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You’ve entered hair purgatory—now what?

There’s a measure of understanding involved when you sit down in that salon chair, signing your soul over to the hands of your hairstylist. You understand that your hair might not turn out how you imagine and that your life will now include regular touch-up appointments. It’s a lot of risk, usually a lot of reward. Except. Except when you wake up and realize the reward isn’t always so rewarding. When it comes to coloring your hair, it’s all about balance. Whether talking about which shade to choose or which type of color to use, you have to go with the option of less damage, more pay-off. Because, as we’ve discovered, there’s a huge hair coloring faux pas women are making every single day in the name of beauty; and it’s coming back to bite them later.

Women are looking in the mirror and seeing—alongside their honey blonde or caramel highlights—dry, damaged, dull hair. The tragic triple Ds. What causes this? Broken hair cuticles, which (no surprise…) are brought on by harsh treatment via chemicals and heat. Put simply: We are over-processing our hair, ladies, and then not treating it appropriately! It makes us look wise beyond our years, and not in the good way. The mistake isn’t longing for buttery blonde or rich chestnut locks. The mistake is not taking care of your strands after the deed is done.

Master colorist, Johnny Ramirez of Ramirez-Tran Salon, told POPSUGAR recently: “Let’s say you’re walking down the street and someone's hair looks over-processed. You automatically think it’s an older woman. Then the woman turns around and she’s really young. If the hair looks tired, so does the person. You just expect the person to look tired, as well."

Over-processed hair has some obvious tells. Dry and brittle to the touch, easily tangled and fragile when styling, and dull and flat in color. It lacks shine, softness, and dimension; and these symptoms occur when the hair cuticle has been broken down. Your cuticle is the protective outer later of your hair strand, and it seals off and protects the cortex, which is the inner layer that controls color and texture. When you get your hair colored, the chemicals are designed to open up the cuticle in order to penetrate the cortex. This results in a battered, broken cuticle.

While the obvious answer to this problem is avoiding hair coloring and heat styling altogether, it’s a little harder said than done. (Cue: Husbands everywhere rolling their eyes. They just don’t get it, do they?) On a more realistic note, here are some ways to combat this breakage and over-processing.

Living Proof put extreme over-processing to the test in a recent experiment with bleach-blonde beauty vlogger, Sarah Blodgett. The result was clear. Using specially formulated damage repair hair products is a must for color-treated ladies. Living Proof’s Restore Shampoo, Restore Conditioner, Perfecting Spray (a conditioning detangler), and Instant Repair Lotion (a leave-in conditioner) made a huge difference in both texture and vibrancy. Blodgett’s hair cuticle before and after the new hair care routine was transformed from broken to restored, even though she had not stopped using heat styling tools. (Shown in hair strand samples taken, before and after, and examined under a microscope.)

In addition to daily repairing products, hair masks are your best friend when it comes to damaged hair. For curly girls, you can’t beat the Ouidad Curl Recovery Melt-Down Extreme Repair Mask. Moroccan Oil Restorative Hair Mask and Kiehl's Olive Fruit Oil Deeply Repairative Hair Pak work serious wonders too. Use these intensive masks once or twice a week. If you can’t give up blow-drying, let your hair air-dry as long as possible and always use a heat protectant beforehand to prevent more breakage. Alterna Caviar Repair Multi-Vitamin Heat Protection Spray is the Holy Grail for super damaged, color-treated hair. (Order it. Now.)

Despite all of these damage-fighting tips, sometimes it’s too late. If your hair is beyond the point of no return, hairstylists always recommend cutting off a few inches to help your hair restore itself in time. As far as coloring, if you must, go with a six-month hair color process, such as Johnny Ramirez’s lived-in color. Ramirez gets rid of color build-up and then uses a minimal color deposit strategy that lets you go six months without touching up.

WATCH: 10 Foods to Eat for Healthier Hair

Remember: life is all about how you react. Don't accept that having color-treated hair means having dry, brittle hair. Get ahead of the damage. Use repairing products religiously, and you’ll notice a huge difference in your color-treated hair that might have been making you look older. (No Botox needed!)