When I was little, my great-grandmother often would wonder aloud whether my hair would change and become red as I grew. (My light brown hair has always had warm auburn highlights, but never even close to red.) Her husband had bright red hair, as did my grandfather until it went bright white, and so does my uncle; it was definitely wishful thinking on my great-grandma's part that our family would finally have a redheaded girl. This wishing out loud planted the first seed in my head that red hair was desirable and special.
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I have been dyeing my hair all sorts of colors since I first went pink with orange highlights in my junior year of high school. Since then it has been many varieties of pink, blue, green, white, platinum, purple, rainbow, sunset, and most recently mermaid. When Madison Reed offered to send me a free kit of theirs to try, I was unsure; in all my experiments and changes, I had never dyed my hair a naturally existing hair color.
I went through their online color matching tool, and it offered up the deep auburn Genova Red. I was intrigued but hesitant. I chatted with one of their online stylists, who recommended the same shade, and assured me that the lavender tinted grey-blonde I had leftover from washing out my mermaid color wouldn't be a problem at all, since it was permanent color, not semi-permanent like most boxed color. I put in my request for my free kit, and when it arrived, the box sat untouched with the mail in my living room; I waited a full three weeks before dyeing my hair. Why? I was inexplicably nervous to dye my hair red.
I grew up in a small rural town in Vermont where most kids went to school with several of their cousins; where in turn my family would always be known as flatlander transplants. Being more than half Scottish, a with a splash of Welsh among other things, all through my youth I drank up Celtic myths and legends, and the myriad stories influenced by and based on them, in an attempt to feel connected to to some kind of community and heritage, the way my peers felt connected to each other. The red headed characters in those stories were always independent, magical, and mysterious; many claiming coppery locks as a sign of fairy blood. As a bookish loner and awkward preteen, it symbolized everything I secretly wanted to be.
Now the time to dye my hair red had come, but I found myself up against a block that I couldn't yet fully understand or articulate.
I had dyed my hair every other color under the sun, but I couldn't get myself to open up the box of red dye. I kept saying to my husband "I don't know why this makes me so nervous." It finally clicked one day; I had internalized the idea that red hair was some kind of magical ideal I just hadn't earned or deserved. I wasn't special enough to have red hair. It's kind of spectacular all the places my inner critic worms it's way in and convinces me it is the voice of reason. Once I could name the issue, I was ready to push through it and dive head first into my new and long coveted hair color.
I was really impressed with the quality of the kit from Madison Reed, they really thought of everything. They included multiple pairs of salon quality gloves, cream to protect my ears and hairline from the dye, basically everything I needed except a comb. The application instructions were foolproof and thorough. The color itself didn't smell awful, as permanent hair colors tend to. Once it had fully processed, I was left with shining, radiantly auburn hair, and I was in love. The photo below is from the day I dyed it.
I had been warned that red is a very difficult to maintain color. I already knew all about how to care for color treated hair; only use specially formulated shampoo and conditioner, never wash in hot water, and as infrequently as you can manage. Despite all this, this photo is from one week after I dyed my hair, and you can see how much it had faded. Two weeks after I dyed my hair, the front of my bangs had faded in only three washes to a terrible brassy color. (For those who are curious about Madison Reed, I think it's an excellent option for people whose hair is not already color treated.) The hair at my roots was still the auburn I wanted, but I couldn't help but feel like my status as an imposter was being revealed, and all my insecurities about being a redhead came rushing back.
I had a choice to make, I could dye my hair a completely different color, I could fold and dye it back to my natural brown, or I could figure out how to make the red work. We were headed to a wedding where we were going to see a ton of friends, and likely have a number of photos taken, and I knew I would be miserably self-conscious if I left my hair as it was. I made the decision to run with it and keep the red.
I decided to check out my local Sally Beauty supply store for the first time, and get some advice from the pros. I told the gal at the counter (who had spectacular mermaid hair herself) my tale of woe:
"So this hair color company sent me this to review and it washed right out and..."
She cut me off "Yeah boxed reds never last."
"but they said it was different because it was perma..."
"was it in a box? It's a box dye. You're never going to get really good results, follow me."
She led me down the dark and very unexciting aisle of tiny white bottles, and stopped. "This is what you want." She pointed at a bottle of Age Beautiful 7RC Dark Strawberry Blonde Permanent Liqui-Creme Hair Color. "You'll need developer, probably a 30 because of the previous color." and handed me another white bottle. "Do you have a bowl to mix it? Okay, then you're all set. Only use half the developer."
She rang me up, $11.79. Only minutes after I walked in I was headed home, dye and developer in hand, where I waited for my son to go down for a nap so I could get to work. I mixed the color, and it smelled as awful as I remembered hair color smelling. I applied, let it process, and woah was my hair red, a little too red. I looked up reviews online, and the first one I found said the color was perfect after a hot wash. I tried, and lo and behold, I had the perfect red. It felt natural, I felt at home in it, and for the first time that I can recall, I thought to myself "what if I just dyed it this color forever? What if this was just my hair now?" Color has always been impermanent to me, something to change and change and change, but with the red, I feel like I've finally claimed something I've always wanted, and it feels good. I especially love it alongside my son's strawberry blonde. I'm bringing tons of green, tan and blush pink into my wardrobe to really highlight my new color. I've been washing my hair 3-4 times a week for two weeks at a comfortable normal shower temperature, and the color is still perfect. When the time comes to refresh the color, I will only have to go back to get more dye next time, since I still have half the developer. I feel incredibly lucky, and grateful to the gal at Sally Beauty Supply, that I have found a lasting red hair dye that works on color treated hair, and doesn't fade away the moment you shower.
As tends to be the case, I've found healing and self-discovery in the most unlikely of places. Even though the Madison Reed color didn't end up being just right for me, I am grateful it pushed me to finally try this long overdue hue. If I was going to really channel my great-grandmother, I would tell everyone that it just naturally turned this color in the summer sun. Regardless of where it came from, I feel distinctly more like myself, and more connected to my dreamy, magical side. Have you ever made a change to your appearance that ended up being much more than a fashion decision? I want to hear about it. Comment below, or come chat over on Facebook.
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