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Is it better to color hair before or after a cut?

Whether to color hair before or after a cut is a common question and dilemma that many people face. Both options have their pros and cons, and the right timing often depends on the specific hair goals, hair type and condition, and types of services being received. Taking the time to understand the differences between pre-cut and post-cut coloring can help make the best choice for each unique situation.

Pros of Coloring Hair Before a Cut

Coloring hair before getting a cut offers some key advantages:

See the final look immediately

When hair is colored before a cut, the new color is revealed immediately after styling the new cut. This allows you to see the final look right away. Post-cut coloring means having to wait until after the cut grows out more to see the full effect of the color with the new style.

Color matches new length better

If significantly cutting off length, coloring first means the shade can be matched to complement the new shorter length. Longer hair needs different tone intensity than shorter styles.

Cut can remove damaged ends

The chemical process of coloring hair can damage strands and cause split ends. Getting a trim after coloring allows stylists to remove these damaged ends for fresher, healthier hair.

Less complicated for stylists

Coloring first gives stylists a blank canvas to work their cutting skills. It can be more difficult to cut colored hair, especially if highlights, lowlights, or ombre coloring has been done.

Cons of Coloring Before a Cut

While pre-cut coloring has advantages, there are some downsides to consider as well:

Can’t see how color takes to new length

If going much shorter, coloring hair first means you can’t preview how the shade will look at the new length before committing. The color result on long hair doesn’t always translate the same on short locks.

Harder to achieve precision cut

Layering, angles, and other precision cutting techniques are more difficult on colored hair. The pigments can obstruct guides and vision for the most skilled outcomes.

Roots show sooner

Trimming hair can cause roots to show through sooner. The colored lengths are cut off while new growth remains at the root area. Touch-ups are needed earlier.

More damage if lightening

Hair lightening processes require more chemical processing which creates damage. Trimming hair post-lightening can cut off useful lengths that didn’t need to be lost.

Pros of Coloring Hair After a Cut

While there are advantages to pre-cut coloring, there are also good reasons to wait until after the cut:

Cut is more accurate

Without pre-existing color, stylists can achieve the most precise, customized cuts. Layers, angles, bangs, and other detailing are easiest on virgin hair.

See how color takes to new length

Testing how the new proposed coloring looks on the new short style first can give peace of mind. This “test drive” ensures the shade works before final application.

Touch-ups needed less often

Since no colored length is cut off, root grow-out and touch ups aren’t needed as frequently. The coloring starts fresh right at the scalp.

Hair can recover after cut

Trimming off damage first allows the strands to recover before introducing more chemical processing. Hair is in optimal shape for coloring.

Cons of Coloring After a Cut

Post-cut coloring isn’t the best choice in every scenario. Some drawbacks include:

Can’t preview full look

While the new growth can preview color, the full effect can’t be seen until weeks later when length has grown in more. Surprises in how the color turns out can happen.

Roots don’t match lengths

The new regrowth will be colored, while the existing lengths will still have the old color. This root mismatch can look obvious and grow-out quickly.

More color appointments needed

To keep roots looking seamless, more frequent touch ups at the salon are required. It takes more time and money for color upkeep this way.

Healing time between services

Waiting 1-2 weeks between a cut and color allows hair to heal before more chemical treatment. The wait prolongs the time to achieve the desired finished look.

Key Considerations

Choosing whether to cut or color first depends on several important factors:

Hair type

Thick, coarse hair can withstand more manipulation and processing than fine, fragile strands. Heavily damaged or over-processed hair may need recovery time between services.

Amount of length change

Big changes in hair length impact how color takes. Subtle trims have less effect than dramatic chops.

Type of coloring service

All-over color has less impact on cutting than highlights, lowlights, balayage, ombre, etc. More complicated color techniques make cutting more difficult.

Desired finished look

If seamlessly matching regrowth to lengths is the priority, post-cut color wins. But pre-cut allows previewing the total look immediately.

Maintenance concerns

Pre-cut color means roots show through faster. Post-cut requires more touch-ups. Factor in time, cost, and convenience.

Hair damage

Hair in poor condition needs recovery time between chemical services. Healthy hair can withstand same-day cut and color.

Expert Recommendations

Looking at professional stylist suggestions can provide further guidance:

For major makeovers

Celebrity stylist Sally Hershberger recommends coloring hair first before chopping off substantial length for major transformations. This allows instantly seeing if the new shade complements the new style.

For subtle trims

Master stylist Oscar Blandi suggests getting a small maintenance trim first if keeping close to current length. The subtle cut won’t majorly impact how color takes.

For precision cutting

Cutting expert Jen Atkin says unmanned virgin hair allows for the most detailed, customized cutting. Coloring first obstructs guide strands needed for precision.

For blended regrowth

Colorist Rita Hazan favors coloring after a cut to blend roots seamlessly if that lived-in look is the goal. Pre-cut color means roots show through faster.

Expert Recommendation
Sally Hershberger Color first for major length changes
Oscar Blandi Trim first for subtle length cuts
Jen Atkin Cut first for precision styling
Rita Hazan Color second for seamless regrowth

The Best of Both Worlds

While the debate of whether it’s better to cut or color first still rages on, some compromise solutions can give the advantages of both approaches:

Color a few days before the cut

Coloring first, then allowing the hair a few days to recover before the trim, can allow seeing the overall look while also having healthy hair for cutting.

Just color the regrowth beforehand

Focusing the pre-cut color on just the regrowth area leaves lengths untouched for easier cutting. The refresh still allows previewing color results.

Just get a mini-trim first

A “dusting” trim that only removes a tiny bit of length can allow cutting hair without majorly impacting how color takes.

Book two sessions close together

Pre-book the cut and color back-to-back with the stylist. The sessions can be tailored to timing that works best for the look.

Case Studies: Examples of Cutting Before & After Coloring

Looking at real-life examples of cut and color sequencing can illustrate the results each method yields:

Cut Before Color Example

Jessica had long, one-length medium brown hair she felt was aging her. Her goal was a cropped long bob with balayage highlights for a fresh look. Her stylist recommend cutting first to achieve the most precision shaping and layers before lightening. The result was a trendy layered lob with face-framing highlights Jessica loved. Going shorter revealed her best features.

Jessica's Before and After Cut and Color

Color Before Cut Example

James had grown out his natural gray hair for years and wanted to embrace his salt and pepper. But his long style was flat and outdated. His stylist suggested coloring first to camouflage some gray before cutting into a layered, tapered cut to create volume and shape. The result was glossy and youthful while still looking natural. Seeing the color and cut together gave James confidence.

James' Before and After Color and Cut

The Bottom Line

Determining whether to cut or color first requires assessing factors like hair condition, service goals, maintenance concerns, and personal preferences. There are excellent reasons for both approaches. Thorough consultations with knowledgeable stylists can help weigh the options.

For less extreme changes, going in whatever order is most convenient may work fine. But for dramatic overhauls, strategically planning the sequencing of cut and color services can optimize the final fabulous results. The combination of skillful coloring, precision cutting and styling gives hair the best shot at achieving its maximum wow factor.


In summary, while there are pros and cons for both ordering a cut before or after a color, some key takeaways can guide the decision:

– For major length changes, color first allows previewing the entire look immediately. But color second gives a test drive on the new length.

– Subtle trims can typically happen either before or after with little impact. Big chops are best when color doesn’t obstruct a precise cut.

– Pre-cut color means regrowth shows through sooner. Post-cut color requires more frequent touch-ups. Factor in maintenance.

– On damaged hair, allow recovery time between chemical services. Healthy hair can likely withstand same-day cutting and coloring.

– Compromises like a mini pre-trim or just hitting the roots can provide a preview before finishing services.

– Experts can best assess hair condition, goals, and challenges to strategically plan service timing.

While individual factors play a role, following professional recommendations for sequencing cuts and color can help achieve beautiful, happy hair. Assess each unique situation to make the personalized choice between coloring first or cutting first.