Ask The Experts: Should I Wash My Hair Before I Color It?

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Written by Sophie Mara

Updated: June 6, 2024

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Whether you’ve booked a salon appointment with your favorite colorist or are about to undertake the slightly scary yet always satisfying task of coloring your hair at home, we always have the same question before dying our locks. Should we wash it beforehand?

While we’d love to tell you there is a yes or no answer, the truth is a little more complex and will take some delving into. So, we’ve put together our top tips into a handy guide you can refer to again and again.

Keep scrolling to learn everything you need to know about washing (or, not washing) your hair before coloring it. 

Should I Wash My Hair Before A Color Appointment?

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You’ve probably heard that most colorists prefer to apply hair dye to hair that is not freshly washed. Generally, that’s true, and they’ll usually recommend staying away from the shampoo for a least a day or two before hopping into the salon chair.

Why? It’s all about the natural sebum that comes from your scalp and slowly coats your strands.

This oil will act as a natural barrier between your hair and the dye. Not a barrier that stops the dye from, well, dying, but one that protects your strands from any irritation caused by the strength of the formula. 

Can I Still Dye My Hair If I’ve Washed It?

Although we recommend dyeing hair that has at least a day or two of natural oil buildup, that doesn’t mean you can’t dye freshly washed locks.

You can, just bear in mind that your hair will absorb the dye very quickly and will have little protection from the chemicals in the formula. For some, this may result in harsher results than desired. This happens when dye takes and develops more quickly so the color looks more extreme than it would on day two hair. 

For others, they may notice their hair is drier after the dying process. That’s because the ingredients within these formulas, particularly hydrogen peroxide, ammonia, and parabens are notoriously drying.

With no oil base to protect your natural keratin, your hair can start to feel straw-like, especially with repeat applications. The best route then for your next hair color? Err on the side of caution and wait out hair wash day for 48 hours or more.

Can/Should I Use Dry Shampoo Before Getting My Hair Colored?

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If you’ve decided not to wash your hair before getting a new color put in, you may start to experience greasy roots or just a general feeling of wanting to wash your hair. Since you know this can affect how the dye takes, we’re sure you won’t be tempted to lather up those locks in the shower.

But will you feel the pull of your trusty dry shampoo instead? Probably, but we really wouldn’t recommend you apply any. 

While the dry shampoo itself is unlikely to affect the color shade, it may make it trickier for the hair cuticles to open up and let the dye absorb properly. This means the color won’t be as vibrant and probably won’t last as long. Disaster!

Skip the dry shampoo in favor of slick back hairstyles and, in a pinch—your favorite hat.

Can I Use Product In My Hair Before Getting It Colored?

You’ve probably guessed this already but, using tons of product in your hair is another thing we recommend avoiding before getting your hair dyed. Much like the problem with dry shampoo, if you have tons of product in your hair, it will make it difficult for the color to adhere and develop. 

Make sure you’re washing as much product as possible out of your hair before your appointment or before you plan to dye your hair at home. Do this a couple of days before then try to use very minimal product, or even better, no product until after the dye touches your locks! 

Should I Leave My Hair Unwashed For Every Color Treatment? 

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You’ve probably heard conflicting information about whether or not to wash your hair before coloring in the past. That’s probably because the type of treatment, your current hair color, and the color of the new dye all make a difference. 

Booked in for a simple route touch-up? Clean or dirty hair won’t make too much of a difference to the results.

However, if you’re going for a whole new shade and coloring all of your hair, bear in mind that natural oils can make hair, especially lighter hair, look a little darker than it is. Consult your stylist beforehand, or trial and error the process at home if you’re coloring your locks yourself.

You may need to wash your hair a little closer to your appointment so your colorist can see the true tone and condition of your hair before getting started. We’re looking at you blondes.

If your hair is darker, those natural oils likely won’t alter the shade enough that you need to wash it before. In this case, opt for minimal product application and a gap of at least 48 hours before dying to best protect those locks. 

Should I Wet My Hair Before Coloring It? 

No. Permanent hair color is designed to develop on dry hair so having wet tresses can lead to the formula sliding off, not developing properly, and leaving you with patchy results.

If you turn up to a salon appointment with wet hair, they’ll likely need to dry it for you before the process can begin. This will remove all the moisture from your hair and can dry out your tresses before the dyeing process – not ideal.

You also may need to pay a higher fee for the added service – even less ideal. So if you got your hair wet in the shower (hopefully no shampoo was involved!), simply let it air dry completely before your appointment time. 

Should I Wash My Hair Before Bleaching It? 

While we suggest not washing your hair before coloring it, we strongly recommend skipping a wash day or two before getting your hair bleached.

Though bleach is safe in the right hands and shouldn’t overly damage your hair or scalp with proper application, it is still a very strong chemical that can irritate and even burn particularly sensitive scalps.

Resist the urge to wash your hair before a hair bleaching session, your hair and your scalp will definitely thank you for it in the long run.

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