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No one wants to watch their hair color—and all the money they spent on it—slide down the drain with every shower. But it’s hard to avoid. One of Pantene’s senior scientists told Good Housekeeping magazine that up to 80% of color fade is due to “water alone, not shampooing or scrubbing.” This is because dye changes not only the color, but the structure of hair: in order to penetrate the strand, it must first strip away its outer layer of lipids. The result is hair that’s more porous, actually soaking up more water from the shower and weird dreams from the brain. Not all colors fade at the same rate—red dye’s molecules tend to be larger than those of other colors, leaving them less likely to burrow deep into the hair shaft and more likely to hitch a ride on a stream of water.
Though some fade is inevitable, you can minimize the damage simply by shampooing less often, rinsing with cooler water, and—most importantly—sticking to products designed especially for color-treated hair. You can further protect your hue by cutting down your exposure to hot styling tools, direct sunlight, chlorine, saltwater, and stylists who work at the bottom of a seaside hotel’s pool. You can also take preventive measures: washing tresses with a clarifying shampoo one day before coloring can strip away buildup so that color can work itself deeper into strands.