caitlin S. Miller
hair color These are the Crazy Things That Happen to Your Hair When You Color It

Photo: ImaxTree

If you color your hair, you likely hear all the time about the damage you’re causing to your locks. The hair is breaking, the ends are splitting, and your hair will never be the same. Ever. All those cautionary tales can be dizzying and frankly, disheartening. Yes, it’s true your hair does get damaged when you color it—and it’s a lot more intense than you ever imagined—but thanks to Color Wow’s new Cocktails ($24 each, there’s a scientific way to ease your anxiety and keep your colored hair damage free.

What happens to hair?
So what exactly happens to your hair when you apply color? For starters, a lot. We all know hair strands’ outer layer, the cuticle, is what keeps hair shiny, smooth, and frizz-free. But as Dr. Joe Cincotta, Executive Vice President of Product Development at Color Wow explains, the surface of the cuticle is actually covered by a thin layer of a fat-like material called a lipid. It’s these lipids that control hair’s appearance. Here’s the bad news: When you expose hair to ammonia, hydrogen peroxide, and high pH, you damage that layer. “When this lubricating membrane is lost, your cuticle no longer lays flat, your hair looks dry, feels rough and is more susceptible to humidity, frizz, and tangles.”

But it’s not just the lipid layer that gets damaged. “As one successively color-treats their hair, the keratin, the proteins in the cortex [internal structure of the hair] of the hair break down—are fragmented in smaller pieces—and gradually leach out of the hair every time your hair is wet,” says Dr. Cincotta. “As hair fibers lose protein, they lose mass and their structural integrity is degraded and hair fibers become finer and finer.” Yep, hair gets thinner and limper when you color it.

And the last result of coloring hair (sorry, there’s more!) is dreaded hair breaking. Sulfur bonds within the hair’s cortex are key to your hair’s strength and elasticity, explains Dr. Cincotta. But breaking them can cause serious hair breakage. “Breaking these sulfur bonds weakens the hair’s internal structure and makes your hair more prone to breakage,” he adds. What’s more, when hair is exposed to high pH, ammonia, and hydrogen peroxide, these sulfur bonds that link the keratin proteins together break and irreversible damage occurs.

What can you do?
Now that we just unloaded all that bad news on you, rest assured there is something you can do to combat the above. Color Wow just unleashed a series of three hair cocktails to combat each of those negative side effects of coloring: lackluster and frizz, loss of mass, and breakage. For those looking to add shine, smoothness, and silkiness back to their locks, try the Coconut Cocktail ($24,, which contains a proprietary complex of the lipid layer found on the cuticle and coconut oil. This mimics the lubricating, lipid membrane and bonds to the cuticle surface.

If volume and mass is your concern, there’s a concoction for that too. The Carb Cocktail ($24, contains contains cellulose, starch and oat bran—ingredients rich in carbohydrates and fiber, which boast structural buildup of each hair fiber. 

Lastly, the Kale Cocktail ($24, relies on natural sulfur from the tonic’s star ingredient, blue seakale. The sulfur in the kale infuses into the hair cortex and helps repair broken sulfur bonds to make hair more resistant to breakage and make hair stronger, explains Dr. Cincotta.

Finally, never underestimate the power of a healthy lifestyle in the health of your hair. “Whether your hair is damaged via chemically processing or just grows out badly, nothing you eat or drink at that point can reverse that damage,” says Dr. Cincotta. “This is because once your hair emerges from the follicle it is not alive. Where diet and hydration are important is in the actual formative stages of hair growth deep within the follicle. A well-balanced diet and proper hydration will help most women produce healthier hair fibers.”

Cue sigh of relief.

More from Daily Makeover: 3 Frizzy Hair Treatments That Don’t Use Formaldehyde