Up for changing your hair color? You might be ready to grab up a box of hair color and give it a go. You’ve probably picked up each box and wondered “what’s the difference”, right? I have too.
I look at the colors and then I try to decide on the brand. And then I see what the instructions say. But hey… some of them tell you to wash your hair first while others don’t. Some say apply to wet hair while others specify dry hair. Have I been coloring my hair all wrong???
Honestly, if you’re wondering do you apply dye to wet or dry hair?
While you can apply semi-permanent dye to either wet or dry hair, it’s even better to use it on wet or damp hair if it’s peroxide and ammonia free. That being said, you should apply permanent dye only to dry hair, to allow your hair’s natural oils to shield the peroxide’s damaging effect.
That’s what we’re going to explore today. Read on and you’ll find out all you need to know about dyeing your hair whether it’s wet or dry and with permanent or semi-permanent color!
Applying dye to wet hair to protect it from damage
There are some great benefits to dyeing your hair while it’s wet. More specifically, damp is a better word for it.
- The dye gives you a more brilliant color
- It won’t be patchy
- Less damage
- You’ll use less dye which is great for long hair
Again, to be more specific, you want damp hair, not dripping, soaking wet hair. See, when you dye your hair when it’s dry, you wind up having to pin it in layers and apply the dye to each layer to saturate it. This is what gives you a brilliant color. If you don’t get your hair wet with dye, you get patchy results. Who’s done that before? Me! Ugh!
So, if your hair is towel-dried damp, you get the dye in much faster. It’s easier too. And this is why it’s so great for long, thick hair types.
Plus, you wind up using much less dye. If you have really long and thick hair, you might even need to buy 2 boxes of hair dye to color it when you’re doing it on dry hair. While damp, it won’t require so much dye, won’t be patchy, and even better, it will limit the damage because you’re using fewer chemicals.
Most of those box dyes tell you to apply it to dry hair. But hair experts will tell you wet hair is one of the best ways to dye it. It also prevents frizzy, damaged ends by doing it this way. Game changer!
So why do boxes almost always specify dry hair? They advise that you do it on “dirty” hair. Meaning you haven’t washed it the same day. This is so the natural oils in your hair can help protect it, but if you have styling products in your hair, buildup, and dirt, these can all affect how your color turns out.
Once again, when I say “wet” hair, I’m talking about hair that is damp, as in towel-dried. It should not be soaking wet. Comb your damp hair through first so that it’s consistently damp throughout. Then apply the dye. Warm water seems to be ideal for lifting up the cuticles of your strands, which allows for easier color penetration. Try it!
But wait! There is a major exception to this rule…
No matter what… DO NOT EVER BLEACH YOUR HAIR WHEN IT IS DAMP!
And obviously, not when it’s wet either. NEVER!
The reason? There are metals present in the water. These will react with the bleach and you’ll wind up with burns on your scalp. Ouch! You can wash your hair on the same day you do the bleaching, but you should do so much earlier on in the day and only use shampoo. Don’t use conditioner, and make sure your hair is completely dry.
One more super-important tip about dyeing damp hair… you can only do this with semi-permanent dye. You’ll see permanent and semi-permanent hair colors available. It is safe to use semi-permanent color on damp hair because there is no ammonia or peroxide in it, most of the time. To be certain, you MUST check the labels.
So, when employing the damp hair rule on dyeing your hair, you must not be bleaching your hair, you must be using semi-permanent dye, and you must make absolutely certain that your semi-permanent dye of choice has no peroxide or ammonia whatsoever. Got it? Good!
You’re probably wondering what happens with permanent dyes and wet hair, so I’ll get to that shortly, please keep reading!
Why applying semi-permanent to wet hair is better than applying it to dry hair
First, I just want to cover more of the wet hair philosophy for dyeing your hair when using semi-permanent colors. Again, that’s damp hair we’re talking about here, and when I tell you how beautifully it turns out, you’re going to want to order a box of semi-permanent hair dye and try it right now!
When I tried it, my hair had really soaked up the color. It was vibrant, shiny, and gorgeous. It didn’t look dried out or fried. But if you make the mistake of doing it with permanent dye, it’s just not going to come outright. The color won’t go through as well, and can come across as patchy.
You can correct it with another coloring, but that’s more damage right there. Remember, the damp hair trick works with semi-permanent colors that are free of peroxide and ammonia. Permanent hair color will leave you with straw-like strands. You’ll have to do major first aid on it with deep conditioning hair masks to try to correct the dryness.
So, how do you apply semi-permanent hair color to damp hair?
Here are my quick tips for pulling off successful semi-permanent coloring on your damp hair!
- Wash your hair with a sulfate-free shampoo
- Don’t use any conditioner or it will keep the dye from properly pigmenting your hair
- Gently wrap your hair in a towel, being careful not to pull too tight to avoid damage
- Keep the towel on for about 20 minutes
- Apply your semi-permanent dye and follow the rest of the box instructions
I’d also like to point out that if you want to refresh your hair color quickly, you can mix a little conditioner and semi-permanent dye (go 1:1 on the ratio) and let it sit on your hair for about 2 minutes. Rinse it away and style as usual. It’s a superb little trick I like to use when I don’t have time to fully color my hair but need it to look a bit revived. Of course, it won’t last very long (about 2 to 4 washes), so you’ll need to set aside time for a proper dyeing session another time.
Applying dye to dry hair for better results
With permanent dye, as I said before, it’s a different story. You do not want to apply permanent dye to hair that is damp or freshly-washed. Permanent dyes last longer and are a bit better with covering grey hairs.
On the boxes, you’ll see permanent dyes will always recommend you have dry hair.
– They have peroxide
Peroxide is included to draw out your old hair pigment. It’s abrasive, but it makes it easier for that new color to bond with your strands. As such, it’s such a harsh additive that the best way to counter it is by letting your hair’s natural oils safeguard your tresses from the damages.
– Color troubles
Some brands will advise against the damp hair dyeing for permanent dyes because it will affect the way your hair absorbs that dye.
And as I mentioned above, with bleaching components like ammonia, which is in every permanent dye, it can react with the water and lead to some nasty scalp troubles.
For these reasons, I urge you to never use permanent hair dyes on damp hair. Dry hair is a must for permanent dyes.
These chemicals lift the cuticle, so you get deeper color penetration in the fibers of your hair. The sebum from your scalp protects both your scalp and your hair from major damage, as long as you don’t overstay your welcome with the length of time you keep the dye on your head.
Before you use permanent hair color, you should wait a day after washing it or more to apply it. This will protect it even more. It can be helpful to avoid styling products the day before when you wash your hair, so it only has the sebum in it. Brushing it well first will ensure you coat your strands for more protection.
But if you have no choice but to wash your hair the same day as you plan to use permanent hair color, please heed my advice. Use a gentle sulfate-free shampoo on your hair only. Avoid getting it into the scalp and do NOT use conditioner. You’ll want to blow it out completely and heat up the hair.
This primes the hair and gets it ready to soak up the color, especially if you have thick or long hair (or both!). And for an extra special tip, get ready to find out how to work some magic with your roots.
The Secret of Coloring Hair Roots
I’m not talking math roots here, oh boy, would we be in trouble! I mean your hair roots. See, the hair at your roots is hotter. And thus, the heat from your head makes the color come in a few shades lighter.
If you really want to see gorgeous results, put the color on the middle of your hair and tips. THEN apply it to your roots. I always did it the other way with the roots first, and after learning this trick, I won’t do it any other way. It does take some time to get it right, but this little tip can really change the way you color.
With coloring your hair using permanent dye, slightly dirty hair that is dry is best. But that “dirty” refers to the oils naturally present in your hair. It’s never a good idea to dye your hair when you haven’t washed it, and you have gobs of gel, mousse, and other styling products in there. So, if you’ve got heavily styled hair, it’s a good idea to wash it like I described above and dry it really well first. Even at the salon, they will give you a light wash without stimulating your scalp, blow it out, let it cool a bit, and then apply that color.
Always remember that no matter what kind of dye you’re using, you should always check what the manufacturer specifies on the box. Read the ingredients and be sure you know what you’re in for. The damp hair trick is only for use with semi-permanent or even demi-permanent colors.
Even as such, you’ll want to double-check the labels to ensure there’s no peroxide or ammonia in the formula. If there is, you should leave your hair dry before applying. Natural semi-permanent choices like the ones I cover HERE will really look dynamic if you try them on damp hair.
If you MUST wash your hair prior to dyeing it, only use shampoo and skip the conditioner, so you get the best possible pigmenting. And again, with semi-permanent, you can leave your hair damp, but with permanent, it must be dry. Regardless of dye type, don’t massage that scalp. I know you should always aim to give it a nice gentle massage when shampooing on other occasions to boost hair growth, but this is the exception to that rule.
And finally, if you’re doing permanent on dry hair, make sure that hair is completely dry. Not a hint of dampness! For semi-permanent, if you want to try the dyeing process on damp hair, it should be uniformly damp, not dripping wet. Always check in with your ends to ensure they’re not dribbling water away.
Hopefully, these tips will help you get the results you’re “dyeing” for!