How can I keep bright red dyed hair looking fresh as long as possible?
March 9, 2014 9:27 AM   Subscribe

I'm going to dye my hair bright, bright red. I've always wanted to do this color but have avoided it because I know that red tends to be the fastest-fading of the superbright hair colors. What can I do, beyond what I'm already planning, to make sure that it lasts as long as possible?

So every once in a while I dye my hair fun colors. I had it green for Mardi Gras last week, but I wasn't happy with the patchiness of it (it was a bit of a rush job) and I immediately got sick of everyone asking me if I'd done it for St. Patrick's Day, which is not a holiday that I personally care very much about. I've decided to switch it up and go red, but I'm worried that it won't last since red is normally the dye color that is most prone to rapid fading.

Here's what I'm already doing or planning to do: I've got my hair bleached out as light as it is ever going to go with three rounds of L'Oréal Quick Blue and 40-volume developer. I'm going to be using top-quality dye, Pravana Chromasilk Vivids. I've bought a set of well-reviewed color protection shampoo and conditioner, and I plan to shampoo once a week at most with not-so-hot water (which normally seems to agree with my hair anyway). What else can I do?

I'm particularly worried about fading from ultraviolet sunlight (is that a justified concern?) but I'm not sure what to do about that; there do seem to be hair-specific sunscreen products out there, but they're expensive and like everything cosmetics it's nearly impossible to wade through the mountains of bullshit to find out whether they really work or are worth the money. If anybody knows of a product or technique for avoiding sun bleaching, ideally a cheap one, that would be appreciated. (I realize I could just wear a hat, but that rather defeats the point of having dyed hair.)

I'd also really appreciate tips on making sure that the dye soaks in as deeply as possible. Should I wash with hot water and soap first perhaps, to strip the grease off and open up the cuticles? Hit it with a blow-dryer before or during the dyeing process? Something else?

Also I've heard some advice around the internet about how to treat the hair immediately after dyeing so as to help the dye really set in and "take". Washing the hair with vinegar, for instance, is something I've heard mentioned here and there. However, I don't trust the internet about this stuff; I only trust MetaFilter!

Any other advice about making the dye last would be really appreciated. Also, as a bonus question, I'd love to know if anyone has tips for keeping it from staining the skin around the hair. Every time I dye I always have a sort of ring of dyed skin around my hairline for a couple days afterward, even if I use vaseline to try to stop it. I've heard that the solution is to avoid the roots of the hair (and ideally to have someone else do it rather than doing it oneself in the mirror, though that's not really an option this time) but I don't want to end up with red hair and blonde roots. What can I do there?

Thanks as always for your advice!
posted by Scientist to Clothing, Beauty, & Fashion (19 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
Put your trust in the Pravana, that stuff sticks. It's going to run like crazy and you'll freak out but then once your hair is dry again you'll find it's just as colorful as it was when you started. My pravana blue made every shower cartoon-pool colored for months and people couldn't tell the difference - they think I redye it a million times more often than I do. I guess, try to see how long you can actually go without shampooing, and when you do wash it, do it quick and then stick a cap on your head for the rest of your shower so it's not running with water the whole time.

The ultraviolet thing is a real concern in that it actually happens, but I'm not sure that it's going to happen to the pravana dye like it does to other traditional ones. I've never heard of a product that is actually worth money to fix this problem - it seems like keeping some extra dye on-hand to touch up is probably more cost effective.

Mostly my tip is for stain removal. Something I discovered through trial and error, and I don't know how it will work with the red but it certainly works with the blue: gel hand sanitizer, the kind in a big pump bottle, works like magic to get the color off your skin. I think it has something to do with the actual gloopiness of the stuff, it evaporates slowly enough to actually work on the dye? I read a tip about rubbing alcohol and I thought "hey, this giant pump bottle of hand sanitizer I've had since that time we all got swine flu is like that, but more intended for skin!" Lo and behold, the back of my neck and the shells of my ears were finally human colored again, just in time to be photographed in a ponytail.

Also, you look pretty awesome with crazy blond hair everywhere, so you should consider this endeavor a success already.
posted by Mizu at 10:02 AM on March 9, 2014 [3 favorites]

I'm a science-assisted* red-head and despite various shampoo changes, the only one that made a difference was a non-sulphite containing one. The change has been amazing. There's a little run-off after the first wash but no more. Specifically I use Phytoorganics Chromalife.

I just use a normal UV spray on top. Go to a Sally's Beauty or Ulta and just pick up any - I haven't found a significant difference in those sprays. I don't have advice for home dyeing, sorry!

*deep down it wants to be red
posted by cobaltnine at 10:11 AM on March 9, 2014

It's a bit pricy, but when I had bright copper-red hair, Davines color-depositing conditioner really kept it going. One time my salon was out of the copper color, and I picked up the other red, this one, which is more of a bright cherry color. It kept my hair nice and bright.
posted by Meg_Murry at 10:29 AM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

I've dyed my hair basically every color of the rainbow, and in my experience the reds actually last much longer than greens and blues. If you're going for, like, Unnatural Fire Engine Red, be prepared for the red to fade to pink, and for the pink to stick until you cut it off. (I was not prepared for Barbie Pink hair the first time it happened to me. I was angry.)

Anyway, I think if you wash infrequently with cool water and good shampoo you'll be fine.
posted by hishtafel at 10:31 AM on March 9, 2014

Yes, be sure that any shampoo or conditioner you use is sulfate-free!! (In fact I might even try a sulfate free cleansing conditioner rather than shampoo)
posted by tristeza at 10:53 AM on March 9, 2014 [2 favorites]

Ulta sells a color-depositing glaze.

Become friends with dry shampoo.

I have heard nice things about Pravana, but it is no Elumen.

Get one of these and wash only in cold.

Someone suggested Phyto and I concur.

Touch up powder and pens are good, too.
posted by oflinkey at 11:15 AM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Seconding Davines here. I have had many shades of red and that made it stick the longest for me. It's pricey, but with dyed hair I try not to wash too much anyway.
posted by emily37 at 11:59 AM on March 9, 2014

I feel like it depends on peoples' hair somehow. I've been doing bleach and tone for...eeek, more than half of my life now and haven't had luck with color seals or treatments. I use a shampoo from the crunchy section with tea tree oil since my scalp itches if I don't, and I feel it's less color stripping. However, the only thing that's worked for me is to continually deposit color.

Pravana absolutely did not do what I was hoping for it to do, and it was rather mediocre on my daughter's hair as well (I did a pastel lavender Pravana streak in my red hair and she did all-over teal). On my hair the color deposited unevenly and ranged from a silvery grey to a bluey purple. My daughter's washed out quickly.

Lately instead of bleach and tone my stylist cuts my hair as needed, dyes it one step permanent "natural" but vibrant red, and I touch it up myself.

When I am really wanting to keep my hair vibrant red, I treat it on weekends for about 20-30 minutes with a mix of half hair color and half natural oils that permeate hair. It's nicer ahir and easier to manage overall, since the hair is chemically altered. I use a mix of almond, coconut, argan, or jojoba depending on what I have laying around my cupboards. I wash this out and then maybe I wash my hair 2x a week tops. In the past I have done things like put semi-perm color in my conditioner bottle as is recommended here. But I like this mask hair treatment technique and it's easy to slap on and then do house chores.

I used Special Effects for many years but it is expensive and they often cannot keep up on demand, and fuck not being able to find my color when I need it, or having to drive all over town. So lately (past year or so) I've gone to Adore on Amazon. It's half the price and it sticks very well. I am kind of Joan Holloway red and my daughter's Adore aquamarine is very very vibrant.

TL;DR it seems to be a lot of trial and error for one's own hair and routines. Good luck!
posted by Lardmitten at 12:17 PM on March 9, 2014

The only guaranteed way to prevent UV degradation is to wear a hat. I don't think the spray UV protectants do much if anything.

Use cold water. Not not-so-hot; cold. It keeps the cuticle closed. Bonus: hair is shinier. Vinegar: may help restore pH to damaged hair (bleach is quite alkaline) but won't help color stick around, most likely. Wash your hair as little as you can possibly stand.

You don't have to buy a special conditioner to re-deposit color, just blend a small amount of your dye into conditioner and let sit on your hair for 5-10 minutes.
posted by oneirodynia at 12:35 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

I wouldn't use soap, but maybe try a clarifying shampoo if you wish and skip the conditioner so that the hair is really ready to soak up the color. Heat during the dye processing phase does help it penetrate. Leave the red on for as long as is practical for you. I used to sleep in my dye, but be warned that there will be leaks; stained sheets and pillows and even hands, neck, etc.

Pravana is good stuff. My heart belongs to Special Effects, but the problems there have already been mentioned. Dry shampoos are great for lengthening the time between washes. Be prepared to touch up frequently unless you don't mind pink/peach hair.
posted by Kitty Stardust at 12:46 PM on March 9, 2014

The more you wash, the faster it fades so if you can get away with washing only once a week (which my hairdresser recommends anyway) it will help a lot.
posted by Jubey at 4:55 PM on March 9, 2014

I haven't tried any, but ran across very happy reviews for the sulfate-free Tressa Watercolors reds.
posted by moira at 5:08 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Honestly, I don't think you need to do anything beyond what you are already planning. My hair is dyed bright red (not even with as high quality dye as you are using), and I wash it once a week in coolish water, but otherwise don't do anything special, and the roots become a problem long before fading does. I have to redo the roots about every 8 weeks, and it's no hardship to touch up the rest at the same time. When I have gone longer, I don't notice any serious fading until about four months in. (It does fade a LITTLE the very first time I wash it, but then no further for months.)
posted by lollusc at 6:03 PM on March 9, 2014

Returning to say that the hair cuticle thing is a myth. The sucky thing is that the beauty industrial complex is going to pedal us any variety of bullshit, so google is your friend, OP. It can save you hundreds of dollars on useless products and help you skip steps like cold showers (brr).
posted by Lardmitten at 8:56 PM on March 9, 2014 [1 favorite]

Also, as a bonus question, I'd love to know if anyone has tips for keeping it from staining the skin around the hair.

I usually use conditioner around my hairline to prevent staining. But, I recently went to a salon to get some highlights + roots touched up, and the hairdresser used baby oil which seemed to work better (I think it was a fancy scented kind, but it was basically baby oil). I'd do a little test first, as conditioner or baby oil make some people break out (petroleum jelly gives me pimples, which is why I don't use it).
posted by bluefly at 5:54 AM on March 10, 2014

I have tried all the tricks for my various wacky red shades over the years. Washing in cold has not helped it stick. I just got it done 6 weeks ago at the salon, washed 3x a week only in cold (and only with color-safe red-specific shampoos), and it faded within 2 weeks. It is especially fade-tastic on my ends. I think it depends on your hair, like mentioned above.

Nthing moira on the Tressa watercolors line. It is great! It deposits color every time you wash. Right now I am at a coppery reddish orange, and every time I wash my hair looks prettier. (I am at a salon color right now, I am dying to try the Pravana line but I am so over the bleeding) I use the orange 3 showers in a row then switch to red for one.

I had great results with Special Effects Blood Red - that sticks for a really long time. But it also bleeds like Pravana. I guess you could probably make your own "Tressa Watercolor" like shampoo by just putting a bit of the Special Effects (in your desired shade) into your shampoo. I did that before with Manic Panic - added it to my conditioner - because Manic Panic reds fade like nobody's business.
posted by getawaysticks at 7:34 AM on March 10, 2014

Returning to say that the hair cuticle thing is a myth. The sucky thing is that the beauty industrial complex is going to pedal us any variety of bullshit, so google is your friend, OP. It can save you hundreds of dollars on useless products and help you skip steps like cold showers (brr).

The point of cold water washing is to keep the cuticle contracted while washing your hair. It doesn't matter so much that once your hair is warm the cuticle opens up again as long as you are not sudsing up your head at that point. I have Ellumen red and purple in my hair and can see the difference in the rinse water depending on if I do the usual cold water wash or feel like I can't possibly stand a cold rinse and must be warm that morning.
posted by oneirodynia at 5:30 PM on March 10, 2014

My scientific knowledge is sketchy at best, so this could well be a total myth, but a hairdresser once told me that red hair dyes have the smallest molecules, and therefore wash out of hair more quickly than any other colour. When I dyed my hair bright red I had it done in a salon that used L'Oréal Majirel / Majirouge, which I believe is permanent and a salon-only brand. You can buy tubes on ebay or find it in a beauty supply shop. I think you would need to get developer separately. It did fade but I think it had more longevity than some of the vegetable-based dyes.
posted by fanlight at 2:28 AM on March 12, 2014

Response by poster: If anybody happens to be interested, here's how it came out. (Contrast with the bleached but not dyed picture.) It faded some over the first week or so from #FF0000 to #E52B50, but I bought a second tube of the dye and mixed it into a bottle of conditioner, used some of that every day, and that fixed it. It stayed red enough that even the grown-out roots didn't look terrible.

I'm now about to cut almost all of it off in preparation for going to Cameroon this summer. It's pretty tired from the serial bleachings and dyeings, and besides it's a bit of a hassle in the field. I haven't had short hair and a cleanshaven face in over a decade, I think I'll give it a try.
posted by Scientist at 7:19 PM on April 10, 2014

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