Hair colour alert

The chemistry that transforms hair from a mousy brown to a deep chocolate may seem like magic. In truth, it's a torture test that leaves hair dry, dull, and rough - the qualities that, ironically, make hair colour look drab. But if you're one of the 70-plus percent of women who cover their greys or brighten their natural hue, don't worry: This is one test you can pass with flying (hair) colour. Some easy changes in your hair care habits will renew your tresses' shine and vibrancy and restore your faith in your favourite box of colour's ability to work magic.

Don't drown it
'Colour's worst enemy is water,' says New York-based hair colourist Ruth Roche. In fact, the latest research shows as much as 80 percent of colour fade is caused by water alone, not shampooing or scrubbing, says Jeni Thomas, PhD, senior scientist with a well-known hair care brand.

Here's why: Dye strips the strands of their outer lipid layer. Like the natural oils found on your skin, lipids make hair feel soft and smooth, and their loss has a cascade of negative effects. For starters, hair becomes more porous, which is why, in the shower, coloured hair absorbs and releases water easily. As it exits, water takes along with it some colour molecules, explains Thomas. Your dye job, whether applied at home or in a salon, literally winds up going down the drain. To minimise this water-induced fading, take these necessary precautions:

Think twice about becoming a redhead
Red dye's large-size molecules leach out more quickly than those of any other hue. Whatever colour you choose, stay within a few tones of your natural shade:

Avoid excessive rinsing in the shower
'Once you've shampooed and conditioned, don't tilt your head back and let the water just run over it for several minutes,' says Teca Gillespie, scientist with a leading FMCG company. And if you like to wake up under the faucet in the morning, try to spare your hair.

Stick to lukewarm or cooler water
Heat makes dye leach faster. 'The hotter the water is, the quicker the colour loss,' explains Thomas.

Use a colour-protecting shampoo
They're specifically formulated to be both gentle and protective, says USbased hair colour consultant David Stanko. Steer clear of clarifying shampoos - which can be harsh and stripping - except on the day before your colour appointment. 'If you're going for grey coverage, use one to remove silicones, waxes, and hairspray resins,' says Stanko. 'Otherwise, instead of penetrating the hair shaft, some of the hair dye may attach itself to those coatings and then wash out, making your colour fade faster.'

Wash your hair less frequently
Refresh on your off days by flipping your hair over and using a spray at the roots to soak up oil.

Beat a dry spell
If you feel your locks are fit to start a brushfire, the culprit, again, is that missing lipid layer. Your own scalp oils normally rely on the hair's fatty layer as a transport system, says Thomas. Without it, they don't distribute themselves well down the length of the hai r shaf t . What 's more, conditioners such as silicones don't adhere evenly. So if you've been dutifully conditioning with no results, it's not your imagination - most of that conditioner has been rinsed down the drain. In short, your new hair chemistry demands conditioners specifically for colour-treated hair. A bonus from these conditioners formulated for colour-treated locks: Regular use creates a protective barrier that helps prevent dye molecules from washing out. To maximise the benefit:

Condition every time you shampoo, even if you have fine hair: 'You really want to make sure you condition the longest part of your hair. The tips can be years old and have the most damage, whereas the roots are only a couple of months old,' says Gillespie. Start with a shampoo, then condition, using a wide-tooth comb to gently detangle.

'Most women need a nickelto-quarter-size dollop of conditioner. It's best to leave it in for the duration of your shower, since the steam increases the benefit,' says Stanko.

Use a hair mask once a week and leave it in while you shower: Its intense conditioners boost moisture.

Guard against heat damage
'Flat irons run up to 23oC. In essence, they cook your hair. Its moisture evaporates right out,' says Stanko. So, before you reach for your flat iron, curling iron, or blow-dryer, spray on a heat-protective product.

Consider a leave-in conditioner
Since you're not immediately rinsing it out, as you do with a standard conditioner, a leave-in stays put and does its job.

Turn on the shine
If you've ever enjoyed a compliment on your shiny, smooth hair, thank your cuticles. These protein layers are like fish scales or shingles across your hair shafts, and when they're lying flat, light bounces off them uniformly and the even ref lection produces shine. Hair colour's first task is to lift those layers up, using ammonia, so it can penetrate to where the permanent colour molecules reside. Once your cuticles are roughed up, they scatter light, which makes hair look dull. As Thomas puts it, 'The hair colouring process creates the very environment that makes it hard for that colour to really come through.' These steps can smooth down your cuticles (also key for protecting the colour molecules once they're in the shafts) and help get the shine back:

Patch up the cuticles
'There's an old saying: Once a steak is well-done, you can't make it medium-rare,' says Stanko. 'You can't completely reverse damage, but a product that delivers ceramides, hair's intercellular glue, can help replace what might be missing.' Daily conditioning, in turn, helps the cuticles lie flat.

Cut back on the use of hot tools
Not only does heat dry out hair (see above), but it also picks away at its proteins, another cause of rough hair texture. If your hair isn't frizz-prone, follow Thomas's advice: 'Let your hair air-dry till it's slightly damp and then, after you've spritzed on a heat-protection spray, use a blow-dryer and a big, round brush to smooth out your style.' Air-drying increases frizz, so if it's a concern, blow-dry straightaway, but avoid washing and styling every day.

Add gloss with a serum or shine spray
They both bounce back light for a shiny effect, but just a smidge will do: Too much of either leaves hair greasy. Bonus: Stylers such as these for coloured hair also contain UV filters to fend off sun-induced fading.

Get into glazes
This clear (rather than coloured) demi-permanent salon process does for hair 'what a topcoat does for nails or a clear gloss does for your lips - it adds instant shine,' says Stanko. 'Light hair colour, in particular, dulls more quickly than any other and can benefit from this boost.' The salon version lasts about four weeks.

Keep it up
Unfortunately, a hair's cuticle doesn't stay put; styling (like back-combing) and daily wear-andtear rough it up. 'Down and up it goes. It's a cycle you have to stay on top of, which is why conditioning with every shampoo is essential,' says Gillespie. Consistent care comes with a big payoff: Healthy hair not only looks smooth and shiny, but it takes colour more evenly than damaged hair - so next time you tackle a dye job at home or head to the salon, your new do is likely to look that much brighter.

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