How to Remove Red Hair Dye
If you've dyed your hair red and don't like the color, you don't have to put up with it. Contrary to popular belief that red is the most difficult color to remove, it can actually be a relatively easy and quick process.
You don't have to strip your hair over and over or dye over it with dark colors either, here's three methods that can be used to remove red hair dye and achieve any new hair color with ease!
Choosing a New Color
The process required to remove red hair dye from your hair depends completely on the color you want to change to. This is a lot like changing to any new hair color because there are factors like whether you are going lighter or darker that determine the types of products that can and will be used.
No matter which color you choose however, the new shade will fall into one of these three categories:
- Lighter hair color
- Darker hair color
- Same level
In the case of a lighter hair color, you can't just dye over the color to remove the red hair dye and lighten your hair. The lightening needs to be performed as a separate step prior to dyeing with the new shade.
This is partly because you may need to use color remover or bleach in the process, and partly because the shade of dye you use will need to be selected based on how much red remains after this process to properly neutralize it to the new shade you want.
To achieve a darker hair color however, requires nothing more than the application of a new dye, but the shade chosen needs to be able to both darken the hair and neutralize the red tones. If it is selected improperly, you'll be left with a red hue in the new shade because these tones won't have been counteracted.
What if you don't want to go lighter or darker though? As luck would have it, if you don't want to go lighter or darker and just want to remove the red tone from your hair, this is also achievable. Once you've decided on the color result you'd like to achieve, you can proceed to eliminating the red and transforming the look of your hair whilst keeping it close to its current depth.
Achieving a Lighter Hair Color
If you have red hair and you want to go lighter, you need to tone out the red as well; you can't simply apply a new shade of hair dye over the red and hope it will work. Hair that has been dyed can't be lightened effectively with more hair dye, and the hair dye itself won't neutralize the red tone if it's the wrong shade.
This means that two steps are required in this process to correct your hair to the new shade you want:
- Strip and/or lighten your hair
- Dye to the new color with corrective toning
Red Dye Stripping
The first step towards dyeing red hair lighter is to apply like Vanish to strip out as much as the artificial color as possible. Hair dye remover breaks the artificial color molecules down into a form that can be washed out of the hair, rinsing out permanent hair color. This process can't always remove all of the hair dye, but it will save you hassle as it doesn't damage the hair and will make it easier to bleach and redye. hair dye remover
To use this product, all you need to do is mix the two bottles together into a tinting bowl up to the quantity that you'll need and apply that to your hair, massaging it through evenly. Leave this for 15–20 minutes and then shampoo your hair at least twice to ensure all of the dye molecules that have been released can be rinsed out of your hair.
How effective this process is depends greatly on how many times you've applied dye in the past, and a big buildup of pigment is likely to be a lot more stubborn. It's a good step to do even if you have significant buildup though as even a small change on that front means any bleach used will much more readily be able to get rid of red dye from your hair.
For more information on how to use hair dye remover or a bleach wash, see my related article.
Bleaching Your Hair
If the hair dye remover was able to remove a lot of red dye from your hair and you're close to how light you'd like it to be, stripping out the last of the dye could be as simple as applying a quick and gentle bleach wash.
If your hair is still too dark for your desired color, the next step is to use a regular full application of bleach though. Whether there's too much natural pigment underneath the dye still, or too much dye itself, whilst you can apply dye remover a second time, it will generally have rapidly diminishing returns compared to the first application.
If the problem is your natural pigment, the remover won't work on that either. As this article is aimed at addressing how you can select any new color rather than just remove red, and that you might want a shade lighter than you've ever been, your natural pigment itself needs to be lightened during the process to achieve this.
When applying the bleach, you can leave the product for the full development time that the brand recommends, or remove it sooner. In most cases unless you want to go quite a lot lighter, the process will be complete before it reaches the maximum time so check it often.
A single bleach process on dyed hair will lift around 3 levels minimum if there is a lot of dye buildup, which is enough to take dark brown to dark blonde, or light brown to light blonde. If you want to lighten your hair more than that, the ability to do so will depend on how much dye is present and the product used, make sure to use a good quality brand with lift boosters if you need more lightening.
You also should only bleach your hair if your hair is in good condition and hasn't been damaged by other chemicals like perms or excessive dyeing. If your hair is damaged, you should think twice about going lighter. It's not impossible, and it won't ruin your hair in most cases, but it certainly won't do it any favors in terms of how it looks and feels.
If you need to use bleach to remove red hair dye, check out my related article on how to prepare, mix, apply, and remove bleach for detailed steps to use it in an adept and safe manner.
The last step between your old red hair color and your new color is to apply a new hair dye to your hair.
You need to use an ash shade of dye to counteract any remaining red, and you can mix the ash with another shade to change the results depending on what shade you want it to end up at the end. Alternatively, an easy way to tone is to use ash dye by itself and remove at the point that it has toned to your liking.
The shade you use should also be at least one level lighter than your current level to avoid over-toning as hair that has been through color removal tends to be porous and will absorb more dye than expected. Take a look at the table below for a few dye mixes to suit most desired results.
To apply the new dye, section out your hair and apply as with any other hair dye. Working quickly is of the utmost importance here in order to achieve an even result.
Once it's in the hair, this dye needs to be watched constantly because toning can be quick on porous hair and you may not need to leave it for the full development time. You can rinse the dye out at any point but be aware that it does need a small window to achieve reliable permanency, somewhere around the 15–20 minute mark.
Dye to use
1:1 Natural and ash mix
2:1 Natural and ash mix
Achieving a Darker Hair Color
If you'd like to get rid of red hair and the new hair color you want happens to be darker than your current color, this is the easiest way to eliminate the red. In this process, all you will need to do is apply a darker color.
You can't just apply the shade you want though as the red will often still show through even if you go a lot darker. The darker the dye is, the better it will cover, but that red tone will never completely be removed, and this is why people with natural red hair still have a red tint to their hair even if they dye over it with brown or often even in the case of black.
If you can live with a little warmth in your new color as opposed to your previous red color, this won't matter and you can simply use the exact shade you want, or at least a shade that is slightly cooler. If you don't want even a hint of red left in your brown hair, you just need to add some ash to your new color.
To do this, all you need to do is mix your desired shade with the corresponding ash shade. If you wanted to go from a light red blonde to a medium natural brown, you wouldn't use the medium natural brown shade by itself as the excess red in your hair will result in your color looking warmer than intended.
If you mix 1/4 medium ash brown into the shade though, you will neutralize any red tone that would have otherwise shown through, but there won't be enough ash brown added to make your hair look that color. You get the color you want, without the red tinge.
In most cases, mixing your desired shade with 1/4 of the same ash shade will be enough to take away any excess red. The darker you are transitioning from your starting color, the less you will need to add. If your new color is only slightly darker than you started, you may need to add more ash to counteract the red.
If you don't want to go lighter or darker and just want to remove red hair dye from your hair, you might think this is impossible. The popular conception is that red dye can only be removed by bleaching your hair extensively or covering over it with a darker color.
A quick look at a color wheel is all it takes to show otherwise however. Tones opposite to each other on the color wheel neutralize each other, and you can see this process at work in the toning of blonde hair with violet shampoo. The violet tone counteracts a gold tone in blonde hair because the colors themselves can be said to neutralize each other to a neutral color.
Red dye can be removed by using the right neutralizing color too, and by looking at a color wheel you can see that the color directly opposite to red is green. In order to remove red hair dye, you need to add green tone to your hair to correct the red tone. You can do this by using green-based ash hair dye.
Toning Red Hair
Hair color is based around a level system where the first number used to identify the dye allows you to decipher how dark the shade is. These levels range from a level one, which is black, to a level 10, which is the lightest blonde. Red hair fits into one of these levels depending on how dark it is.
If your hair is a bright red color for example, it may be a level 7 in the system, characterizing it as a medium red blonde. For all intents and purposes, this color isn't blonde as most people would choose to understand it. What makes it a medium blonde color is only how dark the actual shade is.
In this sense, even though the example shade looks like a cherry red color, it sits on one of the blonde levels. If you were to neutralize the red tone in your hair to a natural tone, you would actually be left with a blonde color. This is useful to know for two reasons:
- It tells you what color you get if you tone your hair
- It allows you to decide what toner to use
The process of toning red out of your hair is easiest when your hair is in the brown range of levels. Shades from a level 5 to a level 3 correspond to light brown through to dark brown, and the ash dyes available in this level range all contain green pigment which will counteract the red in your hair.
All that is required in this case is to apply an ash dye one shade lighter than your current level to neutralize the red tone and take you back to a natural brown. Don't worry if your hair is lighter and you want to keep it that way though, this requires a little more ingenuity but it's perfectly doable too.
Removing Bright Red Hair Dye
If your hair is a brighter red color in the blonde range of levels, you'll find that ash dyes in this level range no longer contain green pigment.
This is because hair lightened to these levels doesn't naturally contain any more red pigment, but rather orange and then yellow as it gets progressively lighter. This means that any decent brand transitions their formula to be blue-based and then primarily violet-based the lighter it gets in order to produce the best result.
Some brands, like Wella Koleston, produce a separate ash blonde line containing green tone however, which is actually designed to neutralize red tones in blonde hair and can be used to perform color correction. These dyes shouldn't be used on most blonde hair, but for eliminating intense red and toning your hair back to a natural blonde color, they are perfect and exactly what you want.
If you don't know what dyes to look for to tone out the red from your hair, you can use the table below for some examples of brands and shades that will work. To use this table, match your bright red hair to the red color on the left and then choose one of the hair dyes listed that can be used to tone the red out of your hair.
For the best results, use a shade that is one level lighter than your current level to avoid over-toning your hair. These ash dyes are intense in pigment and you don't need to use the same level as your hair to tone with them.
Choosing a Toner
Iso I.Color dye
6 Dark red blonde
7ag Medium blonde
7/2 Medium blonde
7AA Medium blonde
7 Medium red blonde
8ag Light blonde
8/2 Light blonde
8AA Light blonde
8 Light red blonde
9ag Very light blonde
9/2 Very light blonde
9AA Very light blonde
Once you've eliminated your red hair, it's important to look after your color. All hair dyes fade, including permanent colors, and your new color will look best when it's properly maintained.
If your color fades a lot over time, you're likely to see some return of the red but this can be avoided by applying toner again should the need arise. Color refresher shampoos can also be a great way to keep any warmth from returning.
Do you have a question about removing red hair dye? Need help to eliminate the red from your hair? Leave a comment for tailored advice and share your insight with other readers.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.