I know I’m not alone in saying that when I’ve dyed my hair at previous points in my life that my scalp felt itchy. That’s much thanks to the chemicals. And while you might not have a serious allergic reaction, that itchiness and irritation can drive you mad.
As you’re supposed to leave the dye on your hair for a specified amount of time, the longer it sits, the more the chemicals can cause irritation. In some cases, they can burn your scalp and leave you with a rash that keeps itching.
That’s often why your stylist or even your at-home box of dye will instruct you to dye upon unwashed hair. The natural oils from your scalp, known as sebum, have your back (or head in this case) by keeping a protective layer on that tender skin up there. While it can certainly help, it won’t absolve you of all irritation.
But that’s only part of it.
One of the most important points about not washing your hair right before coloring it is that you could scratch your scalp as you massage it in the shower. Those little scratches from your fingernails can be more prone to irritation from the chemicals in the dye.
So, what will happen if you dye your hair the same day you washed it?
Good question! Ask any stylist and they’ll tell you they probably have to answer it every single day.
In the olden days, color products were harsher than they are now. So, advising clientele to leave hair unwashed was the norm because those natural oils kept the tingling from taking over and prevented a fair amount of staining. Especially with bleaching, it was very important for those seeking to color their hair to follow.
Somehow though, the message got a bit muddled up over time. While the dyes are gentler now, there is a need for a little natural oil up there. But the dirtier the hair doesn’t mean the better the color.
You are far better off with a little oil on your scalp, but there’s no need to leave several days of unwashed and greasy hair on your head. Here, I’ll show you what will happen if you dye your hair the same day you washed it and other important tips for getting your color to look the picture of perfection, so keep reading!
How long should you wait before dyeing freshly washed hair?
Since just about every hair dye out there is created to work on hair that hasn’t just been washed minutes or hours ago, it’s ideal not to wash your hair. At least not just prior to dyeing.
Permanent hair dye is supposed to be applied to dry hair. If you had to wash your hair before dyeing it, you’d need to dry it first. To spend all that time drying it just to saturate it with dye, wash it out, condition, and style yet again is a huge pain in the rear!
But alas, you don’t have to be a greasy-haired lass either. The best time to wash your hair is the night before you dye it. This allows your hair enough time to create natural oils to protect your scalp without it being too dirty or greasy. Plus, done this way, your hair will absorb the color better and come out looking amazing!
It’s so important that you avoid having product buildup on your hair too. You might not look or feel like you have too much oil on your scalp, but if you styled it with gels, mousses, and other products, those have to go. Your best option is to wash your hair 12 to 24 hours (ideally closer to the 24-hour mark) prior to dyeing it.
Here are some of my best tips for getting that clean hair, or hair that is washed 24 hours prior, to get your ultimate hair dye results:
- Wash your hair! The minimum time you should leave from washing to dyeing is 12 hours. 24 hours is preferred though. It means the hair is clean enough, yet has plenty of natural oil to protect your scalp.
- Don’t scrub! Be gentle when washing your hair, or you’ll create scratches in the scalp that will really sting when dyeing or bleaching.
- Workout queens, wash, wash, wash! If you’re a gym rat, make sure your hair color doesn’t resemble drowned rat. You should plan your workout to include a post-workout shower with hair wash in plenty of time before you dye your hair. The extra oils and sweat up there won’t bode well in this situation.
- Clean out coverups! If you sprayed on color to cover your roots until you had a chance to dye them, you must wash it out first. Without doing so, you won’t get proper coverage for grays, and your dye job will look inferior.
- Don’t use dry shampoo! For those of you whose last shampooing was of the dry variety, get into the shower. Dry shampoo can leave a barrier on the scalp and make for a very patchy dye job.
- Avoid excessive styling products! Non-oily products are fine, but everything else should be cleansed away.
- Dry hair is best for permanent dye! You can do semi-permanent dye on damp hair (I’ve discussed this in another post), but permanent needs to be on dry hair. Plus, when lightening the color, wet hair is more vulnerable to breakage when it’s being sectioned off. You want to be gentle and kind to your hair before exposing it to dyeing chemicals.
When greasy hair is a must for dye application and when you should avoid it
I’d like to put a few myths to rest here. For starters, dirty hair isn’t always better. But “dirty” isn’t exactly what you’re imagining. Stop picturing Pigpen from those old Charlie Brown cartoons. It’s not like that!
When I talk about hair being dirty, I mean that it hasn’t just been washed in less than 12 hours from the time you dye it. Letting some natural sebum build-up will be very beneficial for you when you’re bleaching or lightening your hair to keep it from being irritated.
If you wash it too close to the time of coloring, you alter the porosity of all the hairs on your head. Basically, it means you make it too slippery for the dye to adhere, and it won’t penetrate as deep to give you brilliant color. That 24-hour lead time allows you to build up enough sebum without it being too greasy, so your scalp stays protected.
I realize that the term “greasy” can be subjective at best, so I want to bring further clarity to that to help you get the best dye job out of your hair. For all dyes like semi-permanent, semi-permanent, and of course, permanent, when you put it with a developer that’s less than 20 volume, you should use clarifying shampoo on the day before to keep the oils from being excessive and give you plenty of penetration. This is ideal for formulations that are super-low on peroxide or contain none at all.
Lifting via bleach and permanent style colors and using over 20 volume developer means you will want to have your hair ever-so-slightly greasy to keep moisture in your hair strands. Otherwise, you get a head full of straw and look like a scarecrow. Not only that, you’d increase the chances of breakage, and that’s something you want to always avoid.
While this second scenario could technically cut through the oil, removing that buildup to ensure pigments penetrate properly will give you the best results. So, stay away from anything that might have silicone, including your conditioner and avoid styling products. You should also read labels for anything that might have mineral or petroleum oils and polymers. You’ll usually see these in any type of hairspray, gel, or mousse.
Those hair oils are great for extra nourishment, especially the natural varieties, but use a gentle hand. Even if you’re not dyeing your hair anytime soon, too much of it can give you an unwashed greasy look that won’t do you any favors. But when you’re dyeing your hair, be exceptionally cognizant of this as too much can dilute the pigments in your color and lower the pH of the water you’re using, which will result in a look you might not be bargaining for.
So, in short:
- Leave a little natural oil on your scalp for lighter colors and bleaching and add only a touch mid-length to the ends, so it’s soft rather than slick.
- Avoid silicone, mineral oil, petroleum oil, or polymers prior to dyeing your hair.
- Shampoo only the day before.
- Protect your hair properly when going blonde to minimize damage. For going way lighter than your shade, please go to a stylist for this. They can make you look great while minimizing the damage.
- Keep up your hair health, no matter the color you choose. Using nourishing products and protecting it when styling will keep it healthy.
A special set of tips for going blonde…
If you want to bleach your hair safely to see if blondes really do have more fun, then make sure your hair is “dirty” and oily. For going blonde, you will want to have a little more time than the night before of washing. Those natural oils are essential for keeping your scalp from irritation.
Some stylists will even say, especially if it’s your first time going blonde, to leave a few days between washing and dyeing before coming in. And if you have chemically-processed hair from a perm, straightening, or another previous color, you should deep condition starting the week before. Something with coconut oil would be ideal.
Perhaps you love the gym and need to wash your hair the night before because you got too sweaty. In this case, you’d want to cover your hair with coconut oil after your shampooing and leave it overnight to protect it from damage during the dye session.
But these are all general rules of thumb here. Too greasy, and your hair won’t absorb the color well, especially if you’re trying to cover grays or roots. A simple solution may be to just rinse your hair prior to using the dye, but do read up on my tips about dyeing your hair wet. You’ll have poor results with permanent types of dyes.
Why clean hair is better for dye application
Clean hair absorbs the hair color best. When you have too much built up on your strands, it can ruin the whole process. This is why you should wash your hair the night before to get those perfect results. It’s the best combination of sebum for protection yet clean strands for absorption.
Hair color also lasts longer when hair is cleaner. If you’re going for a darker color or pairing with your naturally dark hair, clean will work better for you. Just that overnight accumulation of sebum will prime the scalp. But for those doing a big blonde, get it a little dirtier than that to keep your scalp safe.
How long should you wait before washing colored hair?
And then, once the deed is done and the dye has been applied, rinsed out, and your hair is styled and lovely, you might be wondering when you can or should wash it again.
Some say washing it with shampoo while your clearing the dye out is what you should do. Your head won’t explode if you do and your hair won’t fall out. But more often than not, you’ll be advised to simply rinse it and follow it with the conditioner in the kit.
It’s not a known factor whether hair will fade in color if you wash it right after the treatment, but if you want to be certain your hue stays in place, keep away from the shampoo. Your hair cuticle is open at this time and can be more susceptible to damage as well as fading if you slather shampoo on right after. To err on the side of caution, rinse your hair exceedingly well in the shower as you wash that dye out. Be certain it is all gone and the water coming off your hair is running clear as a pristine stream. Then, apply that conditioner and seal the deal.
But what about AFTER that? Well, I think a good 24 hours is plenty though you can wait more, especially if your hair looks shiny and beautiful. Why rush it? The longer you can wait, the better it will be, but there’s no need to let it get gamey.
Depending on the type of dye you use and the color (darker or lighter), you may want a little more natural oil in your hair to serve as a buffer to your tender scalp. Generally, you’ll be fine with 24 hours of lead time from washing to dyeing. But if you’re bleaching, maybe extend that just a bit to protect your scalp even better.
When you’re done coloring your hair, you should always follow up with the right conditioner to smooth things out and lock in the color. Enjoy the way it looks and keep from washing it as long as you can after to retain the most brilliance and revel in your restored beauty!