Hair Loss: Tips for Coloring

Medically Reviewed by Debra Jaliman, MD on January 06, 2014
3 min read

Ready to hit the bottle? With a few precautions, coloring thinning hair can be safe -- and may even protect the hair shaft from breaking.

There's a myth that permanent hair-color is damaging, but that's only true if you bleach your hair or if you use the color incorrectly.

Meanwhile, semi-permanent colors that are acid-based may protect around the hair cuticle, and acid-based colors may coat -- and protect -- the hair, says Sonia Badreshia-Bansal, MD. She's a dermatologist and clinical instructor at the University of California San Francisco School of Medicine.

Follow these tips to give thinning locks a healthy new hue.

You're most likely to damage your hair if you make a drastic color change requiring bleach, such as going from jet black to blonde. If it's properly applied, regular hair color shouldn't be a problem.

Still, if you’re debating a major color change, you might be better off with a wig.

Choose a hue that's close to the color of your scalp. It will draw less attention to thin tresses. There’s less contrast between skin and hair tones to draw the eye.

“You never want someone looking away from your eyes and up at your head when they’re talking to you,” says Dave Lemke, owner of Kings Head Hair Salon in Milwaukee, which specializes in clients with hair loss. “If they do, you know something’s wrong.”

As you age, Lemke adds, having lighter hair around your face makes you look younger and softens your features.

“Professionals will have more access to a variety of options and higher-end coloring agents,” Badreshia-Bansal says. Your stylist’s experience with color is important, too, she says.

She suggests you ask about vegetable-based dyes, cellophanes, and hennas, all of which are gentle options for thinning hair. Also, ask your stylist about products that are ammonia- and peroxide-free. And avoid bleach.

Check the label: Choose brands with less than 20% peroxide, and don't bleach thinning hair.

Think temporary: Use semi-permanent color, if you can. If it doesn’t cover your stubborn greys, apply permanent color at the roots and semi-permanent on the rest.

Work your way up: When you apply the dye, start at the ends, not the roots. Avoid brushing, combing, or blow-drying afterward.

Watch the clock: Don't leave dye in for more than the recommended amount of time. The color may not take, but you also lessen the risk of damage to your hair.

Get conditioned: Get a deep conditioning before coloring, and use a leave-in product with detangler at the ends, Badreshia-Bansal recommends. Just avoid the roots, because the color might not take as well. You might think this would weigh down your tresses, but thin hair is often dry hair. It needs moisture to bounce and shine. Plus, well-conditioned hair is less likely to break when you color.

Stay close to natural: Follow the two-shade rule with home color, staying close to your original tone. If you don’t like the results, you can always go darker, Lemke says. But you can’t make it lighter without going to a salon and having the color stripped out. That process damages the cuticle and can make your hair break off.