How to maintain red or unicorn hair | Bright colored hair routine
Vibrant, sexy and bold, intense shades of red or candy-colored hair are sure to turn heads. Red has certain advantages - for one, it’s a lot easier on your hair and wallet than bleaching dark hair blonde, and If it suits your eyes and coloring, you’ll never want to go back. Only problem? It fades faster than you can say dye job.
Same goes for the unicorn manes you see all over Instagram. They look beautiful straight out of the salon, but can fade and look quite different weeks later.
My hair has been various shades of red since 2012 when I took a leap of faith and I told my colorist to go for it as he studied my faded blonde locks and asked me several times if I was really sure about this. My hair at the time was over-processed and ashy from years of bleaching and highlighting it from dark brown to a buttery golden shade.
It may not seem like a huge jump, but I had been scarred by an early beauty disaster. After I chopped my own hair to my chin at age 8 to look more like Posh Spice, I swore off taking risks when it came to beauty. Not only did I get grounded, it was not a good look for me. Turns out I'm more Ginger than Posh.
So I even surprised myself when I stepped into an upscale Park Avenue salon and declared I needed a transformation.
Thankfully I loved the change – and six years later I haven’t gone back.
My hair is currently a subdued ombre auburn, but using some of these tips I can easily turn up the intensity of the red. Here are my best tips for keeping red, or any bright color, in your hair.
Shampoo the right way. Using a sulfate-free formula is a must. The most common offenders to avoid are Sodium Lauryl Sulfate and Ammonium Lauryl Sulfate, but there are others. Harsh detergents dry your hair and strip color. Avoid silicones as well, as they build up and dull your color over time. Look for oils (except coconut oil because it can remove color), aloe vera, and vitamin E in the ingredient list. Lately, I’ve been using baby shampoo because it’s so gentle.
Also, try to shampoo as little as possible - every other day maximum. This really helps keep your color brighter longer.
Deposit color. There are a lot of color depositing shampoos on the market that are too subtle to make a difference. The only one I absolutely recommend is De Lorenzo Novafusion. The color is rich and vibrant, and it lasts for several shampoos. It’s cruelty-free and vegan as well! De Lorenzo is an Australian brand that's fortunately become popular in the U.S., so it's easy to find on Amazon, Sleek Hair, and even at Walmart. I use the shade Fire Red and it is the perfect red: not too orange, not too pink. It's a true red. Plus, it adds so much shine to your hair, it literally sparkles in sunlight.
Use a color depositing product no more than once per week to avoid buildup. Although this product has nourishing ingredients, I find it is a tad on the drying side, so I like to use a heavy conditioner afterwards.
Gloss it up. I like to apply a gloss (read: demi-permanent) once every couple of months to freshen my color. I use salon-favorite Redken Shades EQ in Rocket Fire and Cherry Cola, alternating depending on how much red I want in my hair. I buy this on SleekHair along with developer, a mixing bottle, and gloves. It’s easy to use - just mix it with developer and apply all over your head. Leave on for 20 minutes, and then rinse and shampoo as usual.
The color lasts for a month or so on my hair.
DIY tip: If you color your hair at home and use professional products, you can make your own demi-permanent formula by mixing the color you use to dye your hair with a 10 volume developer. It deposits color and won’t lift or lighten, so roots will be unaffected.
DISCLAIMER: Please try this only if you have colored your hair with pro products before and have some knowledge of color theory. I typically don’t recommend using box dyes as they can be damaging and are a “one size fits all” approach to hair. If you’d like to learn how to color your own hair, click here.
Rinse right. Always rinse your hair in cold water. If you can’t stand a cold shower – and honestly, who can - at least rinse in cool water at the very end to close the cuticle. Red fades quickly because the molecules are too large to fully penetrate the hair shaft, so they literally slip out of your hair. Cold water closes the cuticle and seals in color.
Use a hair oil. If your hair is damaged or porous, use a pre-shampoo oil once per week. I use Phytoelixir. It contains protein to build up your hair in places where it is lacking. Think of it as primer for hair; you’re filling in the porous spots in the cuticle so color can apply evenly.
With these tips, you can keep on rocking that unicorn hair for the grid.