Choosing the right hair colour is never easy. Whether it’s the right shades of blonde to flawlessly blend into your balayage or the exact shade of red you’ve been envisaging for years and finally dared to try, it’s something us women take time and effort to perfect.
So once achieved, the last thing you want is to watch it fade away. Arming yourself with the basics of the science of fade can help manage fade and frustration, so let’s begin the lesson.
Geography of Hair
Like your skin, your hair is made up of a series of layers, in this case, concentric circles like the rings of a tree. At its simplest, there are three layers: cuticle, cortex and medulla. When it comes to colour, natural or from a bottle, it’s all about the cortex where the natural pigment (melanin) and synthetic pigment are held. The trick to getting a great shade and keeping it is down to getting all the pigments in a dye into that cortex and holding them there. That’s where the cuticle comes into play. Made up of scales, the cuticle is the hair shaft’s armour, protecting it from the outside world…and imprisoning synthetic pigments in the cortex to create that new colour. Anything that can lift the scales of the cuticle allows pigment to escape, fading the colour.
Time to get technical. What we think of as ‘fade’ is actually caused by a couple of different processes, photodegradation and leaching. Photodegradation is the term scientists give to the alteration of materials by light. Exposure to sunlight triggers a process called oxidation in which free radicals are formed. These atoms or molecules contribute to fading by grabbing electrons from pigment molecules, making colour unstable. Oxidation is going on all around you all the time.
Leaching is the gradual depletion of the synthetic colour pigments, caused by water penetrating the cuticle and pulling pigment molecules out of the cortex. This is a harder battle to fight. Water causes hair strands to swell, opening the cuticle and letting pigment molecules seep out. The warmer the water, the faster and more pronounced this process is. Unfortunately, hair dyes are water-soluble (they dissolve in water).
Prevention Not Cure
Short of becoming nocturnal and hydrophobic, avoiding sunlight and never entering water again, you’re not going to be able to avoid the gradual photodegradation and leaching of those colour pigments out of your mane. So, hanging on to your shade for as long as possible is about management. Here’s what you can do:
- Hair products packed with antioxidant-rich ingredients, like the green rooibos extract in Colour Bomb Colour Protecting Shampoo and Conditioner, offer a scientifically substantiated degree of colour protection. Using these every time you wash can help prevent fade.
- Turn the temperature of your shower down and wash with lukewarm or cool water.
- Extend the time between washes. The less you wash your hair, the less colour you wash away. Check out our post on perfecting second, third, or even twelfth-day hair here.