This is one of those articles that comes from true trial and error. Just when I had figured out just what my hair needed in order for me to grow out the glorious Afro that I’ve been wanting for quite some time now, I allowed my deep desire for jet black hair to consume me. And so, I picked up a box of hair dye and colored my hair. Have mercy.

Before going deeper into all of this, I think that it would be totally irresponsible to not say that we probably need to consider using henna and more natural alternatives more; not just so that our hair will be able to flourish but so that we can avoid become a statistic when it comes to articles like “Hair Dyes and Straighteners May Raise Breast Cancer Risk for Black Women”. Information like this shouldn’t make us fearful, but it is important to be aware of the risk factors that come with color-treating our hair.

With that said, before getting into how dyeing my hair totally jacked me up recently, I also think I should mention that in my 20s through my mid-30s, it was nothing for me to change my hair color, pretty much on a weekly basis. I also wore it super short back then, so issues like breakage was basically a non-factor. But now that I actually want hair that’s well past my shoulders, I have to be more careful. Admittingly so, this last time that I colored my hair, I wasn’t. This means that—le sigh—I eventually had to cut off about three inches (yep, due to breakage), “baby” the hair that is left, and remind myself that if I do decide to go the DIY route again, it’s important that I apply the following steps that I’m about to give you. Not some—ALL. Especially if I am going to dye my hair during the harsh winter season.

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Image Source: @naturallycurly of @jessicapettway

1. Consider going darker.

Yeah, I know. I just said that I dyed my hair jet black and, I also said that I experienced breakage. I don’t think it has so much to do with the hue as the facts that 1) I went with a box brand rather than going the developer route, 2) I didn’t prep my hair well before coloring it and 3) I didn’t deep condition as intensely as I should have after the color was applied. With those clarifications out of the way, not only is wintertime a great time of year to go with a darker and richer shade of hair but, because dark colors don’t strip your hair of its natural melanin, that’s another reason why it can be less damaging in the long run. After all, hair dyes that lighten locks tend to have a lot of peroxide in them; peroxide that removes eumelanin pigments and can weaken the hair shaft. So, when you factor in that winter weather tends to already make hair dryer, it can be a “double whammy” to go lighter instead of darker during this time of the year.

2. Don’t use ammonia either way.

Whether you decide to have blue-black hair or you want to be blonde instead, look for a brand that contains no ammonia. While, on one hand, ammonia has the power to deeply penetrate your hair’s cuticle and deposit brilliant color, it can’t do that without damaging your hair in the process. The damage tends to be irreversible too, so it’s better to take out an extra five minutes or so to see if ammonia is listed on the box of ingredients or to ask a sales agent to recommend an ammonia-free brand for you (they exist, so it shouldn’t be a problem).

3. Do some extreme conditioning the week before.

In retrospect, I have to admit that my hair was pretty dry before I actually applied any color to it. I was more focused on making sure that it was product-free than deeply conditioned on color day which is totally my bad. Next time that I decide to take the DIY hair dye plunge, I’m going to make sure that the week before, I do an overnight deep conditioning treatment. I tend to do those every couple of months and my hair feels absolutely amazing every time that I do. For me, it consists of a deep conditioner, mixed with some Chebe powder. I apply the mixture to freshly washed hair, put on a plastic bag, put a scarf on over that and go to bed. The next morning, I rinse and style as usual. The way my hair feels when I do that is unbelievable. I’m pretty sure my tresses would’ve handled the hair dye experience better if I had added this step.

4. Wash less/deep condition more.

There are two reasons why it’s a good idea to wash your hair less whenever you’ve got dye in it. For one thing, washing your hair tends to take out a lot of the moisture that was in it; that’s why it’s so critical to 1) use a sulfate-free shampoo as much as possible and 2) to deep condition, each and every wash day. Secondly, whenever you shampoo your hair, you open up your hair’s cuticles, making it possible for some of the hair dye’s pigment to come out. Now, I’m not saying that, in order for your hair not to break, you shouldn’t wash your hair from Christmas through Valentine’s Day. I’m simply saying that if, for instance, without dye, you were shampooing on a weekly basis, you might want to go bi-weekly. And whatever you do, do not ever skip deep conditioning (yep, it really can’t be said enough!). Between the hair dye and the winter weather elements, your hair needs to be coddled as much as possible. Deep conditioning your hair is one of the most effective ways to do just that.

5. Ease up on the heat.

Winter weather is already gonna zap your hair of moisture. Then hair dye is going to make your hair even more fragile. So, try and not go overboard when it comes to applying heat. This first means to not wash your hair in hot water. No matter how good it might feel on your scalp, hot water has a tendency to zap your hair of its natural oils. Not only that, but it can also dehydrate your scalp and cause frizzing too. That’s why lukewarm water is, by far, the better temperature to use. Also, make sure to apply a thermal heat protectant (spray is fine for thin hair; cream is best for thicker locks) and to keep your blow dryer on a low/cool setting. As far as your flat iron, daily usage really should be avoided. Remember, your hair isn’t at its strongest once it’s dyed. You’ve got to give it extra TLC if you don’t want dry brittle ends or to ultimately lose length.

6. Ease up on the retouching too.

Whether it’s a light or dark shade, hair dye manipulates your hair cuticles to some extent. That’s my nice way of saying that it’s going to do, at least a little bit of damage. So, please don’t go overboard when it comes to retouching your roots. It really is best to retouch your color no less than every six weeks or so. One way to prevent your color from fading too fast is to wash and condition your hair with a product that is specifically made for color-treated tresses; then follow that up with applying a leave-in conditioner. As far as covering up “rooted greys”, it’s not like people are going to see all of your roots simultaneously. So, a great “work around” is to consider applying either a temporary root cover-up spray or spraying your hair with some colored dry shampoo. You might be shocked by how well both of these actually work.

7. Protect your ends.

If hair color directly affects your length retention, it’s probably happening from the ends breaking off, not your roots. That’s because your ends are the oldest and most vulnerable parts of your hair. That’s why, it can never hurt to trim your ends before coloring your hair and then sealing them with a cream and butter or even hair grease. Oh, and if like me, you like to rock hats during the winter month, make sure they are lined with satin so that your hair, including your ends don’t dry out or “catch” on the fabric.

Listen, nobody said that you still can't have beautifully colored hair during the wintertime. Just make sure that you take super extra precautions so that while you’re rocking stunning color, you can keep your length in the process. Real talk.

What are your tips for protecting your hair? Share with us in the comments!