Yup—if you've ever gotten your hair colored or highlighted and wondered, "Why do my curls suddenly look so dry and flat," the dying process—and how it effects your hair's outer layer, called "the cuticle"—is likely to blame. "The cuticle acts as the gatekeeper of hair health by protecting inner layers from damage and determining the hair’s porosity," says Melanie Bolton, hairstylist and director of education at Flow. "It's comprised of scale-like, overlapping layers that lift and flatten onto each strand in response to environmental factors, heat styling, and product."
The flatter your cuticle lies, the more easily it's able to lock in moisture, which means that flat cuticles equate to smooth, shiny hair. "For curly hair, the cuticle is already raised, which is what contributes to its glorious texture," says Bolton. "However, this also means that curly hair is more fragile and susceptible to dryness and damage which inevitably changes texture."
Since hair color is works by raising the cuticle to allow the dye to get into the cortex, the fact that curly hair's cuticles are already raised puts it at greater risk for damage. Which means that it may wind up severely drying out your strands, and ultimately messing with the pattern of your curls.
In order to avoid a dye job that accidentally turns your beach waves or coils into a mess, it's important to use the right products and take things s-l-o-w. "Texture can be affected is when you are lifting your color to a lighter shade too quickly or if you are using products that are not compatible with your hair type or hair condition," explains Bolton.
And while at-home hair color certainly has it's place, if you've got curly hair it's best to stay away. "While mass marketed, home-applied products have improved over the years, they are never the answer for curly hair," says Bolton. "The best way to achieve a lighter look is to create a plan with your stylist that includes pre-care and post-care with the right type of products that will assist the journey to your desired color goal."
Aside from using the right products and relying on a pro to get the job done, there are also certain things you can do at home to preserve your color-treated curls. "Curly hair is all about moisture no matter how you slice it, so your daily regimen should consist of products that infuse the hair with moisture and protect the hair from moisture loss," says Bolton. In the shower, a color-safe shampoo, like Living Proof Color Safe Shampoo ($59), and deep conditioner, like Ouidad Moisture Lock Leave-in Conditioner ($26), can help. And on the styling front, try a heat protectant, like Amika Blockade Heat Protectant Serum ($25), or a cream-based curl balm and a finishing oil, like Briogeo Curl Charisma ($20) and Flow H5 Concentrate Shine Serum ($24), to "to help seal moisture into the cuticle and add shine," says Bolton. And one more thing? "Wash your hair less frequently to allow your body’s natural oils to coat the hair to nourish the cuticle."
With proper treatment, you'll never have to choose between hair that's curly or hair that's color treated again. Instead, you can have the best of both.
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