And now for something completely different. Most readers come here seeking posts about the lives and works of the Brontës. I do occasionally pen the odd non-Brontë post about graves, literary archives, and other books. Please feel free to have a look in my Everything Else Section where you’ll find these posts. Well guys, this is a post about hair. Yes, you read that correctly. Hair. So I’ll file this under Everything Else and get right to the point. Apologies in advance for the excessive numbers of photos of myself that appear in this post.
Five years ago I ditched my boyfriend and decided to dye my naturally dark brown hair red again. Who doesn’t do something like that after a break up? You’ve gotta wash/chop/style/dye that man right outta your hair. It sounds like a cliché but it’s true, and I felt like I needed to reclaim myself after 3 years of being half of somebody else instead of just being me. I’d experimented with red hair as a teenager but the upkeep was too much, and so I dyed it black and then let simply waited for my natural colour to come back through. It didn’t look fantastic, but I stuck it out, and to be honest with you, I didn’t have much going on in my life that year so it didn’t really matter too much. Fast forward to August 2013 and I took the plunge and went red again. Below left you can see my natural colour in all its glory in 2011, and below right is my return to red in 2014.
I loved my red hair, and as I have very pale skin, it really warmed my complexion up, but the upkeep started getting too much for me again. Apologies for the lack of beauty knowledge/terminology but I’m a pretty basic, low maintenance person in terms of make up and hairstyles (I wear next to nothing and always wear my hair loose); the one exception being dye of course. Besides the upkeep though, I had a year of being single after dyeing my hair to really find and re-awaken myself, so I no longer felt the need to wash anyone out of my hair. I also had a rather lovely new boyfriend who said he didn’t mind what I did with my hair either way. He still tells me this every time I complain about what to do with my hair colour. My hair is naturally very oily and I need to wash it everyday, so as you can imagine, the red faded pretty quickly and I was dying my hair a lot more than I probably should have been. I mused for a while about what to do, eventually deciding to strip the red out of my hair and go back to my natural colour.
And this is the part where I really wish I’d have read a few beauty blogs before doing this. First of all, you can never get rid of red hair dye; it’s the absolute worst colour to do anything with. Even dyeing over it with a darker colour doesn’t always work. Secondly, I really think I was just expecting to put the colour stripper on my hair and just magically be a brunette again. Oh no, it doesn’t work like that. I rinsed it out early because I could see my hair turning lighter rather than darker, and this isn’t a good look for me. Not only did it turn me ginger (a look I really genuinely wish I could pull off), but it turned my hair to straw. I felt like a scarecrow, and I’m not going to lie, I panicked slightly as my hair had never felt so bad before. It’s always been oily, never dry, and I had basically killed it in the space of fifteen minutes. The road to hair recovery was a long one after that.
I wanted nothing more than to run to the shop and grab a bottle of dark hair dye, but the damage I’d already done was obvious. Fortunately, my sister came to stay a few days later and brought her many hair and beauty products with her despite claiming it was only the essentials (we really are like chalk and cheese). Whilst showering and despairing a couple of days later, I noticed one of her deep conditioning treatments in the bathroom. And I won’t lie, I borrowed/stole some to use, and it was wonderful. As my hair had always been oily, I’d never had any need for conditioner at all, ever, so I had never thought to put any on after I’d stripped my hair of all colour and life. It sounds ridiculous that I wouldn’t think to use conditioner but I very often couldn’t go more than a few hours in my youth without needing to wash my hair again so I really had never needed it before. I asked my sister if I could carry on using her conditioner until I could brave it and go and get my own.
Life continued for a few days in which I braved a trip to Speke Hall, a trip to the cinema (well, it was nice and dark in there), and a trip to a Yorkshire steam railway. Seeing the photographs from the Yorkshire trip made me realise I really needed to sort the colour out. May I just add that it was very fortunate that this hair disaster coincided with a few days off work? I dodged a bullet there. So then I did something extremely stupid and bought some brown hair dye to use. I used it and waited with bated breath to see if my hair would come away with the towel. It didn’t, and I think my hair was already so damaged that the new hair dye didn’t really affect it. I absolutely smothered it in conditioner though, and continued to do so for quite some time afterwards. It was only months later when I noticed that my roots were oily immediately after washing that I realised I could finally just start applying the conditioner to the ends of my hair.
I soon tired of the brown though, and a few months later, I returned to the bottle and dyed it red again. I never learn. Fortunately, it didn’t get any worse, but the upkeep became too much for me once again. The following year in 2016, I decided to try something safer and opted for henna. Now, I didn’t know much about henna either so after actually looking at beauty blogs and online videos I knew it was kinder for hair, but convinced myself red henna from Lush would actually work on my hair. Here’s a little tip guys: henna won’t even out your hair tone so if you have visible roots before you use it, you will still have them afterwards. I waited slightly longer than I normally would have in-between dye jobs to let my roots grow out a little bit. I don’t know why, but I’d convinced myself this was somehow beneficial when using henna.
The outcome? It was messy, the smell was awful, it didn’t work, and it was super messy. The henna did add a nice colour to my already coloured hair, but it did nothing to my roots because, here’s another tip for you: you can’t lighten dark hair with henna. This didn’t deter me and I tried again a few weeks later. Nothing happened, and so I resolved never to try henna again. I decided to wait a few more weeks before reaching for the chemical stuff again, but in those weeks I noticed that my hair was actually softer, shinier, and more like it had been before I tried to strip the red out. Despite not making a difference to the colour, the henna had actually helped to improve the condition of my hair, possibly due to the fact that henna doesn’t penetrate the hair strand like chemical dyes, but actually coats it. I still returned to my former ways and continued to dye it red though.
I had a minor mishap last year where I gave myself hot roots and then did a lot of damage by dyeing it twice in 24 hours to cover them up. I resolved to do something about it besides just reaching for the conditioner on a semi-regular basis. My hair wasn’t in the best condition, and I knew the dye was the culprit. 4 years of abuse had really taken its toll. It was lifeless, thin, and had really lost its shine. I’ve read over and over again that hair dye won’t make your hair thinner, but I definitely think it can if you use it over a long period of time. I’ve always had fine hair, but it had never been dull and lifeless until fairly recently. Over the past year I’ve really noticed a difference in the health of my hair, and just how weak it has become.
In April this year I was yet again sick of dyeing my hair all the time and really wanted to do something about it before it was too late. I bought dark brown hair dye and resolved to grow it out just like I had done in my teenage years. Well, it didn’t go entirely to plan. The hair dye came out much darker than I expected and I looked like Wednesday Addams (a childhood nickname that I just can’t seem to escape). What was even worse was that it hadn’t even covered the red. So, you guessed it, I reached for another bottle of dye the same day. And that still didn’t work. I hated my hair so much. The black that had suited me at 18 made me looked washed out at 30, and it still had bits of red in it! It drove my absolutely insane for the first month until I had a haircut and snipped a good few inches off to get rid of the worst of the patchy red that remained. As the dye faded, it looked much better, and I looked much less like Wednesday. However, that pesky red started to show through as the brown faded. Like I said, it really is the worst colour to get rid of.
Another few weeks later and my hair was actually in better condition than it had been in in years, but I was itching to sort the colour out before I went on holiday, because who doesn’t want to look nice in the sun? And despite my intention to let my natural colour come through, I couldn’t stand the boring brown when it started to emerge, and I hated the sight of so many grey hairs suddenly lurking in there. I reached for an ammonia free red hair dye (as if that’s really any better) and abused my hair once more. Not only did I give myself hot roots again just in time for my holiday, the dye dried it out so badly. A week of sun and pool water did little to help it either and I knew I had to do something to save my hair. A few weeks after returning from holiday, my natural roots are coming through, my hot roots are still evident and making their way down my head, and the bottom of my hair is like multicoloured straw. I’m now at the point where I need to make a decision about what to do with my hair. And stick to it. Because if I continue to abuse it with chemicals, it’s only going to get worse. As I start my new job in two weeks, I’d like to look smart and professional on my first day rather than like some kind of rainbow headed scarecrow. In short, I need to banish the red once and for all.
Blogging about my hair dyeing addiction makes me realise that it is an addiction, and I need to put an end to it. So my plan is to select a lighter brown, knowing full well that it’s not going to cover all of the red, but by committing to regular haircuts to snip away the patchy red and dying my hair brown on a less frequent basis than I was reaching for the red stuff, I can gradually get rid of the red, and maybe one day return to my natural colour. I have no idea how long this is going to take. It took a good year to get back to my normal colour as a teenager, and that was when I was really committed to it. I’ll be honest, it’s the thought of those pesky grey hairs that is making this harder this time around. I think it’s just a vanity related age thing. Hopefully, by this time next year I will be back to something like my natural colour, possibly with a hint of some brown henna to hide the greys, and I’ll look a little less like the offspring of Ronald McDonald and a scarecrow.
By Nicola F.
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