How To Dye Your Hair Red If You’re A Dark Brunette

Hint: It’s a lot easier than you think.

by Natasha Marsh
Originally Published: 
Marc Piasecki/GC Images/Getty Images
Kendall Jenner dyed her brunette hair red in early 2022

As the sunset starts getting ever so later with each passing day, I’ve been on the hunt for a new look to enter this new season with. And if, like me, you are antsy for an energized change, what better (and bolder) way to achieve it than with a new hair color? Not just any hair color, but red! Shades of red (copper and strawberry blonde, in particular) have been a major favorite of celebs recently: BLACKPINK’s Jennie, Kendall Jenner, Zendaya, Tessa Thompson, Barbie Ferreira, Sydney Sweeney — the list goes on and on. But as someone who’ll have to use red hair dye on brown hair, I have questions before I can flaunt any fiery mane.

As a brunette who has never dyed their hair before, it’s safe to say I have a lot to figure out first. Do I bleach it? How do I keep it from fading? How often do I have to touch up? Can I dye it at home or do I have to go to a hair salon? Will red hair damage my natural color? And, most importantly, what shade of red would look best on me?

To assist all wannabe redheads, TZR reached out to celebrity hair stylists and colorists for tips and tricks on helping dark brunettes go red successfully. If you’re thinking about trying out this ultra trendy, versatile, and stunning hue, you’re going to want to read on.

How To Pick A Flattering Shade Of Red

Before committing to red, there is one universal standard you should follow for the most complimenting look: undertones, or the natural colors underneath the surface of your skin. There are three different types of undertones: cool, neutral, and warm. If you’re unsure of your skin’s undertone, take a look at the color of your veins. Cool undertones have hints of blue, green, and violet, whereas, warm tones appear red, orange, golden or yellow. Neutrals are typically a mixture of both. Master colorist and salon owner Ronnie Dietrich recommends that fair and warm undertones are best paired with more copper, bellini (meaning slightly peach) hues, while dark and cool undertones should opt for a red-brown auburn look.

In addition to undertones, Marcus Francis, hair stylist and Better Natured brand ambassador, also considers eye color and hair color, as well as your natural texture. “Some colors have more of an impact when it’s on one type of hair texture versus the other,” says Francis. “The light reflects differently on the hair follicle when it’s curly, wavy, or straight. More shadows are created when there is more texture.”

Color Can Never Lift Color

For Dietrich and many other stylists, the golden rule when dyeing your hair is to remember that color can never lift (read: lighten) color. “If you have dark brunette hair, you can’t just put a red color over it, expecting it to be red,” Dietrich tells TZR. The darker your starting color, the more lifting your hair will require. If the red you choose is more vibrant than your brunette hair, the hair will need to be lifted first.

Similarly, if you often experiment with color and you’re looking to go red, it won’t be as simple as a single process. Traditionally, hair is lifted through a chemical process, often via bleaching. It’s important to note that bleach can be damaging depending on the texture and condition of your hair. “Thick, wavy, and curly hair is more resistant to lightening,” Francis shares. The longer the bleach stays on your hair, the more it breaks down the cuticle layer. “A cuticle that has been compromised too much has a harder time keeping pigment molecules — therefore, the color has a hard time lasting through sun exposure and washing,” Francis continues.

How To Dye Your Hair Red At Home

With virgin hair (read: non-colored hair) or processed hair, the formulas you use on your scalp and ends should differ since their needs are different. “General rule for your scalp area is typically to have more depth and richness, while the ends are lighter and brighter,” says Jasen James, colorist at Maxine Salon. This is because the hair on the scalp will process faster and lighter than the hair on the ends. Translation: If you put the same color on your roots and ends, and process (read: apply) it for the same amount of time, the hair at your root area is going to be brighter.

According to Dieterich, “Depending how far from your natural color you want to go, you should purchase a shade or two lighter for the ends to create a more natural look.” You can achieve this by mixing half a natural shade with half of the red shade of your choice for the scalp, to prevent roots from appearing too red. And then on your ends, only apply the red.

Another important factor to dyeing your hair at home: the outgrowth, or hair growth post-dye. “The outgrowth is one type of hair because it’s new and young and the mid to ends have been out in the sun, brushed, styled, and possibly heat treated, so you may need a lighter, brighter tone for those and a deeper richer tone for your outgrowth,” Jasen says. “Typically the color on the box isn’t always the same end result for everybody, as everyone brings their own tone and underlying pigment to the table, which creates a different outcome each time.”

How To Maintain Red Hair & Keep It From Fading

Unfortunately, because the red hair color molecule is larger and it’s harder for it to enter the cortex (center) of the hair than other color molecules, red hair is more prone to fading than most other dyes. This is why it’s so important to keep the cuticle as sealed and healthy as possible.

Use Color-Safe Products

To keep hair from fading, James encourages clients to alternate between a color-depositing shampoo and a color-safe shampoo and conditioner. “Post shampoo, use a leave-in conditioner to tightly seal the cuticle and do the final rinse with cooler water,” James adds.

In the hotter months, sun exposure and salty ocean water can also cause fading. To enjoy some fun in the sun with your new vibrant color, consider applying conditioner to your hair prior to water exposure.

All the stylists suggest shampooing less frequently in order to maintain the red color longer, but if you find your hair becoming oily and have the urge to wash daily, Dieterich suggests investing in a scalp exfoliator that will lift some of the oil and keep your hair moisturized, without stripping your strands of color.

Protect Your Hair When Styling

For styling, Francis recommends using a heat protectant before using any hot tools. “[Heat protectants] protect the hair but also help keep the cuticle sealed and avoid [having] the heat pull out the pigment molecules.” Hydration is also key to making red hair color last. “Working in a good color conditioner is a great plan, too. It helps redeposit pigment back into the hair subtly, helping you to avoid brassy or dull hair days.”

Touch Up The Color

And remember, the further you stray from your natural hair color, the more often the hair will need a touch-up. Dieterich likes to refresh red hair every four to eight weeks. “You don’t want to wait too long [in between touch-ups] because then the color will process differently on your scalp versus your ends,” he says. “And if your roots grow too far from your scalp (think ½ inch to 1 ½ inches), it’s not going to process evenly.”

Red hair can be hard to maintain with the shift in tone via sun exposure, heat tools, and regular shampoo regime, but with a bit of strategy, you can achieve and maintain your ideal red hair as a dark brunette all season long and beyond.

We at TZR only include products that have been independently selected by our editors. We may receive a portion of sales if you purchase a product through a link in this article.

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