Why Won’t My Hair Take Color? (How To Fix)

Dyeing your hair a different color shouldn’t be difficult, but what do you do if your hair won’t take color? it’s frustrating, but there’s often a good explanation for it.

In this article, I will outline the most common reasons why your hair won’t take color and show you just how to fix it.

Woman with long red hair looking sad, stood in front of a pink wall.

Reasons Why Your Hair Won’t Color

1. You Didn’t Leave Hair Dye In For Long Enough Time

The most common reason why hair doesn’t hold on to color is that the dye is washed out too soon. You should always follow the instructions on the box and let the dye work for the recommended time.

So, step away from the sink. Just because you can see your hair beginning to take color, doesn’t mean it’s time to rinse it.

Leaving the dye in for the recommended time allows the developer to do its work and get the hair dye to penetrate your cuticles.

Each box dye is different, but on average, you’ll want to leave the dye in for around 30 – 45 minutes.

2. You Didn’t Use Enough Hair Dye

This seems simple, but make sure you are using enough hair dye in order to fully coat your hair roots, shaft, and ends. If you haven’t, you won’t get the color you’re expecting.

Make sure you’re evenly applying the color all over your head to avoid discoloration and patchiness.

You don’t need to dye your whole head every time you need a touch-up: just refresh faded ends and roots as needed.

3. You left the dye in for too long

Just like rinsing your hair too soon can cause your hair to not take color, so can leaving the dye in for too long.

If this happens, the additional wait time may take away the vibrancy of the color. This can make your hair look dull and flat.

If you think you’ve done this, you can use a clarifying shampoo to help bring this color out so that you can start again. Just be aware that you may need to do this several times in order to get your hair back to a natural state.

4. You’re Not Using The Right Developer

If you’re using a box dye, you should of course use the developer that comes with the box. Your developer is as important as the dye and might be the reason why your hair color is not taking on the ends.

If you’re using separate color cremes and developers, follow these rules:

  • Use volume 30-50 developer when lightening hair
  • Use volume 10 developer when darkening hair

Depending on how many shades you’re planning to lighten or darken your locks, you can gauge what developer you need.

If you are concerned, it’s best to book a trip to the salon, so that a stylist can manage the process.

5. Your Natural Hair Is Too Dark

The base tone of your hair is really important when you’re planning on dyeing it. If you have a dark base color, you can’t immediately use a light dye on top – it just won’t penetrate.

You’ll need to bleach your hair first so that it can take the lighter hair dye – and this can cause serious damage to hair, so it’s best to go into the process eyes-open.

The general rule is you can only lighten (or darken) hair around two shades either way. At-home color kits just don’t have the chemicals that you need to go any lighter or darker.

You’ll need to head to a salon if you want more dramatic changes. Be sure to always do a patch test, too, before using any hair dye.

6. Your Hair Is Too Greasy

Our hair and scalp produce natural oils designed to protect you from the damage of free radicals and environmental pollution.

They also help when you’re dyeing your hair, as the oils create a natural barrier between delicate skin and any chemicals.

Leaving your hair a little greasy before dyeing it can therefore help color take.

However, too much grease and the dye will just slip off your strands and won’t penetrate. It’s all about balance.

7. You Recently Bleached Or Dyed Your Hair

If you’ve recently bleached or dyed your hair, the color you’re currently trying to use likely won’t take.

Bleaching is a serious process that can hugely dry out – or even burn – your hair.

If you have brittle, burned, over-processed locks, they won’t take to color, as your hair cuticles are open and the fiber underneath is exposed and frazzled.

You’ll need to use a protein filler or cuticle repairing oils until your hair is ready to take the color again.

Looking after the health of hair’s cuticles is vital for ensuring that color sticks – they need to be lying flat, and if the hair is damaged, they won’t be.

8. You’re A Swimmer

Both chlorine and saltwater are not ideal for the hair. Saltwater reacts with the keratin that makes up your hair’s protein, which may cause lovely beachy waves, but will also likely dry your hair out.

Dry hair is the worst when you’re trying to get the color to stick.

Chlorine is also incredibly damaging for hair – it can create split ends and lead to frizz, dryness, and dehydration.

As a result, your hair color won’t take to the ends of your locks.

It may not be the most glamorous, but using a swim cap creates a barrier between your strands and the chemicals, thereby reducing its impact.

The sun can also be very damaging for newly dyed hair – so consider using a UV-protectant spray, using a hat, or keeping in the shade when you’ve just colored your locks.

9. You’re Not Using The Right Shampoo And Conditioner

Yes, the products you put in your hair every day inevitably make a difference in whether dye sticks or not.

You need haircare that’s color-enhancing once you’ve dyed your hair, so as to preserve the color for as long as possible.

Look for products with minimal chemicals, too, as well as swapping in clarifying shampoos and hydrating conditioners depending on where you are in your dyeing process.

10. You Live In A Hard Water Area

Hard water contains many mineral deposits.

When you wash your hair in it, these will spread over your scalp and strands and may impact how hair dye penetrates.

You can either invest in a water purifier or use a clarifying shampoo regularly in order to minimize the effects of hard water.

Having super-hot showers is also not great for colored hair, as it will cause fading much faster. Go for warm showers and follow with a cool rinse in order to seal your hair cuticles.

11. You’ve Recently Chemically Treated Your Hair

Chemical treatments can be fabulous, but if you avidly dye your hair, it will be difficult to coordinate the two.

Dyeing hair too soon after a perm or relaxing treatment will mean you end up with patchy, uneven color, and very breakable locks. This will especially impact your ends.

If you do want to have both treatments and color your hair, you need to always remember to color first.

12. Your Hair Is Too Porous

Your hair’s porosity will impact whether hair dye will take on your ends. If your hair is low porosity, the dye molecules will struggle to penetrate into the cortex, meaningless pigment is absorbed.

Alternatively, if your hair is too porous, you might end up with excessive damage. It’s about balance.

If you’re concerned, it’s best to book a coloring process at a salon, as your stylist will be best able to gauge how porous – or not – your hair might be, and take the best steps for your hair from there.

Be aware that styling tools that use heat can make your hair more porous, so step away from the flat iron and curling wand.

You can always use a clarifying shampoo in advance of coloring, as this helps balance out hair’s porosity. The dye will therefore spread more evenly over your locks.

13. You’re Over-washing Your Hair

You really don’t need to be washing your hair every day. Your scalp produces oils naturally, and they’re there to maintain balance and protect against infection.

Washing every other day is perfectly acceptable, and will keep your hair from drying out.

As we’ve discussed, dry hair is the worst when you’re trying to dye your hair. Use a gentle shampoo to cleanse your scalp without stripping moisture.

Remember not to scrub too hard so as not to cause any little nicks or cuts – the ammonia in any dye you use will only make these irritated and you may get an infection.

How To Make Sure The Ends Of Your Hair Take Color

Woman having her hair dyed at a salon

Based on the reasons I have outlined above, here are my top tips on how to make sure your hair will take color in the future:

  1. Leave hair dye in for the recommended length of time
  2. Use the right volume developer
  3. Wash your hair 1-2 days before you plan on dyeing it
  4. Don’t color your hair straight after a bleach
  5. Avoid chlorine after dyeing your hair
  6. Use hair products designed for colored hair
  7. Use a clarifying shampoo if you live in a hard water area
  8. Don’t wash your hair more than twice per week

By prioritizing your hair care routine and looking after your locks, you’ll ensure that your hair color is more likely to take to your roots, strands, and ends.

Here are a few more tips on how to make sure your color lasts as long as possible:

Get A Trim

The importance of cutting your hair before you color can’t be over-emphasized. The cut will change how your hair strands frame and fall around your face, and you’ll be removing any dry, brittle ends.

Dry, fragile hair ends will more often than not be the reason that your hair color might not be taken, so this is an important step.

Clarify And Condition Your Hair In Advance

Using a clarifying shampoo in advance of coloring helps to remove any build-up or residue in your scalp and strands.

These might impact the color process, so a gentle clarifying shampoo can help with this. Then it’s best to follow up with a conditioning mask to deeply penetrate and hydrate your hair.

Leave it to sit on your scalp and strands for at least thirty minutes so that you’re maximizing your hair’s moisture levels.

Use A Hot Oil Treatment

Alternatively, you can use a hot oil treatment. No matter how you swing it, hair dye is very drying – and if your ends are dry, this might be why your hair color just isn’t taking.

A hot oil treatment will nourish your locks prior to treatment, readying your hair strands to take on any color molecules.

Don’t Over-Wash

It is important not to over-wash your hair before dyeing it.

Having a natural layer of oil is a great way of protecting your scalp from the worst effects of the dye, and will therefore help color take better.

That said, you need to ensure your hair isn’t too greasy either, as excess oil on strands will disrupt the way that dye penetrates.

Use The Right Products

To ensure your hair’s overall health, use sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner, and look for products with as few chemicals as possible.

Natural ingredients that are cruelty-free are best. Keeping away from styling tools that use excess heat is a great idea too, so don’t pick up that curling iron too often.

Disclaimer: This site is not intended to provide professional or medical advice. All of the content on LovedByCurls.com is for informational purposes only. All advice should be followed at your own discretion. Ingredients may change at any time so always check the product label before using. Check our full disclaimer policy here.

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Alice Carlill

Alice is an experienced writer and researcher with a background in the Creative Arts. She is a published poet and is currently completing her Ph.D., having worked in a variety of industries, including as a theatre dramaturg. Alice is passionate about the environment, so is always on the lookout for the best zero-waste products that are vegan and cruelty-free.