To Dye For The hair colour secrets I swear by (since boys think mine is natural… ha!)

Isla Fisher red hair The hair colour secrets I swear by (since boys think mine is natural... ha!)

Okay, it’s kind of natural. I just need a little bit of hair dye to take the ashiness out and dial up the red, okay?

But seriously—can we talk about how guys love to delude themselves that women don’t colour their hair? Newsflash, boys: they do. At least, something like 75 percent of us dip into the dye. And yet, I’m a firm believer that the closer you are to what you were born with, the better. That’s why—after a long stint of blonderexia—I call what I’m sporting now my Life Colour. (You know, like my Life Cut. Wow, everything is really coming together! I fully expect to win the lottery any day now.)

Anyway, what I’m saying is that I don’t do MUCH to my hair anymore… but what I do seems to be working, because most people think it’s completely natural. Not just the male population but even hairdressers! I’m not even kidding.

Wanna know my secrets? I shall now spill:

1. Forget highlights. I do an all-over colour.

I did a couple of interviews lately where I was asked about my number one beauty pet peeve. And it’s highlights! I hate highlights. Was victimized by them for years. But now that I’ve let go, life is so much better.

You see, many hairdressers try to blondify everyone with semi-fair skin (and sometimes even not) because they make upwards of $150 per job… and a lot of them can’t think out of the box (no pun intended) about colour. Meanwhile, not everyone suits going blonder… such as myself. It’s such a cookie-cutter ideal of beauty, it drives me nuts.

Here’s what I mean. (I have no idea who these people are, but I did a Google image search for “bad highlights” and this is what came up.)

Atomic Kitten bad highlights The hair colour secrets I swear by (since boys think mine is natural... ha!)

Now, don’t get me wrong. A lot of the time (not counting the above), highlights can look pretty good, especially when you first get them done. But over time, unless your colourist is verrrrry careful about selecting the same sections, you can wind up with solid blonde hair and dark roots ANYWAY… which kinda defeats the purpose of supposedly low-maintenance highlights in the first place.

Also? Solid colour isn’t even THAT high maintenance—at least if you don’t go red—and it’s actually less damaging than the bleach. So that’s what I suggest (and yes, I’ve written about this here before, but it bears repeating). Most of us have ashy instead of warm base colours, so what I do is warm mine up with an all-over colour. Not lighter. Not darker. Just warmer. Honestly, it will change your life if you’ve been suffering from the blonde highlights plus ashy base colour syndrome where you look like your hair is grey!

To “break up” the solidness, I do just a sprinkling of tone-on-tone highlights to make it look sun-kissed. (If you’ve got dark hair, I suggest lowlights.) But you only need to do the highlights every three, four times you colour.

Got it? Good.

2. I get a toner put in every three weeks.

So here’s the thing. My hair is this coppery colour… and anytime you put red into your hair, it has a hard time sticking. Fades fast. Especially if you’re putting red on top of previously lightened hair (which makes it more porous).

I used to visit my colourist, the excellent Tony Chaar in Toronto, every five or six weeks for the whole shebang, but found that those last couple of weeks just weren’t making me happy… my hair was looking blah. So now what I do is go every three weeks for a toner. (I KNOW. High-maintenance… but this is really only necessary for red shades. Or blondes, if you find yours goes brassy.)

The toner just gets shampooed through your hair and rinses out, so it’s really just a quick little jobby at the salon, and doesn’t cost much (I think it’s around $40).

Or barring that, there is the next option…

3. I do at-home colour treatments.

I haven’t done one of these in a while now since I’ve been doing the toner thing, but in a pinch, an at-home colour treatment that adds a bit of dye back in your hair will work similarly.

Artec makes these amazing colour depositing shampoos, which you can find at beauty supply shops.

Artec Color Depositing Shampoo The hair colour secrets I swear by (since boys think mine is natural... ha!)

But what I’m REALLY keen to try is the Nutri Color Creme from Revlon Professional:

Revlon Professional Nutri Color Creme The hair colour secrets I swear by (since boys think mine is natural... ha!)

They just sent me a couple to try (I’m going to use the Copper Gold), and they look freaking amazing… and more potent than my Artec. You have to apply them to dry hair with gloves and then leave in for three minutes. Each bottle has enough for 10 to 15 applications. Apparently the red shades are “very powerful”…  I’ll keep you posted!

4. I try not to wash my hair too often.

This is a tough one (since I’m not one of those people blessed with wash-it-once-a-week texture). But it’s a fact that the less you wash your hair, the more intact your colour’s going to be—especially red tones. That’s because the molecules are smaller than other colours and therefore aren’t able to hold on to the hair cuticle as well. You’re literally washing your colour down the drain. Sob!

So remember that it’s not just the act of shampooing—it’s any kind of water on your hair. Good thing they invented dry shampoo, yes? (In case you haven’t heard my mad ravings yet, read this post to find out all about the product I love.)

5. I only use colour-safe shampoos.

And they tend to be the professional not the drugstore kind. What can I say? When you’re this invested in your hair colour, you don’t want to take any chances.

Right now I have to say that my favouritest shampoo is the Matrix Biolage Color Care one, which feels amazingly light yet non-drying, lathers well and has a great fresh scent. (I hate when colour care prodz are too moisturizing… ick!)

Matrix Biolage Color Care Shampoo The hair colour secrets I swear by (since boys think mine is natural... ha!)

I also like Pureology, which is an entire line devoted to colour care. They have a shampoo that is volumizing:

Pureology Pure Volume Shampoo The hair colour secrets I swear by (since boys think mine is natural... ha!)

And finally, Giovanni is the third brand in my shower at the moment. They’re a natural brand and this is their eco-friendly shampoo for red tones. I do like it but the non-lathering bit is a matter of personal preference.

Giovanni Colorflage Remarkable Red Shampoo The hair colour secrets I swear by (since boys think mine is natural... ha!)

6. I use colour masks a couple times a week.

Like face masking (which I’ve now made into a verb), hair masking is important. For both colour maintenance and overall hair health. Because getting in and out of the shower is annoying, most of the time I just use my hair mask as a conditioner, applying it to the length of my ponytail and leaving it in for about five minutes in the shower while I, um, do other things. Right now I’m rotating between the ones in the Matrix and Pureology lines mentioned above.

7. I try not to use hot water, and I have a water filter.

Ever considered that water itself could be a factor in your hair colour maintenance woes? Yep, for real. Hot water helps accelerate colour fading, so if you can bear it try to rinse in warm or lukewarm temps. It’s also a good idea to pick up a water filter to eliminate any colour-fading minerals that get deposited on your hair (ew). I got this tip from a colourist years ago and he swore it was one of the biggest yet least-known hair issues. I use the Jonathan Product system (although it’s probably time for a replacement, eeks!):

Jonathan Product Shower Filter The hair colour secrets I swear by (since boys think mine is natural... ha!)

8. I avoid the sun and chlorine.

Did you read my post about ditching the sun for once and for all, and embracing my pale skin? Well, there’s another reason that was a good idea—and it’s because the sun is bad, bad news for fading hair colour. (What else is new?)

The other HUGE no-no is to get exposed to chlorine. I had a bad incident a few years back during my first experiment with reddish hair. I was sent to Monaco (yes, Monaco!) on a press trip in July… and AS IF I was going to forgo swimming in the luxury oceanfront pool. I won’t lie, it was a career highlight. Problem was, it gave my hair kind of a greenish cast and I had to meet with this famous celebrity hairdresser, Ted Gibson, when I got back to Toronto.

He totally judged me.

Don’t let this happen to you. Or, you know, wear a swim cap.

Have you found your Life Colour yet?
What’s your hair colour maintenance regimen? (Tried any of my tips or prodz?)
Do you share my hate-on for highlights, or do you have another colour pet peeve?


Tuesday, August 7/2012 at 4:02 pm

Very interesting post today! I am intrigued and definitely looking for less maintenance hair. I could give you my life history, but that’s probably a bit much. My question is: how do you feel about the ‘No-poo” movement? That is, not shampooing at all (because your color washes out) and only conditioning? Have you tried the Wen cleansing conditioner? I just ordered it because I’ve been curious. I hate the squeaky clean-sulfate-y feeling and like it much more soft and manageable, but of course not greasy. And that’s what Wen claims to give you. Any thoughts?


Tuesday, August 7/2012 at 4:10 pm

I’m a tonally challenged blonde. Either it’s too yellow or too ashy – never just right. I’m curious about those Revlon Cremes. They remind me of the Ice Cream Kromask – maybe you’ve seen them at Shoppers. They come in not-found-in-nature shades, presumably to boost hard-to-keep colours, but also beige, silver, and gold. I’ve never tried them, but it would seem like a good solution for remedying too-cool or too-warm shades.


Nomadic D
Tuesday, August 7/2012 at 4:10 pm

I’ve had (bottle)red for yeas and I’m a huge fan. It’s true that it’s the color that fades the fastest, but my hairdresser told me (and after years I now believe her) that it also has a cumulative effect, so after a few times going red your hair will hang on to it better and better. The best at-home treatment I’ve found is by Aveda. They have ready-made colors, both in shampoo form (not so great) and conditioner form (awesome), but I found an Aveda salon that would custom blend the perfect red for me (I like it a bit orange/copper, less fire engine). Not sure if all Aveda salons will do that, but I highly recommend checking it out to see if they will. That stuff was amazing. On another note, I’ve been swimming a ton this month, and while the red’s definitely faded, I don’t feel like I’ve gone green, it just feels like a nice coppery blonde, which I’m down with. Guess I’m lucky.


Tuesday, August 7/2012 at 4:44 pm

Heyy!! Long time no see!! :) I want to see a pic of your hair SO MUCH. I have never ever seen it since you went copper, EVER. I just keep thinking huh? Michelle… NOT BLONDE?!?! I too am forgoing highlights… I had a truly TERRIBLE incident the day before prom (stupidity at its highest to book colour the day before, I know) where I had ‘sun-kissed streaks’ put in around my face and a darkish/medium brown background colour done. Only I got lovely brown background colour, and white/yellow badger stripes as thick as Sellotape, NO JOKE. I dyed over it that night, and now, like you, I am embracing my natural colour (sort of)! Unfortunately, I start college in September, and I’m training my ass off to get on the PSC swim team… Basically my highlights are showing through the brown dye because of all the chlorine. EEK! And I’m not even allowed to dye it again because my parents are sadists who enjoy watching my pain as I slowly morph into a ginger badger. HELP?! Any suggestions?? Also, about the red thing, don’t worry too much; while it is sooo true that red fades fastest of all hair colours, the GOOD thing is that the tone of red is like, nigh on impossible to get out of your hair. So even though it will fade loads, after repeated colours/toners it will never stop being red-toned unless you A) bleach it to the point of no return or B) do a Britney!! I also know this because I was (bottle) blonde previously, and I wanted to go brown at home (for the prom, stupid boy!!) then have the aforementioned devil-highlights done ‘professionally’ … First I put a red over the blonde to counteract the brown dye’s green undertones showing, which was all hunky dory, put a neutral brown over, and got darker red… The result is that whatever I do to my hair now, it eventually goes red. Oh yeah, and did I mention that due to the damage caused by the demon-highlights, my hair is melting? Yeah. It stretches like chewing gum and stays there. The record I have lengthened my hair to is about an extra 2 inches. FML. So, here you go… My rant… Enjoy!! BTW, I have missed this site sooo much. I’ve just been so busy. But I am so glad I’m back!! Yaaaay!!! :D

Huge fan, hyper-hair-colour-aware Thomas xx

P.S. I’m serious about the pic of your hair, I HAVE to see it!!! :D


Tuesday, August 7/2012 at 7:50 pm

This is all a bit too high maintanence for me.. in fact I think you sounds like a bit of a crazy hair lady haha. I think you need to stop worring so much and have a bit more fun! Who wants to spend hours every week on your hair colour when you could be out doing other things!


Wednesday, August 8/2012 at 4:50 am

I’m newly registered but have been lurking a good while. I’d love to see a picture of your hair too Michelle! Sounds gorgeous.

Hey Thomas, sounds like what you need is a protein treatment – STAT! I had *exactly* the same problem after a brand of hair dye pretty much ATE some sections of my hair. It feels like sticky chewing gum when wet, difficult to comb and takes ages to dry, right? If you’re in the UK I found the 2-Step Protein Treatment by ApHogee extremely helpful for a temporary fix (lasts about 4 – 6 weeks) just until you’re able to have the sections cut out or they grow out. You will need to deep condition your hair afterwards as protein can be drying. However, continuous deep conditioning of your hair at the moment, before adding protein will not help and may actually add to the damage and make it ‘stretch’ further. I found this out to my cost — I’m currently sporting one top section of hair that’s about 3in in length because it snapped off, whilst the rest reaches my shoulders — nice! I’m using the treatment every 4 – 6 weeks to save the rest of my hair and then I may get a shorter cut to even it out. Hope that helps. :)

Oh and being from the UK, I can tell you the above trio of ladies was a girl group in the late 90′s called Atomic Kitten. I laughed when I saw the photo!


Wednesday, August 8/2012 at 12:43 pm

Thanks for this post, Michelle! I have a hair appointment on Friday and I know exactly what I’m going to ask the colourist: to warm up my colour and put tone on tone highlights.

Where are those Revlon Professional colour depositing shampoos sold?


Wednesday, August 8/2012 at 1:46 pm

My stylist once described my natural hair color as “strawberry-dishwater-blonde”, which accounted for why when I was sporting my natural color, I had about a 40-40-20 break-down of people calling me brunette, ginger, and blonde, ha. I think moreso than with blondes, redheads are extremely likely to be asked if that’s their natural hair color.

I’m horrible person and dye mine with Lush’s henna dyes. Yes, yes, I know. So far as I can tell, if you’ve found your life color and don’t intend on dyeing your hair again with a non-henna dye, they’re generally safe. It’s if you intend on getting other chemical treatments that you’re going to have problems. I dye mine a few times a year, and have never noticed any problems with breakage or damage beyond the usual split ends from styling and swimming. The nice thing is that as the red fades and my roots come in, they blend together really well, so my roots aren’t actually visible unless you’re in the process of cutting or styling my hair.

I do swim a lot–for awhile I was doing about half a mile every day. I prefer it to pretty much every other kind of work out, so I refuse to give it up because of my hair. If you want to prevent your color fading or going green, you need to take some precautions. 1) Always shower before you get in the pool. This saturates the hair shaft so it won’t absorb the chlorinated water from the pool. 2) Cover it with a good conditioner. 3) Wear a swim cap. I do all this, and have never noticed any brassiness or discoloration. I’ve also heard of people (Loepsie, anyway–great hair tutorials on youtube, check her out) coating their hair in oil–coconut, olive oil, what have you–and then showering, etc. These are really both good practices for preventing damage to undyed hair as well.


Wednesday, August 8/2012 at 6:41 pm

the three girls with seriously bad hair were a uk girl group back in the early 00′s called atomic kitten! bad hair and not so hot music either lol….love from london :)


Wednesday, August 8/2012 at 8:17 pm

fyi- the girls in the pictures were in a brit band called atomic kitten. i only know this because i was once an elementary school girl who loved bad pop music and lived abroad. haha


Wednesday, August 8/2012 at 10:11 pm

Yay, you did an article on highlights!

I’m in a state of flux right now with my hair. I won’t bore you with it, but this article has given me something to chew on.

What are tone on tone highlights? How are they different than highlights or lowlights? I read the other article but I’m still unsure.


Saturday, August 11/2012 at 6:20 am

I love Nutri Color Creme from Revlon Professional as well. Makes hair soft and shiny.


Denise Moran
Tuesday, August 14/2012 at 8:44 am

I think there’s a bit of a misunderstanding here or just maybe it’s a terminology thing but somehow the word “highlights” is being presented as untoned bleached blonde highlights over a natural base. And that somehow highlights that are closer in tone to base color whether that be natural or not these are somehow not highlights or “tone on tone”( simply means less contrast) highlights. They’re all highlights. Period. And using bleach may still be the right option for you. Some base colors are never going to get to the color they want without bleaching then toning over the bleach. This is why some comments say I can never get the right color. All colors have a base that will mix with the hair color put on. Some colors will NOT be another color without first bleaching out natural color then putting desired color back in. That being said, most people look best closer to their natural. You know how the box color says stay withing two shades of natural. One is without pro knowledge things can get out of hand and two most people look best within this range.
Michele, you’re so funny, first you say you don’t do much to your hair anymore then you go on to your list and one month is more than most of us do all year. Beauty editor perspective I guess.


Nikki Diamond
Tuesday, January 15/2013 at 9:53 pm

I hate highlights.
We were not created with two different competing hair colors.
Can you help me?
My hair is naturally medium brown with a tiny bit of blond naturally.
5 years ago I went lightest home product blond without bleaching and did it every 5 weeks. Then 3 1/2 years ago I went to red for 4 months then dark brown to get to natural. It didn’t stick, so I went black and got the most compliments. I want to go blue, not by bleaching but just using ice cream blue over my natural medium brown and 15% white hairs. The color fades fast. What products do you recommend? Thanx


Friday, February 8/2013 at 8:38 pm

Hmmmm….. this article gives me a lot to think about! I am going to get my hair coloured in 2 weeks and I was planning on getting my usual; highlights. But the thing is that I have brown hair, and my highlights are actually a lighter brown colour- not blonde or anything, and they’re super fine, so it really does look quite natural. The thing that I like about my highlights is that as they grow out, there is no sharp line of contrast that you might get with a solid colour, since my natural colour is mixed in with the highlights. I go about 4 months between getting my highlights touched up, so for me, that’s reasonably low-maintenance! I have been getting this same thing done for a while now and have been toying with the idea of a solid colour…… perhaps I shall try what you are saying next!


Sunday, February 10/2013 at 7:59 pm

You have covered all the bases honestly on how to have healthy, natural looking hair. It sounds like you are well educated on the topic, thanks for sharing your knowledge! I am looking to take my boring hair in a little bit of a different direction and this post gives lots of tips. Thanks for sharing your hair secrets! :)


Friday, March 8/2013 at 6:47 pm

Hey Michelle!

Love love love your site! Great info! So happy to read this post, I have been trying to get away from these all over blonde highlights which I suspect are not the best look for me. Any recommendations on a colorist in Montreal?



Monday, July 8/2013 at 12:30 pm

Did you ever end up trying that Revlon Colour Creme stuff?
I have it in copper and find it a little patchy (not obvious patches, just some streaks end up a brighter than red than others but it looks almost intentional). Then again, I’ve been putting it on wet hair. Whoops?


Robin Jamieson
Saturday, December 14/2013 at 8:06 am

Very informative post, thank you. :-) I especially liked your tips for swimming. I have naturally dark brown (nearly black) hair & I dye it deep intense red. I use the ice cream kromask hair stain every 3 or 4 washes to maintain my color & I absolutely love it! It is the first thing that has worked on my temperamental hair to keep red. I get complimented all the time now on the colour & people always wonder how it never turns orange or faded looking. You have to use gloves with it and it will definitely stain your skin (you can remove some of the marks but rinsing the rubber gloves while the stain is working, then use the gloves to rub off the excess off your face – don’t know why but it works). Also for softness, I use macadamia shampoo, conditioner & hair oil as it keeps it soft, shiny & smelling fantastic. I don’t even need gel or mouse anymore, just a little light flexable hairyspray mist. I always wait 2 washes after using the stain before i go swimming in chlorine & i never go green, just a bit of fade which is easily fixed by using the stain again. My hair is now the least maintainamce it has ever been & with all colours red. Hope these little tips help someone considering red.


Thursday, August 14/2014 at 4:02 pm

Some great tips to keeping your colored hair look as good and natural as possible! I like to think my technique is already pretty good, however you’ve listed a lot of points I hadn’t thought of! Can’t wait to get started on a few, thankyou :).


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