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Dear Color Crew: Why Does Red Hair Color Fade So Fast?

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Dear Color Crew is a recurring blog post where we answer hair-related questions—no matter how hairy they may be—from readers like you. Got a question? Go to Madison-Reed.com/color-crew to get in touch with our team of professional colorists.

Dear Color Crew,

I’ve tried every hair color out there, but I have to say, I love being a redhead most of all. That being said, it doesn’t seem like my hair loves red as much as I do...since every time I color my hair red, I find myself noticing how much faster it seems to fade than a brunette shade would. I know that all artificial hair color fades eventually, but is there anything I can do to help my beloved red last?

First of all, you’re not alone in wondering this! I’ve heard from more than a few redheads who are in love with their color, but inevitably feel let down when it winds up fading faster than they expected. It doesn’t matter whether you color your hair at home or in the salon, which shades you use, what brands you use—red hair color just fades faster than all other hair colors, period.

This has nothing to do with you and your hair and everything to do with science. Red hair color molecules are actually larger and heavier than all other hair color molecules. What that means is that these molecules have a much more difficult time penetrating the hair shaft. They’re also less likely to penetrate as deeply, so they won’t stay inside the cortex of your hair for nearly as long. Your hair color will wind up closer to the surface of your hair, and will escape the cuticle faster when you wash. That’s why, unfortunately, red hair just doesn’t tend to look as vibrant for as long.

So how can you hold off the fading process for as long as possible? The obvious answer is to wait as long as you can to wash your newly red locks after they’ve been freshly colored (not counting the initial wash, of course). Going forward, you should try to wash your hair as little as possible. Dry shampoo is your new best friend. When you do have to wash your hair, avoid hot showers and always rinse your hair with cold water to help seal the cuticle. You should also be sure to use sulfate-free shampoo + conditioner so you can safely cleanse without stripping your color. I always recommend our Color Protecting Shampoo + Conditioner for clients with red hair.

There are products redheads should try to avoid entirely—dandruff shampoos and clarifying shampoos, which don’t tend to be gentle enough on your strands. In the summer, try to limit your exposure to chlorine and salt water—fortunately it’s December now, since we know how hard that’s going to be. You should also avoid sun overexposure, so invest in a cute sun hat now while they’re on sale. As a bonus, our Shampoo + Conditioner actually provides fade-resistant UV protection, so that’s another great reason to shop the set. 

Now that you know what to stay away from, let’s focus on the positives—and the great news is, there’s actually a lot you can do to help maintain your stunning color. We already mentioned shampooing as little as possible. When you do, if you heat-style your hair afterwards, always use a heat protectant and color-safe styling products. If you can find a color depositing shampoo and conditioner set that’s a good match for your shade, use it! You should also add Color Reviving Gloss to your routine to add reddish tones and healthy-looking shine...and generally keep your color looking fire. As an added bonus, you can get away with coloring your hair less. I always recommend redheads use either Barolo, Cannella, or Amaretto gloss.

At the end of the day, if your red hair makes you happy, it’s well worth giving it a little extra TLC and being a little more thoughtful about your products. And if you do have to color your hair more regularly, at least it’s with a shade you absolutely love.

Red Hair Red Hair

Ask Color Crew anything—we love to talk hair and we’ve seen, styled, cut, and colored it all.

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