Giving our curls the care and attention they deserve has allowed people with natural hair to experiment with different styles. When it comes to experimenting with color, however, many people with textured hair are understandably hesitant about the potential damage that can occur.
The truth is that natural hair can continue flourishing even when dyed. You just need to consider things like the current condition of your hair, the best stylist for the job, how long it may take to achieve your desired shade, and how to look after your hair in between sessions.
Whether you’re first-time color curious or a certified pro, we’ve got you covered. With the help of trichologist Kari Williams, Ph.D., Matrix artistic director Michelle O’Connor, and hairstylist Neil Moodie, we’ve created the ultimate guide to safely dying natural hair. Keep reading for more.
Meet the Expert
- Kari Williams, Ph.D., is a board-certified trichologist, licensed cosmetologist, and member of DevaCurl’s Expert Curl Council.
- Michelle O’Connor is a global artistic director at Matrix.
- Neil Moodie is a hairstylist with a career spanning three decades, during which he’s styled over 50 Vogue covers. He’s also the founder of the Neil Moodie Studio.
What Happens When Natural Hair Isn't Dyed Properly
If natural hair isn't dyed correctly, it can affect the overall health of your hair and the texture of your curls. "For best results, I highly recommend doing your research beforehand and going to a professional if you want your hair dyed," O'Connor says. When the curl pattern of natural hair is destroyed, it could become brittle and more prone to breakage. Moodie agrees that it's always best to go to a professional: "Coloring hair is a science, and [there are] a lot of chemicals involved in the process—a trained professional will have so much more knowledge of how to color hair correctly," he explains.
Going to a seasoned pro who knows what they are doing will also help you avoid dissatisfaction with the desired color result. Depending on your chosen shade, it's likely that more color applications will take place. This can increase the hair's fragility, causing it to break, so it's best so keep your curls in the hands of an expert.
What to Do Before Dyeing Natural Hair
Invest in Deep Conditioning and Protein Treatments
To ensure your hair is always healthy before dyeing, O'Connor recommends investing in deep conditioners, protein treatments, and moisturizing treatments, pre-and-post color services. "The A Curl Can Dream collection from Matrix provides the ultimate amount of moisture for curls," she says; she also recommends the brand's Instacure Anti-Breakage Porosity Spray ($24) infused with liquid protein and vitamin B5. Both ingredients fill in porosity, reduce split ends, and control frizz.
Color-treated hair is very fragile, so prioritizing the strength of your hair should always come first. Williams recommends DevaCurl's Melt Into Moisture Treatment Mask ($36), which helps preserve color between treatments.
Always Consult With a Professional
"I recommend working with a professional as they are best suited to analyze your hair's porosity, density, strength, and overall hair health. This will also ensure you don't incur breakage due to your color journey," O'Connor says. When dyeing natural hair, you must go to a professional you trust because you'll be coloring your hair through several sessions and not in one sitting. "I'd recommend incorporating a co-wash like the A Curl Can Dream Co-Wash ($20) from Matrix into your routine," she adds. "It does a great job of retaining moisture in between visits."
Don't Shampoo Before You Dye
One assumption that you may have about dyeing curly hair is that it needs to be super clean before it is dyed, which isn't the case. According to Williams, it isn't necessary to shampoo hair before it is colored unless you have a lot of product or build-up on your hair. "I recommend using a sulfate-free shampoo like the DevaCurl No-Poo Blue Anti Brass Zero Lather Toning Cleanser ($28) a day or two before color is applied," she says.
Most hair dyes are designed to work better on hair that is not freshly washed, so it's better to wash your hair one or two days before the color is applied. "Washing your hair a few days before the dye is applied will allow some oils to build up on your scalp, which will help protect against irritation beforehand," Moodie explains. Moodie adds that oil build-up also makes it impossible not to disturb the curl pattern; however, the products used afterward will help protect your hair and return it to its original curl pattern.
Always make sure your hair is in a healthy state before a color service. If you aren’t sure about the health of your hair or the practices you will need to put in place to prepare your hair for dye, consult a professional stylist.
Opt for a Pre-Color Treatment
Although this step isn't mandatory, it can help enhance the color's vibrancy, according to Williams. "Applying a pre-color treatment can also act as a layer of protection which is important for curlier strands as they can be naturally fragile," she explains. Pre-color treatments should strengthen, moisturize, and clarify your hair on the day of color. Pre-color treatments can minimize damage and strengthen hair for those with bleached coils. Moodie recommends asking your colorist for advice and using products from Olaplex that target this specific issue.
How to Care for Dyed Natural Hair
Preserve Your Color
"Most color-safe products are formulated to enhance and preserve your color while keeping your hair healthy," says Williams. "Color will always pop and look most vibrant on healthy strands."
Avoid Hot Water (and Heat in General)
"Hot water is too harsh for color-treated hair, and it will dry it out and fade the color, so always use a cooler water temperature," Williams says. Moodie recommends avoiding anything hot altogether. "Anything hot will fade your hue, from the sun to styling tools," he explains. "Heat damages the strands and raises the cuticle, allowing the color to escape."
Once natural hair is dyed, it should always be washed with lukewarm water and rinsed with cold water. If you must use heat styling tools, Moodie recommends turning the temperature down and just letting your hair breathe on the days when you have no plans. "The fewer heat styling tools you use, the less likely your hair is to get damaged," Moodie says. "Exposure to high heat changes the shape of your hair's keratin strands. Temperatures over 300°F convert the keratin levels, which can lead to weaker hair. Weaker hair will eventually lose elasticity and become more prone to damage." Williams recommends DevaCurl's DevaTwist Anti-Frizz Microfiber Towel Wrap ($24) for air drying.
Make Moisture Your Friend
"Replenishing moisture on dyed hair is important to prevent dryness and damage. The DevaCurl Moisture Seal Hydrating Finishing Spray ($24) brings much-needed hydration to dry curls, fighting frizz and providing softness and shine," Williams says. O'Connor again recommends Matrix's A Curl Can Dream collection; all of the products in the range have been formulated to moisturize and condition curls from the beginning to the end of the coloring process. "The range includes one of my favorite products, the Moisturizing Cream ($24), infused with Manuka honey extract. It provides moisture and definition without flaking or crunch," she explains.
Consider Protective Styles
"Wearing protective styles will give hair a break from regular manipulation," says Williams. "Protective styles don’t require extensions but if you are going to use synthetic hair extensions, be diligent with the application of daily moisture to prevent color fading and dehydration."
Protect Your Hair Overnight
"Sleeping on a silk pillow is a great way of protecting your hair. The silk fibers don't disturb the hair as much as a regular cotton pillow, so your hair won't tangle as much," says Moodie. "While protecting your hair overnight, apply a conditioner, hair treatment, or oil. Ensure your hair is wrapped and rinse any product with shampoo the following morning."
Is Bleach Safe for Natural Hair?
"Lighteners are very strong chemicals that can make natural hair fragile and more prone to breakage," Williams says. "The alkalinity of bleach not only strips the cuticle layer but also removes the natural pigment from your hair. While this process is necessary to achieve high-lift permanent colors like pinks, reds, and purples, [it is] harsh and should be mixed with treatments that can protect the hair and prevent damage," she explains.
Something else to note about bleach when dyeing natural hair is that you should use it sparingly. "Bleach contains hydrogen peroxide, which can be damaging because it's not a smart molecule," Moodie adds. "It interacts with keratin (the protein which hair is made of) and can lead to more damage."
Alternatives to Dye
"There are several temporary colors that you can apply to the hair in the form of a spray or paste. I would recommend cellophanes and demi colors that can tint the hair temporarily without permanently altering the color of the hair," Williams says. O'Connor recommends Matrix Curl Lights, an innovative ammonia-free curl pattern-preserving lighting system: "It's the safest and easiest way to achieve sun-kissed highlights fast while maintaining curl integrity," she says. The system, formulated with beeswax and ceramides, is recommended for all curls and coils, and according to the brand, clients can achieve up to five levels of lift in just 15 minutes. The range is suitable for permed and relaxed hair, too.