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I’ve been dyeing my hair since ninth grade. It started with subtle red streaks in my medium brown hair; nothing too crazy. By senior year of high school, my hair was red all over—not quite Little Mermaid red, but you know, part of that world.

In college, I broke out of the red cycle into the full color spectrum. Not only did I try every natural color between beachy blond and midnight black, I experimented with ombre and dying my tips different colors, such as purple or pink. At one point, I finally went full mermaid and dyed my hair blue, with small layers of green and purple blended in seamlessly.

To me, it was just a hobby, a way of keeping my look fresh and interesting. Yet without fail, presenting my latest color in public would evoke the following conversation:

Friend: OMG, I love your hair!
Me: Aw, thank—
Friend: Isn’t dyeing your hair, like, really bad for you, though? Doesn’t bleach destroy your hair forever? And like, doesn’t the color just wash out in two weeks anyway?

This one goes out to anyone who’s ever been afraid to dye their hair their favorite color. Keeping your hair healthy is simple — just keep these things in mind:

Get a hair stylist and stick with ‘em

That $8 box of Garnier hair dye at Walmart is tempting — trust me, I’ve been there. But it’s not worth it when you consider the expensive repair treatments you’ll inevitably need down the road.

“When a person uses box color frequently, the hair starts losing its natural sheen. It looks almost matte,” says Leonardo Valencia, a certified Redken color specialist and hair stylist at Ulta in Humble. “It’s a pain to get rid of because most people keep piling it on, causing the hair to be weak and brittle.”

Let’s face it: we don’t know what we’re doing, and we need someone who does. I’ve been very happy with Ulta, but wherever you go, find a stylist — preferably someone who specializes in color — and keep going back to them. Pretty soon, they’ll know your head better than you do.

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Throwback to that time my blue hair finally faded to green, and Leo brought it back to life. All the more reason to get a stylist, ya'll!

Embrace dry shampoo

If your stylist tells you to wait at least three days to wash your hair and you go home and wash it the next day, don’t be surprised when you’re back in the chair three weeks later. Your shower habits are what change the most when you have colored hair. You shouldn’t wash your hair more than a few times a week, at most (this doesn’t mean you stop bathing, obviously — invest in a shower cap). The answer, my friend, is dry shampoo. You can buy it anywhere. Use it on those in-between days, and not only will your hair look better than ever before, the color will last much, much longer.

Brrr, that’s cold!

I’m about to reveal the worst part about maintaining colored hair: When you finally wash it (with a color-safe shampoo), you’ll need to rinse with cold water. Hot water strips the color from your hair quicker than anything, so suck it up for a minute or two and embrace the chilliness. Tip: If you wash your hair after going for a run or being in the heat for a long time, it actually feels nice!

Let your hair flow free

Try to break yourself of the hair curler or straightener, at least for everyday styling. Tools like that literally fry your hair, which is already more vulnerable now that it’s dyed.

“The higher the heat, the faster it fades,” says Valencia. A few sprays of dry shampoo and a conditioning product like It’s A 10 are enough to bring your hair to life for the day. For minimal heat damage, leave the bouncy curls or sleek, straight hair for nights out and special occasions, and whenever you use a heat styling tool, be sure to apply a heat protectant first.

Be Gentle

Vigorously towel-drying your hair will cause your hair to fade more quickly. Lightly blow-dry your hair after applying heat protector or, better yet, just let it air dry.

Give your hair a rest sometimes

Putting crazy colors in your hair is addicting — once you start, you want to try every color in the rainbow. That’s totally fine—I plan to do that myself—but every once in a while it’s good to give your hair a break. Spring for a good conditioning treatment, go natural for a couple of months and keep your hair trimmed to get rid of split ends and allow it to grow.

Remember: The best color goes hand-in-hand with healthy hair. “It's important to ask your stylist the best way to take care of your color, because all colors are usually custom-mixed for the client,” Valencia says.

It’s a small lifestyle change, but following a few rules will allow you to keep experimenting with new colors without permanently damaging your hair. As for me, I’m heading back to the salon this week... hmm, what color next?

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