How To Go From Red To Blonde Without Any Damage
Confession: I was born with blonde hair — specifically an ashy blonde with a penchant for turning almost platinum in the summer — but I can still tell you how to go from red to blonde like a pro. Roughly three years ago, I was tired of my virgin locks and decided I needed a change. After much deliberation and many minutes (read: hours) staring at Blake Lively's reddish locks, I decided that red was the way to go. It's not that I didn't like my blonde hair — I did. I was lucky enough to have naturally highlighted hair that many people spent hours in the salon trying to achieve, but after 20 years with my light locks, I was bored and something about red hair just screamed "boss."
I made an appointment at a salon in Chicago to get my hair dyed red. When I went to the salon, I showed them the picture of Blake Lively's mermaid hair and left the salon with a strawberry blonde hue that was different, but not exactly the drama I was looking for. So within a month, I ran to CVS, picked up a box of dark red hair dye, and never looked back, that is, until one day this year when I was looking in the mirror, exhausted by the idea of having to dye my hair once again.
(Me and my adorable cousin Ben, right after I dyed my hair red at home for the very first time.)
I dyed my hair red from a box every four to six weeks for roughly three years. In the beginning, it was bright red and I loved it. Then I wanted something a little more natural-looking, so I spent the last year or so dying it a dark reddish auburn. Last summer, it faded back to a reddish strawberry blonde color and I contemplated the idea of going back blonde, since it had gotten so light over the summer. But needless to say, once fall hit, I was back to the dark auburn red.
(My orangey-red strawberry blonde hair that resulted after spending the entirety of Summer 2015 in the sun.)
By January of 2016, I lost steam. Dying my hair every few weeks was exhausting. I stared at my blonde roots and instantly, the decision was made — it was time to return to my natural color. I started researching how to turn my red hair blonde and watched a few YouTube tutorials that talked about using "Color Oops," twice, then bleaching your hair, all before dying it blonde. The girl in the video did this all in one weekend. Something about that seemed difficult to me. I figured I would either need to space out these steps over a few weeks to avoid having my hair fall out, but have an awkward hair color as I tried to remove three years worth of red pigments, or I would have to go to a salon. Luckily, years of box dye fumes did not completely erode my ability to make rational decisions, and I made an appointment with Aveda.
I met with one of Aveda's top colorists, Terry Varty-Kaslow, from Juut Salonspa in Edina, Minn. The process began with a color consultation, where Varty-Kaslow assessed the condition of my chemically-treated red hair and I showed him pictures of my desired color, specifically photos of Cara Delevingne's and Gigi Hadid's perfect balayage blonde and a photo of my naturally blonde hair from my senior pics (baby Melanie had a very nice, natural ombre, NBD).
He declared that it would be a process, but that it could be done while also keeping my hair healthy. Varty-Kaslow instructed me to use Aveda's Color Conserve Strengthening Treatment as many times as I could before my first appointment.
(This was what I was trying to go back to.)
After a week of prepping my hair with the Color Conserve Strengthening Treatment (which makes your hair amazingly soft — I would highly recommend it even if you aren't coloring your hair), I walked into the salon for my first appointment.
The first step in the process? Lifting the red pigment from my hair, which is essentially using bleach to remove color that had been applied to my hair repeatedly for the last few years. This step is always kind of a gamble — the color could lift quickly and easily, or it could be difficult. My hair lightened to an orange color, not exactly the most flattering look, but definitely lighter and definitely a step in the right direction.
After he washed out the color-removing, miracle-working, lightening bleach, he applied several conditioning treatments to my hair, making it feel almost stronger and healthier than before the bleach was ever applied. Crazy!
Up next: Color. The difference between this bleach and the color-removing bleach, is that this step includes some pigment, which helped make my hair less aggressively orange, and more of a dark "apricot" color. Following another wash and set of conditioning treatments, Varty-Kaslow applied some face-framing highlights to blend it all together. After about five hours in the salon, I left with lighter hair, but it definitely wasn't blonde.
He instructed me to continue using the Color Conserve Strengthening Treatment for the next three weeks while we gave my hair a break from chemicals. Three-ish weeks later, when I was back for round two: Balayage.
For those of you who don't know what balayage is, it's essentially when a very talented stylist hand-paints your hair, which really helps when it comes to disguising roots and letting your hair grow out with very little maintenance, which is definitely my end goal. I can barely even imagine a world where I don't have to tweak my hair color once a month. I can't wait.
He worked his way around my scalp, applying a blonde color to probably two thirds of my hair (if I had to guess), meaning that the reddish orange color was still showing through, but it was a step in the right direction. Remember: This is a slow process. After the balayage color was applied and it sat for the appropriate amount of time, he washed it out, applied a handful of conditioning treatments, and then mixed up a toner to help remove some of the warmth from my hair. I left the salon after this second day, with dark strawberry blondish tresses. Not blonde yet, but one step closer.
Exactly three weeks later, I was back in the salon for a second round of balayage. Using the same method as last time, Varty-Kaslow hand-painted my hair, adding more blonde to the current strawberry situation. Once the balayage color was applied, I anxiously sat there awaiting my new blonde hair. Following even more conditioning treatments and another handcrafted toner, I officially had blonde hair. There was still a warm tint to it and some strawberry pieces poking through, but by every sense of the word, I was blonde. Hallelujah!
Now that my hair was basically back to normal, I headed to the salon for one final treatment with the goal of lightening it a little more, especially the remaining red pieces, blending the new color with my dark blonde roots, and removing as much of the remaining warmth as possible. Varty-Kaslow performed his balayage magic on the pieces that were not hit the first (and second) time around, making everything generally the same blonde color.
He added some face framing highlights to prevent a distinct line of demarcation as my hair started growing out, and we did one last conditioning treatment and one last toner. Et voila — my blonde hair was back. My dad even texted me saying that he would finally recognize me again. (Dad jokes are so funny!)
What I learned from this experience is that going back blonde is a process — a very difficult, time-consuming, expensive process. But, it all worked out in the end. My long hair is still long, it's probably healthier than ever thanks to his painstaking diligence and the Color Conserve Strengthening Treatment, and now I know what exactly it takes to return to my natural color, so I can make a responsible decision the next time I want to make a drastic change to my hair.
(Probably a little lighter in this photo than it is in reality.)
The lesson? If you have blonde hair and are thinking about going red or any other dark color (although red is the hardest to remove — but also fades the quickest, how unfair!), just know that it will take some work to get your hair back to it's original color.
I would like to thank Terry Varty-Kaslow, who spent so much time on my hair and answered all of my (probably ridiculous) questions. You're the real MVP.
Images: Melanie Richtman; Aveda; Giphy.com