My Hair Color is the Product of a Series of Disasters

Or: Why I'll always listen to my mom when she tells me that she's not so sure about a color.
Publish date:
March 3, 2016
hair color, red hair, boxed hair color, Hair Color Mistakes

I'm a girl on a budget. I'm also a girl who has always wanted to have red hair. Coloring my own hair at home is an obvious solution, but it's been a bumpy ride along the way.

I started highlighting my hair in sixth grade. It went from a medium-tone brown to almost completely blonde over the next year until I realized blonde was not a good look for me and my pale skin. I swore off coloring for the next seven years until I decided red would be my thing. My mom had red hair growing up and I always envied that eye-catching color. I wanted to look like that. So I went to the drugstore and picked up a box of Clairol Natural Instincts in 6R.

It was the perfect semipermanent color. It lightened my hair just enough and brought out a nice reddish tint. And of course the fact that it could wash out after 30 shampoos was perfect since I knew I'd never be able to afford constantly touching up my roots. It faded gradually, and then I'd just color it again whenever I felt like it. This was a great way to get the natural looking red I'd always wanted.

And then my hair turned me into the Little Mermaid.

I don't have a photo of this time in my life, so you'll have to imagine it. I'd been at a fashion show at school where they gave out free boxes of Natural Instincts. They didn't have my color but they had the "vibrant" version of my beloved 6R. I figured, how much different can it be? (Warning: do not go for anything that says "vibrant" unless you really want your hair to be vibrant.)

So when I got home I applied the new color, much to my mother's skepticism, she wasn't so sure about this new formula. (Another warning: always listen to your mom.)

When I stepped out of the shower, my jaw hit the floor. I was Ariel. I hopped right back into the shower and washed my hair about four times before getting out and seeing that it was still as red as a fire truck. That rule about not shampooing for 24 hours to maintain the color was totally bogus. This color was not going anywhere.

I ran to my computer to start researching ways to strip the color from my hair. I used dish soap, which worked a bit, but made my hair feel like straw. Then I settled on a cocktail of Head & Shoulders and baking soda. I applied it and let it sit while I silently cried for my poor, damaged red hair.

For three days, I did this every few hours. By the end of it, my hair was totally damaged but it wasn't stop-sign red anymore. In fact, parts of my hair looked blonde because I'd stripped all the pigment from it.

So, of course, I went and got a new haircut to get rid of all the dead ends, and after a month or so I went on to color my hair again. By this time my 6R was changed to a totally different name, so going to the drugstore to pick out a color was a challenge. I picked something that looked similar, despite my mother's concerns again. She thought I should stick to a blonde shade that would bring out my natural red undertones.

She was right, but I didn't listen. I applied my new color and there it was: purple hair.

This one was more manageable, but I will say I cried a little and I used some more Head & Shoulders before I allowed myself to go out in public. I wish purple hair was my thing, and maybe one day it will be, but at this point, all I wanted as a natural red.

The purple faded to a kind of vibrant red, but a vibrant red that I actually enjoyed. This was during my semester abroad, so I felt very chic with this color. Eventually that color faded to a more natural red, the one that I really wanted all along.

Today, my hair is reddish-brown. It's faded quite a bit since I last colored it. I'd really like to color it again soon, but I hesitate because every time I walk into the drugstore I feel like a chemist, trying to figure out the best ingredients to make my hair look the way I want. I get so stressed and end up not wanting to color my hair at all. I've considered going to a salon to get it done, but I know I won't be able to keep up with it.

For now, I'll stick with trial and error, never knowing what I'm going to look like after washing the color out of my hair. I know I'll never buy anything that says "vibrant" on it unless I decide I want something totally different, and I'll always listen to my mom when she tells me that she's not so sure about a color. I'll probably end up crying a few more times, and I'll have to make sure I always have a bottle of Head & Shoulders in case of emergency.

I still laugh whenever anyone compliments my hair color, asking how I got it. I shake my head and say, "I don't know." Over the years my hair has been through quite a lot, but the mistakes I've made have led to my color now and I'm liking it. So I guess that means I've done something right.