How to Permanently and Safely Color Relaxed Hair

This article is designed to help Cosmetologists better serve their customers in regards to hair color products, so they can better understand their needs and wants with practical answers to their concerns.


Generally, relaxed hair that has also been tinted appears to be dry and lifeless. This is due to the fact that relaxed hair should not be tinted in the same manner as virgin hair, but usually is.

To begin with, if your patron wants both a permanent tint and relaxer service, you should always give the relaxer first and the tint afterward, but not on the same appointment. If you do it the other way around the relaxer will lift most of the color.

The permanent tint formula consists of two formulas blended together to form the finished application. They are the tint and the peroxide or developer, usually mixed half-and-half. This formula is fine for virgin hair; however, if you follow this procedure on relaxed hair, the hair will become over-processed.

The purpose of the peroxide or developer is to oxidize and penetrate the cuticle layer by rendering it to a porous condition (by forming little microscopic holes throughout the cuticle layer, allowing the tint to enter these holes [porosity] and adhere to the cortex). After hair is relaxed the relaxer has actually removed as much as 30 percent of the cuticle layer; the cuticle structure that remains is left in a porous condition. Therefore, if you use the amount of peroxide or developer called for in the manufacturer’s instructions, the hair will become over-processed. This is because the peroxide or developer will go beyond the cuticle and will penetrate the cortex—seeing as there will be no cuticle resistance—allowing the natural oils and moisture in the bonds to escape.

The manufactures of hair color, in describing the use of their product, are assuming that the product will be used on virgin hair. Therefore, they are not taking into consideration the special conditions and requirements of performing this procedure on relaxed hair.


The correct formula for tinting on processed relaxed hair is as follows:

Use the same amount of tint as originally called for in the formula, but reduce the amount of peroxide or developer by one-half. Replace that one-half with distilled, deionized water (this water can easily be found in any supermarket; be sure that it is clearly labeled deionized), or use skim milk that will also condition the hair. You can also create a color soap cap by using a low pH or neutralizing shampoo. Add a few drops of liquid protein to this formula; this will act as a filler-all for the over porous condition. Shake well and apply to the hair according to the manufactures’ instructions. You will find that this diluted formula will allow your color to come up just as fast on this previously relaxed hair as a full strength formula will on virgin straight hair, and the hair will not appear to be dry and lifeless a few days later.

It’s a good idea to give a liquid protein treatment a few days prior to the color to repair much of the cuticle deterioration and porosity caused by the relaxer treatment.

When using water in the formulation of hair color mixtures, do not use tap water. Tap water goes through miles of metal pipes and becomes “metallic,” resulting in the hair picking up green and purple highlights.

Note: Peroxide and/or developers actually serve two functions. They are to oxidize the cuticle in order to render it porous so that the color can reach the cortex, and to allow the color to grab to the cortex so that it stays permanently embedded in the cortex. When using only half as much peroxide as described above, you are only using what is needed to allow the color to grab onto the cortex, because the cuticle that was not dissolved by the relaxer is more porous than the peroxide would ever render it, plus about 30 percent or more of the cuticle is gone.

Never use any form of bleach on relaxed hair because it will deteriorate already weakened hair from the relaxer. The same holds true for permanently waved hair. If you want a lighter color on dark hair, try using color that is two or three shades lighter than the shade you want.

Note: To color virgin unprocessed hair, the process will take longer because natural Afro hair has twice as many overlapping cuticles in any given area of the hair shaft. It takes longer for color to penetrate those additional cuticle layers.


Can hair color help grow hair?

The reason that people believe that perms, relaxers, and hair colors help to grow the hair is because in such services there is a very clear and defined line of demarcation when the new growth appears. They can now actually see the new natural growth as distinguished from the treated hair. However, if they measure the length of the hair, they will discover that the hair is the same length or shorter than before. Chemical services such as those mentioned above actually weaken hair, not make it stronger, so hair growth is not one of their advantages. If they did aid in promoting and stimulating hair growth, then the manufacturers would proudly say so in their advertising.