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The Secrets to Dyeing Black Hair Damage-Free

The pros share how to get the best shade with the best care


spinner image a hair stylist standing in her salon
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Many women who wear their hair natural tend to be a bit overprotective of their mane, and rightfully so. After all, textured hair thrives the most when it gets the TLC it requires. But that doesn’t mean you can’t have a little fun. So let’s talk coloring.

If you’ve been thinking about undergoing a color transformation but don’t want to compromise the health of your hair, rest assured that in the right hands, it can be done — even after 50. But before making the commitment, there are several things you might want to consider. We asked the experts for their advice.

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1. Get prepared

There’s nothing wrong with a little spontaneity every now and then, but when it comes to hair color, preparation is key. “The most important thing to know before coloring 50-plus hair is that you want to prep the hair two to four weeks before with hydrating and protein masks, as dyeing hair can [be drying],” says Richard Grant, a celebrity hairstylist who’s worked with Holly Robinson Peete and Tawny Cypress. It’s wise to consider the condition of your hair, as weak, damaged locks likely won’t withstand the coloring process.

2. Understand the possibilities

Though coloring natural hair is safe, Yasmine Young, a master cosmetologist and owner of Diaspora Salon in Baltimore, says the overall feel and condition of your tresses may change. For example, bleaching removes melanin and proteins from your strands, which can result in dry, brittle hair. “If you’re having black, brown or a deeper shade [of] red or copper done, there won’t be a significant difference in the feel and condition of your hair. If you’re going lighter to blonds, lighter browns or brighter reds, yes, the surface texture of your hair will change, but your hairstylist will recommend products to keep your hair healthy, so don’t worry,” she advises.

“I highly suggest setting goals for clients and getting the results you want in stages so that you can maintain the integrity of the hair,” Grant adds.

3. Opt for easy-to-maintain colors

Generally speaking, the easiest shades to maintain for natural hair are ones that are closer to your natural hue, Grant says. “Reds usually require more maintenance just because you want it to look rich and vibrant all the time,” he says. When it comes to covering grays, going darker may seem like the obvious way to go, but Young suggests going with lighter shades for a more natural-looking blend. “People often color their hair dark brown or black when their hair becomes gray, but we recommend working with the natural gray that’s coming in and using highlights and lowlights in cool tones to blend in with the gray hair. That way, there isn’t such a strict line of demarcation when your gray hair grows in,” she explains. Regardless of the hue you choose, Grant says, the best way to handle grays as a natural is to keep the hair hydrated. Another pro tip: “I always use double-pigmented colors just in case the grays are stubborn,” Grant says.

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4. Know what you want

Before getting comfortable in your stylist’s chair, you should have a pretty good idea of what you’re trying to achieve. So explore all options, consider the condition of your hair — and have a plan for those grays. “You have to decide if you want to cover the gray, blend it a little or let it show in all its glory,” Young says, adding that the best two options for coloring gray hair are permanent color (100 percent opaque) and demi-permanent color (translucent). Semipermanent color won’t do much for covering or blending grays, as it doesn’t penetrate into the hair as much. “It is just a stain, so if you use a red semipermanent hair color, your gray will be pink,” Young warns.

5. Keep color fresh

For mature, natural hair, Young recommends waiting every eight to 12 weeks for a touch-up (depending on the rate of growth) and every 12 to 16 weeks for highlights and lowlights. To prevent your color from fading, be sure to lay low on the heat, and stock up on hydrating, color-safe cleansers and conditioners. Grant has a few favorites. “The product I would use is the Modern Color 3-in-1 Color Refresh + Cleanse + Conditioner [$30, moderncolor.com], which [deposits color instantly]. I also use KeraCare’s Hydrating Detangling Shampoo [$9, sallybeauty.com] and Humecto Creme Conditioner [$12, walmart.com] on my diverse clientele,” he says.

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