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How to prevent red hair dye from fading

Emma Birdsall's stunning red hair at the Brando Shoes Exposition in Sydney
Photo by Brendon Thorne

If you've ever colored your hair red, you know how quickly this color fades and how hard it is to keep it looking vibrant. Unlike blonde or brunette shades, reds lose their vibrancy and depth after only a few weeks. In order to care for red hair properly, one must first understand why some shades of red are so hard to keep in the hair.

The primary reason why reds fade is because of the size of the red color molecules. The larger the molecule size, the faster it will fade with washing and excessive heat styling. All hair colors, natural or artificial, are a combination of three colors in varying proportions: blue, red, and yellow. Any color can be produced by mixing these primary colors. For example, an ash brown shade consists of more blue and yellow pigment, and less red. Natural redheads have more red and yellow melanin pigment in their hair than blue.

In terms of molecule size, blue is the largest, followed by red and then yellow. This is why blue fades faster than any hair color. When hair is washed, the alkalinity of the shampoo opens the hair's cuticle, allowing pigment to escape from the hair. Since blue and red color molecules are larger in size, they escape first. Cool shades of red have both red and blue pigments, which explains why cool reds fade faster than copper reds.

This is why a color-care shampoo is essential for red hair. When it comes to protecting and maintaining red hair, there is no exception. The right shampoo and conditioner will be the most important step in caring for red hair.

When choosing a color-care shampoo for red hair, your best bet is a sulfate-free product. There are many sulfate-free shampoos on the market and your stylist will be able to make a recommendation based on your specific needs. It is recommended that those with red hair do not shampoo more than three times per week. If you are one of those people who feel the need to wash their hair daily, skip the shampoo and stick to water and conditioner; you'll still feel "clean" and you won't strip your hair color. Red hair should always be conditioned, as conditioners seal the hair's cuticle, thereby locking in the molecules of artificial pigment.

There are also color-enhancing shampoos and conditioners. These products contain red pigments which will help revive hair color that has faded. These products are a great addition to your haircare regimen, but they should not be used immediately after a color service, as they seem to work best when the hair color starts to fade.

Perhaps the best way to keep red hair looking fresh and vibrant at all times is to return to the salon every few weeks for a color glazing service. This involves applying a translucent colored gloss over the hair, which will restore lost pigment and provide crystalline shine. The dyes involved are usually ammonia-free and do not damage the hair. In fact, most semi-permanent and demi-permanent color contains conditioning and strengthening ingredients; it's like receiving a color and a conditioning treatment all in one step!

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