This Is Why You Can't Stop Dyeing Your Hair: Psychologists Explain

An open hair dye kit

A few years ago, Kylie Jenner took to her website to discuss her ever-changing hair color. “I’ve just had this addiction to changing my hair,” said the reality star-turned-beauty mogul. “It makes me feel like a new person. I love feeling different, and I love leaving the house knowing that nobody has ever seen me this way. It’s hard for me to go back to styles I’ve worn before; I don’t always like my normal short, black hair. That look makes me feel like I’m going back in time. It’s like I'm going back to that moment a year ago and I just don’t want to be in that space.” The key word that made us raise our eyebrows here is “addiction.” Having such a strong connotation, it begs the question: Can you actually be addicted to dyeing your hair? Jenner concludes by saying that she needs to change her hair to avoid feeling like she’s regressing, but can this need be classified as an actual addiction? And for all other individuals who find themselves reaching for the box dye or making frequent trips to the salon—is there an emotional link there to be aware of? We turned to two psychologists to find out.

Heather Silvestri, PhD, says that exhibiting an addictive behavior is the mind’s desire for a reward system. In scientific terms: “The Mesolimbic-Dopamine system [the pathway in the brain where dopamine is carried from one area of the brain to another] is always on the lookout for rewarding stimuli. Any behavior that trips these wires is likely to be repeated. And because the neurochemical reward is short lived, the person seeks to engage in the behavior again and again. This is the compulsive nature of addiction,” she explains.

Meet the Expert

  • Heather Silvestri, PhD, has nearly 10 years of experience working as a clinical psychologist for individuals, couples, and families. She is trained in both psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral treatment techniques.
  • Vivian Diller, PhD, is a psychologist, media expert, and marketing consultant. With 30 years of professional experience, she works with individuals and couples at her private practice in New York City.

So, can you become addicted to dyeing your hair? The answer isn’t definitive.

Vivian Diller, PhD, says, “I don’t think coloring hair can become an actual addiction unless it occurs with someone who has body dysmorphia, a serious mental illness defined by being unable to stop trying to change a flaw in one’s appearance. But, a constant need to change hair color can be associated with self-esteem issues. Using hair color to enhance one’s looks to improve self-esteem may provide temporary satisfaction, but the constant use of hair dye for that purpose will likely have the opposite impact. Once the need for physical enhancement overrides the need for physical health, it’s headed toward becoming an addiction.”

Similarly, Silvestri adds that coloring your hair can work explicitly as a trigger for addiction—it just depends on your relationship with the behavior: “Worth tabulating and remembering is the extent to which coloring your hair absorbs your time to do other worthwhile things. Further worth noting is whether you can easily tolerate any impediment to coloring your hair. Addiction is a combination of an innate predisposition toward compulsive behavior paired with a situational inclination to engage in certain behavior. So, addiction to hair coloring would always have some element of situational triggering even though it would also likely index an innate predisposition to it.”

There you have it—while it can be an addictive behavior or result of other mental illnesses, simply wanting to dye your hair often doesn't qualify as an addiction. It can be, but it most likely isn't. However, the need to be different based on a trigger can be used to explain other things, like why some people change their hair after a breakup or other major life event.

Dyeing your hair, whether you’re clinically addicted to it or not, is going to dry out your hair without the proper products. Below, check out some of our favorite color-safe products to revive over-dyed hair.

Ed. note: Quotes have been edited and shortened for content.

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