Can You Color Wet or Damp Hair?

We’re sure you have heard discrepancies among beauty gurus with the day-old question: Can I dye my hair wet? Odds are, you’ve seen the majority of stylists perform hair coloring on a client’s dry hair. It’s the best method, right? 


Beauty School Remix is here to tell you: It’s not. In the contemporary age, techniques develop, progress, and improve. It’s not always useful to stick to old roots (no pun intended). So, can you dye damp hair? And if you can, should you? It’s simple, the answer is YES!


It’s essential to maintain a solid understanding of the hair’s structure, its pH, and the effects the products we use to have on hair. If you don’t, you might want to brush up on the books. Don’t fret, because you can enroll in Beauty School Remix course Hair Structure and pH Scale and learn:


  • Defining important parts of the hair structure 
  • What role do the hair cuticle & hair cortex play in hair color 
  • Hair shaft structure 
  • Why the pH Scale is important to us 
  • What is the pH of the Scalp 
  • Why I don’t shampoo before toner 
  • Why hair color should be applied to damp hair 
  • Can hair actually “get used” to a shampoo

the first step

As most stylists know, anatomy is a large component of understanding the work we do behind the chair. Before we dive into understanding the hair structure and its pH, we must review the basic principles: the cuticle and the cortex. 


Both are fundamentally the most critical parts of a hair strand. Imagine this: Each layer of the cuticle on the scalp is like a tiny little door. By opening those doors, you allow the hair dye to get inside and complete its operation in the cortex. This is where the melanin lives and artificial hair color can embed and implement change. When you’re all finished, the doors must close so the hair remains strong, healthy, and stable. 


How do you open these doors, and then keep them closed? Heather lists three steps in which she describes in detail within the course. 


  • We have to lift the cuticle to get to the cortex
  • We have to displace some melanin
  • We have to lay the cuticle back down when we are done


Next question: So, how exactly is this done? This is where things get a little more interesting – and complex. It all has to do with the level of pH. 


pH scale simplified

A pH scale is a mechanism used to regulate the acidity or alkalinity of any water-based solution. You’ve heard of pH before: The most common example is a swimming pool, where pH is controlled so that the skin is not harmed by the chemicals. 


Similarly, as a stylist, pH is not something you can ignore. Understanding the effect different pH’s have on hair will help you create formulations that cause the desired change for the client with minimal damage to the health of the hair structure. 1% of hair is made out of the water, and most hair products are water-based. What does this mean? Water-based is a big deal to hairstylists, coming full circle to those little doors.


Any substance with a pH higher or lower than the pH of a hair strand will cause some kind of change, whether it’s to the condition, color, or texture of the hair.


In simple terms, alkaline swells and hair while acid smooths the hair.  Acid-based products (a pH of 7 or lower) include developer, shampoo conditioner, and semi-permanent color. Alkaline-based products (a pH higher than 7) can be found with demi-permanent color, permanent color, hi-lift tint, and lightener. 


the magic of damp hair

Now that you’ve got an idea of the science behind it, it’s time to talk about dying damp hair. Dying hair damp is more effective than dry hair. This is because dry hair causes the formula to have to work twice as hard to get the cuticle to swell and lift with. Shampooing prior to a color service will swell and soften the hair, making it more receptive to the dye molecules. Water helps prepare the hair for artificial hair color – the wetness opens up the cuticle and allows the dye to get in faster and most efficiently. 

So, artificial hair color should be applied to clean, damp hair. Still not convinced? Here are some benefits of switching from dry dye to damp. 


  • The hair becomes clean, free of oil, product, and any other debris that may hinder the absorption.
  • You’ll use less hair color overall (that’s more $ in your pocket!).
  • There’s better gray coverage in shorter processing times (Check out Gray Blending Formulation)
  • It is faster! Water pulls artificial hair color into the hair and gives you an easy canvas to penetrate effectively. 


For those of you asking: “Wait, doesn’t water dilute hair color?”  The answer is an easy no. As long as you towel-dry well (the hair should not be soaking wet), you’ve created the perfect surface for artificial hair coloring. Opposingly, dry hair tends to be quite resistant to artificial hair color, and the formula can dry out before it has finished processing. 


things to keep in mind

  • A good stylist always avoids stress on the hair. To illustrate how this is done, you should always be using products with the lowest pH that is still strong enough to get the job done.
  • Higher pH products are useful to make big color changes. Always smooth it down after with a lower pH, to get it back to where it was. 
  • The majority of hair care products do not display the items’ pH on the packaging or the website. To utilize pH balance in your salon, you should invest in a pH tester. 


Heather gives an inside scoop on the acid and alkaline products she uses in her salon. But don’t forget, it’s not an exact science. As a stylist, Heather recommends you pick out the products that “work best for us based on the clients we have, the region that we live in, and our budget in general”.


Interested in learning more about pH and it’s the relationship to the hair? Stuck on what products you should be buying for your salon? Learn the ins and outs by enrolling in Hair Structure and pH Balance. Additionally, you’ll learn why Heather doesn’t shampoo before toner and why you shouldn’t either. 


Enroll in the course here, and check out other Beauty School remix courses here.


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