“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.)
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.”
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.”
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.
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…
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.
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…