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Do colour depositing conditioners work?

Colour depositing conditioners have become increasingly popular in recent years as a way to temporarily colour or add shine to hair without permanent dye. But do they really work? Here we’ll examine what colour depositing conditioners are, who they are best suited for, and whether they live up to their claims.

What Are Colour Depositing Conditioners?

Colour depositing conditioners, sometimes called hair gloss or colour enhancing conditioners, are formulated to deposit semi-permanent colour onto the hair strands. They come in a wide range of shades and typically need to be left on the hair for a few minutes before rinsing out. The colour molecules they contain are designed to coat the outside of the hair shaft, rather than penetrate into the cortex the way permanent hair dye does.

This means they cannot permanently change your natural hair colour. However, they can add a sheer tint or shine to hair. Common colour effects provided by depositing conditioners include:

  • Enhancing natural hair colour with a vibrant, shiny finish
  • Adding subtle highlights or lowlights
  • Covering a portion of grey hairs
  • Refreshing faded colour treated hair
  • temporarily changing hair colour entirely for a fun effect

The colour results are temporary, so they will gradually fade out with shampooing over 4-10 washes. To maintain the colour, you need to reapply the conditioner regularly.

How Do They Work?

Colour depositing conditioners use cationic dye molecules that are positively charged so they can bind to the negatively charged hair strand. Common dye types include:

  • Quaternary ammonium salts – bond securely to the outside of hair and resist fading.
  • Cationic polymers – large colour molecules that reflect light for brilliant shine.
  • Amino acids – help the colour adhere evenly to hair.

These colour active ingredients are combined into a creamy conditioner base. When massaged into the hair and left for a few minutes, the positively charged dye molecules attach onto the hair shaft. They cannot penetrate into the hair cortex because the cuticle layer blocks access when undamaged. The colour is then sealed into the hair with the rinse out conditioner.

Who Are Colour Depositing Conditioners Best Suited To?

Colour depositing conditioners can technically be used on any hair type. However, they achieve the best results and are ideal for:

  • Colour treated hair – They will refresh faded permanent or semi-permanent hair colour, blend away root re-growth, and add extra vibrancy to colour treated locks.
  • Natural blonde to light brown hair – Light hair provides the ideal blank canvas for dye molecules to deposit onto. Blondes can experiment with fun shades without bleach.
  • Anyone wanting temporary colour – They allow you to temporarily transform your hair colour for an event or experiment with a new shade without long term commitment.
  • Damaged or porous hair – Porous hair readily absorbs the dye molecules for even colour depositing that helps disguise damage.

Those with thick, coarse or tightly curled hair may need to leave the conditioner on longer to achieve even coverage. Colour depositing conditioners have limited effectiveness on pure white or grey hair as the cuticle loses integrity with age, preventing sufficient dye uptake. The colour molecules may also have a patchy appearance on darker hair colours, although some shades contain tiny reflectors to provide subtle highlighting effects on brunettes too.

What Are the Benefits?

Using a colour depositing conditioner provides a range of benefits including:

  • No ammonia or bleach – They do not contain harsh chemicals like permanent dyes, minimizing damage to hair.
  • Even, predictable colour – The conditioner base helps dye distribute evenly from roots to ends for consistent results.
  • Simple and quick to use – You simply apply the conditioner like normal, wait, then rinse. No mixing or developer is required.
  • Low commitment – The colour washes out gradually, allowing you to experiment with different temporary shades.
  • Damage masking effects – The added colour hide split ends and other damage to temporarily improve hair’s appearance.
  • Hydration and softness – The conditioning base nourishes hair and enhances shine.
  • No roots re-growth – You can re-apply just to the lengths as needed to maintain colour vibrancy between salon visits.

Are There Any Drawbacks?

While colour depositing conditioners provide many benefits, there are a few potential drawbacks to be aware of as well:

  • Limited colour palette – The colour choices are not nearly as vast as permanent dyes. Unnatural shades like blues and greens have a harder time adhering.
  • Subtle colour – Do not expect dramatic colour transformation. The dye sits only on the cuticle surface, so the colour is deliberately sheer and translucent.
  • Requires re-application – The colour fades out fairly quickly and needs regular re-treatment to maintain vibrancy.
  • Can stain – Rinse carefully as the colour molecules can sometimes stain skin, tile or furnishings.
  • Not permanent – Colour depositing conditioners do not permanently change hair pigment or lighten hair.

To get the most out of a colour depositing conditioner, carefully choose a shade suited to your hair colour and remember that the results will be subtle rather than completely transformational. Use heat and leave on at least 5 minutes to maximize dye uptake.

Are Colour Depositing Conditioners Damaging?

When used according to package directions, colour depositing conditioners are generally gentle on hair. They do not require peroxide or alkalizing agents to open the cuticle and enable dye penetration, avoiding structural damage to hair. The conditioning base also provides nurturing benefits.

However, color molecules may cause issues for some. Cationic salts and polymers are large compounds and can sometimes weigh hair down, potentially leading to limpness for very fine or thin hair. The dye molecules may also provoke irritation in those with sensitive skin.

To prevent unexpected damage, always do a patch test by applying the colour depositing conditioner to a small section of hair 24-48 hours before fully using it. Monitor for any irritation, unexpected colour results or undesirable texture changes.

How Long Does the Colour Last?

Colour depositing conditioners are only semi-permanent. On average, the colour remains vibrant for:

  • 2 to 4 washes when used on blonde to light brown hair.
  • 4 to 8 washes when used on medium to dark brown or colour treated hair.

The colour tends to fade progressively from the roots down the hair shaft since the roots have more cuticle layers for dye to adhere to. Factors like hair texture, warmth from styling tools and frequency of washing impact colour longevity too. Porous or frequently washed hair fades faster, while minimizing shampooing and using cool water extends the colour.

Can Colour Depositing Conditioners Lighten Hair?

Colour depositing conditioners cannot lighten hair or remove existing pigment. They only deposit colour onto the surface of hair strands. To lighten hair, bleaching agents like peroxide must penetrate inside the hair shaft to oxidize melanin pigments.

Some colour depositing conditioner brands market ultra-light blonde or silver shades. However, these do not actually remove pigment. They rely on optical brighteners and violet or blue dye molecules to counteract brassiness and give the illusion of lighter hair, similar to toner. They show best results when used on light yellow-toned blonde and grey hair but cannot take brunette hair to a lighter blonde.

How Do You Use a Colour Depositing Conditioner?

Using colour depositing conditioner takes only a few simple steps:

  1. Shampoo hair thoroughly and towel dry.
  2. Apply the colour depositing conditioner, ensuring even coverage of hair strands from roots to ends.
  3. Massage it into hair for even saturation. Use a wide-tooth comb to distribute further if needed.
  4. Leave the conditioner on for at least 5 minutes up to the maximum time recommended on pack.
  5. Rinse hair thoroughly until water runs clear.
  6. Follow with your usual conditioner if desired.

To maximize colour deposit, apply to clean damp hair. The cuticle is most open from pre-shampooing, allowing better dye uptake. Processing under heat, whether from sunlight, a blowdryer or hood dryer, also helps the colour molecules penetrate for more vibrant, lasting results.

Can I Use a Colour Depositing Conditioner After Bleaching?

Colour depositing conditioners should not be used immediately after lightening hair with bleach. Bleaching causes significant cuticle damage and swelling of the hair shaft. Using colour overtop can provoke further irritation and breakage.

Instead, wait 2 to 4 weeks after bleaching before using a colour depositing conditioner. This allows the cuticle time to close and for hair to rebuild internal strength. The colour conditioner can then help neutralize brassiness from lightening after the bleaching shock has passed.

What Colour Depositing Conditioner Brands Work Best?

There are now dozens of brands offering colour depositing conditioner options. Some top rated and most popular brands include:

Brand Key Features
Overtone – Conditioner and daily maintenance formulas
– Huge colour selection
– Specifically designed for colour treated hair
Lunar Tides – Fun, vivid colour choices
– No boiling required to activate
– Cruelty-free and vegan
Keracolor Clenditioners – Natural, non-toxic formula
– Ammonia and peroxide-free
– Targeted grey blending shades
Celeb Luxury – Specializes in blonde colours
– Optimized for porous hair
– Also offers colour shampoos

Brands like Overtone, Lunar Tides and Keracolor receive particular praise for their extensive colour selections. Always read customer reviews to help determine quality of the colour payoff and conditioner formula for a specific brand.

Should I Use a Colour Depositing Conditioner?

Colour depositing conditioners offer an easy, damage-free way to experiment with hair colour. They provide fun temporary effects, refresh salon dye jobs, and can lightly enhance natural colour. However, for significant permanent colour transformation, opt for traditional permanent dye instead.

To determine if a colour depositing conditioner is suitable for your hair, consider:

  • Your natural hair colour and condition – they show up best on light hair in good condition.
  • Whether you want subtle colour or dramaticbrightening – colour depositing is more for subtle effects.
  • Your willingness for ongoing maintenance – you need to reapply every few washes to maintain vibrancy.

Always do a strand test when using a new colour brand to check the results before fully committing. Have realistic expectations about the depth of colour result too. While colour depositing conditioners have limitations, they remain a simple way to temporarily transform your look.

The Takeaway

Colour depositing conditioners offer an easy, no-commitment way to experiment with hair colour. The gentle, conditioning formulas add temporary semi-permanent colour to hair strands without damaging bleaching agents. They show up best and most vibrantly on light blonde to light brown hair. On darker hair, the colour payoff is subtler but can still add shine and tone down brassiness.

While they won’t permanently transform your shade, colour depositing conditioners provide damage-free, playful effects. They brighten up colour treated hair, help blend away roots between salon visits, and allow you to try new hues just for fun. As long as you go in with realistic expectations about the depth of colour achievable and commit to re-applying every few washes, colour depositing conditioners can be a handy hair colour tool.