How to Color Your Curly Hair Safely for 2021

Hokay, little PSA for you: If you’re considering dyeing natural hair for the first time, you need to do a lil research and prep work ahead of time. Not only do you have to consider the hair color trend you’re going for and the potential time commitment it’ll be (spoiler: it might take you a few sessions to reach your ideal shade), but you also need to be aware of how the dyeing process could potentially affect the health of your coils. And that’s where we come in.

Ahead, I chatted with three celebrity colorists and hairstylists and got them to share all the things you need to know before and after dyeing naturally curly or coily hair so you can get it right the first time—without destroying your texture.

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How do you color natural hair?

Sorry, but unless you’re super-experienced (or you’re just doing a temporary hair dye), you’ll want to leave your hair-coloring to a pro who can evaluate the condition of your curls and coils first. “This sounds standard and simple enough, but most don’t realize that curly hair is typically very fine and super delicate,” explains celebrity stylist Christin Brown, adding that the motto to keep in mind when coloring natural hair is “low and slow,” meaning it’s important not to push the hair to lighten more than it wants to in a single session.

For example, celebrity hairstylist Tiffany Daugherty explains that to achieve a platinum-blonde hair color, the stylist must perform multiple processes, use higher-volume developers, and have longer processing times. And if all that was lowkey jargon to you, then that’s exactly why the expertise of a stylist is so necessary. A colorist can establish a prolonged dyeing regimen with you to eventually lift your natural hair to your desired shade while helping to mitigate damage.

Does dye damage natural hair?

Unfortunately, what you’ve heard is true: Dyeing your natural hair actually can damage your texture—but not necessarily all at once. It usually takes repeated exposure for intense damage to be done, or if you’re taking your dark hair to, say, platinum blonde. Even stiff, if your color is done the right way, your coils and curls should remain pretty healthy.

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Celebrity hairstylist Cynthia Alvarez cautions that lightening your hair extensively in one session can cause hair damage that could affect your coils, and the bigger the difference in your natural hair color and your desired shade, the more likely it is that you’ll experience a (temporary) loss of elasticity and loosened curl pattern.

As Brown explains it, you can’t use extremely high-lifting solutions to achieve the desired color and still have perfect healthy hair. “While colorists do this often, the integrity of the hair can become extremely compromised, resulting in fragility of the hair, breakage, and even completely changing the curl pattern permanently,” Brown notes.

But! Seeing a colorist who prioritizes the integrity of the hair before, during, and after the treatment, coupled with a little at-home maintenance throughout the color process can help minimize the damage.

Dyeing natural hair tips:

Although you should leave the dye in the hands of a professional, here are a few things you can take into your own hands before and after your color session for the best results:

  1. Skip the shampoo before you dye. “Dirty hair is ideal for color application,” says Alvarez. “The natural oils on your scalp act as a buffer between your scalp and the chemicals in the formula, so skip the shampoo a day before you plan to color.”
  2. Apply a pre-color treatment. Prepping curly hair before your color session will make a huge difference in the finished product. Brown says in preparation for your session, using a restorative treatment, like Olaplex No.0 Intensive Bond Building Hair Treatment, will help prime and repair your strands to ensure that you’re a good candidate for a color service.
  3. Deep-condition regularly. Color-treated hair needs a little extra TLC, so both Alvarez and Daugherty recommend deep-conditioning at least once a week to help restore your hair’s structure and investing in high-quality hair oils. For a hot oil treatment, Daugherty recommends applying your treatment, then wrapping your hair in plastic wrap for at least 20 minutes. For maximum results, apply heat by sitting under a dryer or steamer, then rinse and style as usual.
  4. Use a color-preserving shampoo to protect your hair after you dye it. Using sulfate-based shampoos will dry out your hair, make your color fade, and reduce the brilliance—not ideal after spending hours in the salon for that perfect tone. Instead, Brown says to opt for sulfate-free shampoos, which are free of the hair-stripping chemicals, and shampoos for color-treated hair, which typically offer a lightweight layer of protection that will prevent your color from bleeding out and preserve highlights.
  5. Avoid hot water to maintain your color. Brown says hot water on the hair can also strip your color, so try turning down your shower water to “very warm” instead of “molten lava.” For an added benefit, rinse out your conditioner in cold water to lock in moisture and seal the cuticle. The change in water temperature might be an adjustment, but Brown says it’s a game-changer for preserving color.
  6. Give your hair a break from heat-styling. Daugherty suggests using protective styles, like box braids, chignons, or cornrows, to give your strands a much-needed break after intense dyeing, like going platinum blonde.
    1. Is box dye bad for natural hair?

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      Relaxation is great for beauty and self-care. Boredom, on the other hand, is not. We know you’re itching to either cut your own hair or dye your hair yourself (or both?!), but this is the part where we strongly discourage you from DIYing your color. Brown says if you don’t want to end up paying more in the long run for color correction, remove the random honey-blonde box dye from your online cart and wait for a session with your colorist.

      As Daugherty explains it, everyone’s hair is structured differently, and the exact formulation to achieve a multidimensional color is complicated, so you need a professional who’s well-versed in color who can adapt to the actual tones of your hair. Buuuut because I also know there are plenty of people who will ignore all the warnings and try at-home hair color anyway, please promise to at least follow this one bit of advice: Stick with one-dimensional dark hues if you’re absolutely set on DIYing it. Alvarez says box dye is fine and more cost-effective to use for a darker color, but don’t use box dye if you’re going lighter or thinking about highlighting your hair.

      And, FWIW, box dye isn’t necessarily cheap. Not only will you have to pay up to fix any mistakes, but you’ll also likely need more than one box of color. “You don’t want to be left with a section of hair that’s not colored due to lack of product,” Alvarez explains. “Almost every person underestimates the thickness of their hair.”

      What color looks good on curls?

      More like what color doesn’t look good on natural hair, amirite?! Determining the right shade for your natural coils and curls depends on a number of factors, like your skin tone or undertone, but some of Brown’s favorite shades and techniques tend to be the ones that evolve and grow out the best and last the longest, like honey tones, caramels, chocolates, and toffees. And if you really want to enhance your curl pattern, add a few highlights.

      Brown’s two favorite techniques for highlighting curls are the balayage and pintura methods. Balayage gives the hair that artistic and customized look that makes the grow-out phase look just as amazing as the initial color session. “Balayage highlights are the choice of many curly girls because you can go longer in between touch-ups,” Alvarez adds. And if you want to make your hair pop, Brown says to see a colorist who’s familiar with the pintura method, in which the colorist “paints” individual curls to showcase their pattern.

      What color can I dye my hair without bleaching?

      Dyeing your hair any shade darker than it is doesn’t require bleaching your hair, which means the lighter your natural hair color or the shade you’re starting with, the more options you have. If you want to try any bright rainbow shades, you almost always need to lighten your hair first for the truest color payoff. But if you want to avoid bleach, tint it with a temporary hair dye (aka semi-permanent hair dye), which covers the hair strands in a cooler and/or darker color instead of chemically changing it.

      Temporary hair dye won’t be as noticeable on darker hair colors—but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Any mistakes you make with a hair color that’s only slightly noticeable are much easier to hide than bold color changes gone wrong—not to mention wash-out hair color is always easier to fix than reversing demi-permanent or permanent hair dyes with color remover.

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    2 thoughts on “How to Color Your Curly Hair Safely for 2021

    • December 9, 2020 at 12:22 am
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