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How to Get, Maintain and Remove Red Hair

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Since red hair goes in and out of fashion like clockwork, is often the first foray into the alt colour world and is often the compromise for alt hair in the workplace, I figured I’d write up a tutorial about how to achieve, maintain and remove red hair.

Please note that red hair is a high maintenance colour.  If you can’t deal with dying your hair every 4-6 weeks or with being pink or orange in between dyes if you wait longer, then perhaps red isn’t the colour for you.  It can also be very difficult to remove.

Getting Red Hair

Box reds are brown based, so you won’t get that bright red you want out of a box off of the shelf at your local grocery store.

Now, before you go out and buy Majicontrast and 40vol peroxide because some girl on youtube said it was the best way to get bright red hair, stop.  40vol peroxide is very strong even without bleach powder, and will cause damage to your hair and has the potential for scalp burns.  30vol will give great lift with less damage and a far lesser chance of chemical burns.  If you have blonde hair, you can get a great result with 20vol.  Also, Majicontrast is not designed for hair that has already been processed.  It’s fine if you’ve never dyed your hair or if you need to touch up your roots, but if you dye your hair black and expect to get a bright red by popping some Majicontrast on top, you will be disappointed.  You’ll end up with a colour you don’t like that fades quickly.  There is also something about permanent red dyes that you probably didn’t know:

They wash out faster than semi permanents.  The red colour molecules in a permanent dye are larger than those in semi permanents, so they don’t sit under the cuticle very well and slide out far more quickly.  Additionally, semi permanents work as coloured conditioners, so you have healthier, happier hair.  They can also be mixed to get that perfect red shade, reapplied whenever necessary and mixed with your conditioner to deposit colour back in every time you wash.

What if your hair has been processed and it’s brown or black?  Before you reach for the bleach, use a colour remover, such as Colour B4, Jo Bazz or Scott Cornwall’s Decolour Remover (in the EU) or Color Oops (in the states).  Don’t use a colour stripper or bleach, as these both contain peroxide.  Peroxide works by destroying the natural colour molecules in your hair, but it can’t differentiate between the colour molecules and protein molecules, so you end up damaging your hair (see why stronger peroxide is bad?  More damage than necessary).  Colour removers are designed to target the artificial colour molecules that have been deposited under the hair cuticle, and they shrink or break apart these molecules and slide them out of the hair, leaving no damage to the structure of the hair itself.  They are safe to leave on for up to an hour or more and can be used up to three times before they have done all that they are going to do.  Ideally, you want to take your hair to ginger in order to put a nice red semi over the top.  If your hair has been dyed darker colours over a long period of time, there may be some build up and staining.  If your hair is stained or if the colour remover didn’t work, you’ll need to bleach bathe.  Leave it at least a week since your last colour remover, as the peroxide can react with the residues of the remover and bring the old colour back, so you want to get a few shampoos in as well as leave it a couple of days since your last shampoo to help build up your natural oils.  Bleach baths can be done once every week or two depending on your hair’s condition.  Always coconut oil before bleach bathing (or bleaching) and always follow up with Joico’s K-Pak Reconstructor and a good deep conditioner.

It goes without saying that if your hair has been processed to ginger or blonde, there is no need to lighten it further.

Once you have gotten your base, either with bleach, colour removers or Majicontrast, it’s time to use your semi dye.
Semis and dyes like Majicontrast are pink or orange based.  Keep this in mind when choosing a colour, as it will fade to the base colour at some point, and can tint the shade of red.  I like to mix together a pink and an orange base for more of a true red, or if my hair is stained orange, put a pink base over the top.  You can find out the base shades in the reviews sections of the dye pages on, or you can check out our The Colours Hair Dye Fades To thread.

Semis are used differently than permanents.  Permanents need to be used on hair that has been conditioned, unwashed and oiled.  This helps protect the hair from some of the damaging effects of peroxide, which will cut through anything coating the hair.  Permanents also need to have their timing instructions strictly followed, and timing starts from the moment the dye first touches your head.  Since semis work as a stain, they need to be applied to freshly washed, unconditioned hair.  Dry or damp depends on you, some prefer one way and some the other.  As semis do not contain peroxide or ammonia, they are safe to leave on for hours; in fact, it’s advisable to do so, as the longer you leave it, the richer the colour.  When you rinse off the colour, the water probably won’t run clear, so rinse for several minutes until your hair feels like hair again.

Now you have your red hair!  What about keeping it red?

Maintaining Red Hair

Like I said in the start, red hair can be difficult to maintain.  It’s easier with a semi, because it will stay red for longer, but you still have to do a few things to keep it happy.

First off, get rid of SLS shampoos.  You do not want to use anything on your hair that contains Sodium Laurel/Laureth Sulfate.  This is added to shampoos to make them foam up, and it will strip the colour out of your hair quicker than you can blink.  Ironically, most shampoos designed for red hair contain this, so they strip the colour out only to deposit some back in!  You’re much better off spending your money on a litre of Osmo Colour Mission/Colour Save shampoo.  It will last you months and keep more colour in your hair.

You also don’t want to wash your hair every day.  Even with SLS free shampoo, a tiny bit of colour will still leech out every time you wash your hair.  If you feel your hair gets too greasy too quickly, then get some dry shampoo.  Batiste is a good one.  Tresemme is not.  Even if your hair wasn’t dyed, washing your hair every day is bad for it.  It dries out your hair and scalp.   Let your natural oils do their job.

Alternatively, you can conditioner only wash.

Wash in tepid or cooler water if you can stand it, as heat opens up the cuticle even more, causing more colour to slip out and go down the drain.

You’ll also want to do a vinegar rinse to help seal down the cuticle.  This will help keep the colour, reduce rub off and make hair shinier.

Regarding rub off, this is something you will have to live with, at least for the first couple of washes.  Avoid white tops, and try to sleep on some darker pillows.  Invest in some darkly coloured towels.

When it comes time to redye your hair, use bleach or Majicontrast on your roots ONLY!  I cannot stress this enough—as you’re staying the same colour, there is no need to cause further damage to your lengths by bleaching them or dying them with a permanent colour.  Apply the bleach/dye to your roots with a tint brush to minimise overlap.  Wash out the bleach/dye, don’t condition and dye as previous with the semi.  You can also put the semis over your hair without doing the roots, but keep in mind the roots will still be visible, won’t blend very well and the dye will wash off of them within a week or so.  It all depends on how bothered you are by your roots showing.

Getting Red Out of Your Hair

If you decide that red is no longer for you or you simply fancy a change, keep in mind that red will not be the easiest colour in the world to shift; in fact, it’s one of the most difficult.  So have a realistic expectation of the amount of time that will be required to change.

If you want to go from red to black, brown, ginger or orange, this is the easiest route to take.  Black will cover anything and all medium and darker browns have a component of red in them, so you can just dye straight over with a permanent or a semi permanent.

If, however, you want to go any other colour, you will need to be patient.  Start with fading your hair.  Dark purple and dark pinks will take over ginger, and you might even be able to get away with a dark blue if you get it to a light enough shade of orange.  You will probably need to fade for a minimum of two to three months, and you’ll have to live with the shades of orange you go through first.

If you want to go lighter, particularly if you want to go blonde, you need to give yourself anywhere from six months to a year.  You will need to fade it as much as possible, and then begin bleach bathing (see link in the beginning of the post).  You will have to live with the shades of orange and ginger that you go through, and when you eventually get to yellow you’ll have to tone with a purple shampoo.  The more yellow pigment in your hair, the darker the shade of blonde you’ll be.  Also, be prepared to lose a few inches of hair, as the damage will build up, particularly on the ends of your hair which have been exposed to more processing, weathering and general damage.

I know this was really long, so I’d like to thank you for sticking with me!  If you have any questions that I haven’t covered in this post, please feel free to ask 😀

Topic starter Posted : February 10, 2013 11:04 am
New Member Guest

Great post 🙂

Your advice really helped me get from black to red with minimal damage. Hope more people find this before they reach for the 40vol or double process!

Posted : February 10, 2013 12:51 pm
Trusted Member Registered

amazing post 😀 i didnt know that almost a year from red to blonde :S

Posted : February 20, 2013 11:17 pm
New Member Guest

Great post, I'm trying to get pastel hair from box reds, it's been about 7 months now and I'm nearly light enough 🙂

Posted : February 21, 2013 2:08 am
Eminent Member Registered

I fell in love with this post, thanks for referring me to it. seriously it's so helpful. plus I had no idea semis stayed longer, thats awesome news since Im transitioning from permanents to semis. great!!

Posted : February 23, 2013 11:42 pm
New Member Guest

Fantastic post!! ive managed to get my hair a lovely colour after my haidresser dyed it red brown and wasnt sure how to manage my roots since my hair is mousy

Posted : March 10, 2013 9:46 pm
New Member Guest

Really excellent post. Thank you.

Posted : March 11, 2013 6:55 am
Estimable Member Registered

Great advice, thanks  ;D

Posted : July 31, 2013 8:50 pm
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