The day my hair turned orange

Hair turned orange

“Your hair is orange.”

I stood in my driveway talking to my mother, who had stopped by our house. She looked curiously at my hair, which indeed, was an unusual shade of orangish-brown.  I nodded, peering at my reflection in her car’s window. No doubt — yes, it was orange.

What happened? The day before, I’d colored my hair at home, as I’ve always done — I used Natural Instincts, which has been my brand of choice since I started coloring my hair (aside from a brief stint with Garnier Herbashine when Natural Instincts reformulated a few years ago.) Over the years, I’ve been various shades of Natural Instincts browns, usually going with a 12 (Toasted Almond) or 12A (Caramel Brown) depending on the season.

I would estimate that I’ve used Natural Instincts haircolor hundreds of times. It’s a level 2 haircolor, which means it’s semi-permanent in that it deposits color, but it’s not supposed to lift or lighten one’s original haircolor. Something had happened to my hair this time though, and I really wasn’t sure what it was. My haircolor had definitely been changed in a big way — it was much lighter than it should have been, and in theory, it shouldn’t have lightened at all. Level 2 haircolors use peroxide to open the cuticle and deposit color, but this reaction was unlike anything that had ever happened to me.

Worse, I only color the roots and the first few inches of growth, so the bottom of my long hair was still a medium brown. I looked like the opposite of the recent ombré haircolor trend — I was light on top and dark on the bottom. (And no, you don’t get a photo of that — the ones I’m sharing in this post are bad enough.)

orange hair

I really didn’t know what to do. I called my stylist at my usual salon and told her what happened. She said color corrective services start at $200 and advised against going that route, reminding me “you can’t do anything permanent with color anyway!”

She was right.

A little backstory… up until 2009, I’d never used any kind of permanent haircolor. My struggles with my dry and often brittle hair have already been well-documented on my blog, and the stylist who always cuts my hair had long advised sticking to temporary haircolor to avoid damaging my hair.

In 2009, I was preparing for the shoot of my first Super-Couponing DVD workshop, and I was working with the director, producers and lighting crew prior to the shoot. One of the producers said (and I’ll never forget this) that I needed to go get my hair highlighted before the shoot because “it looks like you’ve got shoe polish in it on stage. Your hair’s all one tone.”

Well, who wants “shoe polish hair?” I called my stylist and nervously made an appointment to get my hair highlighted. She reassured me that she’d do a good job- people dye their hair every day, of course, and she was a professional. I went in the next day and sat for several hours as she painted warm brown and golden tones into my hair.

That was the first — and last — time I’ve had my hair permanently colored.

The highlights looked great. They received approval from my film crew, which was the only reason I’d done it — but I also really liked how they looked.

One month later, though, my new highlights were gone. Where did they go?

All of my hair that had been highlighted broke off at the rootline. All of it. This began happening almost one month to the day after I had my hair highlighted. Each morning I’d wake up to find more hair on my pillow. Each shower left more of my hair in the drain. It was extremely upsetting — for the first few days, I gathered up the golden-brown strands from my pillowcase and laid them on my dresser. I couldn’t believe how much hair had broken off. I later put the hair in an envelope to show my stylist on my next visit. She was sympathetic but cautioned that “some people’s hair just can’t handle being bleached.”

hair out

That envelope still sits tucked in the front of my dresser drawer as a reminder to myself  never to use permanent haircolor again. I’m terrified of what it might do to the rest of my hair — and what recourse is there if it all were to break off? For me, it’s a risk worth not taking.

Back to the present, where I was pondering over how to best fix my orangeness: I began Googling. One product, Color Oops Hair Color Remover looked interesting. Reviews stated that it was great at taking out colors that were too dark, but it could not restore one’s natural color if the hair had been lightened — so I ruled that out. Whatever had happened to my hair, it had definitely been lightened.

I decided to call the toll-free phone number on the box of Natural Instincts. I talked to the representative on the other end of the line and explained everything — that my hair was orange on top and brown on the bottom, that I’d used Natural Instincts for years, and that I didn’t know what to do. She explained that the color I use had been reformulated to have “more golden tones.”

 orange gold

I said “Oh, it’s not gold. It’s orange.” (Brands, please, please stop messing with products people have come to rely on. Especially beauty products.)

The rep said that it also sounded like I had “hot roots,” a term I was unfamiliar with. Hot roots apparently happen when the temperature near your scalp is warmer than the temperature of the ends, adversely affecting the color and making it “pull red” or “pull orange.” Was it unnaturally warm the day I colored my hair? I didn’t think so. I’ve been dying my hair for close to twenty years and never had a case of hot roots… until now.

“Can I just dye over it with a darker shade of Natural Instincts?” I asked.

“No,” she said, explaining that trying to dye newly-dyed hair is like trying to pour water into a sponge that’s already been saturated with water. She said my hair follicles were filled with color and dying over it would not work. She said some of the old color would need to come out to make room for new color to absorb into the hair, and she said ‘You need to do a color cap.”

What’s a color cap? I wondered. I explained I was also unfamiliar with this term. The rep said that a color cap is created by mixing one part shampoo, one part color and one part developer. She said that I would need to wash my hair with this mixture, which should both lift some of the orange color and redeposit some of the darker color. She advised going with Clairol Natural Instincts Brass Free Brunettes in medium brown, which is apparently designed to color your hair without any warm tones. 

brass free

While I liked my (former) warm brown haircolor, I was desperate to do whatever it took to safely restore my hair to a color that exists in nature. Our family was also leaving for vacation a few days later, and this was not the hair I envisioned having in all of our vacation photos.

Further Googling revealed that some of the best shampoos for removing hair dye are dandruff shampoo and baby shampoo. Who knew? We didn’t have any dandruff shampoo, but we did have a bottle of Johnson’s baby shampoo that’s been under the bathroom sink for who-knows-how-long. (Our youngest is now 8, so you can do the math.)


I figured it couldn’t hurt to wash my hair first, then apply the color cap. I wanted to get as much of the orange out as possible. I was rather amazed at how much color came out with the baby shampoo alone — all of the lather in my hands was orange! Once I rinsed the shampoo out, I went back to the bathroom vanity to mix up my color cap cocktail of baby shampoo and the Brass Free Brunettes color and developer.

I went back in the shower, washed my hair with this mix, left it on for about ten minutes, and then I rinsed it out. And then…

Brass Free Brunettes

I took these photos in the same bathroom in our house, so the lighting should be very similar (even if the camera angles aren’t — taking a “selfie” of the top of your head isn’t the easiest thing to do!) What a difference.

brunette again

I was a brunette again. This shade is actually darker than the shades I’d previously been wearing, but I’m okay with that. “Relieved” might be an even better word.

I’ve also got four or five boxes of Natural Instincts #12 Toasted Almond that I’m now terrified to touch. I think Brass Free Brunettes is going to be my Natural Instinct shade from now on…



  1. Mary says

    OMG I just purchased Natural Instincts, today. I use Medium brown…. I, too always use it but the last time I bought dye, I couldn’t find it so I bought Loreal.. It looked like I put shoe shine on my head. So dull… Now I am scared to use the Natural Instincts….Thanks for the tips….

    • says

      Hey, I’m still using Natural Instincts– the #12 boxes I bought were purchased months ago, if that helps. (Although, if they’re all different/affected, I’m done with that color too.) I usually buy it when it’s on an ExtraBucks deal at CVS or a Catalina deal at Meijer.

      I have used it for years and haven’t had any issues other than this one time — and it was another box of Natural Instincts that fixed it. Someone on my Facebook wall said that she uses the same color as me and that hers was definitely more red than usual, but she waited it out and shampooed to get the color to go down.

  2. Jennifer says

    Wow, you are so brave! Although I’m sure you didn’t love posting the pics of orange hair, it is impactful; especially the side-by-side before and after pics. You’re right that companies need to stop messing with formulas.

    I’m blonde but my hair pulls red (and it isn’t pretty!). One product I’ve had recommended by stylists is a blue shampoo sold at Sally Beauty Supply. It works ok, but I’m glad you shared the baby shampoo tip. Your color turned out great.

    Thanks for all you do.

  3. Annette says

    You are so brave to post this! I was curious where it was going, since your hair looked just fine when I saw you. I switched to Natural Instincts when they stopped making Herbashine and am in need of a treatment… Now I am scared! At least I know who to call if I have any issues. Thank you for the warning.

  4. Dina says

    It looks like the company forgot to put brown in the formula! Nice save on your part!! Looks beautiful now!

  5. seachicago says

    Aaahh! Horrifying! I’m so glad I didn’t read this post this morning, when I colored my hair with Natural Instincts for the second time (4W Dark Warm Brown).

    I’d never in my life colored my hair until a couple of months ago, and couldn’t stomach paying $100+ in the salon, not to mention the 4-6 week maintenance that I knew I’d never be able to keep up with if I had to get to the salon for it. 4W is an identical match for my natural color, which is great because I’m only trying to cover up the white strands (about 1% of my hair, but very obvious in my dark shade because it’s only a few strands on the very top). It’s interesting, because the Natural Instincts turns my white strands very red—kind of like what you experienced; but because there are so few, and my natural color has a lot of red highlights anyway, it’s totally fine. I doubt you have very much grey, so I can’t imagine how it turned your whole head Ronald McDonald red—unbelievable!!!

    So glad you got your brown back. It looks really good!

  6. wendy says

    Well, Jill, thank goodness you posted this. My hair is orange. Yes, I just used Natural Instincts. And it was purchased over a year ago! Probably closer to two years ago. I had a nice stockpile. Looks like I am off to the drug store for some Brass Free Brunette too! I was a loyal L’Oreal Color Spa user until they suddenly discontinued it. I was so disappointed. I’ve honestly never been happy with Natural Instincts as it leaves my hair extremely dry. But I was willing to put up with that as long as the color was consistent. I could always deep-condition on my own. This, however, is totally unacceptable! Thank you for sharing and letting us know there is a way to fix this ourselves!!

    • says

      Oh, no! Now, after writing this post, I have gotten a few more emails and Facebook messages from people who’ve also ended up more orange/red with Natural Instincts than they expected, all saying that this hadn’t happened to them before. I can only share what worked for me, but this “fix” really helped get rid of the wild orange.

      For what it’s worth, Brass Free Brunettes comes in both a light brown and a medium brown. I went with the medium because the Clairol rep suggested it (and honestly, I was so afraid of it being red after the “fix” that I felt going to a darker brown was fine with me vs. staying orange.) I may try the lighter brown when it’s time to color again just to see how different it is — and I usually use a little lighter shade in the summertime anyway. Good luck with fixing it :(

  7. jane says

    Wow! You really fixed up that mess nicely. We did tests of different shampoo PH levels in beauty school years ago and at that time the MOST alkaline ones were baby shampoo, Prell and Pert. The reason baby shampoo is made like this is so it will not burn the eyes. It is closer to natural tears in PH levels, yet it is HARSH on the babies scalp and hair! Now I bet you are glad you kept that old bottle of baby shampoo around, you never know when you may need something in an emergency!

    Personally, I don’t care what color my hair turns out as long as it is NOT gray anymore. I experiment all the time with store bought color when I get it free with coupons, yet I always seem to go back to my favorite professional brands. They leave my hair in the best shape. I guess I am lucky I never had any fall out like you did. (horrible by the way!) When I was younger I could afford that but now that I am entering menopause, enough falls out on its own with all the hormone fluctuations!

  8. Brandy says

    I’ve had very good luck ordering from esalon for my hair color. It is more expensive than drug store brands, but because they formulate it based on what you ask for there is never a surprise. And it’s still a bargain compared to having it professionally done. I consider it a happy medium. :)

  9. Leslie says

    You saved my bacon, Nice Internet Lady!

    I’ve been trying different brands of color, month after month, attempting to get something close to my my (used-to-be) natural light brown with warm highlights, but my hair kept getting more and more orange!

    It didn’t occur to me to call a help line since I thought I knew the problem and I’d tried so many different brands by the time I realized I needed help, I didn’t know who to blame it on anymore. I’m so glad you were smarter than me.

    Like you, I thought the first demi-permanant I tried had lifted my hair, since brown hair goes orange if you peroxide it. I thought the answer was a darker color. When other colors and brands didn’t seem to cover it, I thought my hair was damaged and unable to accept dye. I tried protein fillers, hoping to get dye to stick, and toning conditioners, trying to calm down the brass, and neither made much difference, since I was treating a problem I didn’t have.

    I googled every term I knew to describe my situation, finally hit on “orange hair,” and found wonderful you!

    I followed your example and did a “color cap” (my new term for the day) with Brass Free Brunette and holy moly, it worked! Now I, too, have hair that is a color found in nature!

    Now that you’ve educated me about what was actually happening–it was the “golden tones,” not my hair being lifted, which is still hard to wrap my head around since it really looked lighter–I know to stay away from all those warm colors that look so pretty on the boxes. In fact, it may be a while before I get the courage to stray from Brass Free Brunettes. It’s darker than the hair I was born with, but I look more like myself today than I have during this whole months-long fiasco.

    Thank you from the bottom of my heart for sharing your knowledge.

    • says

      Leslie, my pleasure — I know the panic I felt when it happened to me, and I had never heard of a color cap prior to this experience. Like you, I’ve also stuck with the Brass Free Brunette since this happened. It is indeed a little darker than my natural color, but it still looks like me, and it’s a color that actually exists in nature :) Glad it worked for you too!

  10. Catherine says

    Your advice here was much appreciated by another unintendedly orange-maned Natural Instincts user. I also found your readers’ comments helpful. I’m back to a reasonable medium brown.

    Just FYI, I went to 2 Targets, 2 Walgreens, 2 CVS, and a Walmart today trying to find the Brass Free/No Bronze Natural Instincts. None of them had it; Walgreens in Tucson has stopped carrying ANY semi/demi permanent hair coloring, so thanks also for the link to the 3-pack on Amazon!

    • says

      The Walgreens stores near me (Chicagoland) also don’t carry Natural Instincts anymore! I have been finding the Brass Free Brunette at CVS and Meijer, a local chain. Glad you were able to fix the orange and that you found this post helpful. I’m still (happily) a brunette thanks to the Brass Free..!

  11. Claudia Donnet says

    I used the Brass Free and washed with baby shampoo. Nothing worked. And I tired purple shampoo. All a waste of time and money.

    • says

      I’m sorry to hear that. Was it Natural Instincts that originally turned your hair orange, or another brand? Natural Instincts is a semi-permanent haircolor, not permanent, so that may affect the ability to get it out and color over it vs. a fully permanent haircolor. I’ve only ever used Natural Instincts, so I can only share what has worked for me.

  12. Amanda says

    I came across this post after searching for color correction remedies. I never heard of color oops before. It worked like a charm and changed my brassy chocolate brown back to my dirty blonde. THANK YOU!! After a trip to CVS at 5:00 AM my hair is now back to normal.

  13. Tiffani Palmer-Marrone says

    This works!!!!! I attempted to lighten my dark mahogany brown hair to a medium golden brown at home with a drugstore box color. Much to my horror I developed light blonde “hot roots” and orange hair with darker red ends. I have colored my hair myself successfully for at least 20 years. I did not even know what hot roots were and have never had a serious color mishap. My hair dresser wanted $300 to even consider color correction. I found this dye at CVS and followed your directions for the color cap with clarifying shampoo, developer, and the color. I followed with a conditioning masque for good measure. It worked perfectly and my hair does not feel fried! You saved the day!!!!

    • says

      SO glad to hear it worked for you. I too had never had a problem like this until that one time..! I remember thinking while I was on the phone with Clairol, “there’s no way this will work…” and then it did! Glad you’re once again a brunette :)

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