Here's The Hard Truth About Why Highlights Fade

by Sienna Fantozzi
beautiful woman portrait with long hair with highlights
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I've been getting balayage for several years, and without fail, every time I leave the salon, I feel like my highlights are bright, blonde, and beautiful. But, inevitably, within several shampoos, the blonde seems to pop less and feels a little more muted. So what gives? Do highlights fade after you leave the salon? I spoke to a hair color expert to find out if highlights can actually fade or if I'm completely losing my mind. To my great relief, my eyes have not been playing mind games with me.

There's nothing more frustrating than loving your hair fresh out of the salon and watching it fade and change with every single wash. I'd always heard color fades, but highlights, which bleach your hair and strip it of its natural pigment, do not. So obviously, I was confused, and decided to go straight to an expert. Celebrity colorist and Color Director for eSalon, Estelle Baumhauer, shed some light on the process, and as it turns out, your highlights can definitely be far more vibrant the day you go to the salon, and they can actually fade over time.

But don't stress, because there are a few things you can do to help mitigate this process, you just have to understand what's actually happening.

1. Highlights Can Be Brighter The First Day

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If you feel like your highlights really "pop" more right out of the salon, that's due to the toner your colorist is using. "Highlights can be brighter and more vibrant right out the salon, depending on the type of toner that your stylist used. The right toner can cool down a platinum blonde, or add a buttery golden to all over warm brunette," Baumhauer said.

2. Toners Fade

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Highlights looking less bright after you washed a few times? You aren't going crazy — that's because toners don't last forever. "Unfortunately, toners only last a few shampoos and as they rinse out, highlights can look muted or dull. This can make the allover color look less fresh than when a client has just left the salon," Baumhauer said.

3. Pigmented Shampoos Can Help

Tinted Love Color Enhancing Treatment, $15, eSalon

Don't worry, you don't have to book salon appointments on the regs whenever your toner fades, you just need to use a pigmented shampoo to help maintain your color. "I recommend using them twice a week or as needed to refresh color, maintain vibrancy and to help tone your highlights in-between salon visits," Baumhauer said.

4. Your Highlights Can Fade, Too

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Just because they aren't allover color, does not mean highlights aren't susceptible to fading. It's not the color rinsing out, though, it's actually the color oxidizing. "As hair color fades, you will start to see warm or brassy undertones, which can make the color look dull and less vibrant," Baumhauer said.

5. Take Precaution To Minimize Oxidation

Heated Thermal Protectant Mist, $14, eSalon

If you use the right products, like a thermal protectant mist, you can actually help prevent oxidation. "In order to prevent oxidation, extra measures should be taken to shield the hair from environmental, chemical and mechanical damage," Baumhauer said.

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Images: Amazon; eSalon; Getty Images (4)