Is my hair uncolorable?
April 30, 2011 9:49 AM   Subscribe

Is my hair uncolorable?

I have medium brown hair, but I would really like it to be one shade darker. A few years ago I colored it using an at-home permanent hair dye. It looked nice, but completely faded within a few weeks. I was disappointed, but figured that maybe trying a salon would work out better.

So, a few years later, I went to a salon (and a particular stylist) that was recommended by my sister, who gets highlights at this place. I asked her to dye my hair one shade darker. When she was done, I was a bit surprised, as it seemed darker than expected. But after one wash, it faded a bit, and looked great. However, it continued to fade with each wash. I had just been using an ordinary Suave shampoo, but quickly switched to something specifically for color-treated hair (I think from Garnier Fructis) but it continued to fade. A few weeks later, my hair looked as if it hadn't been colored.

So a year later (last year) I went back to this same salon (and the same person) to try again. This time, I waited 48 hours to shampoo the first time, and I used a sulfate-free shampoo which was also specifically labeled for color-treated hair. But it still faded, and after about a month, there was no difference from before I colored.

I don't have hard water, I don't swim, and I don't get a lot of direct sun exposure, so I'm wondering if I somehow have hair that just won't take color?

Now, the crazy thing is, I've gone to 2 different beauty-related message boards to ask about this, and I got the same response in both places. They essentially told me that this is completely normal, that all hair dye (even permanent) fades over time, and that's why you're supposed to get a touch-up every 6-to-8 weeks. That sounds crazy to me. This wasn't slight fading after 6-to-8 weeks - this was complete fading within 4 weeks. And if everyone's haircolor fades completely, then how is it that you sometimes see people with visible roots? And why do hair salons (and drugstore kits) offer root touch-ups? Obviously some people must get their hair color to stay put, or the roots would never have a noticeable difference.

The problem is that now I'm going gray. I'm 32, and have noticed the occasional gray hair since my early 20s. But now they are becoming too numerous to pluck, and since I don't want to be showing gray at this age, I guess the only solution is to dye. But I can't afford to go to a salon once a month for a complete dye job. And even if I bought a drugstore brand, that would still mean I'd only have gray-free hair about half of the time, as I'd have to color at the beginning of each month, watch it fade completely, and then start the whole process over again next month.

So can anyone offer any secrets to getting hair color to actually stay once your hair is dyed? Or any possible reasons why my hair won't cooperate? Would it be worth trying a different salon, or requesting a particular brand/type of dye?
posted by LaurenIpsum to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (21 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I don't quite understand your reluctance to dye every few weeks. You understand that the dye won't appear on your new roots, don't you? So you have to re-dye anyway. That's just the way it is.
posted by tel3path at 9:58 AM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

The brand of color makes a huge difference for me. I go purple with some streaks bleached and then the whole head glazed. My colorist switched brands earlier this year and now instead of being faded out in less than a month, my color lasts almost two months.

When it does fade out, I use Procolor Bella Burgundy shampoo and conditioner to make the bleached streaks burgundy. They have other colors besides burgundy, including natural ones, so you might check that out as another option to stretch your time between colorings.
posted by immlass at 10:01 AM on April 30, 2011

To keep roots froom becoming too noticeableyou have to colour your hair every 4-6 weeks anyway.

Also, are you sure the colour fades completely? Because my hair is light brown and I colour it occasionally to get a darker and warmer shade of brown. And yes, the colour fades, and to the point where I feel it has gone completely but after a couple of months I can still see roots.
posted by koahiatamadl at 10:03 AM on April 30, 2011

Best answer: I have medium brown hair too, and I dye my hair a very dark auburn color, which fades even quicker than a regular brown color. I managed to find a non-expensive drug store color that looks nice as it's fading, so I don't need to worry about dying my hair too often. I only redye it once my grey hairs pop out and are noticeable again. I also only wash my hair about twice a week, which I think is the most important thing. If you can train your hair to do that, your hair will thank you! And thirdly, I use a special expensive color-safe shampoo and conditioner.
posted by katypickle at 10:03 AM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: tel3path, true, I don't have a problem with getting the roots touched up. At my salon, they offer a cheaper "root touch up" option, which I would be willing to do every few weeks. What I'm not willing to do is pay for a full color job once a month, which appears to be what I would need in order to keep my color, since my whole head of hair is completely fading.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 10:07 AM on April 30, 2011

Some people's hair just does not hold color well. I don't know exactly why this is, but I do know that I'm the same way. With a little sun exposure, my hair naturally inevitably is auburn (it grows out of my head super dark, but then even mild sun exposure will lighten it significantly). I like my hair super dark brown, but every time I dye it, it fades completely in about 3-4 weeks with permanent color.
posted by raztaj at 10:14 AM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

What you have there is healthy hair. The healthier it is, the smoother and less permeable the cuticle, and the less color it's going to hold.

When you dye hair lighter, you bleach it, which damages the hair and makes it permeable. Then toner makes it the right color. But dark hair dye doesn't contain as much damaging bleach or peroxide, and so it's not going to permeate as well on healthy hair, and it's going to come off fast.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:21 AM on April 30, 2011 [2 favorites]

Have you noticed the gray hairs not taking dye either? I've got a few gray stragglers, and even though I've almost always been disappointed at how quickly my hair dye fades (I use at-home red dyes so that's pretty much the issue for me), the gray hairs don't suddenly become gray again. They fade to the same color as the rest of the hair does.
posted by wondermouse at 10:25 AM on April 30, 2011

Best answer: May I suggest that you do it yourself at home? The dyes you could buy at the pharmacy used to be not very nice, but they're much higher quality now.
posted by tel3path at 10:48 AM on April 30, 2011

I have the same EXACT problem. I used to dye my light-to-medium brown hair darker. It faded completely within a month. I never had roots, never had a difference in color, just a total fade. One solution that would be extreme is to bleach your hair out first, then dye over it. As fingersandtoes mentions, bleached hair is much more permeable. I also second the not washing your hair thing. I only wash about twice a week (less if I'm busy) with sulfate-free shampoo and silicone-free conditioner. That could help.
posted by mrfuga0 at 10:51 AM on April 30, 2011

Response by poster: tel3path, yeah, I guess that's what I'll do. I was hoping for a way for my hair to be consistently the same color rather than cycling between "colored" and "faded" every month. Having visible roots at the end of each month would be preferable (to me) than being completely faded at the end of each month. But, c'est la vie.

(That "cycling" is one reason that I've never gotten into waxing my legs - you have to alternate between being hairless and being hairy, since you have to let enough hair grow back for it to grip the wax. I'd rather just be hairless all the time, so I shave.)

katypickle and mrfuga0, right now I wash my hair every other day. I've been reluctant to do it less, since I have a quite oily scalp, but maybe I'll try it and see how it goes. Last year (before I got my hair colored) I tried using "Wen by Chaz Dean" shampoo/conditioner, but no matter how much I rinsed, my hair ended up looking and feeling greasy. But I'll just try shampooing less often.
posted by LaurenIpsum at 11:09 AM on April 30, 2011

> I was hoping for a way for my hair to be consistently the same color rather than cycling between "colored" and "faded" every month.

Unfortunately, this is just how hair dye works: it fades. I've been dying my own hair since the age of sixteen, and now, at thirty-seven, my hair has turned mostly white. I dye my hair jet black every 4-6 weeks, and the colour definitely fades over that time; by week four I have dull black hair and 1.5cm of regrowth. By week six I have dark brown hair and 2.5cm of regrownth (I'm lazy). You probably aren't seeing any regrowth because there's not as much contrast between your natural hair colour and the dye, and by the time the dye fades, it's very close to your natural colour.

I have always considered regular salon colour prohibitively expensive; I've used salons when I wanted something tricky or special—highlights or a mix of shades, for example—but there's no way I'd pay for it every month. At thirty, I decided to just pick a colour and stick with it. I buy a cheap brand without any bells and whistles (I think it's ludicrous to pay a premium just for a sachet of conditioner) and use my own gloves and hair colour brush. It costs me £2.95 a month.
posted by hot soup girl at 11:17 AM on April 30, 2011

I don;t know what color product you're using (or your stylist is using) but I think you get what you pay for. Cheap-o drugstore color fades. I use Goldwell. I also don't use Suave, Garnier or any other drugstore shampoos. Kiehl's is expensive but worth it. I mix my color from about 3 different tones.

While the site's personality might not be your cup of tea, she does really know her stuff, and it's worth taking a look at Killer Strands.
posted by Ideefixe at 11:46 AM on April 30, 2011

Do you live somewhere sunny and if so are you out a lot? My friend had to get her natural, almost black, previously never colored hair dyed back to her "normal" color after a year in Austin because her hair "faded" to a brassy, unflattering color. If this could be the cause or a contributing factor, there are some leave in hair products that contain a bit of sunscreen.

Also, how long are you leaving the color in? I have thick, somewhat coarse hair, and loads of it. The one trick I picked up from the times I've had it done professionally is to leave the color on a good 45 minutes, never mind if the label says 10 or 20. I wouldn't say this if you were bleaching your hair platinum as I imagine in that case the high percentage of ammonia could harm your scalp, never mind your hair, but since you're going darker, this shouldn't be an issue. I've never had any problems leaving it on that long whether it was done at the salon or at home. Also don't go too dark. Nothing looks harsher or faker, especially as you get older and dark dyed hair has an unmistakably flat look, particularly true for black, but also or really dark browns.

Also, I too started going noticeably gray in my early thirties and have chosen to dye my hair to cover it. Since my natural color is dark brown the roots show. Due to the expense I mainly home dye, but I do try to have it done at a salon every 3rd or 4th time. I've found that no matter how careful you are and how much practice you get, it's hard to get all the color even in the back. Even just getting it done professionally every 3 or 4 month can prevent you from looking like a calico cat from the back.

Finally some colors or dyes do fade more than others. I've recently switched from a medium brown to a lighter brown and notice fading, not as quickly as you describe, but it's not something that I've had a problem with before. I'm wondering if I should either try that shade in another brand or go back to my old color.
posted by kaybdc at 11:55 AM on April 30, 2011

Another thing: are you shampooing the ends of your hair? I condition the ends first, then let the conditioner work while I'm shaving my legs, and the last thing I do in the shower is shampoo my scalp only and just let it run down the length of my hair during the rinse.

An advantage to consider is that if the dye is fading, you'll have less of a problem with colour build-up making the ends of your hair much darker than the roots. I try to colour only the roots of my hair, but I never really manage to keep the ends out of the way and so I always have a problem with this. You may be luckier.
posted by tel3path at 12:46 PM on April 30, 2011

Just a thought: I don't know if this works specifically for oily hair because I don't have it, but you know when you go to the hair stylist's and when they wash your hair, they massage your head? Doing that on my own head when showering keeps my hair staying cleaner for days.
posted by jenfullmoon at 1:33 PM on April 30, 2011

Best answer: Exceptionally good shampoo and conditioner is the solution here. I have brown hair and for years I had it professionally coloured in variations on a black and red theme. I had exactly the same problem (fading way too much in the first four weeks). The trick is to:

(a) not wash your hair for at least 24 hours after the colour (48 hours if you can stand it).
(b) invest in REALLY good shampoo and conditioner, that is a colour replacement shampoo (not colour conserve shampoo). I really liked Aveda's Madder Root shampoo and their Black Malva shampoo.

The thing is, if you want to colour your hair, it makes a huge difference if you use good shampoo. I managed to stretch my hair colour to well over 8 weeks that way.
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 2:19 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

Here's a quick tip for the not washing your hair often: Make sure your shampoo is sulfate-free. Make sure our conditioner is silicone-free, as well as ALL your styling products. The silicone makes it look shiny, but then greasy, and the sulfates are needed to wash that stuff out. It takes a bit of time to find the right shampoo/conditioner combo, so if you have vacation or time off, that might be a good time to try. I think my 'transition period' was about a month. Now, I get compliments on my hair like you would not believe. I sometimes wash my bangs more often because they (duh) sit on my oily face.
posted by mrfuga0 at 5:51 PM on April 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

It sounds to me like your stylist is using semi-permanent (rather than permanent) dye. The semi-permanent is meant to fade slowly, so that if you decide to stop dying your hair regularly you don't have to do some extended re-dying process to avoid having two-tone hair. Maybe just ask your stylist if there is a permanent color option (keep in mind, this will definitely require regular root touch-up appointments).
posted by Bebo at 4:11 AM on May 1, 2011

Also, try washing your hair every other time with conditioner only. I managed to keep pink and green streaks, which normally wash out exceptionally fast, for quite some time by doing that.
posted by telophase at 11:41 AM on May 2, 2011

Some people's hair just doesn't take dye very well. But most people who dye their hair would need to do so about once a month to keep the color true.

One friend of mine had dyed her hair for years, but when she got pregnant, hair dye magically reversed itself in days. She couldn't dye her hair successfully until a few months after the baby. Bodies are weird. [shrug]
posted by desuetude at 9:50 PM on May 2, 2011

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