How to Enhance Red Hair

red hair

Lately I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently about my hair colour: specifically, is it real, and if not, what the hell is it? (My favourite of these questions so far: “Is that REAL hair on her head?” uttered last week, by an elderly acquaintance who has a habit of speaking about me as if I’m not actually there. Other choice comments: “She’s very pale isn’t she?” and “She’d look better with a bit of colour in her cheeks. I’d like her better if she wasn’t so pale.” )

Anyway, as most of these questions come from people on Twitter and other networks, and I’m physically incapable of writing ANYTHING in 140 characters or less, I thought it might be useful to just write a quick really long post which I can direct people who are curious about my hair to, so here it is!

In answer to the first question I’m always asked, yes, my hair is naturally red. It’s not naturally AS red as it’s been looking recently, though, and there are a few different reasons for that. One is simply that my hair can look completely different depending on the time of year, and the type of light you’re looking at it in. In summer, for instance, it gets much lighter, especially around the temples, where it’s almost blonde. Paradoxically, though, although the colour is lighter at that time of year, it can actually look much more intense, purely because of the sunlight. In direct sunlight, my natural colour is pretty much the shade you see in my recent photos, which is why I generally ignore the golden rule of photography, and take my photos in direct sunlight as often as possible. Yes, it creates harsh shadows and bleaches out other colours. But it also makes my head look like it’s on fire, and who doesn’t want that, I ask you?

In winter, however (or even just indoors), my hair looks much darker, duller and far less red. I’m all about the red, so a few years ago I started experimenting with various different products which would give it that fiery red look it gets when the sun is shining on it, even indoors in the depths of winter. I also wanted to get rid of the blonde streaks at the temples, which are so much lighter than the rest of my hair, and to basically just make the colour a little more vibrant.

The problem with this was that I didn’t really want to dye it. I just can’t afford the upkeep of a salon dye job, and if you’ve been reading this site for a while, you’ll know that I absolutely HATE going to the salon, so the thought of having to spend hours there every six weeks or so, and deal with regrowth etc just really doesn’t appeal. I didn’t want to do it myself either, partly because I am so accident prone that I just can’t imagine that working out well, but also because I’m lazy, obviously. I really just wanted to give my natural colour a bit of a boost, not to change it completely (or permanently), and I didn’t fancy having to spend a lot of time, or to wreck my hair, doing it. No, what I wanted was something quick and easy, which would enhance the colour without changing it, and ideally which would wash out again if I didn’t like it.

So here’s what I’ve been using:


Superdrug Colour Effects Conditioner

1. Superdrug Colour Effects Conditioner in Rich Red or Warm Copper Gold [Buy it here]

I’ve written about this product before, and absolutely swear by it. I found this last year, having spent months searching for a replacement for John Frieda’s Luminous Color Glaze and Wella Lifetex Color Reflex Mask, both of which had been discontinued as soon as the respective brands found out how much I loved them. Like those two products, Superdrug Colour Effects is a colour-depositing conditioner, which you use in the shower to add small amounts of colour to your hair. As I said in my previous post, this is actually terrible as a conditioner, and I always have to use another one after it, but it’s fantastic at boosting the colour of my hair. I’ve used both of the colours shown above, but prefer Rich Red, which is a much deeper, more dramatic red. The Rich Copper Gold is a less intense colour, but is also really nice : it would possibly be a better choice for very fair hair, because it’s a little more natural looking.

I like these because they’re really quick and easy to use , and you can build up colour gradually with them. (Or you can build up colour instantly with them, by leaving the product on for too long, and not distributing it evenly. Don’t do that, kids!) Because they’re not permanent dyes, they also wash out easily enough if you don’t like the colour: I think they claim to last for three washes, but I find I can get around a week out of the colour, and I wash my hair every day. Again, they’re also really cheap at £1.99 (I think) per bottle, so it’s not a huge investment.

Since I first wrote about these, I’ve had lots of emails from people asking if they’ve been discontinued. For some reason, they don’t seem to be stocked in all Superdrug stores, but the good news is that they’re now available online, and you can buy them here: or, at least you can at the time of writing, anyway. Because I like them so much, I have no doubt at all that they’ll be discontinued any day now…

2. Henna gloss

henna gloss

Although the Boots Botanics products mentioned above contain small amounts of henna, I’d always been really dubious about using henna itself on my hair. I know a lot of hairdressers hate it (and are probably about to lecture me about it: all I will say is that yes, I did do a lot of reading before I tried this, so I’m aware of the pros and cons of it…), and it seemed like a really messy, complicated procedure, what with all of the adding-of-ingredients (I’m not good at following instructions, and most of the henna recipies I found seemed to want me to use things like eye of newt, gathered at moonlight by a virgin, and stuff like that) and then sitting around for hours in a shower cap. Also, henna is obviously a permanent dye, not a wash-in, wash-out solution, and that was really NOT what I was looking for.

Then, however, I read about henna gloss. Now, I’m not going to give a full tutorial on this, because this post is already long enough as it is, so if it’s something you want to try, my advice is to Google it first (Here’s a good starting point, but you can’t really read enough about henna before you try it.), but in very simple terms, this involves adding a small amount of henna to your conditioner, and basically creating your own version of a wash-in colour. I’ve done this a few times now, and I really like it: yes, it’s a little bit messy, and do you do have to mix the henna the night before and leave it to develop (Also, although you’re only using a small amount of it, it IS still henna, so it won’t just wash out again), but the benefit for me is that it creates a very gradual colour change, which, again, you can build up, either by repeating the treatment, or for leaving it on for longer. This is much less daunting to me than doing a full-on, permanent dye, and it also leaves my hair feeling nice too, which is an added benefit.

 A quick note on semi-permanent dye…

Other than the products above, I’ve only ever dyed my hair once, and I did it by misake. I used Sante Herbal Hair Colour in ‘Natural Red’, and I actually bought it thinking it was a wash-in, wash-out colour (No, I have no idea what made me think that…), only to discover that it was, in fact, a semi-permanent dye. In retrospect, it was actually a really nice colour: the problem I had with it (and with any hair colour, actually) is that the blonde streaks at the front of my head, being so much lighter than the rest of the hair, obviously absorb the colour more quickly. In this case, they turned a very bright orange, which completely freaked me out and looked pretty bad, although I did like the colour on the rest of my hair. I have a constant battle to find products that will make the red in my hair redder without turning the blonde in it fluorescent orange: I’ve yet to find a solution I’m completely happy with, but I’ll keep on looking! I wrote about my experience with semi-permanent dye in this post, but it’s worth noting that the bottom two photos on that post have an Instagram filter on them which makes the colours brighter – it wasn’t quite that orange in real life!

(Also worth noting that my hair photographs differently depending on the lighting, and I very rarely seem to get a photo that I think is a completely true representation of the colour. I also edit some of the photos to give them a “vintage” feel, or sometimes to correct pictures that are too dark or light, and that can also make my hair look more orange.)

So, there you have it: everything you could possibly ever want to know about my hair colour, and also a ton of stuff no one could conceivably ever want to know. I’ll stop now.