Beauty Advice: Taking Care Of Color-Treated Hair

Learn the 15 essential steps to pampering your color-treated hair. Properly handling your color-treated hair will results in healthy-looking and manageable tresses.

Each time you apply permanent and semi-permanent hair color, you subject your mane to a chemical process. By their very nature, chemicals are damaging to the hair cuticle, the outer covering of the individual hair strands. The cuticle covers the cortex, or inner area of the hair shaft. Hair is porous, so each chemical treatment adds a little more damage to the cuticle and penetrates the cuticle to reach the cortex.

If you examine a strand of color-treated hair under a microscope, you will see at least three distinct images. At the top of the hair strand, the new growth resembles a new shingle roof on a house, where the smooth shingles overlap slightly. Toward the middle of the hair strand, the shingles begin to fray at the bottom edge. The ends often resemble badly split straw.

You might find similar damage in hair not subjected to repeated chemical processes. Hair is vulnerable to drying and breakage from brushing, the elements, heat from blow dryers and curling irons, even from the individual strands rubbing against one another. Chemical processes just add insult to injury.

The Hair Color Chemical Cocktail

In a perfect world, you wouldn't apply any chemicals to your hair and you'd walk around perfectly coiffed at all times. While that's just not possible in the modern world, it is possible to find a few hair colors without peroxide, ammonia and alcohol, the offending chemicals. These gentler products are just beginning to hit the market. Several brands available on the Internet contain formulations free from peroxide, ammonia and alcohol, and L'Oreal has introduced a new product without these chemicals. Using these products is your best defense against damage from hair color.

Caring for Color-treated Hair

The absolute worst thing that you can do to color-treated hair is to straighten it or perm it. An occasional chemical process will not usually result in severe damage. Damage results from the cumulative abuse you inflict upon your hair. If you must perm or straighten your hair in addition to coloring it, wait at least two weeks before coloring it. Perms and straightening solutions tend to lighten hair and add a brassy look to dark hair, so it's best to perm or straighten two weeks before coloring hair. Dual processing your hair, applying two chemical processes in rapid succession, whether it's color or perm is going to damage your hair. You'll find your hair breaks much easier when you perm and color it, and styling will be more difficult.

Repairing damaged hair is a misnomer. The best you can do for damaged hair is to encourage the flakey cuticle to lie flat against the hair shaft and reflect the light better. In addition to a scruffy cuticle, you'll probably experience split ends. Healthy hair is another misnomer: hair is dead. When people speak of healthy hair, they're referring to a healthy shine""light reflected by a smooth cuticle.

If you've subjected your hair to a chemical assault, follow the steps below to restore a healthy shine and manageability to your hair:

1. Trim your hair every four to six weeks to remove split ends and make your hair more manageable. A good haircut is the best foundation for the rest of the steps. It allows you to spend less time fussing with your hair and applying heat and more chemicals in an effort to coax it into doing what it doesn't want to do.

2. Use a shampoo specially formulated for color-treated hair, and if you must wash everyday, shampoo only once. When you shampoo, avoid tugging your hair, and wash gently. Rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of the shampoo. Don't wash your hair if it isn't dirty.

3. Use a conditioner for color-treated hair each time you shampoo, and apply a little extra to the ends. Rinse thoroughly to remove all traces of the conditioner. Removing all traces of shampoo and conditioner minimizes any film that attracts dirt, hides hair's natural shine, and makes hair less manageable. It also means that you may not have to wash as frequently.

4. Apply a deep conditioner once a month.

5. Use a special micro-fiber hair-drying towel. They absorb more moisture than regular bath towels, allowing you to apply less heat to dry your hair.

6. Use a wide-tooth comb to detangle your hair with minimal breakage.

7. Blow-dry your hair when it's almost dry. The more heat you apply, the more damage you inflict to the cuticle. Dry with your fingers instead of a brush until the very end of the drying process. Ionic blow dryers reportedly dry hair up to 60 per cent faster than other blow dryers.

8. Avoid curling irons and hot rollers. Style your hair with a brush and blow dryer.

9. If you must apply mousse, styling gel, and/or hair spray, apply them sparingly. All of these styling aids contain drying chemicals and dull the shine.

10. Brush your hair gently.

11. If you have long hair, use hair accessories instead of rubber bands for ponytails.

12. Avoid chlorine, and when you do swim, wash the chlorine out of your hair as soon as possible after swimming.

13. Avoid excessive exposure to the sun.

14. When you color your hair, there's no need to apply color to your entire head. It may be easier to color your entire head, but repeatedly coloring the ends inflicts more damage and encourages breakage. Instead, apply color to the roots and pull the color through with a wide-tooth comb at the end. Color your entire head no more than twice a year.

15. Use a temporary rinse in between colorings to extend the life of each permanent or semi-permanent color application.

If your hair is beyond help from repeated chemical processes, your last line of defense is a short haircut. Follow the steps above after your haircut to grow manageable, shiny, healthy looking color-treated hair.

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