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If you’ve ever gotten your hair colored, chances are your stylist started applying the color before washing (or cutting) your hair. But if you’re dyeing your hair at home, that may not have been the case.

What’s going on? Why the difference? Is that why your dye job at home just doesn’t look as good? Here’s everything you probably want to know:

For the most part, yes, you can… but the color won’t be as vibrant as it could be if you apply the hair color when your hair is dry.

“Water acts as a diluting agent,” explains Nick Stenson, celebrity stylist for L’ORÉAL/Matrix. “Not to say that coloring wet hair should be considered ‘wrong,’ but it does prevent the color from lifting or depositing to its full capacity, which will affect the longevity and life of the color.”

Hair dye is designed to penetrate your hair cuticles, not sit on top of hair strands, but it can only get truly absorbed into hair cuticles when your hair is dry.

“Imagine hair like a sponge,” explains cosmetologist and barber Madison. “If the sponge is wet, there is no room left in the hair [for dye] to soak into.”

“If the hair is dry, all the color can soak easily into the strands and not wash off or out in the first shampoo.”

That said, if you want a more subtle color to your hair, coloring your hair while it is wet isn’t a bad idea. It will just result in a sheer or more transparent appearance of the color. This is especially true if you have thick or coarse hair, which is more absorbent than fine hair.

“It is not unheard of for a professional stylist to use color on damp hair, particularly when toning the hair to prevent overdepositing when lighter shades are desired.”

If you’re going to dye your hair yourself, you’ll probably want to do it in the shower.

When it comes to dyeing your hair at home, applying the dye to wet hair in the shower can help you contain the mess — which is easier than applying it with a brush and bowl the way your salon stylist does.

That’s why many at-home dyes recommend coloring wet hair.

Here are some general steps to dyeing wet hair yourself (though be sure to check your hair dye in case there are any additional instructions for the type of dye you’re using):

  1. Rinse your hair with lukewarm water, but don’t shampoo it.
  2. Make sure your hair is damp, not soaking wet. The hair color will just slide right off if it’s soaking wet. Squeeze the water out of your hair with a towel to make sure it’s not dripping.
  3. Apply semi or demipermanent hair dye to the area that you want to cover.
  4. Cover your head with a shower cap and wait about 20 minutes (check your dye instructions to see if you need to wait less time or longer).
  5. Rinse it out.

Your stylist will usually color your hair while it’s dry because it helps them manage the result more easily. That’s because dyeing wet hair has several disadvantages:

The color might be uneven

The moisture will help spread the color when applied to your hair, which means that the color might concentrate in some places and slide off others. This makes the result a little uneven in some areas.

The color will be diluted

This is the main reason why professional hairstylists will color your hair while it’s dry instead of wet. Wet hair — especially if it’s already dry or damaged — will absorb water before you even apply the dye, meaning it won’t absorb into hair cuticles as well.

Instead, the color will be more diluted or subtle, sitting more on top of your hair.

In fact, in some cases, the color might not absorb at all and will just wash off the first time you shampoo.

It doesn’t work as well for permanent color

Since the color sits more on top of hair strands than it absorbs, it won’t take as long for the color to fade or wash out, so you’re going to need to dye your hair sooner.

Your hair is more prone to damage

Hair is more fragile when it’s wet because hair cuticles open up when it’s wet. Plus, wet hair isn’t protected from the same natural oils as it is when it’s dry. So, be extra gentle with it while you’re applying the color treatment.

You can dye your hair while it’s wet, but the color might be less vibrant, it might not last as long, and it might be a little more uneven than it would be if you colored it while it was dry.

Simone M. Scully is a writer who loves writing about all things health and science. Find Simone on her website, Facebook, and Twitter.