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What Does Over-Processed Hair Color Look Like and How to Fix It

Your hair goes through a lot. Brushing, blow-drying, curling, straightening, bleaching, coloring, you name it. It is subjected to a lot of abuse all year round. The word for this abuse is – over-processing.

That’s right. If you thought the term over-processed hair only applied to bleached and chemically-treated hair, you thought wrong. Frequent, harsh handling of the hair also causes it to become over-processed which may result in hair falling out.

While it is relatively easy to spot the damage in chemically-treated hair, the same can’t be said for over-processed hair color. There’s a fine line between giving your hair dye adequate time to set and going overboard with the exposure.

What does over-processed hair color look like, and how do you fix it? Here’s everything you need to know.


How Hair Dye Works to Color Your Mane

First off, it’s important to understand what dye actually does to your hair. While changing your hair color every so often or going to the salon for a “touch up” every three weeks might seem harmless, the ingredients that make up the contents of most coloring kits are not. Here’s how they work.


Hair color doesn’t just rinse across your strands and stain them. To get inside the shaft, it has to penetrate the cuticle –the hair’s natural protective barrier. That’s where ammonia comes in. It lifts the cuticle to pave the way for the dye molecules to get in and deposit color. Use Ammonia-free hair colors.



Peroxide, commonly referred to as the “activator,” acts as a lightener to lift (read, bleach) your natural hair color before the color molecules in the dye can be deposited.

Hydrogen peroxide can be quite damaging to hair since it goes after everything in the hair shaft, not just the melanin. It even interacts with keratin – the main protein in hair fiber – leaving the hair weak and prone to hair breakage.



Simply because you use an ammonia-free color kit doesn’t mean your hair is safe. Some ammonia-free products contain an ingredient known as monoethanolamine (MEA), which works the same way ammonia does to cut through the cuticle. A 2014 study found that MEA is more damaging to the hair compared to similar amounts of ammonia.


How Hair Coloring Ends up Getting Over-Processed

The longer you have ammonia, peroxide, or MEA on your hair, the longer the cuticle stays open. This, in turn, causes more damage to your hair – in other words, over-processing.

Many people think that leaving the dye on for longer means more vivid color results. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Hair color treatments have a built-in timer. It means that at some point, the color stops working.

Say you’re coloring your hair red, and the instruction manual indicates 15 minutes’ exposure time. Whether you leave it on for 10 more minutes or 10 more hours, it won’t get any redder than it is.

It’s a little different for bleach, though. Peroxide doesn’t stop working. If you leave this chemical treatment on longer than the recommended time, it interacts with other components in the hair shaft (like keratin) and breaks them down. That’s what causes over-processed, bleached hair.


What Does Over-Processed Hair Look Like

What Does Over Processed Hair Look Like

If you look up pictures of over-processed hair online, it often looks dry, brittle, and distressed. It appears frizzy and usually has a lot of flyaways.

If used incorrectly, the harsh ingredients in hair dyes blow apart the cuticle layer of the hair shaft, damaging the protein and amino acid bonds in the process. This leaves the hair weak and gives it a straw-like appearance. It also tends to break when brushing or styling it, which, in turn, causes it to thin out.


How to Fix Over Processed Hair Color

How do you repair color-damaged hair? Below are some proven hair care tips you can try.

Cut Back on Chemical Treatments and Heat Styling

This one’s a no-brainer. The last thing you want to do to your over-processed hair is to expose it to more hair damage using chemical treatments and heat styling tools like a blow dryer or a flat iron. If you typically use a blow dryer, curling iron, or other heat tools daily, limit it to once a week. The idea is to give your hair enough time to bounce back.


Use Nourishing Shampoos and Conditioners

Over processed hair needs all the TLC you can give it. Use a hair hydrating shampoo and conditioner with words like “nourishing,” “revitalize,” “restore,” “revive,” “repair,” and all that good stuff. Reach for healthy hair products designed to seal in moisture and enhance the overall health and feel of your hair. They are good for hair repair when faced with chemically damaged hair strands.


Use Protein Treatments

Protein treatments are great for damaged, over-processed hair. They are highly effective in increasing the overall strength and elasticity of the hair while adding volume and natural shine. Incorporate a protein leave-in conditioner into your daily hair-care routine and give your hair a much-needed pick-me-up.


Use a Hair Mask

Hair masks are specially formulated to nourish and moisturize dry, damaged, over processed hair. Depending on how badly off your hair is, use a hair mask 2-3 times a week in place of your regular conditioner. For best results, try to find products with ingredients like coconut oil, avocado oil, argan oil, coconut water, shea butter, green tea, and honey.


Get a Haircut

If your mane is damaged beyond repair, consider going in for the big chop. While the thought of cutting your hair might be scary, it is a hundred times better than holding on to hair that has no hope for recovery. Who knows, you might be surprised at how fiercely you rock short hair. The most important thing is – it will give your hair a chance to grow back stronger and healthier.


Timing Is Everything

Keep in mind that you cannot undo the damage caused by over-processing your hair. The best you can do is use hair restoration products to improve your mane’s overall look and feel.

Always leave color treatments on for the duration indicated by the manufacturer to avoid over-processing your hair.