How to care for dyed hair

Whether you like to experiment with all colours of the rainbow or simply enhance what your mother gave you, coloured hair can be high-maintenance. Here's the lowdown on delivering TLC and getting the results you want.

First, what does a dye do to your hair?

Understanding how synthetic dyes affect your locks is the first step to finding the best products and keeping your hair in great condition. Your hair is formed of three layers: an outer cuticle, which protects the hair fibre; a middle layer called the cortex, which houses moisture and your natural pigment (melanin); and the inner medulla (which is not present in fine hair). Synthetic dyes work in different ways, varying in strength and effect from bleach to temporary colour. Your choice of dye will inform the before and after care your hair may require.

Bleaching in the most intense process your hair can go through. To bleach your hair, a combination of an oxidising material (usually hydrogen peroxide) and an alkali (usually ammonia but sometimes monoethanolamine) are combined. Ammonia swells the hair fibre which enables hydrogen peroxide to penetrate the cuticle, enter the cortex and degrade the melanin inside, ‘lightening’ your hair. Permanent dye combines some bleaching action with colour depositing, forming chains of pigment inside that cuticle that are too large to leave. Demi-permanent dye also does this, but to a lesser extent, meaning it fades more quickly. Semi-permanent and temporary dyes are less intrusive, coating the outside of the cuticle before they are washed away. 

Using bleach or a dye with a lightening action can target the disulphide bonds inside the hair that give the hair its mechanical strength and texture and also make it harder for your hair’s natural oil (sebum) to travel down the coarser cuticle. This can leave your hair feeling more dry and brittle than usual.

What about a nice, effective hair treatment for starters?

Whether naked or potted, Lush’s hair treatments are to be applied on dry hair and left for twenty minutes or more for the best results. Then, you can jump in a shower, rinse it out and shampoo.

When your coloured hair feels a bit tired and needs some va va voom, H.O.T. hot oil treatment is your saviour. Containing three hair-nourishing oils capable of enhancing shine and improving the hair’s elasticity without weighing it down, H.O.T. is a wonderfully strengthening treatment. Olive oil is especially clever as it increases the tensile strength of the hair, giving each strand a little more stretch when you brush. This naked product is free of unnecessary packaging and synthetic preservatives, and it’s as easy to make as a cup of tea! Just add boiled water and stir until it melts and cools down.

If you aren’t a fan of DIY, we also have potted, already blended hair treatments for coloured hair such as H’Suan Wen Hua. It is made with organic, extra virgin olive oil, fresh banana and avocado to strengthen damaged hair and deliver moisture to dehydrated ends. Bay and cinnamon leaves boost your roots and revive the overall condition of your scalp.

When your hair is singing ‘I’m all dried out’, wine and dine it with Jasmine and Henna hair treatment. Red henna infusion enhances colour and delivers a glossy shine while a great deal of natural oils such as Brazil nut provide moisture and strength. In short, this lavish treatment protects and conditions your hair without adding any colour.

Cleanse your hair with care

In order to counteract brittleness, try using a hydrating shampoo and picking ingredients that will care for your scalp too - an essential step in maintaining healthy coloured hair from root to tip. 

Fairly Traded Honey shampoo is packed with beeswax and honey to give the shiniest gloss to the hair, while hydrating, restoring and gently cleansing the hair and scalp. Solid shampoo bars also offer a vast array of choices, with super gentle ingredients such as Fair Trade cocoa and shea butter in Godiva, aquafaba and rose water in Angel Hair or organic coconut milk in Coconut Rice Cake

Solid shampoos are a great packaging-free alternative to their traditional liquid counterparts. Product inventor and Lush co-founder Helen Ambrosen explains: "Shampoo bars grew out of trying to make a pressed soap but instead we realised that we’d created a beautiful solid shampoo that didn’t require packaging, was equal to about 80 washes, and also didn’t need a synthetic preservative." Also solid, Avocado will please co-washing lovers with its sweet, exotic scent. Co-washes reside on the idea that a conditioner very gently cleanses the hair (it contains a little amount of surfactant) while protecting it with oils - a softer option that suits afro and coloured hair really well.

Your hair mission? Incredible condition

Once your hair has been gently cleansed, give it back moisture and shine with your chosen colour-friendly conditioner. Conditioners work by coating the hair strands in an anti-static charge, pushing the cuticles of the hair down and locking in moisture. The cuticles on chemically-dyed hair can sometimes become disjointed, making it difficult for sebum (the oil produced by your scalp) to reach the ends of the hair. Conditioners counteract this by delivering moisture to the ends of the hair where it is needed most.

When it comes to choosing the best conditioner, consider how your hair feels and the style you want to achieve. You may choose to deliver some serious thirst aid, or opt for a lighter formula to maintain body.

  • For light-touch days, Happy Happy Joy Joy moisturises porous hair to leave it stronger, healthier and smelling divine. With grapefruit and orange blossom for lustrous shine, this lightweight tonic leaves your hair soft and silky. As an added boost, neroli oil is said to lift spirits with its cheerful, floral scent.
  • For hair that needs a little more loving, American Cream is here to help. A thick conditioner for those who want reels of satiny, flowing hair, American Cream has an enticing strawberries and cream scent and a squeeze of orange juice to add gloss.
  • For a happy balance between body and hydration, Retread is your match. With a light agar agar base and some avocado oil, this midweight conditioner hydrates split ends and prevents further damage. Light enough that it won’t saturate the hair, but rich enough to give a much-needed hit of hydration, this lovely conditioner helps return to balance.

Or perhaps you would rather butter up your hair with a leave-in hair moisturiser, full of seriously hydrating oils? Revive is rich in protecting and moisturising cocoa, avocado and cupuaçu butter, plus some olive oil for increased elasticity. A little goes a long way with this product and each strand will thank you afterwards.

A heads up on henna

As discussed, there are plenty of effective ways to care for synthetically dyed hair, but, if you are searching for an alternative, henna delivers beautiful plant-derived colour. This natural dye, sourced from the leaves of the Lawsonia inermis plant works as a varnish that protects rather than penetrates the hair cortex and is not associated with the risks linked to using synthetic hair dye. Lush Co-Founder and Trichologist Mark Constantine has championed henna for decades, drawing inspiration from the blends used in the Middle East, North Africa and India and, in 2001, Helen Ambrosen invented a solid cocoa butter-infused henna brick for ease of use at home. Combining henna with beautiful pigmented powders like hibiscus and indigo means we can offer shades from golden-red Vénitien to raven-toned Noir. Build colour by hennaing your hair as many times as you like - it will only improve your hair gloss and condition!

If you are dye-hard about colour, there’s a whole host of products to help defend your locks against damage. Why not take your pick? Or, if you like it blonde, take a look at how to treat fair hair with care here.

You can also read about how to dye your hair more safely here, or deep dive into the world of hair and hair colouring with Lush publication True Colours: Hair Colouring for the Curious and the Cautious.

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