1 / 12

You're Wasting Your Money on Color-Safe Shampoo — The Best One Is Only $5

After spending all that time and money at the salon, you don't want to see your hair color disappear just because you shampooed with a product that stripped it of its shiny new hue. Using a color-safe shampoo that's intended for dyed hair is key to keeping your look fresh, vibrant, and healthy. Our Good Housekeeping Institute Beauty Lab experts share why using a special shampoo for colored hair is so important to keep that fresh color intact.

Why does my hair color fade?

“Every time you shower, your hair loses a little bit of color,” explains GH Beauty Lab senior chemist, Sabina Wizemann. “As soon as the dyes in your hair get exposed to water and shampoo, they resolubilize and start slipping from the fiber.” As for what color fades the most, redheads, we’re sorry to say, this process happens even faster for you. Red hair dyes are the first ones to slide away due to their size - they’re made of bigger molecules and don’t penetrate the hair shaft as deep as other shades, says Wizemann.

How can I prevent my hair color from fading?

The only way to keep your color 100% intact? Never wash it or even get it wet (yes, water alone will remove hair dye over time!). And while we support dry shampoo as much as the next person, not washing your hair just isn't realistic. You can cut down on how often you wash your hair, but using specially-formulated products is the real way help slow the fading process. That’s where shampoos for colored hair come in.

How do shampoos for colored hair work?

Shampoos of any kind are designed to clean away oil and dirt, while conditioners make sure your hair is manageable when you step out of the shower. Color-protecting formulas use the same general techniques, but also aim to minimize the amount of dye that washes down the drain.

How? “Shampoos for colored hair usually have lower concentrations of cleansing surfactants,” explains Wizemann. “The formulas also use special conditioning agents that coat your hair’s surface to prevent dye molecules from escaping.” Not only do they work to preserve your color, they help mask any damage by making strands feel soft and smoother, too.

Do I need a sulfate-free shampoo to protect my color?

Not necessarily. Even though “milder” sulfate-free shampoos claim to slow the fading rate even more than other color-protecting formulas, according to our Beauty Lab’s findings, that's not always the case. (In fact, our Lab's top performer, TRESemmé, contains sulfates!). What really matters is how well a product is formulated, not just what it contains.

A product’s effectiveness isn’t dependent on just one ingredient: All other components of the formula, like its concentration, the included surfactants and/or emulsifiers, and more have to work in perfect synergy for the product to be color-safe and deliver results. We don’t recommend anything based on just one ingredient or the lack of one ingredient - we want to make sure the product actually performs.

Is a shampoo for colored hair the only product I need?

Nope. At the very least, you should use also use your color-protecting shampoo's matching conditioner. These products are designed to work together, so to get the best results you’ll need to use them as a pair.

How we tested shampoo for colored hair

Our Beauty Lab tests shampoos for colored hair with the matching conditioners, putting the pairs through a number of rigorous evaluations to see how well they perform. In their most recent test, they prescreened over 160 shampoo and conditioner duos, narrowing it down to the ten top formulas.

Our chemists performed repeated fade-resistance testing on hair swatches to mimic real-world conditions. We shampooed, conditioned, blow-dried, and exposed the swatches to UV light over and over again and assessed the color fading after all this wear and tear. To boot, we asked consumers to use the products for two weeks and share their honest feedback.

Now that you have the lowdown on color-protecting shampoos, check out the GH Lab experts' (and real-world beauty pros') top picks for the best shampoo for colored hair: