Causes and Prevention of Colour Fading and Tonal Shifting

To understand how colour shifting can happen it’s important to look at the structure and composition of the hair.

The cuticle is the outermost part of our hair; it’s composed of proteins and covalently bonded lipids. When these bonds are broken and the lipid layer is degraded, the underlying cortex becomes exposed.

The cortex consists of keratin filaments which are held together by disulphide and hydrogen bonds. These disulphide bonds are what becomes broken when we colour, perm or relax our hair.

Damage to the hair’s first line of defence makes the hair vulnerable by exposing the cortex making it more susceptible to damage and colour fading.

5 Causes of Colour Fading:

Using Shampoos that aren’t Colour Safe

A big difference between professional quality shampoos & conditioners and those you’d find at the supermarket is pH balance. The higher the alkalinity of the shampoo, the more aggressive it can be for the hair (and scalp). High alkalinity can not only be irritating and drying, over time they can increase the porosity of your hair, making those pigment molecules more vulnerable.

True clarifying shampoos often contain more aggressive surfactants (cleaning agents) surfactants like SLS. Surfactants like SLS and SCS are alkaline and depending on the formulation if the product isn’t pH adjusted they can cause irritation and accidental colour removal.

Minerals and Chemicals in the Water
Damaged or chemically treated hair can absorb minerals from water, like copper, iron and calcium. These positive charged minerals in the water are attracted to damaged hair’s negative charge. Chlorine, used to treat city water or purify pools, bonds to these minerals and oxidizes, turning your hair green/yellow (most commonly seen in blondes).
UV rays from the sun can degrade the lipid layers found in the cuticle exposing the cortex and putting your hair on a fast track to damage, split ends and fading of colour treated hair. Just like how the sun can lightens someone’s natural hair colour, UV rays can also be responsible for fading colour treated hair. UVA and UVB rays break down the bonds that comprise the dye molecules in colour in the same way they break down the hair’s natural melanin; creating those natural highlights you see when you spend time outdoors in the sun. This is why the hair is always lighter on the ends compared to the roots. Hair that is gray, fine or highly porous (from natural texture, or chemical processing), can experience more of a dramatic colour shift and general damage from the sun because it’s more delicate.

Styling tools are too hot

Heat! Heated styling can be another culprit in fading colour and tonal shifting. If your styling tools are too hot they can break down the bonds in colour treated hair similar to UV rays. In addition to breaking down chemical bonds, excessive heat styling, styling tools that are too hot for your texture, or heat styling of over processed hair, can cause the cuticle to sit in a more open position (think shingles on a roof that don’t lay flat). When the cuticle is open or degraded, pigment molecules are more exposed and can more easily leave the cortex, where your permanent haircolour lives. As for those toners, demi-permanents, and fashion colours (pastels, vibrants etc) much of these types of pigments sit on top of, or just under your cuticle layer - so when the cuticle opens up or degrades, POOF! There goes your colour.

Washing too frequently with hot water

Try to avoid washing your hair more than twice a week if you want to keep your color vibrant. Frequent hair washing, especially with hot water, can cause the cuticle to open and remove the toner.

How to Prevent Colour Fading and Tonal Shifting

  • Choose a professional quality shampoo and conditioner that is colour safe and pH balanced. When looking for a bar, avoid shampoo bars where the first 1-2 ingredients are SLS or SCS. Since shampoo bars are a solid product it’s a lot harder to pH adjust them vs a bottle shampoo.
  • Install a water filter on your shower head and avoid getting your hair wet in chlorinated pools.
  • Use products that protect your strands and reinforce the outermost layer, the cuticle.
  • Use heat protectants & set your hot styling tools to the lowest heat setting that produces the desired results. Especially important for blondes, lighter hair types and fine hair that is more delicate. Use the concentrator attachment on your blow-dryer & direct airflow from roots to ends.
  • Wear a sun hat.
  • Respect the integrity of those strands - don’t over process your hair!

At The High-End Hippie all of our shampoo & conditioner bars are colour safe since we use gentle surfactants that are pH balanced and don't strip the hair combined with an anti-frizz technology that protects the hair and helps lock in colour.  

Written by Sarah Byer, co-owner & Senior Stylist at InGoodCo. Toronto & Amy Hamilton, Founder of The High-End Hippie

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