Girl touching her hair and wondering if it's too greasy to color

Can you color greasy hair?

We’re often told when we color our hair with permanent color that we should do it on “dirty” hair. Every box of permanent dye I’ve seen usually advises this. But can you color greasy hair?

You can certainly color greasy hair, as having your hair a bit on the naturally oily side of things when you go to prime it with permanent dye tends to help it lock in a more vibrant hue. However you need to make sure your hair isn’t too greasy but rather have a day or two of natural sebum buildup.

When you go to the salon, if your hair is really dirty and greasy, your stylist will likely have you head to the sinks for washing. But you’ll likely notice they won’t be scrubbing your scalp. A good bit of natural hair oil goes a long way.

However, they’re likely not washing it because it’s too greasy. If you’ve got lots of product buildup on there, that’s a bit different than good ol’ greasiness. There’s some tips for washing prior to dyeing, which I’ve written about here, but generally speaking, you’ll want to color on your greasy hair.

So, can you color greasy hair? Yes! And you should! The results will be even better. Keep reading and I’ll explain more about why that is and how to know whether it’s just the right amount of greasy or too greasy.

Why dying greasy hair can be beneficial

Wondering why you want your hair to be a little bit on the greasy side? Those natural oils from the sebum that comes out of your scalp coat your hair. The result is softness and shine. That natural oil also helps protect the inner workings of your hair’s composition from dangerous chemicals and pollution.

Some of us have very well-regulated sebum production on the scalp. Others have overproduction. It’s basically like what happens to your face when it goes overboard with the oil production. In straight hair, it can lead to a super-greasy appearance. If you have curls, you may only appear greasy at the roots. Brushing it through with the right type of hair brush can help redistribute that oil and nourish your hair naturally. In fact, I just talked about hair brushes recently, so be sure to check that out!

In a perfect world though, it would just be that natural oil on your hair. But then other things come into play. Think hair gel, mousse, styling sprays, and more. On top of that, there are dust particles and dead skin cells. Yuck.

Having too much of those other things can get in the way of the dye, but if your hair is only slightly greasy and you’ve kept it free of added styling products just prior to dyeing, it will be great!

The reason you want a bit of a greasiness though is that with permanent dyes in particular, they have chemicals that can irritate your scalp. They can also damage your hair. The natural oils coating your stands can help prevent much of this irritation.

Doing a deep cleansing wash prior to dyeing your hair isn’t ideal unless your hair is truly so greasy and covered with buildup that you have to remove it. But even then, you’ll want to aim for at least 24 hours prior. Try not to wash it though because the peroxide and ammonia in those permanent hair dyes can be very uncomfortable on the scalp.

Ask a stylist and they’ll likely agree. Hair that’s too clean becomes more slippery. When that happens, it’s harder to get the color to take hold. However, too much greasiness can work against you. Your hair needs to be somewhere in between these extremes so that the hair color can stick your strands.

And when there’s styling buildup on there, it also impedes the process. So, long story short, aim for a happy medium. Let’s talk more about that below. Keep reading!

How greasy your hair can be before dying it

I’m about to clear up the mystery as to what is considered too greasy when dyeing your hair with permanent color. Perhaps you’ve gone for a more rustic look and haven’t washed your hair in a number of days. Like 5 days. I personally couldn’t go that long… I think 3 days is my max. But if your roots are glistening with your natural oils, it’s too greasy.

Stylists will tell you that when your hair is too greasy, it’s harder to hold color to it. It can also make it more difficult to cover grays. Of course, we all have different hair, and we all have different levels of oil our scalps produce. Some of you will have hair that is too greasy the day after washing it. Others won’t be too greasy until a few days later.

To know if it’s too greasy and dirty, you should note how your hair feels and looks. And if it smells, well, there’s your answer.

So, if you’re planning to dye your hair and your hair can naturally grease itself back into a ponytail, you’d better fit in a quick washing before you do the deed.

Keep in mind though that you shouldn’t apply permanent hair dye to wet or damp hair. I talk about that HERE, so give it a quick read. Basically, you’ll want to allow your hair enough time to be fully dry.

My favorite plan of action is to wash my hair the night before if it feels to gamey to go forward with dyeing it the next day. This way, it’s got all that extra buildup removed and is primed for dyeing.

Why you shouldn’t dye your hair if it’s too greasy

I’d like to present some arguments from other stylists who are on the same page with the washing of the hair the night before rather than letting that oil coagulate for a day or two. Just the right amount of natural hair oils is best. If you’ve loaded your hair up with styling products and haven’t washed it, you’d better make time 24 hours before you go to your stylist or you do it yourself. If not, you’ll be making things much more difficult.

And should you be pampering yourself at the salon, it’s very likely your stylist will wash your hair if it’s too greasy to work with for the dyeing session. Not sure? Give a call first and find out their preference. Generally speaking though, most people will have just the right amount of natural oils present in their hair if they wash it 24 hours prior to dyeing it. Be sure that you get a good brush like I mentioned before so you can help spread the natural oils all along your hair shaft to protect every inch of your strands and to keep the greasiness from building up on your scalp.

There are a few more rules though, if you’re doing it yourself. If you order the beauty supplies you need rather than going with a box kit, no matter if it’s semi-permanent, or permanent, and you use a developer lower than 20, your hair will turn out best if you use clarifying shampoo the day before.

What about lifting the hair? If you’re using bleach or a permanent dye and developer over 20, your hair will do best when it’s a little greasier. This keeps it from drying out during the process. And drying out your hair while dyeing it is a bad thing. It will be more prone to breakage and look sloppy and frizzy.

While it’s true that permanent hair dye paired with a developer that’s 20 or higher can certainly get through the grease, buildup will be the enemy. You want the dye pigments to do what they’re designed to do. So, avoid anything with silicones in your styling products. Because so many things we put in our hair have silicones, it’s really a good idea to wash it the night before and refrain from adding any additional product into your hair until you color it.

Hair oil products are another potential problem. They can add to the oiliness and dilute the pigments in your dye. They can also lower the pH of that dye and totally wreck your outcome.

So, in summary:

  • When going lighter, have some natural oils on your scalp
  • Make sure the mid-length portion and ends have some oil to them by brushing it through
  • Stay away from silicones, polymers, or mineral oils after shampooing
  • Find your happy-medium with greasiness
  • Too much of your natural oils and too little of it can leave you feeling glum about your dye job

If you’re going to the stylist, you’ll be in good hands, but if you’re doing it yourself, this is so important to remember. And with everything going on in the world right now, chances are you’ve got tons of time on your hands to stay inside and give it a go. Now you know just what to do!

Other tips before dyeing your hair

Here are a few more things you’d better keep in mind before getting your dye ready to go!

  • If you have gray hairs, be cautious about greasy your hair is, or you won’t get good coverage no matter how good a brand of hair dye you buy
  • Dry scalps, especially with dandruff, should be washed with a mild shampoo. Even baby shampoo would help to get the flakes and oils away. Make sure you dry your hair first though!
  • Bleaching your hair when it’s greasier is ideal to keep it protected from the harsh chemicals.
  • Regulate that greasiness by brushing your hair first. You don’t want patchy results.
  • Curly-haired girl? Definitely wash and condition the night before. This helps protect your strands from the chemicals.
  • Try some baby powder first. Add it to the scalp, let it sit a few minutes, then brush it out. It will absorb just enough of the oil to make coloring your hair more effective.
  • But don’t dry shampoo. It could lead to an uneven shade.

And this is a special note for my girls with extra oily hair. Yes, you. The one who washes her hair at night, goes to bed, and wakes up greasy all over again.

If this sounds like your hair, you should take care not to aggravate it. After all, if your hair is producing that much excess sebum, it’s pretty much just like the skin on your face. When it’s being overly dried out, the skin (scalp too!) overcompensates and produces more. You’ll only get more oil if you scrub and brush too much.

Instead, wash it, then pin it up and leave it be. You don’t want oils from your hands getting in there either, so don’t touch your hair unless your hands have just been washed. You can also do the baby powder trick I mentioned above. Choose a natural formulation as it won’t alter the outcome of how the dye takes hold. Only a little bit is needed on the roots, then brush it away and you’ll be ready and primed to give your hair color.


When you dye your hair, especially with permanent dye, you will want your hair to be slightly on the greasy side. It shouldn’t look so greasy that you’d normally cover it with a baseball cap and call it a day. And it shouldn’t be so loaded up with styling products that it’s dirty.

Your ideal hair prior to dyeing with permanent color is washed the day before without added styling products. This allows the dyes to do what they do best while incurring less damage to your scalp and strands. The lighter you’re going with color, like a bleach job, the better it is to be a bit greasy. If you’re trying to cover up grays though, you’ll want to keep it minimally greasy to get the best coverage.

Strike the right balance and you’ll find dyeing your hair at home is even easier than ever!


My name is Hajer and welcome to my site. This is my little haven, my outlet, where I can express myself, and show you everything I've learned about makeup, skincare, hair tips, and so much more, as well as the different beauty mistakes I've made so that you can avoid them.

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