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The 7 Most Common Hair Color Mistakes—And How to Fix Them

by June 04, 2021

common hair color mistakes

Image by Madison Reed

Plastic gloves, your favorite old t-shirt, some permanent color box dye...what could go wrong? Well, just like everything in life, hair color doesn’t always turn out how you planned.

If you've made some dye job missteps, you are not alone. Fortunately, we've got solutions to your DIY disasters. No salon needed! Let's check out the most popular hair color mistakes and ways to correct them!

1. “My hair color came out darker than I wanted.”

Hair color problems. We all know them. This hair dye blunder is all too common, especially for brunettes, and unfortunately, it's a little trickier to fix than if your color came out too light. But all is not lost. 

Before you reach for harsh color remover solutions that may create uneven color (or worse, damage your hair), look for a clarifying shampoo. Also known as purifying or detox shampoos, clarifying shampoos remove color and product buildup from your dark hair for an extra-deep cleanse. (Do not use a color-safe clarifying shampoo; the idea here is to wash out as much color as possible.) Shampoo the too-dark areas a few times for maximum effectiveness. Washing your hair more frequently than usual may help the dark color fade faster, but you’ll want to be sure to follow up with a moisturizing conditioner and only increase your washing frequency for a week or so to prevent drying out your hair. 

Another way to help gradually lighten your current hair color is to use our Prime for Perfection® treatment. Formulated without ammonia, bleach, peroxide, parabens, phthalates, or gluten, Prime for Perfection is a gentle, hair-loving formula that lifts artificial pigment and creates a smooth base so your hair can optimally receive new color. This essential pre-color prep step will ensure your next DIY hair color treatment turns out just right. Keep in mind that previously color-treated hair will respond differently to dye, so it’s a good idea to call or chat with our Color Crew. You can even book a free virtual hair color consultation. Speaking with a Madison Reed pro is especially important if you are trying to go lighter or have chemically treated hair.

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2. “I’ve bleached my hair to the breaking point.”

Let's face it: bleach can be brutal on hair. Handle bleached hair gone wrong with the utmost care. First, consider getting a trim to remove the most damaged strands, so your hair will grow back healthier than before. Once the worst of it is chopped away, try Bonding Time to strengthen hair compromised by the highlighting process and prevent breakage. We also recommend swapping out your usual conditioner for a concentrated hair treatment like Pro Boost: Hydrate to restore strength to your strands (this is single use and should be used weekly). Lastly, if you don’t already use Tame smoothing cream, start now. It conditions your ends, adds shine, and controls frizz.

Remember: once you bleach, it’s hard to go back to your natural color. You’ll want to maintain a regular dyeing schedule. Bleach is hard on your hair, but it’s not impossible to pull off—just ensure that you are nourishing your hair every step of the way.

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3. “I'm seeing red. So. Much. Red.”

Let's face the next hair color mistake. If your hair color turned out too fiery for your taste, don’t panic. Daily washes with hot water and a clarifying shampoo (not a color-safe shampoo) will go a long way toward washing out your color.

Until your hair is ready for another attempt at dyeing, you can use a cool-toned gloss to tide you over with short-term hair color correction while also adding gorgeous shine. Color Reviving Gloss in Cremais a semi-permanent cool violet color that neutralizes unwanted yellow tones (and brassiness) in blonde or gray hair. Violet is opposite to yellow on the wheel, so they counteract each other and help to neutralize the brassiness. If you're a brunette, Color Reviving Gloss in Espresso will add much-needed cool, ashy tones to neutralize unwanted red tones.

When it's time to touch up your color again, opt for a shade that has neutral or ash tones in it. Try a neutral brunette hair color that’s the same level as the previous shade you selected (more on levels of hair dye below). 

Wondering what the numbers and letters on hair color boxes stand for? Let’s take Vesuvius Red 7NCR, for example. 

  • - Shade name: Vesuvius Red is the name of the hair color in the box.

  • - Level number: The number (in this case, 7) indicates the color level. This is how dark or how light the shade is. Levels run from 2 (black) to 10 (light blonde).

  • - Tone indicator: The letters at the end indicate whether the shade has a warm, neutral, or cool tone. In our example, the NCR stands for Neutral Copper Red.


Seeking a long-term solution? If your color still tends to turn red or brassy when you color, then you may want to try going with a slightly darker shade. The lighter the color, the more warm tones are exposed.

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4. “My ends have turned green. Send help.”

Green color staining typically occurs when blondes go brunette and choose a cool brown color with smoky undertones. If the brown you’ve selected is too ashy for your hair, your mid-lengths and ends may turn an unwanted greenish hue. 

To find a long-term solution, look to the color wheel. As we mentioned above, you want to look for colors that sit opposite each other on the color wheel, so they can cancel each other out. Green sits opposite of red on the color wheel, so when it’s safe to color your hair again (wait at least two weeks), look for a warm brunette shade with reddish or golden undertones. Opt for a shade that’s the same level (refer back to number 3 on this list for more info on color levels) as the brunette shade that went wrong the first time. 

5. “My roots are oh-so, oh-no, orange.”

Before your so-called hot roots send you into a fiery rage, let’s get to the root of the issue first. (Too soon?) “Hot roots” mean the hair closest to your scalp is too bright or warm. Typically, you get hot roots from choosing a lighter or redder shade than your existing color, so the shade effectively lifts and changes your uncolored natural hair but has little to no effect on previously colored areas.

Whether you’re dealing with actual orange hair or your roots are just noticeably lighter than the rest of your hair, turn to the color wheel and make a corrective color plan. What sits on the opposite side of the color wheel from yellow? Violet. Use cool violet Color Reviving Gloss in Crema on your roots to neutralize brassiness, and opt for a shade that’s either the same level as your current shade (or even one with cooler or more neutral tones) when it’s safe to color your hair again.

6. “I wanted sassy, but got brassy.”

When you’re dyeing your own hair, you can’t always predict how your hair will respond to color—particularly if it’s been color-treated before. Here’s how to fix brassy hairnow, plus a few long-term solutions to prevent it from happening again:

- Incorporate hair color correction into your routine.If you’re not ready for another permanent dye or bleaching treatment, but want to tone down brassiness in your hair, reach for Color Therapy or a toning glaze. This color depositing hair mask can add cool tones that help cancel out yellow and orange hair color. For blonde or gray hair, use the Perla shade. If you’re a brunette, opt for the Caffe shade to add ashy tones. 

- Limit your hair’s exposure to chlorine. If you spend time in a pool, rinse your hair as soon as you get out, or avoid getting it wet in the first place. Common swimming pool chemicals can bring out less-than-amazing brassy shades in your hair—and too much sun can make the effect even worse if you’re not careful. 

- Consider your hair’s base color before coloring again. If your natural hair color has a brassy or warm undertone (or a previous color treatment had brassy notes), certain box dye shades may exaggerate this issue. Before your next color treatment, book a complimentary Video Color Consulation with a licensed colorist to ensure you choose a new hair color that will give you the results you want.

7. “My hair color is faded… but I just finished applying it.” 

You expect your hair to fade some between colorings. But you JUST applied your box dye a few days ago, and your hair already looks lackluster and faded. Whether you used a shampoo that stripped the color too much, too fast, or just didn’t leave the dye on long enough, don’t fret. 

Before you reach for another permanent hair color (which could easily make your hair too dark), try a Color Therapy treatment that will enrich your new hair color. You’ll enjoy smooth, hydrated hair with a serious color boost, and you may even be able to go longer between coloring treatments in the future. 

How to fix bad hair color? Solutions!

Here's the good news: while there are many ways that hair color can go wrong, there are even more ways for hair dye to be corrected. From clarifying shampoos and hair color removers like Prime for Perfection to glosses that counteract unexpected tones and shampoos that neutralize unwanted brassiness, help is out there. 

Don’t forget, if you need an extra hand, call or chat with our Color Crew. You can even book a free virtual consultation with a licensed colorist for advice on picking the perfect new hair color. Or, let a licensed colorist do it all for you at one of our 85+ Madison Reed Hair Color Bars.

The most important advice we can give you for DIY hair dye gone wrong? Stay calm, breathe deeply, and remember that, with a bit of time and a lot of TLC, you’ll have the hair you want in the not-so-distant future. And you’re going through a lot right now, so this is not the time to make a major life decision ... like cutting bangs.

Need inspiration? Check out our stunning hair color ideas.