Once the excitement of a hair makeover, be it a cut, color or protective style, has expired, a slight panic may settle in. Personally, I’ve had a mini anxiety attack after all of my dye jobs and wondered not only how I would make time for touch-ups, but how I would save up the money to get them done so frequently too. Of all the transformations we routinely subject ourselves to, I feel confident in assuming that knowing how to make hair color last longer is probably one of those seemingly easy, but sort-of challenging tasks to pull off.
Sitting in a salon chair with a photo for inspiration is the fun part. Watching your natural roots grow back when you have little time or patience to get them redone…not so much. Hair color specifically requires a considerable amount of dedication to upkeep. There’s really no way around it unless you’ve got a money tree and glam squad at your beck and call. (Um, if that’s you–can we be friends?)
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So if you haven’t already taken the plunge and want a color that lasts for weeks or months, be realistic about the effort you’re willing to put in. On the other, if you’re already flaunting new highlights or a festival-ready pastel style for summer, there are a few habits you should get familiar with outside of the steps handled by your stylist.
Put Something Between Your Hair and Direct Sunlight
Being that we’re just weeks away from summer, it’s important to note that your hair–especially the color-treated kind–should be protected when in direct sunlight. According to Adel Atelier colorist Kazu Suzuki, whose work has been featured in a slew of magazine editorials (Harper’s Bazaar, Allure), this is a non-negotiable because of how immediately damaging it can be to a fresh style.
“Avoid all sun, especially if you are brunette or you have a single step process,” she says. “I see so many clients with orange or orange-yellow hair during the summer. Sun exposure not only changes hair color but also makes the hair very dry.” While SPF-infused stylers and sprays are generally in short supply, you can still invest in some stylish hats and when you’re at the beach, coat your strands in a leave-in conditioner before hitting the sand.
Choose Your Shampoo Wisely
How often you shampoo really depends on your hair texture and personal preference. For example, it’s generally recommended that those with fine or wavy hair should cleanse once a week, while those with textured hair can go without a bit longer. There are also those who are okay with a traditional shampoo formulation, while others have transitioned to a sulfate-free formula. Simply put, sulfates are the surfactants that give your products a sudsy lather. Their role is to help facilitate the removal of dirt or buildup from your skin or hair, however, they also have the potential of taking too much of your body’s natural oils along with it.
As someone who uses a sulfate-free shampoo, I think the only real downside to using it is that you need to work a little harder to apply and rinse the product since you don’t have lather helping you out. But as I said before, the decision to go sulfate-free or not is a personal decision that depends on the person’s unique texture. When it comes to color-treated hair however, Suzuki recommends a sulfate-free shampoo once a week. Her personal favorites are Olaplex #4 Shampoo ($28) and Pureology’s Strength Cure Zero Sulfate ($29.50) for neutralizing brassy tones. For those who like their sulfates, simply look for a formula that has toning benefits to keep your color vibrant and fresh-looking.
Mask In-Between Washes
I know a lot of people who don’t see the need for face masks, but I have yet to meet anyone with color-treated hair who doesn’t keep a hair mask in their bathroom. Though masks and leave-ins are often seen as an optional product for day-to-day care, Suzuki recommends using once a week to recover your hair from the inevitable effects of bleach and curb breakage.
“Adel Atelier’s Intensive Treatment Hair Masque (100% vegan with avocado oil) is my favorite for adding shine,” she adds. “Make sure to saturate hair for at least 5 minutes to experience the full effects.”
Cool Off With Cold Rinses
This is easy to do in the summer, but come winter, rinsing color-treated hair with cold water is a game-changer too. According to Suzuki, a “cool rinse and a cold shot with the hair dryer after hot air will seal the cuticles and create shine like silk.” Just be sure to continue shampooing hair with warm, not scolding hot, water.
Leave the Toning to Professionals
An occasional gloss and/or toning treatment is what keeps your hair–particularly lighter colors–from looking too brassy and over-processed. Though you could easily order an at-home version and do-it-yourself, Suzuki stresses the importance of an expert eye for application.
“Gloss and toner treatments should occur every 6 weeks to maintain the tone and shine. Professionals don’t use same the toner roots-to-end most of the time, so you need a professional eye to adjust tone and timing.” This is perhaps the most important expense to account for when deciding on hair color as you will have to repeatedly invest.
Actually, Leave Almost Everything to Professionals
Overall, the more high-stakes parts of a dye job should always be left to a stylist. Don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as possible before deciding who you’ll entrust your hair to. Look up reviews, scroll their Instagram feed, and ask around if you know others who have gone to the same person. Before you can even get to everything already mentioned, this is the step that will make or break the final results. It may seem tedious as you’re going through the motions–especially if you’re impatient and excited to get it done–but it’s totally worth the research.
Plus, the chances of a DIY box job coming out exactly how you imagined it are pretty slim, even if you’ve done it before. Unless you’re using detailed instructions from a professional stylist, Suzuki says that “typical at-home hair dye can result in a combination of red roots, dark hairline and dark ends, especially around the face. It looks very unnatural and looks like a cheap dye/toning job.” In other words, never use box dye.
“If you have the skill and the right directions from your colorist, you can totally do at-home color in between, but it’s not for everyone. So, ask a lot of questions to your colorist and make sure to see the professional in between your at-home touchups. If you can’t do it well, stop coloring by yourself. It’s not worth it,” she says. Regardless of how light or how dark you’re going with your latest transformation, these tips are almost impossible to mess up. Commit them to memory and when in doubt, step away from Google and into a salon instead.