How to Make Your Hair Color Last

Written by: Brianna Peters


Updated on: May 20, 2024

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Photo courtesy of Serge Guerand/Blaublut Edition

Everything from the ingredients in your conditioner to the temperature of the water you wash your hair with makes a difference in the way your hair color looks (and how long it lasts). The right color is, of course, key, but whether you’re maintaining highlights, covering grey, fixing roots, or changing your shade entirely, the idea is to keep your hair silky, shiny, vibrant, and healthy-looking throughout the process, with the side benefit that you may even need to color less often.

Because hair color can contain some of the most potentially harmful-to-health chemicals in the beauty industry, when you do more maintenance and color less often, the benefits extend past the money and time saved and even past the potential damage to your hair: You also expose yourself to fewer chemicals overall.

Top LA colorist Tracey Cunningham’s brilliant book, True Color: The Essential Hair Color Handbook, is full of tips for keeping any hair type with any sort of color gorgeous, shinier, and brighter for longer. If you color your hair, you’ve got to get it; the whole book is invaluable, not to mention sharp, funny, and full of great hair inspiration.


The less you wash your hair, the less chance it has to fade. Cunningham recommends leaving at least a day or two in between washes and using a great color-safe shampoo. “The natural oils from your scalp condition your treated hair,” she writes. “If you wash it too often, you won’t get that benefit.” Look for a clean, super gentle, ultramoisturizing shampoo. And the temperature of the water you use makes a huge difference, too. Cunningham advises washing in cool or lukewarm water: “Super hot water can open the cuticle of your hair shaft and allow color molecules to escape,” she writes.

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Just as the natural oils from your scalp keep your color looking great close to your roots, rich conditioners can do the same for lengths and ends.

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All hair color loses its initial vibrancy and fades eventually, but you can stave off the inevitable with Cunningham’s tips.


“Flatirons and curling irons fade color,” writes Cunningham. “If you’re using them without a great heat protector and on bleached hair, you’re basically begging for breakage.” Make sure to protect your hair by applying nourishing leave-ins with heat-protection benefits first—and use tools designed to help protect hair: The ZUVI dryer helps minimize heat damage by using infrared light (instead of heat) to dry hair. The flatiron by top NYC hairstylist Harry Josh is made with ceramic plates that distribute heat evenly to help minimize damage and glide over hair easily to prevent snagging, too.

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Hair is porous, just like a sponge. Anytime you’re in a chlorinated pool (chlorine is essentially bleach) or out in the sun, protect your hair just as you would your skin. “There’s no such thing as sunscreen for hair,” says Cunningham. “I tell clients to put some leave-in conditioner or oil in their hair when it’s dry or soak it with water first and put it up.” We also love a wide-brimmed hat.

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Different cities have different minerals in their water, making it hard or soft water, which can absolutely affect the color and texture of your hair. “Your hair can’t do magic tricks on its own,” says Cunningham. “If your hair suddenly goes from white to green, it’s probably your water.” Calcium in the water can make hair look darker, magnesium combined with calcium creates lime scale that sticks to hair and can affect your texture, iron makes hair look brassy, and copper can oxidize and build up in the hair shaft, turning blonde hair green. Cunningham likes showerhead filters to help reduce the effects of minerals on your color.

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“Microfiber towels can also reduce frizz and breakage,” writes Cunningham. “I particularly love the ones made by Aquis.” What’s amazing about microfiber towels is that they dry your hair faster on top of improving the texture and look of your hair overall.

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We asked Cunningham about at-home hair treatments as she rushed around her ever-more-packed salon. In short: She’s a fan. “I tell clients that they have to use conditioning masks and treatments, and if they come back to me without having done them, I tell them it’s sort of like taking vitamins once you get sick,” she says. “It would help you more if you took the vitamins before you got sick.”

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