Experimenting with your hair color can be a fun way to shake up your look or get through a stifled style period. While it's much cheaper than shelling out for a new wardrobe, it's still an investment, and you want to make sure that fabulous color lasts as long as possible. Washing your hair is often framed as a key cause of fading color, but it turns out, the secret to washing your hair after you color it isn't when — it's just how.
"Lots of people believe that the color needs to set in your hair for a few days after coloring — that's actually just a myth," said Sydney Palmer, a hair-color specialist at Estetica Salon & Spa in St. Paul, MN. "The hair color doesn't set in any more than it already has if you wait to wash it."
Jade Kromer, a hair-color specialist at Juut Salon Spa in Minneapolis, MN, agrees. "Washing your hair right after you color it really isn't the problem," she told POPSUGAR. "Focus more on what products you're using, rather than time in between shampoos."
The issue is less about letting the dye set in your hair, and more about preventing it from leaching out. Each strand of hair is surrounded by the cuticle, which is what traps the color in. When you wash your hair, particularly in hot water, you risk opening up the cuticle and letting the color bleed out. Palmer recommended washing colored hair in cooler water: "That makes your hair cuticle stay closed and keeps your hair color trapped inside the strands of hair. Warm water makes the cuticle more likely to open and let the color out, which is why color fades so fast."
If a cold shower doesn't sound appealing to you, you can also wash your hair less frequently, and try to avoid water that's steaming hot. If you choose what's known as a "fashion color" for your hair, such as bright pink, orange, or purple, Kromer recommended washing just once a week, and using dry shampoo in the meantime. These colors typically require bleaching the hair, which can make cuticles more porous, and therefore more likely to leak color in the shower.
If you just have highlights or lowlights instead of full hair color, you can be a little more lax about water temperature, Palmer said. Less pigment in the hair means that the temperature of the water matters less. In addition to how frequently you wash your hair and the temperature, what you wash it with can make a big difference in how long your color lasts.
"The type of shampoo, conditioner, and products you use at home are the ultimate reason why your color is going to last or fade," Kromer said. "Drugstore shampoos may feel like they're getting your hair and scalp really clean, but they have chemicals in them that are linked to fading of professional hair color. If you invest in your products, you'll realize how much more life you'll get from your color!"
Palmer agreed. "You're not going to buy a Bentley and then put used brakes in it," she said. Drugstore brands of shampoo and conditioner often contain synthetic ingredients like sulfates, parabens, silicone, and other ingredients that strip hair of its color and can even be dangerous. When you invest in high-quality hair care, you're investing in your hair color and overall hair health. Palmer also recommended watching out for clarifying shampoos, which are "great for getting your scalp clean, but more likely to strip hair of its color."
Ultimately, can you wash your hair right after a color?
"Yes, but there's really no need," Palmer said. Your colorist will have done that for you. If you head straight from the salon to the gym and need to wash your hair afterward, don't fret — just use cooler water and quality products for your hair type. Palmer recommended washing no more than three times per week, with cooler water and the right products.