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Getting the Most Out of Your Red Hair

Published on 17th February 2010

Red dye has the largest color molecules of all hair dyes. This means that red hair is difficult to keep consistently looking its best. This guide aims to eliminate some of the mystery and difficulty of taking care of your red hair, keeping it vibrant for longer periods of time.

1. Starting Colour and Colour Theory

Most red hair dyes have one of two base colors: orange, or pink. When they fade, they do so towards their respective bases (orange-based dyes to orange, pink based dyes to a pink/dark pink). Orange-based reds will tend to have a more fire-engine red, or “true” red hue. Pink reds will tend to have more of a ruby, jewel-toned hue to them. It is important to know which direction you’ll want to go. If you are transitioning between unnatural colors, then keep in mind which end of the color wheel you are coming from (http://haircrazy.info/hair-science/colour-theory-for-hair-dyeing/). Blue hair? You might want to try a dark pink/purple based red; it won’t clash with your tones and cause unwanted neutral tones. Purple hair? Try a orange-based dye, which will balance out to a nice ruby shade.
I recommend that you choose a dye from a brand that sells more concentrated dye, such as Special Effects. The color will last much longer and bleed/stain less, if you care for it properly.

2. Strand Test

Don’t skip this step! It’s important. I know you’re tempted, but think about it; if you end up choosing the wrong shade, it takes at least 2 weeks to drain your color enough for a successful redye. A strand test is simple; isolate a lock of your hair (removal not necessary), saturate with desired color, let process for at least 1/2 an hour, rinse and towel dry. If you see a lot of muddy tones in the strand, you probably chose the wrong base color. Do as many strand tests as you need before you move on to dyeing your whole head.

3. Dye Techniques

There are actually a few different ways you can choose to dye your hair.


Uniformly painting on the color in sections of your hair with a tint brush is the simplest and quickest method. I would recommend this if you are new to dyeing.


If you are tenacious enough, you can get a range of highlights and lowlights. This process can take awhile. For this technique I choose at least 2 differing shades of red (one light, one dark). Lowlights are painted on towards the bottom or underneath of the hair, and highlights are painted on top of the hair. You can get subtle or drastic, depending on the difference of the hues. I find a subtle highlight gets the best results, because it looks kind of like natural hair. If you are experimenting with this, prepare to use your darkest shade of red as a cover-up for any mistakes.


I love this method. It works especially well if your hair is not uniformly bleached, or your previous color is naturally highlighted. It is also simple and quick; simply grab some color, spread it evenly on your hands, and run through your hair. Make sure ALL your hair is saturated; check to make sure you didn’t leave any undyed pockets. What this does is spreads the color unevenly throughout your hair, creating varying shades of light and dark throughout (versus a more level highlighted look). It is also fairly simple to correct. If you’ve left any pockets of undyed hair, simply re-apply the dye where desired.


Red is a great addition to many colors on the color wheel, as well as any natural hair color. If you have dark hair, make sure to bleach it first, or drain the unnatural color enough so that you can see the dye. Isolate the strands you want to dye; I recommend foil. Paint on the dye in the desired section. When rinsing, make sure to keep the strand as isolated as possible until the runoff is mostly clear, otherwise you risk staining the hair around it. When making coontails, runoff staining can’t be avoided; it’s best to start off with a dark dye, like black or dark purple, and bleach in the sections of coontail you want red. That way you won’t be able to differentiate the stain against the darker color.

4. Rinsing

Rinsing your hair correctly is very important. If too much runoff escapes, you could lose a lot of vibrancy in an initial coloring. It is always a good idea to rinse your newly dyed hair in as cold of water as you can stand; hot water drains color. If you can, rinse your hair with a mixture of a few tablespoons of lemon juice (another acidic juice as a replacement will work fairly well) and about 20 oz of water, before rinsing it with cold water. The pH change will help lock in the color in each strand. Keep rinsing your hair until the runoff is mostly clear; otherwise, you risk staining your hands and clothing.

5. Aftercare


Within the first 2 weeks of dying, red has a tendency to stain easily. You can combat this by using dark towels to dry your hair, and keeping your hair completely dry around textiles, like bedsheets and clothes. If you have longer hair, I would recommend wrapping your hair in a dark towel as it’s drying. Bleach any bathroom surfaces that are stained orange or pink when applicable, and clean your carpet QUICKLY with a spot cleaner for any wary drops. The faster you clean a spot out, the more likely you can remove it completely. Clean stains off of skin gradually by washing it with soap and water.


Try to go as long as possible without washing your hair. If you have dandruff or other scalp conditions, try to space out your washes between 2-4 days. Remember that harsher shampoos will drain your color quickly, so switch to a color-safe and/or sulfate-free shampoo if you haven’t already. Always shampoo and rinse in cold water.
CONDITIONER: Adding some of your color to your conditioner is a pretty savvy way to keep your color from fading. Hair treatments that involve heating up your hair or scalp should be avoided for the first 2-3 weeks of your coloring, as they can drain your color. Rinse your conditioner out with cold water.


Avoid sunlight and chlorine/seawater, as they will sap your color pretty quickly. Wear dark clothing for the first few days of your dye if you can, so any possible stains remain invisible. If you can, always towel dry, or use the cool setting when blow drying hair. Try to avoid heat-styling, such as flat-ironing, and hair products; most of them contain alcohols or solvents that will drain color from your hair. If you must style your hair, I would reccomend you do it sparingly to get the most out of your color. During any heavy activity, make sure to tie your hair up or keep it back with a headband; sometimes sweat on the scalp will drain your color a little, as well as stain skin and clothing.

6. Accessorizing and Pictures

Red’s opposing color on the color wheel is green. Naturally, this makes accessorizing and dressing in green a great idea when you have red hair; it draws attention to your colour. If you have a more orange-based red, try using a cooler shade of green. With pink-toned red, try a “truer” or yellow-toned green. Both of those slight variations will give your color an extra boost. When done successfully, red hair tends to get a lot of compliments in public. Don’t be afraid to show it off :)

When taking pictures of yourself, or getting pictures taken, try to do it/have it done in as much natural light as possible. Outside in bright sunlight is best for most cameras to pick up the truest shade in your red hair. Indoor lights tend to cast yellow or blue tones onto your hair, distorting the true color. If you are inside, try to get near a window where natural light is filtering through. If you are modelling, a white/green background and natural-looking light is ideal.

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