Letters From Your Hairdresser What Nobody Tells You About Going Red Kate Allen

Making the decision to color your hair red is exactly like making the decision to fly to Hawaii for Christmas instead of going home to see family in Iowa. It’s a somewhat scary, unfamiliar concept that feels so out of the norm and you can’t help but wonder what your family and friends will say. But it’s also something you’ve always played with the idea of in the back of your mind. And let’s face it, it looks like it would be an absolute blast.

I’ve helped a lot of women take the jump into coloring their hair every shade of red. And to my knowledge, the only unintended consequence has been an epic amount of fierceness. From brown-reds for those ladies who are nervous of fully committing, to orange-reds for those women who really want to stand out. From Poison Ivy from Batman red for women who know their hair is an accessory to complement their style to violet-reds for women who like to add some cool tones to the mix. But what I’m cautious of every time I help a client make the transition is making sure they understand all there is to know about the process. Red isn’t a simple color and there is a lot to consider when making decisions about whether it’s for you. Before you take the plunge, check out this list of what nobody tells you about going red. Except for your very own HelloGiggles virtual stylist, that is!

Red doesn’t penetrate the hair strand easily. Because the molecules in red pigment are much larger than the molecules in other colors, the first few times you try to go red, the color won’t fully penetrate and stain the hair. In turn, you’ll end up with a lot of fading that can sometimes make the color look more translucent and old. A lot of women assume this has to do with lack of skill on a stylist’s part or faulty color, but that’s not in fact true. This is completely normal and something every unnatural red-head has experienced. To cope, use a red pigmented shampoo in between colors to prevent fading and give more vibrancy. Another great tip if you want to try red without dealing with unattractive fading is to go for more of a brown-red. That way when the red fades out, you’ll be left with a nice, warm brown and not a kind-of-pink-kind-of-red hot mess.

But once it’s colored, it’s there to stay. Because that red color has such large molecules, it’s also a disaster to try and get out of hair. After a few color applications, those molecules are really stuck in place and can only be taken out of the strands slowly and over time. Most women resort to covering it with a very dark brown, trying to grow it out or lifting it out with bleach. But lifting it out with bleach can be quite damaging, growing it out can take up to a few years and covering it with brown won’t necessarily take away the red since it will still be there underneath. I have gone red twice now and I’ve also taken countless clients from red to another color.

I’m convinced that the absolute best way to do this while keeping your mane in tact is to slowly add highlights to the hair. The lifting will take a lot of the red out and also break up any red that will remain. Over time, your tresses will end up lighter, more neutral and most importantly, they will be still be healthy and shiny. After about three highlight sessions, you will have significantly less red and can decide whether you’d like to continue to go medium brown or blonde or whether you’d like to deposit a darker, brown color. But before you decide to make the change in the first place, make sure you are ready to deal with the process of removing that color as well.

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  1. Such a coincedence! I dyed my hair red last saturday and indeed, the first two packages didn’t set that well, seemed like I was washing more red out than ever went in my hair :P But with the third package it got better, it’s a vibrant red on top now, gradually going into a brownish reddish for the bottom. That’s still because it wouldn’t set there, but I’m not gonna buy 5 packages to dye my hair, even if they are on sale! I’m super happy with the outcome though and to be honest, dying your hair a crazy color is really one of the most outrageous things you can do when you are a mom!

  2. Hi, Kate!!! Thank you for the tips. I always had the idea of turning my dark-brown hair to red and I’ve been scared of doing it all over my hair even when I have had my hair red in the bottom in the past and I really loved it.

    And as you say, it’s high maintenance cause if you don’t take care of it, but I love it and I think here is the time, cause I’ve always said that I want my hair red for at least once in my life. Thank you again and if you have any other tips, I’ll be happy to read them.

  3. This article came out with perfect timing; I just made an appointment with my stylist to go in tomorrow to dye my hair red! I’ve gone red before, and I’m so excited to return to it. Armed with this knowledge, I know feel even more ready for the change to occur. Thanks for the great article, they’re all solid things to think about with such a big difference in hair color.

    • Oh, that is so perfect! Good luck with the big change. I hope it makes you feel sassy and fun! And I’m glad some of the tips here could help you feel more ready! :)

  4. Whatever happened to color theory and just neutralizing the red?

    • That’s a great question, Denise! I didn’t even think to explain that, so thanks for bringing it up! :)

      The problem with using the neutralization process when getting rid of red is simply that it produces very short-term results. Yes, you are totally correct that adding a green based color to the red would neutralize it instead of causing you to need to lift out the red. But because the molecules of the red pigment are so much larger than the green (meaning it has deeply penetrated the hair strand) and the red has been built layers upon layers over time, the green will not truly be strong enough to neutralize all of the red completely. This causes it to look like it’s been neutralized for a couple weeks, but pretty soon, you’ll see that red shining through again and the green fading away.

      I experienced this myself a few years ago when I tried to do that exact thing to get rid of red. I ended up adding highlights and growing it out over time, which seemed to be the only thing that let me get to a truly neutral, leaning on ashy brown, more of my natural that I was shooting for. And again, this all just goes back to how large the molecules of red pigment are and how deeply they penetrate the hair strand. Once they are in, they are in and very difficult and potentially damaging to rid the hair of with chemicals.

      The other potential risk to using the neutralizing process would be that if you have overly colored hair that tends to be quite porous, meaning it absorbs moisture more than it should, the layers of green on top of layers of red could potentially end up looking quite dark. For the same reason I listed above of green fading out much quicker than the red, the result of doing this on very porous hair would be an immediate shade of color that looks significantly darker than where you wanted to be. And then drastic fading until the red is back in a couple week’s time. I’m not sure that most women would appreciate their hair color changing from a dark brown to a medium red every two weeks. Haha!

      And another great reason to go with highlights is that during the grow/color out phase, the added dimension will play on light and take people’s eyes to the sum of the look rather than just the pieces of red that still remain, which is the look you’re going for if you don’t want to have red anymore. And also, if you decide after a couple months that you miss your red and want to try it out again (as I’ve done a million times and I know a few clients do as well), you haven’t completely neutralized all of it out, making it much easier to add to rather than starting all over again at phase one but this time with heavily colored, neutral hair.

      I’m sorry that explanation is so long, but I wanted to make sure I fully explained the concept. I hope that helps!!

  5. Sometimes I live being a natural red head :}

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