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Quick Question⁠—What Happens When You Dye Your Hair While It's Wet?

woman washing wet dark hair

 @theouai+BYRDIE

When dyeing your own hair at home the instructions often have you go into the shower to apply your color, but when going into the salon it's normally done when the hair is dry. Why is this? And what's the difference? It really all boils down to the type of color we're using. Wet or dry hair is an easy detail to overlook when we think about dyeing our strands. Truth be told, wet hair application has its perks.

Can You Dye Wet Hair?

Yes, as a matter of fact, you can dye your hair while it's wet. There are plenty of instances, even in the salon, when wet hair application is completely normalized, but often overlooked. Think about this: when you get highlights done and they take you to the shampoo bowl to remove the foils and rinse off the bleach, the rest of your color is done then and there while the hair is wet. Simply put, our hair color is applied on wet hair more than we may even realize. So what's the difference, you wonder?

The difference is permanence. Wet hair doesn't make our strands any less absorbent (in fact, it makes it more absorbent) or susceptible to change. The only detail that dictates if we need apply to wet or dry hair is the type of color formulas we're using.

The Benefits of Dyeing Hair While It's Wet

While hair color can be applied to wet or dry hair, applying to wet hair does have a few perks worth making note of:

  • A little bit of dye goes a long way: The added water moisture helps the color to distribute itself evenly. Whereas, when applied to dry hair, you'll need to pay much closer attention to ensure you've fully saturated every strand with your dye.
  • The hair is more absorbent while wet: When our hair is wet, it has a higher porosity, meaning the cuticle opens itself up a bit and is ready to absorb liquids. There is essentially an open opportunity for the color to penetrate the hair shaft on a slightly deeper level than it would be able to on dry hair.
  • Contains your mess: Let's be real; when it comes to so many at-home hair color products, it's sort of a relief when we're instructed to apply to wet hair. Applying hair color with a squirt top bottle and mushing all our hair together until it lathers in the shower is way easier than the precision required of a brush-and-bowl application.

The Drawbacks

A few of the drawbacks to wet hair application include:

  • Uneven application: While the added moisture could help distribute color, it's still a less precise color application. If your desired outcome is more of a drastic change, you're better off giving the extra attention to a detailed, dry hair application.
  • Water could potentially dilute your color: If your hair is extremely dry and damaged, then your hair is already parched and looking for moisture! In such a scenario, your hair might have absorbed so much of the water already that there's little room left for the dye to penetrate the hair's cortex. That doesn't mean it won't work, but your results may not be as vibrant or long-lived as you'd hoped for.
  • Prone to more damage: Hair is more vulnerable when it's wet. The cuticle is like a shield that protects the hair and when the hair is wet the cuticle opens itself up, weakening the bonds that normally protect our inner cortex. With dry hair, the natural oils we produce are an additional help to protect our strands, but those oils don't serve us well under water pressure. Avoiding heat, abrasive brushing and towel drying are some of the small steps you can take to help give wet, fragile strands a little extra TLC (especially after doing a color treatment).

For a more even color application when dyeing wet hair, try distributing the color with a wide tooth comb or wet brush.

Types of Hair Color That Work Best on Wet Hair

Now, this may be another drawback, but dyeing your hair wet doesn't actually work for every color job. Permanent color jobs require a dry hair application. This could mean going lighter, or darker. When you want to lighten the hair, which is done with bleach, you'll need dry strands in order to get a precise application that doesn't bleed. If you're using a permanent color to darken your strands, dry hair is better in order for it to really get in and alter the state of your hair on a deeper level than the just surface. That being said, here are your color options for dyeing on wet hair:

Semi-Permanent Color

Semi-permanent colors have no ammonia or peroxide developers in them. These colors are made to simply coat over your cuticle. Since their job is to slightly enhance or alter the tone of your hair and provide a more subtle change with a shorter life span, their formulations aren't greatly affected by the presence of water. These colors work well on wet hair because they aren't lifting or drastically altering the hair in any permanent way.

Demi-Permanent Color

The main difference between a semi- and demi- permanent color is that demi- permanent colors do in fact have some ammonia in them and will therefore penetrate into your hair shaft on a deeper level than the simple coating of a semi-permanent. With more absorption of your color, a demi- permanent is going to last you approximately 5 times longer than a semi-permanent color. Regardless of the presence of ammonia, it's still a temporary color so applying it to wet hair isn't going to affect the work of your color too greatly. The minor drawback here is that your hair has the potential to absorb more water and not as much dye, which could slightly dilute your color formulation a bit and may knock a few shampoos off your color's lifespan expectancy. It's nothing too major, but something worth knowing!

Other Temporary Dyes

We may not think of them as semi- or demi- permanent colors, but those playful pops of bright pink and other highlighter and pastel hued tones, as well as the toners used to neutralize your highlights at the shampoo bowl, are classified as temporary dyes and are safe to use on wet hair.

An easy rule of thumb to remember: as long as the change you seek to make to your color is temporary and not permanent, a wet hair application is a fool-proof option with advantages on its side.

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