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Is It Better to Dye Dirty Hair? | Yes & No

Heading to the hair salon with clean hair seems like a polite choice, but it might not always be the right one. If you’re planning on changing your color, you may wonder, is it better to dye dirty hair. But don’t worry — we’ll show you all you need to know below.

Is It Better to Dye Dirty Hair? 

Though many hair treatments, including dyeing, call for clean hair, sometimes it may be better to dye it dirty. You may want to skip the wash, especially if you have sensitive skin. Protective oils build up on hair and scalp, forming a barrier between outside elements and your hair.

Keeping these oils on your head while applying bleach and other lightening agents helps prevent chemical burns and can keep you more comfortable overall during the dyeing process. A hair care professional, like a colorist or stylist, will give the best advice for your hair specifically.

These specialized workers are more familiar with how products work and know whether your hair should be clean or dirty for the best results. However, there are some general rules to follow to see if you should dye your hair while it’s dirty. 

How to Dye Dirty Hair

Woman looking at the ends of her hair for a piece titled can you dye dirty hair

Dean Drobot/Shutterstock

Before heading to the salon with dirty hair, consider if your hair needs extra protection. The type and shade of dye you plan to use should be factored in along with your comfort level. If your scalp is reactive to chemicals or susceptible to dryness, dyes may irritate your skin. 

Sensitive Scalps

Some people have more sensitive skin and need to be more cautious. Doing a test patch on a small area of skin is an excellent way to see how your body will react. 

If you already know your scalp is sensitive and plan on dyeing your hair, you’ll want to ensure you have some oil buildup before starting the process. The natural oils of your hair will work as a protective layer on your scalp and may help prevent chemical burns

It’s highly recommended that those with sensitive scalps consult a colorist about dyeing their hair. Working with a professional is the best way to avoid adverse reactions. 

Dramatic Color Changes

Depending on the color you want, more potent lightening agents may need to be used in your hair. Hair needing a stronger formula for dyeing may benefit from being left dirty.

This method helps prevent your hair from drying out during the treatment. If you know the treatment will be tough on your hair, consider starting with oily hair for protection. 

Start With Healthy Hair

Make sure your hair is healthy before the dyeing. Having healthy hair to color is more important than whether your hair is clean or dirty when dyed. Proper maintenance helps your hair stay in peak condition for whatever treatment you choose.

While situationally dyeing dirty hair can be the right choice, make sure not to overdo it. You don’t want to create some much oil buildup that the dye doesn’t take.

If you choose to dye your hair while dirty, clean it a few days before your appointment. Your natural oils should return by the time you’re ready to dye.

Consider using conditioner and other moisturizing treatments weeks before your hair treatment. Using these products stops hair from drying out. Brittle, dry hair is more likely to experience breakage, especially during dyeing. 

How to Dye Clean Hair

Hairstylist in a seat sitting in a chair getting her dirty hair dyed

Despite offering the benefit of protection, there are reasons you may want to clean your hair before starting the dyeing process. For example, some people have particularly oily hair. This hair type might benefit from a wash to aid pigments entering the cuticle. 

The product you use to dye your hair will also affect whether you should wash it beforehand. In the following sections, we’ll look at how different dyes color your hair and the best method to know if you should clean your hair before coloring. 

Color Absorption 

Though many stylists recommend starting with dirty hair, others say the exact opposite! Clean but not conditioned, hair is more porous and able to absorb more color. If your scalp isn’t sensitive, you may have better results dyeing clean hair than dirty.

At-home and salon hair treatments have improved over the years, and many hair dye processes use fewer chemicals than previous formulas. Keeping your hair dirty might not be necessary as it was in the past to protect your scalp.  

Currently, many products on the market deposit pigment into hair without bleach. These pigments penetrate the cuticle, or outer layer, of your hair.

For these products, starting with clean hair results in better color absorption. The same is true for color absorption in general, but when using these products, there’s no need to worry about chemicals.

Consult a Stylist

Professionals specializing in hair coloring provide the best information about whether dyeing dirty or clean works best for you. They are knowledgeable about chemical reactions and might know more about your hair than you do. 

Even with all the information we’ve provided, a consultation with a stylist is the best bet to be sure you use the proper method. Plus, professionals have products to combat other reasons your hair might not take or retain dye like high or low porosity.

Frequently Asked Questions

Woman with oily hair runs a comb through her hair


The following are some of the most frequently asked questions about dyeing dirty hair.

Can I dye my hair when it’s greasy?

Yes, you can dye your hair when it’s greasy. Preserving some of your hair’s natural oils helps protect your scalp. Review the information above to see if dyeing greasy hair will work for your situation, or consult with your stylist.

Can you use box dye on dirty hair?

Dirty hair may be best for dyeing your hair with box dyes. These products tend to be harsher than formulas used by professionals. At a salon, a colorist creates a solution that works best for your hair. Since box dyes are meant for everyone, they usually use more potent chemicals to ensure they work. Leaving your hair dirty protects it from some of the harshness.

Why do salons wash your hair after coloring?

Salons wash hair after coloring to remove excess dye. They may also use special shampoos or other products to seal the color so it lasts longer. Stylists also wash your hair to help prepare it for the next treatment.

How long should I wait to wash my hair after dyeing it?

Wait a few days to wash your hair after dyeing for the best results. Even more important than when you wash is how you wash your hair. Picking the right products for color retention helps hair color last longer. Consider turning down the temperature for your shower and going easy on heat tools. Heat will make color fade quicker.

Should I shampoo my hair after dyeing it?

Shampooing hair after dyeing helps remove the extra dye. Choose a color-setting shampoo for the best results!

So, Is It Better to Dye Dirty Hair?

The best way to find out if it’s better to dye dirty hair is to consult a colorist or stylist about your hair and the color you hope to achieve. Dyeing hair dirty helps protect the hair and scalp.

So it may be the best route for you if you have sensitive skin. However, if your hair doesn’t need additional lightening, starting with clean hair may help your hair absorb more color.