Chinese carrot-tops for real?
December 20, 2012 11:42 AM   Subscribe

Really dumb question inside. I really hope I don't sound ignorant or racist, it's an honest question, I have no agenda.

I live in a city with a very large Asian population, about half I think, and I've noticed something, god this is so dumb:

Does a lot of Asian hair naturally have a slight reddish-orange tint or are 75% of the Asian people in my city colouring their hair the same colour?

I would ask an Asian person but I don't quite know any well enough to risk sounding like this question probably sounds.
posted by Cosine to Human Relations (32 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Different types of hair react to bleaching differently. The general sort of hair associated with people from East Asia tends to become a deep orange/ochre before it becomes the bleached-blonde color you generally associate with using hair bleach. I grew up and still live in a Chinese neighborhood and pre-teens and teenagers bleach out chunks of their hair pretty frequently as a fashion thing (although not as frequently as when I went to high school back in the late-90s/early-2000s.)
posted by griphus at 11:45 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

In Japan, it's been common for a while for young/stylish people to dye their hair reddish or lighter brown. It's been frowned upon by more conservative people, and some workplaces prohibit "unnatural" hair coloring like that. A Japanese friend told me that if he passes a Japanese restaurant in the states and sees that the workers in it have black hair, he can tell they're not Japanese - but he could have been exaggerating.
posted by cairdeas at 11:46 AM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Malnutrition in childhood also changes hair colour to this particular shade. Are there many with a refugee heritage in your area?
posted by infini at 11:48 AM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Speaking as someone married to someone who happens to be Asian, Asian hair can be very, very difficult to tint. The result of a botched job is an orange-ish tint, and it's reasonable to expect that these folks are not opting for more expensive treatments (if they are available at all where you live) that give a desired tint.

Another factor is sunlight. Depending how far north you live, sunlight further north can be very harsh with a lot of UV, and this can affect dyes in Asian hair. It can also affect the pigment in Asian hair.

I see that you are in Van. The sunlight up here is so, so, so strong. Compared to sunlight further south, it really does damage hair and skin.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:49 AM on December 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Asian hair can be very, very difficult to tint.

If you're not up on hair stuff, OP, tinting dark hair involves lightening it first (you can't tint black hair with just color dye in the same way you can light hair.) Lightening cremes tend to have hydrogen peroxide -- which, now that I am remembering, is what the Chinese kids at school used, rather than bleach -- which has the same oranging effect.
posted by griphus at 11:52 AM on December 20, 2012

It's not natural. It's either damage or dyeing.
posted by ignignokt at 11:56 AM on December 20, 2012

So, if you're talking about naturally reddish hue, like not artificially streaked, one of my daughter's has reddish tints in her hair. Not enough to call it auburn, but it's definitely got red. And she's a very healthy kid with regularily trimmed healthy hair.
posted by mamabear at 12:00 PM on December 20, 2012

Hmmm. Younger people of Asian descent coloring their hair to shades of processed red/orange/brown is pretty common, and has been for a while. Is it mostly younger people you see with that hair color?

Also: My (Korean) hair has never been bleached or colored in any way, and its natural color is a very, very dark, warm brown, not really the coal black people typically think of when they think "Asian hair". Maybe you're noticing varying degrees of that?
posted by peachfuzz at 12:02 PM on December 20, 2012 [7 favorites]

I'm South Asian-American, not East Asian but my hair is also a very dark brown, not black. Most people would say it was black on sight but I dyed it jet black once and it looked really different. Also, I bleached it in high school and it was bright red.

I think it's a common misconception that non white people all have black hair, exact same color. There are a lot of shade variations.
posted by sweetkid at 12:05 PM on December 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

Adding to what Peachfuzz and Sweetkid said: The Asian people we are close with all have different colored and textured hair -- it's not just thick and black.
posted by mamabear at 12:06 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Yes, my hair is also fine and very curly naturally, which is considered crazy uncommon for Asians but it's kinda not.
posted by sweetkid at 12:07 PM on December 20, 2012

Depends on "Asia"
posted by infini at 12:08 PM on December 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

Asia is a big place, not sure if you mean East Asian or South Asian or what, but lots of South Asian people (at least older groups) put henna in their hair which can make it look a little orange.
posted by inbetweener at 12:10 PM on December 20, 2012

A friend is Japanese and has quite curly hair. I have no idea if this is common, but it's certainly possible. Also, many Asian young people where I live have reddish hair -- it's quite fashionable from what I understand. Older people might be using henna on grey hair.
posted by Lescha at 12:12 PM on December 20, 2012

I see a lot of henna here (surrey) but it seems to be more of an Indian thing.

As far as the sunlight comment goes, we don't really get that here. Vancouver isn't any brighter than Seattle.

I'm not 'Asian' per se (though a fiar chunk of my ancestral lineage probably walked across a land bridge 12000 years ago) but my one youthful attempt to bleach my hair resulted in 1) a bright copper tint 2)second bleaching == strawberry straw 3) cracked and bleeding scalp.

It's really hard to do anything to black hair without it ending up orangish.
posted by mce at 12:15 PM on December 20, 2012

Like peachfuzz, my Asian hair is not actually black. It's warm dark brown, and in the summer it bleaches lighter with a reddish tint to it. Hair stylists have asked me if I had highlights done. So it could be natural, but I'm the only person in my family with hair like this.
posted by keep it under cover at 12:30 PM on December 20, 2012

When I was last in Japan, every girl there between 10 and 40 seemed to have tinted her hair Titian. It seemed pretty weird to me, but I liked Eggplant when I was a lass.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 12:30 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dying hair red/orange has been very popular in East Asia for some time now, especially among Koreans and Japanese - I think the height of the craze was probably around the early 2000's, but it's still popular, although a more subtle dark reddish color is more common these days.

The dark reddish/purple hair dye seems very popular among Eastern European women too, for what it's worth.
posted by pravit at 12:36 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Your profile says you're in the Vancouver area. I've lived all my life in Vancouver and Seattle, and I have Japanese ancestry on my mother's side.

As people mention above, it's been very fashionable in the past decade or two for Japanese and other east-Asian people to color their hair in particular reddish-brown tints. I think I first saw it among Japanese college students (i.e. foreign students, visiting from Japan), and then it spread through the broader population. Even my mom dyed her hair that way for a while. I think hair salons specializing in Asian clients may have helped spread the fashion. You can see how popular it is in image searches like "japanese hair styles".

As far as I know, reddish hair is rarely if ever found naturally in people of Japanese ethnicity, or in the major ethnic groups of China, Korea, etc. I am certain that most or all of the people you are noticing have dyed their hair.
posted by mbrubeck at 12:54 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

Also not Asian, but I have very naturally dark hair that turns dark auburn/brown with UV damage. It bleaches to a reddish-orange color fairly easily with peroxide-based bleach. I usually tint it with blue-black dye to cover this and get a proper jet black going. Darker brownish reds are also somewhat easier to get away with when one has naturally darker coloring but wants to change hair colors without looking glaringly unnatural (as say, blonde might when one has black eyebrows/brown eyes).
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:58 PM on December 20, 2012

I am South Asian. The hair at the top of my head looks basically black, even in the sun, but the hair further down, around my shoulders and further, looks dark brown/auburn in the sun.
posted by anthropomorphic at 1:03 PM on December 20, 2012

My sister-in-law was born in Korea, and her hair, especially in the summer, has noticable red highlights.
posted by Malla at 1:08 PM on December 20, 2012

Response by poster: Wow, super informative answers, thanks for the non-judgemental info-share!

From all posts I am going to surmise that this is nearly always a deliberate colouring. It does seem odd that 95% of those colouring their hair select the same colour to change to but maybe it's the same as Caucasian/Westerners going blonde or maybe red/orange is the one that works best/is easiest?

If blonde hair carries a supposed increase in attractiveness for Caucasian/Westerners does orange/red hair carry the same increase in attractiveness or some other perceived advantage in Indian/Southeast Asian/East Asian culture? (apologies for using "Asian" alone earlier, if there is a better term for people from Indian/Southeast Asian/East Asian cultures I am not aware of it, I guess I meant all but Russians.)
posted by Cosine at 1:16 PM on December 20, 2012

By the way, I said reddish hair is rare in East Asians, but I should have said that red hair is rare -- as several other people commented, reddish highlights are common in sun-bleached hair.
posted by mbrubeck at 1:21 PM on December 20, 2012

if there is a better term for people from Indian/Southeast Asian/East Asian cultures I am not aware of it

These people are not all the same and so the term Asian needed clarification, which is why you are getting pushback for "Asian" not that there is some other word you should use.
posted by sweetkid at 1:24 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

maybe red/orange is the one that works best/is easiest?

Yes, pretty much. The hair just lightens to those brassy colors more easily. If you're starting with a very hair dark color, you'll need to lighten to change it to just about anything else, and in that process lots of these red/orange tones come out.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 1:36 PM on December 20, 2012

Even people with dark black hair will sometimes have their hair bleached to red by the sun.
posted by theora55 at 1:38 PM on December 20, 2012

Best answer: It does seem odd that 95% of those colouring their hair select the same colour to change to but maybe it's the same as Caucasian/Westerners going blonde...

Yeah, pretty much. Other hair colors are certainly possible starting from East Asian hair, but that sort of extreme dye job is a lot of work and way the hell outside of mainstream fashion.

Also, keep in mind that there are lots of people with dyed hair (of all races!) whose dye jobs you don't notice because they've ended up with a color that strikes you as plausibly natural.

So for instance, on the one hand, there are plenty of white people who dye their hair some similar shade of reddish brown — but because it's not all that rare for Caucasian hair to be that color naturally, you're not even aware that you're looking at a dye job most of the time when you see it. And on the other hand, there are East Asians who dye their hair some other darker color (for instance, using black or super-dark-brown dye to cover up grey hairs) but again the result falls within the range you think of as natural, so you don't notice.

(In other words, the question is a little like asking "Why are fake breasts all so unrealistic?" — part of the answer is "Actually, they're not all that way — those are just the ones you notice.")

TL;DR: this color is the one that's (a) easy to produce, and (b) currently fashionable and (c) still far enough from the average color of East Asian people's hair that it jumps out at you when you see it.
posted by and so but then, we at 2:08 PM on December 20, 2012 [4 favorites]

'Asian' in my country is taken to refer to people from India/Pakistan/Bangladesh, so this is what I thought of when I read the question...

There was a big South Asian population where I grew up and I did know a couple of families who had naturally coppery/ginger hair despite their darker skin. It definitely wasn't dyed or henna,because this was in primary school, and the whole family had the same tone. I found this thread about it - though Googling 'asian people red hair' brings up the US definition of 'Asian' as people from the Far East.
posted by mippy at 3:29 PM on December 20, 2012

I know that most non-Asians think all Asians have black hair. Not the case. I am Chinese and I don't have black hair and it is not dyed. My mother has naturally curly dark brown hair which has auburn highlights. I have straight, dark brown hair that will have reddish color when seen under sunlight. When I spend a lot of time in the sun, I will have lighter brown highlights. Of the six people in my immediate family, my younger sister is the only one with naturally dark hair. Her hair is very dark brown (but not black because she dyed her hair black once) with no obvious highlights.

So I am not sure what color you are seeing exactly since reddish-orange tint could be described for many different hues of those two colors in combination so it may be possible that their hair is colored but it is also possible that they have naturally reddish-orange tinted hair. I am sure my answer didn't help, but hope that answers your question!
posted by Yellow at 5:12 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

My wife is Asian and has a reddish tinge to her hair - it's natural. btw - asking about race isn't being racist.
posted by mattoxic at 6:05 PM on December 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

This is the most common hair-dye color in my part of SE Asia as well, especially for men.

I know that most non-Asians think all Asians have black hair. Not the case.

Certainly true and not to derail, but my favorite Malaysian proverb regarding hair color:
Rambut sama hitam tapi hati lain-lain
"All hair is black but the heart differs"
posted by BinGregory at 8:13 PM on December 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

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