By Audrey Sivasothy, author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care
When it comes to maintaining healthy hair, most folks will tell you— moisture is the key. In fact, “moisture, moisture, moisture” is one of the first things we learn as hair care newbies in this big strange world of hair regimens and hair care. And let’s face it— when your head is home to one of the most amazing (and yes, thirstiest) types of hair on the planet, you quickly learn the value of moisture. Certainly, water is not the enemy— or is it? Besides the common battles we all face with dew points, rain and humidity—water enjoys the villain role in another area of hair care. Color preservation.
If your hair is color-treated and you are interested in keeping it fresh and vibrant, water is more like a “frenemy.” Although water (and other moisturizing products) is a primary requirement for the maintenance and stability of our hair fibers, it always works against color retention. While permanent colors resist fading much longer than other types of color— even they are no match for water exposure over time. No color can remain as true as it was on Day 1.
So when does water’s Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde act really kick into high gear?
When You Are Cleansing Too Often
Actually, I should probably say— when you are cleansing too often to maintain high impact color, because “too often” is relative depending on whether your goal is hydration or color safety. The primary way that water works against color fastness is through regular cleansing, especially if you are using the wrong products (i.e, harsh shampoos/weak conditioners). Daily rinsing and washing the hair more than 2–3 times per week rarely results in lasting color, although it may be perfectly timed to maintain the hydration you need.
No matter which type of hair color you have used (i.e., permanent, semi-permanent or temporary), each wash session swells the fiber and pulls a little color from the hair. Temporary colors are always lifted fastest because they are superficially deposited on the hair fiber. Reds give the brightest punch out of the bottle, but are the fastest colors to fade because the pigments are small and leech easily from porous hair. For best results, allow your new hair color to settle at least a day or two after the initial color job before introducing water via your shampooing and conditioning process.
When Your Water is Too Hot
Not only is hot water drying to textured hair (color-treated or not), but hot water leads to hot hair which also fades and leeches color. Always cleanse and condition your color-treated hair in warm to cool water. After conditioning the hair, do a final rinse in the coldest water you can stand. This final rinse will seal the cuticle and impart amazing shine to your strands. If color preservation is your goal, avoid long trysts under the dryer— what did we say about hot hair again? Hot hair=Bye bye bold color! Color-treated hair is already somewhat porous if it accepted your color in the first place, so most conditioners won’t need extra antics to work well on this type of hair. In fact, conditioners always work better on color-treated and other “damaged” hair types.
When Your Water is Hard
Shampooing and conditioning your hair in hard water or water that is partially chlorinated will also strip your hair color. Hard water loads the hair fiber down with metal ions and scale that can quickly evaporate your shine and vibrancy— not to mention dry your hair out to a crisp. If your water is hard, or if you are a regular swimmer, consider purchasing a chelating shampoo for regular color maintenance. For longer-term results, a good water filter (although expensive) may buy you several more weeks of vibrant hair color.
Although water definitely works against color preservation in a number of ways, it is certainly a necessity in any color-treated hair care regimen. Maintaining a proper moisture/protein balance with color-treated hair is critical—especially when the hair is color-treated to the lightest colors of the hair color palette (the honeys, golds, blondes and ambers). Check out The Science of Black Hair (pp. 181–192) for specific ways to preserve your color-treated hair with strategically placed protein and moisture deep conditioning treatments.
Ladies, how do you maintain the color/moisture balance in your hair?
Audrey Sivasothy is a Houston-based freelance writer, health scientist and author of The Science of Black Hair: A Comprehensive Guide to Textured Hair Care (available on Amazon.com & Barnes&Noble.com).