red curls
PHOTO COURTESY OF MAIEDAE

The decision to change your natural hair color to one of the many available shades of red is definitely not for the faint of heart, but the results can be fabulously glamorous and beautiful. Whether you choose a coppery gold, strawberry blonde, deep burgundy, rich auburn, or cherry red, your look can be transformed from mundane to exotic. While tresses both straight and coily look amazing in red, curly red hair certainly does seem to have a unique potential to make a huge impact. Julia Roberts’ hair in Pretty Woman was unforgettable, Merida’s hair in Brave took on a life of its own, and Christina Hendricks’ wavy locks are simply stunning.

If you are considering red for the first time or desire a radical departure for your natural color, enlisting the skills of a hair color expert is prudent. For the most flattering effect, it is critical to find the correct shade of red for your skin and eye color, as the wrong tones can enhance features most of us might prefer to downplay.  It is also essential that they consider your natural hair color to be certain the formula selected does not produce unexpected effects when mixed with the natural tones in your hair.

Once you have made the bold move to go red and have found the perfect shade for your unique look, it is time to revel in your new look, right? The initial results can be thrilling, but the brilliant hues often do not last for long. Sadly, the honeymoon period is usually too short, and the revelation that red hair is extremely difficult to maintain comes all too soon. Do not despair, though! Understanding why the molecules that create red hair are more susceptible to fading and knowing what scientists recommend to slow this process down can help you extend the vibrancy of your new red hair between coloring sessions. It truly is worth the effort.

Quick summary of permanent dying process

Most radical hair color changes are best achieved via a permanent coloring process, rather than a temporary one. In this process, ammonia or another base is used to raise the pH of the hair and open the cuticle in order to permit diffusion of the other ingredients into the cortex. A precursor (usually paraphenylene diamine) is oxidized with peroxide into an activated form that then reacts with a molecule known as a coupler, which is responsible for the final color of the dye. The couplers found most often in red dyes are napthol and amino phenols. The result of this reaction is the formation of a much larger molecule known as a chromophore, which is not only too large to easily diffuse back out of the hair, but is also protonated so that it bonds with the proteins in the cortex.

red curly hair
PHOTO COURTESY OF MAIEDAE

Why does red dye fade so quickly?

Over time, dye molecules can fade due to several different mechanisms, and the most intense colors are naturally the most susceptible. Orange, pink, and even lavender shades are not all that unusual in hair that was dyed red and not properly maintained. The environment is frequently the culprit. UV radiation can react with the dye molecules inside the hair cortex, oxidizing them and leaching away the color. Other factors that can decrease color retention are pollution and heat styling, which cause similar degradation of the dye molecules.

Interestingly, the most significant contributor to color fade and loss is the rinsing away of the dye molecules by water. Since dye molecules are water soluble, water can disrupt the bond formed between the dye molecule and the hair keratin and then act as a conduit out of the hair cortex. According to scientists at International Specialty Products, red dye molecules have a greater degree of water solubility than other dyes, so they are particularly vulnerable to this effect. Surfactants from shampoos facilitate this by increasing the wetting of hair and essentially providing slippery exits for the dye through the cuticle layer. Experts at Proctor and Gamble also maintain that red dye molecules are smaller than other colors and thus have a greater tendency to escape hair readily, another reason red shades are more short-lived.

The dye process itself sets the stage for the loss of hair dye molecules. The high pH necessary for the process to work removes the protective fatty acid layer on the cuticle, rendering the hair more hydrophilic and prone to absorption of greater quantities of water than unprocessed hair. Damage to the cuticle that occurs due to the chemical process increases the porosity of the hair, which permits diffusion of dye molecules out of the cortex. Since curly hair generally has a greater initial degree of porosity in its cuticle layer, damage done from chemical dyeing can result in curlies having an even harder time maintaining red shades than their straight-haired counterparts.

maintaining curly hair
PHOTO COURTESY OF MAIEDAE

How to maintain the red?

Fortunately, there are measures a curly can take to maximize the staying power of her gorgeous ruby locks. Your first line of defense is against the environmental assaults against your hair that occur on a daily basis.  The cumulative damage from things like the sun and ozone can be sneaky and profound. A sun hat or pretty scarf goes a long way toward protecting your hair from harmful UV rays, and has the added benefit of also protecting your skin. For daily life and those occasions where a head-covering is not appropriate, there are leave-in products you can apply that have UV-absorbing ingredients in them, which can lessen the impact of the sun. Reducing the amount of heat styling to which your hair is exposed protects its health in multiple ways, and is worthwhile in extending the life of your color as well. Products that contain antioxidants can help protect your hair color from the effects of free-radical forming pollution.

The most important thing you can do to protect your red hair is to limit the frequency that it is saturated with water. This means a swim cap is your friend when at the pool or beach. While perhaps not glamorous according to current conventions, you probably will not regret the decision to use one, especially if you swim daily. Wetting your hair in the shower less frequently, and using a gentle shampoo or conditioner as a cleanser when you do can also help promote a longer life for your dyed tresses.

Conditioning your hair with a properly pH-balanced product will help seal and protect the cuticle, and protein treatments can help fill in holes in the cuticle and decrease porosity, which will prolong desirable levels of red dye inside the cortex. Amine-functionalized silicones such as amodimethicone and hydrophobically-modified cationic polymers such as polyquaternium-55 selectively adhere to damaged sites on the cuticle and are particularly excellent conditioning agents for colored hair. Both types of polymer have been shown to increase retention of red color.

In closing, coloring your curly hair can be a really fun choice, and once you settle on the perfect shade, you can take a few steps to preserve its beauty between touch-ups. Protect it from environmental damage from UV radiation and pollution. Wash it less frequently and use a mild surfactant or cleanser when you do so. Keep it conditioned. Consider using a product that contains amodimethicone or polyquaternium-55, as they provide topical protection and decrease color loss. Finally, do not neglect to get regular touch-ups to your color, as red shades can turn an unflattering orange, pink, or lavender hue when left too long without attention.