Where it comes to coloring your hair and its sometimes-deleterious effects – breakage and hair loss – there is good news for some, and not so great news for others. Let’s break that down:
Coloring hair is safe for most people (regardless of gender). Done correctly, usually by professionals, it’s possible to change color, add highlights, and cover grey – and still have thick, shiny, healthy-looking hair.
But radical color changes, particularly going from very dark to very blond hair, involves a harsher process that can be seriously damaging to hair. The rule of thumb is to go two shades away from your natural color.
Hair loss treatment clinics – as well as physicians – see men and mostly women experiencing some degree of hair loss from hair color and hair bleaching. These hair loss conditions can be temporary or long-term depending on the damage done to the hair. Standard hair loss solutions for women and men may or may not help. So, it’s a good idea to understand how hair coloring works and how it can be unhealthy to hair.
How hair coloring works – and why coloring your hair isn’t necessarily bad for your hair
First, it helps to understand the structure of hair to know how coloring works. Each strand of hair has an inner and outer layer, quite like a core inside a tube. The outer layer, called the cuticle, surrounds the inner layer, known as the cortex. The inner layer makes up the bulk of the hair – and that is where the natural color resides.
To change the color means penetrating the outer core to reach the inner core. If the color change is minor, it’s possible to only add a shade of color to the outer cuticle layer with an acid-based dye. Of note, despite how “acid” might sound caustic, in this case acid serves as a protective element to the outer cuticle.
… but bleaching to achieve major color change can damage hair
To achieve a more drastic color change, such as going blonde for someone with naturally dark hair, it’s necessary to use bleach. Bleaching is an entirely different matter: the active agent is peroxide, which causes damage and protein loss in both the hair cuticle and cortex. This basically strips out natural color, allowing the introduced color (blond) to inhabit the shaft. The hair might be blond, but it’s weakened. Research shows the result can easily lead to breakage and thinning.
The better, smarter approach is to color hair in a hue that is closer to your natural tones; this will likely present a softer, more convincing look that is consistent with eyebrow and skin tones as well. Other tips for coloring that is kinder to hair:
Get it done professionally. One of the reasons hair stylists and colorists have to be licensed in most states – which is generally preceded by cosmetology education – is due to the serious nature of what they do. Misapplied bleaches, dyes, and related chemicals can actually harm the client and the colorist.
Consider temporary dyes. Yes, this implies a lack of commitment. It also means testing out something new with minimal damage to the hair itself (temporary dyes wash out somewhere between one and ten washings). The agents in most temporary dyes do not penetrate the outer layer; better yet, condition your hair before applying and the shafts will be richer and more resilient to drying out.
Other advice for those seeking a new look is to eat heathy, avoid pool chlorine, and use conditioners. That includes foods high in essential amino acids, vitamin B12, and biotin; these are foods with good oils, such as walnuts and cold water fatty fish (salmon, herring, mackerel, sardines, tuna), as well as unprocessed fruits and vegetables.