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“Damaging” Hair to Make it Better?

By Amalah

I have fine hair, shoulder-length, with layers. It is pretty hard to style, and I am allergic to a lot of products, including the ones that say hypoallergenic, etc. My stylist suggested that I get it colored, even though I am fine with my current color (light-brown with blond highlights). He said that it would make my hair coarser and easier to style. I have a couple of questions about this:
1. Is it really advisable to color my hair just to *damage* it and make it more coarse? Won’t this make my fine hair even more fragile? Some little part of me thinks he is just trying to get me to spend more money with him.
2. What if I don’t like it? Do I have to go through a year or two while this new color grows out?
3. I figure this would cost me something like $1000 per year, regular color every six weeks. My husband says that is fine, but if I can have $1000 to spend on myself, couldn’t I just spend it on days at the spa or a cleaning lady?

It all depends on the kind of color your stylist is proposing. Single-process all-over color? Highlights? Both?
Our hair sounds very similar, and I can attest that yes, highlights definitely help my fine, wispy hair. They add thickness and an overall “real live grown-up hair” feeling to what otherwise would be baby-fine and totally annoying hair. Provided you use a good shampoo and conditioner for colored hair and get regular trims of your ends, the damage is beyond minimal. And provided you’re sticking with a natural-like shade, you only need to get them done about twice a year. So you’re looking at a $300 price tag, or so.
I can’t say the same about single-process color…which is harsher and requires tons of touch-ups. Unless you’ve got gray hair to cover or want to drastically change your color, I don’t recommend it. It’s a pain! It’s expensive! And the only solutions to a dye-job gone wrong are to either 1) put more dye in or 2) wait for it to grow out.
I’d suggest you go with highlights. Tell your stylist you’re just not ready to commit to single-process and want to see how your hair takes to ANY amount of coloring first. Keep it really natural — maybe highlights and lowlights that are extremely close to what you have now.
AND MAKE SURE HE DOES A PATCH TEST FIRST. Tell him about your allergies. And tell him you are serious. Do not let him proceed with the color until he tests out the dye on a small, inconspicuous part of your head. I am pretty sure you’ll be okay with highlights since they generally don’t touch your scalp (unlike single-process, so there’s another con), but whatever. Don’t mess around with that.

About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • psumommy

    October 19, 2007 at 1:51 pm

    That’s so weird that your stylist told you that…I had a stylist tell me a few months ago that I should get my, wiry, kinky, turning-white hair colored to make it smoother and easier to deal with. I haven’t been back to her since (although mostly because she made me feel old and ugly, and that is NOT a trait I look for in a stylist). I’d be much more inclined to believe that dying will make it *coarser*…
    (No real addition here, just thinking out loud…)

  • Kourtney_R

    October 19, 2007 at 5:57 pm

    I can’t speak to the hair problem at all, as mine is THICK and COARSE and UNCOOPERATIVE in a BIG way.
    But if I had an extra $1K a year, the cleaning service is totally how I would go.

  • summer

    October 20, 2007 at 9:55 am

    I agree: tread carefully. That said, I don’t think you should eliminate all single-process color options. What about a lower-damage demi-permanent color job that takes you darker than your natural color? I get Paul Mitchell Shines demi-perm color put on my fine, thinnish shoulder-length hair and love the body and fullness it adds. I also love that it washes out over the course of several weeks, so I don’t have to deal with outgrowth, and can re-color at my leisure. My color change takes me from “mousy brown” (as two stylists have now called it, thanks!) to a deep, dark, fabulous brown and am very happy with the results I’ve enjoyed.

  • summer

    October 20, 2007 at 9:57 am

    Er, that last sentence should read: “…and I am very happy with the results.” Dangit.

  • Kate

    October 20, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    My hair is fairly thick and not too fine, but prone to the “plastered to the skull” look. My stylist also recommended the demi-permanent color. It gave a lot of extra body without any damage. It also comes as a clear rinse, so you don’t necessarily have to change your color. There is a lot of scalp contact with that procedure, though (think deep conditioning treatment), so be sure to do a patch test. Also, if you do go with color, be sure to use dark towels for the first few washes… you lose a lot of color and it will stain lighter towels.

  • Giada

    October 22, 2007 at 1:04 pm

    I get blond highlights in my thin, fairly fine hair and stylists have mentioned that it helps with texture and thickness. That being said, I’m not sure what the aim is to do is to “damage” it. I think that it wraps the color around the strand, which changes the texture to the texture of the color and not the hair alone (and then the extra layer of color also adds thickness). I think that might be why a stylist also suggested it to smooth out hair — because depending on the hair’s natural texture, the color layer will either make it smoother or give it more texture. However, don’t expect a dramatic change. I still think my hair is thin and fine, just somewhat less so. Also, I’m not saying that coloring doesn’t do some damage, but I’m not sure that it’s the damage that helps with the texture.
    And I concur with Amalah on the necessity of updating. I only update 4 times per year, and my highlights are blond on light brown hair. If you stick with your natural color or just give it some boost, twice a year should be fine.

  • Hannah

    June 6, 2013 at 12:39 am

    I appreciate your log trying to help, but I really wish people who do not possess a cosmetology license would not give out random advice. Highlighting, depending the product used is MORE damaging then color. And single process color when done right, especially with many companies such as matrix and L’Oreal coming out with ammonia free lines, creates less damage then a lighter would for highlights. True, single process generally has more maintenance. But absolutely roughing up the cuticle of the hair a small amount with help fine hair sustain styling techniques it originally couldn’t. Please refer to a professional to help you with hair questions, even if you have to call another salon because you feel your stylist is trying to make you spend money. We have licenses for a reason. Utilize us!