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Which hair color doesn’t damage hair?

Deciding which hair color to go with can be a tough choice. While a bold, vibrant hair color is eye-catching and fun, the harsh chemicals required to achieve most fashion colors can damage your strands. If you’re looking to change up your look without compromising the health of your hair, going with a more natural shade may be the best option.

The Problem with Permanent Fashion Colors

Vibrant hair colors like bright red, electric blue, and pastel pink require opening up the hair cuticle in order to deposit color. This process uses harsh chemicals like ammonia and peroxide to strip away your natural pigment so the new color can take hold.

These chemicals can leave hair dry and brittle. The natural oils that keep strands soft and supple are often depleted after permanent coloring services. This leads to a long list of issues:

  • Dry, frizzy texture
  • Increased split ends
  • Breakage
  • Lackluster shine
  • Weakened overall integrity

Those with thin or fine hair may find their strands become overprocessed and damaged after just one application of permanent fashion color. Repeated coloring causes further deterioration.

Semi-Permanent Colors

Semi-permanent hair colors offer vibrancy without as much damage. Brands like Arctic Fox, Manic Panic, and Lime Crime have a cult following for their ability to deliver bright, bold hues that fade out slowly over 4-6 weeks.

While gentler than permanent hair color, semi-permanents still require some level of cuticle penetration for dye deposition. However, they lack peroxide so the damage is minimized. Common ingredients in semi-permanent color include:

  • Alcohol
  • Propylene glycol
  • Fragrance
  • Glycerin
  • Conditioners

These help reduce drying of the hair strand. However, semi-permanent formulas do still contain chemicals that may cause irritation, itching, or allergic reactions in those with sensitive skin.

Non-Damaging Temporary Colors

For hair that’s free of chemical damage, temporary colors are the way to go. These wash out with one shampooing and don’t require developers or bleaching.

There are a couple of options for temporary hair color. The first is colored hair spray. Brands like L’Oreal and John Frieda make temporary sprays that easily layer vibrant color over your existing shade. The formulas contain alcohol though, which can be drying with repeated use.

Your other option is colored hair chalk or mousse. These adhere to the hair shaft without chemical penetration. They simply coat the outside of strands with bold pigment that rinses away clean. Some top temporary mousse color options include:

  • Lime Crime Unicorn Hair Color Full Coverage Tint
  • Sparks Long Lasting Bright Hair Color
  • Glowbiotics Hair Dye

Ammonia-Free Permanent Color

If you want something longer lasting than temporary color but don’t want to deal with bleach or high levels of peroxide, try an ammonia-free permanent brand like Madison Reed. They offer over 55 different shades ranging from natural browns and blondes to vibrant reds, purples, and more.

Rather than ammonia, these formulas use an ingredient called MEA (monoethanolamine) to open the cuticle gently and deposit permanent color. MEA is less odorous, less irritating to the scalp, and gentler on hair than ammonia. Reviews show significantly less hair damage compared to regular permanent color.

For those who want natural-looking highlights or lowlights without bleach, ammonia-free brands like Madison Reed offer expertly blended shade combinations to give dimension and depth. This allows you to enhance your natural color with subtle, face-framing hues.

100% Natural Hair Dyes

Natural hair dyes utilize plant-based pigments to safely deposit color without chemicals. Most contain some combination of the following:

  • Henna – for red and copper tones
  • Indigo – for brown and black shades
  • Cassia – for yellows and golds
  • Coffee, tea, turmeric – for brunette hues
  • Beets, cherry – for red tones
  • Spinach, mint – for darker colors

These dyes work by coating the outside of the hair rather than penetrating the cuticle. Thus, they don’t cause damage but the results are temporary, lasting 4-6 weeks before fading. Some popular natural hair dye brands include:

  • Light Mountain Natural Hair Color
  • Naturtint Permanent Hair Color
  • Original & Mineral Hair Dye
  • Overtone Deep Treatment

With homemade natural dyes, you can control the ingredients and avoid any preservatives, chemicals, or additives you don’t want on your hair. YouTube has endless DIY natural hair color tutorials to choose from.

Color Washing

Color washing or color shampooing is a gentle way to deposit temporary color without chemicals. These shampoos utilize cationic polymers to lightly adhere pigment to the outside of hair strands. The color washes away in 4-6 shampoos.

Some top options for color wash shampoos include:

  • Celeb Luxury Gem Lites Color Wash
  • Maskcara Colorwash Shampoo
  • Overtone Coloring Conditioner
  • Lunar Tides Hair Color Shampoo

These shampoos are free of harsh ingredients like ammonia, peroxide and alcohol. However, certain synthetic fragrances or preservatives may still cause irritation for some.

Color Depositing Conditioners

Conditioners that deposit color work similarly to color shampoos. As you lather the formula into your hair, polymers adhere to the cuticle and coat strands with color that washes away gradually over time.

Some top options for color depositing conditioners include:

  • Overtone Daily Hair Color
  • Celeb Luxury Viral Colorwash
  • Punky Colour Depositing Conditioner
  • Moroccanoil Color Depositing Mask

These conditioners contain lower levels of pigment than the shampoos so the color is subtler. They are extremely conditioning though, helping restore shine, softness, and manageability as they lightly tint.

Non-Permanent Rinses

Color rinses date back to the punk scene in the 1970s. TheseTemporary formulas coat strands with bold color that washes away in just 1-2 shampoos. Rinses are applied to towel dried hair after shampooing.

Some popular options include:

  • Manic Panic Classic Cream Formula
  • Special Effects Hair Color Rinse
  • Lunar Tides Hair Rinse
  • Adore Semi-Permanent Hair Color Rinse

The creamy formulas contain conditioning ingredients to prevent dryness. However, the alcohol content can be drying to some hair types. Rinses work best on pre-lightened hair.

Color Mask Treatments

Hair masks that add temporary color give vibrancy and shine while deeply nourishing strands. Rather than deposits externally, color mask treatments infuse color into the hair shaft for longer lasting results.

Some top options include:

  • Celeb Luxury Gem Lites Colorwash Color Mask
  • Madison Reed Color Reviving Gloss
  • LOREAL Paris Colorista Hair Makeup
  • John Freida Color Renew Gloss+ Vibrancy Booster

Masks that utilize caring oils, butters, and conditioners can help restore damage from coloring while refreshing your hue. They provide 5-10 shampoos of fade-resistant color.

Color Stripping

If your hair is feeling damaged from permanent dye, a color remover can help strip the color so you can give your strands a break and reset to a healthy state. Color strippers work by swelling the hair cuticle and rinsing away artificial pigment.

Some popular options include:

  • Color Oops Hair Color Remover
  • Scott Cornwall Decolour Hair Color Remover
  • L’Oreal Paris Colorist Secrets Brass Banisher
  • Malibu CPR Color Pigment Remover

These stripping agents contain less harsh chemicals than permanent hair dye. However, to thoroughly remove artificial color they still rely on ingredients like sodium bisulfite, hydrogen peroxide, and alcohol which can cause dryness and damage when overused.

The Healthiest Hair Color Options

When it comes to finding a hair color that won’t damage your strands, natural and temporary options are your best bet. Here’s a quick overview of the healthiest hair dye methods:

Coloring Method Damage Level
Natural Dyes Very Low
Temporary Rinses Very Low
Color Washing Very Low
Semi-Permanent Dyes Low
Ammonia-Free Permanent Low-Moderate
Permanent Dyes High
Bleaching/Stripping Very High

As you can see, natural plant-based dyes and temporary rinses or shampoos lead to the least hair damage. Semi-permanent colors are a step up with marginally more chemical stress. However, even these gentler formulas can be drying or irritating for some.

Tips to Minimize Damage

If you want to experiment with bolder hair colors, there are steps you can take to keep your strands as healthy as possible:

  • Do a strand test – apply to a small section first to see how your hair reacts.
  • Use protective products like oils or conditioners before and after.
  • Spread applications 4-6 weeks apart to allow recovery time.
  • Use the gentlest formulas meant for damaged or color-treated hair.
  • Shampoo less frequently with a gentle, sulfate-free formula.
  • Rinse with cool water and avoid heat styling when possible.
  • Get occasional trims to nix split ends before they worsen.
  • Use bonding treatments and intensive masques for added TLC.

It’s also wise to give your strands a break by taking a few months off from chemical processing whenever possible. Let your hair recover and rebuild lost protein and moisture.

The Takeaway

Vibrant hair colors allow you to express your unique style. However, harsh chemicals commonly found in permanent dyes can cause significant damage, especially to thin or fragile strands.

Minimizing chemical processing by utilizing natural, temporary plant-based pigments as much as possible will keep your hair looking and feeling its healthiest.

Semi-permanent dyes offer fade-resistant color with less damage than permanent options IF used sparingly. For optimal hair wellness though, natural and temporary coloring methods are your best bet.

With the right formulas and proper precautions, you can enjoy frequently changing up your look without compromising your hair integrity. Handle those strands with care and you’ll keep them looking gorgeously vibrant and touchably soft.