Question: Should You Be Mixing Your Hair Dye With Conditioner for Healthier Hair?

woman with long shiny black hair


Today's ultra-savvy approach to beauty has given us deeper knowledge of individual ingredients' role in certain products. Back then, we'd trust a product name to explain what it does. Nowadays, consumers take a deep dive into the ingredients list to decide if a moisturizer, serum, or shampoo has what it takes to meet our needs. 

It's also made us more knowledgeable in combining two or more products to achieve a better result (like souping up a moisturizer with a vitamin C serum or—in this case—a hair conditioner with hair dye). The latter example has been taking over socials recently.

While some color-conditioner combinations can yield genius results, there's also the potential to combine products that may, from a chemical point of view, not go well together at all. We spoke with two top colorists to get complete details on whether you should mix your hair dye with conditioner and how to do it correctly. 

Meet the Expert

What Happens When You Mix Conditioner With Hair Dye?

The primary benefit of pairing conditioner with hair dye is achieving a subtler, more natural-looking result rather than solid, opaque color (think: doll hair). Mixing conditioner with your hair color dilutes and weakens the intensity of the deposit," says Bradford. "This is used to either slow down the process so that the color doesn't grab too quickly or gives a more transparent coverage which can be deemed more natural." Or, if you're after colors that are anything but natural, Oxley says hacking with conditioner can help get the exact shade you desire. 

When Should You Mix Conditioner With Hair Dye?

Not all hair dyes can be combined with conditioner. "When looking at most common hair dyes bought in store, you'll most likely run into three different types," Oxley explains, including permanent, demi-permanent (semi-permanent), and direct dyes. Both permanent and demi-permanent should not be mixed with conditioner. "There are particular reactions and interactions between the chemicals within them that make these dyes work on the hair," Oxley says. "The pH (alkaline) of these products is particular to their use, and since conditioners are generally acidic, which causes the cuticle to close (the opposite of what you want to happen with oxidizing color), this would hinder these products from achieving their desired result."

Therefore, stick exclusively with direct hair dyes if combining with conditioner. Suppose you're into the fashion color world. In that case, you're probably already familiar with brands like Pulp Riot and Manic Panic. Oxley pointed out that direct dyes (like these) are "conditioner based," meaning they are "a load of funky pigment molecules suspended in a conditioning carrier agent that can moisturize the hair while also delivering the pigment." Therefore, adding conditioner is the DIY beauty equivalent of art class: to achieve a lighter, paler color, you add white, but in this case, it's conditioner. 

How Can You Mix Conditioner With Hair Dye?

Here’s where your inner scientist gets to play, as there are a couple of ways to mix conditioner with hair dye for optimal results.

Full Application

If you're going for a full-head dye job, Oxley recommends using a bowl, brush, and gloves for the best mixing and application. The bowl is critical here because what's in the bowl is what you'll end up with (when done correctly). You can take two different mixing approaches: pastelize your shade, start with a bowl of conditioner, and slowly add your shade of dye until you achieve your desired hue. To sway the tonality, start with a bowl full of direct dye, then slowly add conditioner in blobs, mixing well each time until the shade reaches your desired lightness.

Before applying your custom conditioner dye to your hair, Oxley recommends doing a strand test to ensure the result is what you're seeking. Apply some of the dye to a hidden area of your hair, leave it on for the time recommended on the product packaging, then wipe it off to check the result. 

Gradual Application and Maintenance

Another option is to add a small blob of your hair dye to a bottle of conditioner to make a custom shade of a regular-use product. “This is great for the lighter direct dyes that fade away quickly,” Oxley says. Or, if you’re a darker shade and want to maintain the color as it fades, you’ll get a lighter dose of color to preserve the tonality while letting the depth fade away.

Tips for Mixing Conditioner With Hair Dye

Here are a few things to keep in mind before casting the dye: 

  • Consider Your Starting Color: This is a given for any hair dyeing (or bleaching). Oxley explains that the color of your starting point will always affect the result. Direct dyes work best on bleached hair, as the pigment has more to grasp onto, and even then, the hue makes a difference. For example, if your bleach is golden, a soft pink dye will appear as rose gold. However, Bradford points out that mixing your hair dye with conditioner is better suited for those who want subtle shifts in tone or pastel fashion shades rather than achieving full grey coverage. If you’re after the latter, he says you’re better off using the dye product undiluted and following up with conditioner to gloss the ends. 
  • Follow the Manufacturer’s Instructions: Although mixing hair dye with conditioner technically means you’re using two different products, Oxley says to follow the manufacturer’s instructions on the dye, which is usually around 15-30 minutes. However, the longer you leave it on, the more intense the result will be. “Think of it like a hair mask: the longer it’s on, the more chance your hair has to absorb all those pigment molecules and the beneficial ingredients in your conditioner.”
  • Choose a Good Quality Conditioner: Since the role of the conditioner is a carrier (and you’ll inevitably go through a lot of it), Oxley says it’s not necessary to purchase the most expensive product on the shelf. However, he advises avoiding super cheap options, especially those that contain non-hydrolyzed silicone, which can coat the hair and potentially lead to patchy results. 
  • Opt for Medium Consistency: “I would avoid thick, heavy masks, as these are going to be harder to spread,” Oxley says, “But you also don’t want something too runny you could be flinging the color around your walls.” Therefore, spring for a conditioner with a medium-creamy texture. 

The Final Takeaway

Whether it’s to cover up greys or add a new dimension of funky color to your look, dyeing your hair is a mode of self-expression, and the more options you have, the better. Just remember that product directions are there for a reason, and since most of us aren’t master chemists, it’s better to be safe than sorry. 

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