The short answer: It’s complicated.
Naturally, dying your hair comes with some level of damage since you’re chemically altering it. The same goes for bleaching, which is known to make hair thinner and more prone to breakage. As someone who started highlighting her hair in the fifth grade and has since tried out multiple hair colors, from platinum blonde to the blackest black, I've often wondered if dying your hair damages it forever, or if I'd be able to completely restore my hair's health, despite coloring it continuously. Needless to say, the question is a loaded one, and the answer depends on quite a few different variables, like how often you color or bleach your hair, how heavily you color it when you do, and how you take care of your hair, especially post-dye job.
To break down the mystery of how much hair damage actually comes from dyeing your hair, and how to keep color-treated hair healthy, I enlisted the help of a few celebrity hair colorists that you're more than likely familiar with. Here, George Papanikolas, Jennifer Yepez, Jonathan Colombini, and Kellon Deryck all set the record straight on whether or not coloring your hair damages it forever. Even better, they provided some tips you should know about maintaining healthy, color-treated hair.
Does coloring or bleaching your hair damage it forever — like, forever forever?
In short, the general consensus among the celebrity hair colorists I consulted with is that, yes, dying and bleaching your hair permanently alters the integrity of your hair. You’re using powerful chemicals to change the makeup of it, after all, and there’s not necessarily a magic reversal wand you can wave to undo it. However, if you make sure to get your hair done by an experienced hair colorist who really understands how to treat and color hair, then the damage should be minimal.
"Once you lighten the hair, the texture is changed forever. However, how drastic that change is will depend on how well your stylist knows how to care for colored hair," says Kellon Deryck, a L’Oréal Paris consulting hair colorist and expert who is responsible for the stunning hairstyles of Cardi B and Blac Chyna, among others. "Color damage is a permanent downfall of coloring hair, but it can be avoided by using the proper techniques"
How does hair get damaged after you dye it?
Jonathan Colombini, a L'Oreal Paris celebrity hairstylist and colorist whose stylist chair has seen the likes of Kylie and Kendall Jenner, mentions how bleaching and coloring your hair will affect its elasticity, or how much your hair can stretch before it returns to its normal length. Ideally, your hair will have medium or high elasticity, meaning a strand can stretch a good amount before it breaks. If your hair has low elasticity, that means it’ll usually snap immediately when you try to stretch it. For example, if you bleach your hair unsafely, you may see your hair’s elasticity change in that it no longer bounces back but slides off when it’s stretched. Columbini says that the elasticity of your hair is always reduced "to some degree" when you color your hair. And, of course, how you choose to dye it affects the amount of damage done. "Bleaching your hair is going to damage it faster than coloring, so be sure to always follow with at-home care," he explains.
Is there any way to avoid damage when dyeing your hair?
On that note, Jennifer Yepez, a Kérastase celebrity hairstylist whose client roster features Bella Hadid, Winnie Harlow, Hailey Baldwin, and Emily Ratajkowski, among others, also suggests getting your hands on at-home hair repair treatments after dying your hair. "If you go to a colorist who knows what they are doing and takes steps to properly care for your hair, your hair should not be damaged beyond repair," she says. "If you feel like your hair is damaged from color, you can do several treatments. The best at-home treatment is Kérastase Fusio-Dose Homelab. The kit comes with four treatments that you can do throughout the [following] month."
Prior to sitting down in the salon chair with your trusted colorist, you should know the general rule of thumb for coloring hair to avoid damage. According to George Papanikolas, Matrix celebrity stylist to stars like Fergie, Jenna Dewan, and Madonna, "the universal rule for keeping hair in optimum condition when going lighter is to stay within two shades of your natural base color when coloring (otherwise it can get brassy) and four shades when highlighting (otherwise it can be harsh on the hair/skin and get damaged)." Unfortunately, yes, this means that you should avoid going from black hair to blonde hair, and vice versa, in one hair coloring appointment. The best way to maintain healthy hair when dying it is to change it slowly, in small steps.
Can you ever restore your colored hair to be as healthy as your virgin hair was pre-color? What about pre-bleaching?
Papanikolas says the only guaranteed way to restore your hair's health back to its pre-colored state is to cut off the previously colored, bleached, or damaged hair and wait for your hair to grow back in its completely natural state. "Then, it will be healthy, virgin hair again, even after bleaching," he says. "The new hair [that is] untouched by chemicals will be virgin." Again, once you dye your hair, you are technically using very strong chemicals to alter it significantly.
Luckily, if you want to continue coloring your hair and don’t want to wait around for a whole new head of hair to grow out, there are still ways to maintain healthy color-treated hair that is almost as healthy as the pre-treated, virgin hair you once knew.
So, how can you restore at least some of your hair's health?
While you can't technically ever get your hair back to how healthy it was pre-color, the hair color experts here agree that the two most promising ways to preserve the integrity of color-treated hair moving forward are by seeing a professional stylist and by using quality products at home following your color appointment. A professional hairstylist is trained in knowing exactly how to prevent too much damage from hair color, and they often have access to hair products and treatments not sold in stores.
Yepez asserts that seeing a reputable colorist is of the utmost importance, rather than trying to cut corners and do something drastic yourself. "Don’t try and save money and not get what you want or have your hair damaged," she says. "You will always spend more money trying to fix your hair! Also, be sure you do treatments and have a good shampoo, conditioner, and mask regimen at home.”
What is the best post-dye job routine to follow to make sure your hair stays as healthy as possible?
In short, after you color or bleach your hair, it's best to hydrate, hydrate, hydrate — and protect your hair against heat. Prioritize sulfate-free items, deep conditioning treatments, leave-in conditioners, or hydrating hair masks is key.
"Deep conditioning is an absolute must — the longer the conditioner sits, the better," shares Deryck. "Don't perform any other color job or apply any perms or relaxers for at least a few weeks to avoid over-processing (aka frying) your hair. Try to stay away from heat as much as you can, [as] your hair struggles to retain moisture after being colored (especially after it's lightened), so excessive blow drying or flat ironing will only dry the hair out more."
Deryck also recommends wrapping your hair with a silk bonnet or sleeping with a silk pillowcase, which helps drastically decrease the chance of breakage. This is because regular cotton or other rougher fabrics can actually tug on hair in the night, as well as heat up with the temperature of your body. Fabrics like silk stay a bit cooler, and they’re softer on your hair. (Not to mention, they’re good for your skin, too!)
The takeaway? While you can't technically reverse the damaging effects of coloring or bleaching your hair, you can take very important steps to maintain the integrity of color-treated hair to ensure it stays shiny, strong, and healthy for a long time.
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