Why Won't My Hair Take Color

Why Won’t My Hair Take Color

Are you seasonal with your hair color? I know plenty of women that love to lighten things up just a hair, pardon the pun, as the weather warms. Then as pumpkin spice lattes pop back onto menus, they’re trending toward darker shades.

But sometimes, it’s not so easy to change color. In fact, many women run into the predicament of dyeing their hair only for the color to not take. How is that even possible?!

Oh, it’s possible. Sometimes your hair won’t hold the new color. For example, you have medium brown hair and try to change it, but it only gets a very slight reddish tint to it.

Dyeing it over again is like beating a dead horse. It’s just going to waste time. But how do you get past this hair hurdle?

As it turns out, there is no one magical answer as to why this is happening, though there are a ton of reasons why your hair won’t take color.

In order to help you, I’ve compiled them all here so you can figure out what might be to blame for your hair problems plus what you can do to solve them based on what’s keeping your hair from locking in that color.

Read on and discover how to get your next best dye job!

Why Won’t My Hair Take Color

Your hair could be too greasy, or you might have left the dye in too long, washed the color out too soon after applying it or used the wrong dye or developer, but even if you’ve ticked all the right boxes your diet could be the reason why your hair won’t take color.

So, there are basically gobs of reasons why your hair isn’t holding color. But it’s not all bad news since there are ways around each of these situations. You’re about to learn all about why your hair won’t take color and get the change you want to see!

The Roots Are Stronger than the Rest of Your Hair

This is why virgin hair won’t take color as well, so if you’ve never colored before, this could be why nothing seems new. The chemicals in the dyes need to loosen those outer layers of your hair so the new color can bond to your strands. When cuticle layers are damaged, the color takes easier.

According to a 2015 study, semi-permanent dyes use van der Walls force to bond to your hair without penetrating the cuticles, however, small molecules can sometimes diffuse into it especially if it’s been damaged before.

But even if you’ve dyed your hair before, the roots are stronger than the rest of your hair. So here’s what to do to fix the problem when your hair dye isn’t taking to your roots:

  • You should leave the color on your roots for longer and wait to rinse it. The instructions in most kits will say about 20 minutes to process. Add 10 minutes to that to help penetrate your hair.
  • You may have to color your roots several times to get them to take color. Set aside some of the color and then after rinsing, give it another go.
  • Mix the rest of your dye together and do it again. It damages the hair and gets the dye to take.
  • Experimentation is always the key. You have to get more familiar with your hair. If you can’t seem to get color where you want it, you might need to consult your colorist for professional help.

You Left the Dye in Your Hair for Too Long

Sometimes, you might not see your hair take color because you’re leaving it on too long. When this happens, you take away the dimensions of color. Lucky for you, this one is really easy to fix.

All you need is a good clarifying shampoo!

Wash it, and you should see the results you want, though be prepared that it may take more than one washing. Again, if you don’t see the change you want even after checking it in 5 to 10 minutes intervals, you’ll want to go see your stylist to get help.

You’re Not Using the Right Developer

According to the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) a developer is essential for making color come out. When you buy a box kit, it will usually include the developer necessary to get the colors it features on the box.

When you buy these things separately, you have to know the golden rule of developers. So, what’s this golden rule?

Basically, for darker hair, use volume 10 developer. If you want lighter, go with a stronger volume. Anything between 30 and 50 should do it.

Want to go lighter by 2 shades? Then 20 volume is ideal.

Also, if you’re white hair won’t take color and you want to cover it and go darker, you should avoid volume 30 or higher as it won’t cover them at all.

Maybe the Dye You’re Using Is the One to Blame

Don’t be guilty of buying a brand of hair color just because it’s the cheapest option. You really do get what you pay for, and the cost you pay is subpar hair color.

You don’t have to spend a fortune either, but look into the best brands and see why they are rated so well. See the ingredients they use and choose wisely based on your hair color, texture, and health.

That being said, you can’t expect to go from dark brown to blonde using a semi-permanent hair color, because according to the study I’ve mentioned earlier it has a shallower penetration level than a permanent dye.

So, if you went down that road and didn’t get the desired color, I’ve done a very detailed post on how to apply permanent hair dye over a semi-permanent dye!

Basically, each brand has a different technology and can make it or break it as far as how long your color will last and how it will nourish your hair. Hair dye has come a long way from when our moms used to color their hair, so be sure to explore your options.

Not All the Colors Stick the Same

Another important fact about hair dye is that it is composed of a bunch of different pigments. And the more they have, the longer it will last. Some colors like purple have a whopping 8,000 pigment molecules! Darker colors will last longer than lighter ones.

The lighter the color is that you use, the more you need to lift the cuticles to get the color you want. When the cuticle is open though, less color gets locked in.

And of course, lifting via bleach can damage your hair so you should know what you’re doing first, perhaps even get it done professionally, before you cause irreparable damage.

Color Doesn’t Lift Color

I am guilty of this myself though this is also one of the biggest mistakes my friends have made too. You can’t take a dark hair dye and put a lighter one on top. That’s not going to work.

What’s happening here is that you’re just dumping more molecules of color into the hair shaft with those other dark colors and making your hair darker. If you want it lighter, you have to lift the hair first, or you’re just going darker and darker.

According to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI) there are only two methods to change your hair color, either you go the bleaching route, more on that later, or you apply the right color that can cover the one you currently have.

One of my friends colored her hair brown. She washed it a few times and then decided to apply a blonde dye to her hair. The result was her hair stayed brown.

It can’t lift out this way as it just deposits pigment. So if you’re trying to go blonde, you’ll need to either follow my steps for that in my other posts for bleaching, or you’ll need to go to the salon.

You May Be Suffering from Vitamin Deficiency

How well are you taking care of your inner health? Lack of sufficient vitamin stores inside your body can be a factor. In fact, it can change the hair dyeing process.

I’ve done the research and came across a study stating that micronutrient or vitamin deficiency could impact both your hair structure and hair growth.

With the right nutrition you’ll be sure the color spreads and absorbs properly. The study also touched on the importance of protein as a macronutrient, so you may also find success with a colorless protein filler prior to dyeing your hair, but you should keep using that filler to help lock the color in for longer.

Hair porosity can change with time for many reasons, from hair damage, to your own health, to even the process of aging.

If you never had trouble before and now that you’re a bit older, it can’t hurt to improve your diet and use a protein filler to help heal your hair and get the color you’re dreaming of.

You’re Coloring Your Hair When It’s Too Greasy

I’ve written about letting your hair be a little dirty or greasy before coloring, especially if you’re bleaching it so you can protect your scalp.

However, there is such a thing as having too much buildup. Clarifying before dyeing even in the 12 to 24 hours before coloring can greatly help.

If you have product or hair treatments in your hair, you’ll wind up with patchy, blotchy-looking hair. You need to remove these things first as they keep your hair from absorbing color.

Henna and gloss treatments coat your hair and block it from getting color, so if you’ve used those, this is why the dye you’re trying to use now isn’t giving you proper results.

Relaxing or Perming Your Hair Shortly after Coloring It

Look, I know you want to either smooth out those pesky curls for good or add permanent bounce. But if you also want color, you’re going to have to pick and choose. At least temporarily.

If you dye your hair too soon after one of these treatments, you will put it through too much and strip out your natural color. Your best bet is to wait just a few weeks from perming or straightening and then go for color.

I found in study published in the International Journal of Trichology that using semi-permanent hair dyes rather than permanent ones is the way to go, for their lack of harsh chemicals such as ammonia can lead to a gentler action and so the dye process won’t open your cuticles (more on that shortly).

The study did however point out that even when planning to use semi-permanent dyes, you should wait 15 days after your last straightening.

Your Cuticles Are Open

And of course, what I just mentioned above could inflict a world of hurt on your precious locks. Over-processed and damaged hair has open cuticles, and then it can’t get that color. You might want to head to a pro to let them get your hair on the mend.

This is where a protein filler like we talked about earlier will come in handy first. Your hair cuticle is peeled up, like a roof after a hurricane blows through town, and the shingles are all over the place.

Your cuticles need to lie flat, and when hair is damaged, they can’t do that.

Go darker, and you will want to keep away from shampoos that clarify or promise volumizing benefits since they will lift the cuticles and cause your color to fade out with the quickness.

And another thing, watch out when you’re out in the sun. That will do it too.

According to the same study I’ve mentioned earlier, you can use conditioners to seal the cuticles; however, you need to choose the right one for your specific color, or things can go awry.

A vinegar rinse after you color and ever now and then will also help get your cuticles to go back to a smooth and normal state too.

You Washed Your Hair Too Soon after Coloring It

Washing your hair right before coloring, and I mean like right before, is a bad idea. The same is true of washing it right after. You want to have your hair a little dirty, but not so greasy that it looks disgusting.

The color needs to lock onto your hair, so if you want it to last, don’t wash it right away after the coloring.

You’re Using the Wrong Shampoo and Conditioner

You might love your shampoo and conditioner, but after you color, you need to use something created for color-enhancing or, at the very least, retaining your new color.

If you really like the brand, see if they have a shampoo and conditioner that can take on the task of new hair color or look for another brand that does.

Olaplex’s shampoo and conditioner, always give me the best results and they’ve been my top choice for years now, they’re sulfate-free and color-safe. I have never had any issues with fading or brassiness when using these products.

In fact, my hair always looks brighter and more vibrant after using Olaplex’s shampoo and conditioner. Plus, they make my hair feel incredibly soft and silky, which is a huge bonus in my opinion.

I was so excited to find them on Amazon, as they’re normally only available for licensed professionals, but you’ll have to order them separately since they don’t come in one pack check out the above links to get them.

Olaplex No.5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner
  • Repairs Hair
  • Reduces Breakage
  • Adds Shine
  • Vegan / Sulfate- and Paraben-Free / Balanced pH
  • Perfect for All Hair Types
View on Amazon

You’re Drying Your Hair Out with over Washing

Washing your hair every day is not necessary. Your hair needs those natural oils. Of course, too much of a good thing can muck things up as well. Every other day or so, skip washing. This will keep your hair from becoming overly dried out.

And as I just mentioned, when you do wash your hair, use shampoo and conditioner made for color-treated hair. Ideally, something that doesn’t lather up so much is best because it won’t strip out as much color, or the natural oils your hair needs to be supple and hydrated.

The Water Temperature Is Too Hot

I love a good, hot shower, but I’ve had to mend my ways. It can dry out your skin. And while it does clear out your pores, it’s not ideal for color-treated hair. Adjust the temperature to warm, especially if you have red hair. Then follow with a refreshing cool rinse to seal it.

You’re Showering with Hard Water

Hard water causes all kinds of problems, especially for hair. If you have hard water in your home, minerals are being deposited to your hair (and skin too! Ick!) For colored hair; it will fade it out fast.

The best way to correct this problem is to invest in a water purifier to soften the water. You’ll notice the difference immediately. It’s worth it!

You Swim

I love swimming. It’s such fantastic exercise and so refreshing on a hot day. However, chlorinated water is not your friend. It’s awful for hair and can make it drier and more damaged. Think split ends and breakage. If you’re going to make a splash, keep your head above water or get a swimming cap to protect your hair.

You’re Staying Out in the Sun for Too Long

If the sun’s rays fade out your patio furniture and beach towels, imagine what they’re doing to your hair! When you stay in the sun for long stretches, you’ll fade your hair color faster.

Put on a hat instead, which won’t just save your hair color but will also protect your precious scalp from sunburn.

If you’ve never had a sunburn on your scalp, trust me when I say you do NOT want one. When it peels, it looks like the nastiest case of dandruff ever.

You should also use protection sprays that guard against UV rays, not just to keep your hair color intact but also to keep your hair healthy.

You’re Using Hot Tools to Style Your Hair

If you’re going to use those heat styling tools, you need to care for your hair with deep conditioning treatments. You should do this before coloring over the course of a few weeks to build strength in your hair.

You may also trim your ends to freshen things up. Doing so will reduce much of the fading. Your hair will fade faster when it’s damaged. The good news is it will look ombre, which is still trendy, but you want your hair to look healthy.

Unhealthy hair looks fried out and dried out, and it won’t matter if the color looks cool if your hair looks like it’s dead right down to its soul.

Your Hair Is Too Porous

When the damage has been severe from heat styling and chemicals, your hair becomes too porous and won’t hold color. Sure, it will stick on there, but it will fade away super-fast. You’ll have to heal your hair first to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Here’s how to repair your hair to keep that new hair color from disappearing on you:

  • Trim it often! Split ends mean dry hair, and you need that gone so you can have a beautiful color that sticks around.
  • Do a deep conditioning! Aim for twice a week at minimum, letting it sit for at least 5 minutes, even on the roots.
  • Never use sulfates! Sulfates are horrible for all hair, especially color-treated hair. Make sure the shampoo and conditioner you use doesn’t have it.
  • Cool it! You should never use hot water in the shower. Go with warm water instead.
  • Don’t shampoo every single day! Let your hair get dirty for a day or two in between.
  • Cancel out the heat! Now is not the time to blow out your hair, curl it with your wand, or use a flat iron. Avoid it as much as you possibly can.
  • See your stylist! Once a month is ideal for making a trip to your favorite hair pro. This will ensure you get your hair in tip-top condition to take on a new color.

You Bleached Your Hair before Coloring It

If you did the bleach thing and then tried to color it, we’ve got some work to do. Bleaching uses chemicals that strip hair of the natural oils it should have. When you go to a stylist, this can be minimized, but if you accidentally went overboard at home, you might find yourself with a head of dry and brittle hair.

You might think it will look better if you dye it. The color will come on, and you’ll think you did a good job until it fades away. It won’t last. The thing is, you need to fix your hair before you dye it. Getting it healthy first minimizes damages.

What can you do now?

  • Stay away from shampoo! Just for a few days, at least. You should rinse it and condition it though. That’s fully encouraged. You should deep condition, leaving it in for 15 minutes. Go read or watch something and then rinse it out.
  • Don’t rub your hair when it’s wet! This can inflict more damage on it. Instead, use a soft towel or t-shirt to gently press the water out without rubbing or wringing.
  • Choose moisturizing formulas! With shampoo, you need one that is focused on moisturizing. It must be sulfate-free as I mentioned above, but if you can find a shampoo that moisturizes and repairs damage, it will get stronger and be better prepared for your next dye job.
  • Try olive oil! If you heat a little bit of pure extra virgin olive oil, then let it cool a little and work it into damp hair down to the ends, you’ll find success. Leave it in for an hour, then rinse, shampoo, and condition.
  • Moisturize through foods! If you have an avocado you’re willing to spare; you can mash one up along with a tablespoon of mayonnaise and apply it to hair. You can do this to wet or dry hair. Put focus on the ends first, then the rest of your hair. Use a plastic shower cap and relax for 15 minutes. Once time is up, wash it out and condition.
  • Go to the salon! Again, your stylist can help you get back on track with your hair. A professional trim or cut, along with a deep conditioning will help mend your hair-harming ways.


I’ve covered the many reasons why your hair won’t take color. If you were disappointed that your hair didn’t look any different or the color faded away too quickly, one of these points above are the likely culprit.

Fortunately, now that you know what went wrong, you can avoid it the next time. It all boils down to keeping your hair healthy. Focus on what you can do to keep it in the best condition so that when you do a new color, it will stick around and look glorious.


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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