How To Neutralize Red Tones In Your Hair

No more brass.

Here's how to neutralize red tones in your hair, according to stylists.
Getty Images/Tim Robberts

If you’re someone who highlights, bleaches, or dyes their strands, you’re well aware of brassy hair and the constant struggle to correct it. The term “brassiness” has become a broad term for any and all hair color showing too much warmth, but that doesn’t mean there’s a single, simple solution for banishing any and all brassy tones. To properly get rid of an unwanted tinge, it takes a little more specification to address exactly what kind of brass you’re experiencing. While “yellow” might be a more accurate description of brassy blonde and platinum hair or “orange” for some brunettes, if you have dark brown or black hair, your color might even fade to a reddish shade — an important distinction when looking for the right fix.

But before we get into how to neutralize red tones in hair, let’s first address why this happens (because, no, you’re not just seeing things). Bianca Hillier, celebrity colorist and Olaplex ambassador, explains that black and brown hair — whether virgin or color-treated — has red underlying pigment. A number of different factors can expose that unwanted warmth (like the sun, heat, and water), but Richy Kandasamy, colorist and R+Co collective member, explains that the main cause of brassy hair is an overabundance of warm pigments from coloring your hair. “When you lighten your hair, your natural hair is lifted to make room for the new color, so it becomes reddish-orange and then yellow,” he tells Bustle. For that reason (or rather, for all those many reasons), you’ve got to tackle your brassiness from all different angles to really preserve your color, cancel out red tones, and get your strands back to that super-dark or cool brunette shade you’re after. Here, expert-backed advice for how to neutralize red tones in hair and how you can prevent them from quickly turning back up.

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1. See A Professional For Your Color

The first step? See a pro to formulate your color for you. As mentioned, coloring your hair is one main cause of unwanted redness, so Kandasamy says to start off by choosing the right hair color that will neutralize all unwanted brassiness and red pigments in your hair cortex. It can be hard to figure out just what that right shade is, which is why Hillier highly recommends seeing a professional.

“We know color theory,” she explains. “If someone wants a brown but doesn’t want to deal with the red, you’re going to have to formulate more ash into the formula to prevent it more from getting brassy than you would with just a neutral brown.” To a novice, a brown at-home dye off the shelf might look like the right choice based on the photo on the box, but if you don’t factor in all the science that’s going on inside the hair, you won’t get the results you want.

2. Apply Heat Protectant

Once you’ve left your color appointment with the shade of your dreams, the onus is on you to preserve it the best you can. Protecting your hair from heat is always important, but that’s especially the case for keeping the brass at bay, whether you color your hair or not. Stephanie Brown, master colorist at IGK SoHo, explains that oxidation causes hair to turn brassy, and heat is one of many factors that can cause oxidation to occur. This is why Brown suggests only heat-styling your hair when necessary and using a heat protectant when you do.

3. Block Your Hair From The Sun

You need to protect your hair from more than just your flat irons, curling irons, and blow dryers. Hillier adds that anything heat-related, including the sun, exposes warmth in your hair. Hats are a must for avoiding oxidation from UV rays, Brown says, and Hillier recommends not only wearing your thermal protectant prior to styling but also when you’re air-drying or plan on being outside in the heat. “Having a proper thermal protectant, whether it’s a spray or cream or an oil, is super necessary,” Hillier explains. Her cocktail of choice: a little of the Olaplex No. 6 (a leave-in smoothing cream) and No. 7 (which has UV protection), to block out the sun and lock in the color.

4. Wash Your Hair Wisely

It’s no surprise that washing your hair causes your color to fade, and when it does, you can also expect those warm tones to creep up. Everything from the water temperature to the types of products you use and how often you use them could be the culprit for your color concerns, so making some changes to your wash routine might actually help.

First, avoid hot water and stick with warm or lukewarm temperatures, which might not make for the most relaxing shower but will help prolong your color, according to Brown. When it comes time to shampoo, Kandasamy recommends using formulas specifically designed for color-treated hair to seal and protect the color from fading. And lastly, don’t overdo it with the shampooing. Hillier explains that using a good sulfate-free formula will minimize the fading, but even the best shampoos can’t totally prevent it. Wash your hair when you need to, and on the days in between, opt for a dry shampoo to absorb excess oil instead.

5. Try A Pigmented Shampoo

While a purple shampoo might be the trick for your blonde friends, it won’t work the same to neutralize your red tones, and it all goes back to color theory. The key to getting rid of an unwanted tinge is to use the right shade to cancel it out. For instance, purple shampoo eliminates yellow tones, and blue shampoo cancels orange. But what happens when you mix blue with red? You get purple. If you’re experiencing true redness, you’ll need to neutralize it with a product that has green or teal tones instead.

“Green is the complementary color to red,” Brown explains. “Just like purple is complementary to yellow and blue is complementary to orange.” Again, don’t overdo it. Brown warns that these shampoos can cause the hair to look muddy, so start by mixing them with your regular shampoo and using them once a week. “If that’s not strong enough, then you can experiment using just the pigmented shampoo on its own,” Brown says. Just don’t forget to condition. These shampoos tend to be drying, so make sure to apply a conditioning mask afterward.

6. See A Colorist To Tone Down The Brass

The first step on this list was to see a pro, and it’s the last step, too. Hillier explains that as your color fades, the underlying warmth of your hair will be exposed, so putting a toner or gloss on top that has ash or green tones will make a huge difference. Proper formulation of the toner is crucial, too, which is why it’s better not to try it yourself. “You can cover the red tone at home, but it always comes back,” Kandasamy explains. For this reason, he suggests seeing a professional hair colorist to get a toner for the brassiness as often as recommended for your hair.

And one last word of advice: bring photos. What brass means to you could mean something else to your colorist, which is why Hillier stresses the importance of communication. “If you show me a photo and you say you’re seeing red as opposed to orange, then I know a little bit about where your eye is at, and I know how to control that better.”