How to Stop Worrying & Turn Your Red Hair Blonde

If you were born with red hair, chances are you have some pretty complex feelings about it.

As a strawberry blonde since birth, I’ve often felt like my hair didn’t belong to me. Instead, it was the property of the middle-aged moms who told me never to dye it, or the Parisian street harassers who took too much of an interest in it, or that one guy who felt a need to tell me I wasn’t his “first redhead.”

People define women by their hair color no matter what. We’ve all heard enough dumb blonde jokes and seen enough brunettes play the brainy best friend in a romcom to know that can’t be escaped. When I had red hair, strangers thought I was either a nerd, a person with anger problems, or a nympho. Stereotypes like these are silly and they’re all bull shit. But because I had such a rare shade, I felt locked into my natural hair and all of the dumb ideas that went with it.

Experimenting with your hair is an important part of defining your identity, but it was one that I felt left out of because I was a redhead. I was born this way and I had to stay this way. To hear every older woman I ever met tell it, I should have been thankful that I was part of such a small population of redheads. For some reason, middle-aged ladies would kill for my red hair, and they constantly made me aware of it. How could I possibly want to change?

I don’t know, but for some reason, I did want a change. I wanted to try something new, not just to shed the perceptions that accompany red hair, but also because hey, I’m not gonna lie, I’m vain and I thought maybe I’d look better blonde.

Plus, the main stereotype that accompanies flaxen hair — that all blondes are dumb — is so much more fun to disprove than the redhead ones, right?

This led me to experiment with ombré, then balayage highlights, then a single-process lightener. This was all supposed to turn me blonde, but instead it took me to a creamsicle-orange purgatory. I had no idea what to call my hair color and I believed blonde-ness was just impossible for me.

But then, my coworker connected me with two miracle workers in the form of colorist Cherin Choi and hairstylist Sal Salcedo. I met with them last week and they completely changed my look. Before, my haircut was long and shapeless — it looked grown out and unintentional. And my color was just… not a color. Like I said, it was in hair hue purgatory.

I’d been told that I couldn’t go blonde in a single session before, but Cherin assured me that it was possible — and eight hours plus lots of fun banter later, I was an icy-cool platinum blonde.

If you’re a redhead trying to go blonde, I’ll reproduce some of Cherin’s great advice here. Go forth and don’t feel guilty about shedding your gingery roots and going blonde, brunette, green, pink, or whatever you want.

1. Anything is possible

No matter how much you love your stylist, if she tells you that she can’t do something to your hair, you can probably find someone else who will. Not to overstate the importance of a dye job, but think of it like a medical procedure. You wouldn’t just take one doctor’s advice and go with it. Instead, Cherin says you should always get a second opinion.

2. Do your homework

Always research the previous works of a colorist before you make a major color change, like going from red to super-blonde.

“Nowadays, we have access to so many visual references that all major changes can be more comfortably done,” Cherin says. Look up your colorist on Instagram and Pinterest. If he or she doesn’t have social media, Cherin highly recommends asking for example photos of before-and-afters of her previous work.

Also, you’re entitled to a consultation before your appointment. Take advantage of that so you know exactly what your stylist is willing to do.

3. Don’t leave the salon looking un-done

Cherin prefers to get clients’ color changes done in one shot, hence our marathon color session. This isn’t every colorist’s style. But even if your colorist would rather break up your change into several sessions, that doesn’t mean you should be leaving the salon unhappy with your color.

“Not all colorists or stylists will do something that drastic in one day,” Cherin said, “but there is a right way and a wrong way. You don’t ever want to leave the salon hoping for it to look better at the next visit. Even if it’s a baby step it should be one that looks good until you return.”

4. Make sure your hair’s lightest at the bottom

When I first sat down in Cherin’s chair, my hair was a hot mess — the top half was darker than the bottom half and if you looked closely, you could see horizontal stripes emanating from my scalp, like a different color was used every time I got my roots done.

If your hair is darker at the bottom than the top, something’s up. This is a perfect excuse to head back to step two and get yourself a second opinion somewhere.

5. Highlights are usually better than single-process

Everyone is different, but Cherin told me that single-process color is actually more high-maintenance than highlights because it looks more obvious when it’s growing out. If you’re a redhead going blonde, chances are your roots will grow in pretty natural-looking with highlights. But with a single process, when my roots were growing in, they looked darker than they should have because the change was so drastic.

I had been getting a single process because I thought it was lower maintenance than highlights or balayage. I would love to blame someone else but it was probably because of me not doing research. And also I was biased against highlights because they reminded me of “From Justin to Kelly”-era Kelly Clarkson skunk highlights. But that’s not what highlights are anymore. They’re super cute now. So do your research! Don’t be like me!

6. Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about it

After I went blonde last week, I had some serious anxiety about how other people would react. I mean, I looked in the mirror and saw a completely different person. I was terrified that my friends and family would hate it, that they’d make me feel bad about it, and that they’d admonish me for not being thankful for my natural hair.

A week later, my mom is staying pretty silent on it, my sister has assured me that I should eff the haters and do what I want, and my boyfriend is obsessed with my new hair.

I know that when I see my grandma she’ll be pissed, and my aunts might not love it either. But the point is that I like it. And it’s my hair. And for once, it feels like it’s the hair I want — not the hair everyone else thinks I should keep just because I was born with it.

Gimme More Beauty

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