Letters From Your Hairdresser

What Nobody Tells You About Going Red

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There are so many shades to choose from. Sometimes I’ll have a client come in for a color session with four different inspirational photos of four different shades of red. When I start picking apart the differences and really trying to get to the bottom of what my client truly wants to have on her head, she often doesn’t even realize they are all different undertones. Just in deciding on a darker red color, you can choose between a violet-red or a brown-red. And for a medium or light hue, you can go with a bright cherry red, an orange-red or a cherry-cola red with an equal balance of brown and violet-red. We are talking everything from Snooki’s current cherry cola red to Christina Hendricks more natural red. From Nicole Kidman’s orange-red blonde locks to Rhianna’s infamous bright, true red. Do yourself a favor and look over tons of photos before deciding on what you’re drawn to. And when you do head to your hairdresser for the big coloring, bring those photos with you to make sure you can show exactly what you want!

Choose the shades for you based on your skin tone. I’m convinced that anyone can go red as long as they have the right undertone and pigment. To find yours, all you have to do is figure out what your skin tone is. If you have more of a blue or green undertone, that means you are cooler. If you have more of an orange or red undertone, you are warmer. Then just match warm colors with a warm face and cool colors with a cool face. Oftentimes when I meet a woman who says she hates herself in red and I can see photos of her past color, I can tell it was the wrong undertone for her. Such a simple change and she would have absolutely loved it! The right shade for you should bring out the warmth or coolness in your face and make you look glowing and dewy, similar to how a great bronzer can make you look.

If you are having a hard time figuring out what your skin’s undertone is, a great trick is to hold up items of green, blue, red, and orange up to your face and paying attention to which colors seem to dull and which seem to brighten. And if you still can’t tell, defer to your stylist’s expertise. But certainly don’t be afraid to try red if you’ve had a bad experience! All you need is the right undertone that can bring out the best you!

And if you still aren’t sure, consider these additional factors. Just like with any big hair color change, you’ll have to consider your wardrobe. When you decide to go red, you’ll have to factor in each outfit with your crazy, new color! Go bold and dramatic if that’s your style and use your hair as just another accessory to add color. Or if you tend to go more sophisticated with blacks, whites and creams in your wardrobe, your red can be that youthful, fun pop of color that you might be missing. Makeup is another big factor that needs to be considered. I still recommend a great red lip with your new ‘do, but make sure the undertone of the makeup doesn’t oppose the undertone of your color. And be ready to tone down the bulk of your makeup as well.

My favorite thing about going red is that I can get away with a touch of bronzer, a swipe of mascara and a neutral lip while still looking fashionable and put together. If you aren’t looking to make any of these changes and you prefer to stick with a more low maintenance look, red might not be the color for you. But if none of this scares you and you’re up for a big change, make an appointment with your hairdresser and get ready for the most confidence-boosting color you’ve had yet!


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  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1067698477 Veronica Milroy

    Sometimes I live being a natural red head :}

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1067698477 Veronica Milroy


      • http://Hairwithkate.com Kate Allen

        You should be, Veronica! Some of us have to work hard to get that red to stick… So jealous!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1507304485 Denise Kitty Dee Bugarin

    Whatever happened to color theory and just neutralizing the red?

    • http://Hairwithkate.com Kate Allen

      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!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=725010025 Ashley Heise

    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.

    • http://Hairwithkate.com Kate Allen

      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! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=768438310 Mercelena Erazo Del Río

    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.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=768438310 Mercelena Erazo Del Río

      * if you don’t take care of it, would turn out on a different direction of the original you had in mind, but I love it and I think *now is the time…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=604842973 Elisa Terpstra

    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 😛 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!

  • Nova

    My hair is a moderate brown. I use henna to make it red. The first application was an orangy/brownish/red which I didn’t like. But, henna builds up with each application, so I re-applied twice a month until I got to a deep, rich, red/brown. Now I only re-apply once a year and touch up roots as needed. Since henna blends beautifully, you can’t tell where the root line is. As a major bonus – you keep your natural highlights, no more weird striping or chunky color. Henna isn’t toxic, doesn’t damage your hair and leaves it feeling soft and silky. It is more work, and there is a certain knack to it, but the amazingly beautiful results are worth it.

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