Never trust a color called Sunrise Red

(photo added)
I am one of those gals whose ideal hair color is very close to the color I have. Usually about three times a year or so I decide my hair color is looking a little dingy. I pick a shade the tiniest bit lighter than my own, something in the range of medium ashe blonde, and put it on for half the time advised by the directions on the box. I emerge from the bathroom flipping my locks triumphantly, only to discover that not one member of the family has even noticed I’ve done anything.

Subtle. Yeah, that’s my style.

Or it was.

A few months ago I though it would be fun to add a few red highlights. I dabbed haircolor carefully on half a dozen bits of hair around my head. Ten minutes into the process, I panicked and washed it all out. Once again, no one noticed a thing.

Yesterday I hit that hohum-hair stage again. I saw the rest of that box of red hair color, and thought by putting the color on for half the time, I’d just add a tinge of color to my whole head.


I emerged from the shower with pumpkin-orange hair. I kid you not. Well, the top third of my hair anyway. The bottom 2/3 was still dishwater blonde. Just right on a teenager dressed goth, but a scary, scary look for a 39 year old mom.

Gasps followed me when I emerged from the bathroom. My husband took one look and said, “Oh, that didn’t go well, did it?”


What I cannot figure out is why I thought THAT day was the day to try this. Church was the next morning. We have a birthday party planned for my new two year old Sunday evening. Thanksgiving is coming. And Christmas is right after that.

Actually I can’t think of a worse time to do something drastic.

Off to Walmart I went, baseball cap covering my carrot-top self. I contemplated throwing myself on mercies of the hair salon ladies at Walmart. But my frugal self-sufficient self just couldn’t do it. Remember, I have had TWO professional haircuts my entire LIFE. I just couldn’t make myself spend $70 or so to have my hair colored.

I stood in the hair color aisle for an eternity with my teen daughters discussing options. I really wanted my blonde back. (Where’s that blasted rewind button when you need it anyway?) But my hair was so incredibly red that I feared trying to turn it blonde would just end as a lighter shade of orange.

I ended up with a two-part kit: brown base color, with a blonde highlights kit. For good measure, I also grabbed a very light blonde kit, just in case the brown was way too dark and I wanted even more higlights.

I wondered how much hair color my head could take before my skin either sloughed off or my hair fell out. Worrisome. I rationalized that the hair felt fine after doing it once, and the two-part kit was designed to be used together; that only counted as one more. Hopefully I wouldn’t need to go as far as using the third kit.

A wise person would be hot to fix the hair as soon as possible, right? Well, I got home from the store at 5 pm, and for some idiotic reason, I waited until TEN pm to start the ‘fixing’ (sad, sad misnomer for what followed). Blame the baseball cap for giving me a false sense of security.

About the time my 16 year old offered me a scarf to wear to church, I realized the gravity of my plight. If I’d done the fix at 5, I’d have had a chance to run to some salon and beg for a fix. But by now every beauty salon on the West coast was closed.

Brilliant, Mary.

I started in on the brown base coat. The directions said there were gloves for each step. The kit had about a million little bottles of noxious smelling stuff. But no gloves. At this point my concern was the orange in my hair. Tan hands did not seem as big a concern. I mixed up the solution, using the full amount in the kit, and plunged in bare-handed. In deference to my pre-stressed hair, I decided to wash out the solution 5 minutes earlier than advised. Into the shower I hopped, hopeful I had gotten rid of my hideous orange.

With me I brought a little tub that had come with the kit. I assumed it was a little tub of conditioner, which i figured my hair definitely needed by now. When I popped the cap off and pulled out– rubber gloves– (huh??) I had to laugh. Thankfully mixing the hair color in bare-handed had not colored my skin.

Once out of the shower I headed toward the mirror to wipe off the fog. I knew I was in trouble when I could see orange RIGHT THROUGH the fog on the mirror. Crud, crud, crud.

I blow-dried it, hoping that by some miracle it would look less red when dry.

Nope. Out to the living room I went to get the opinion of my hubby and teenagers.

My husband’s eyebrows went up. “Wow.”

“It’s the same color all over now, instead of being patchy,” said my 16 year old.

“Yeah,” said my 18 year old. ” And it’s red now, not orange.” Pause. “It’s actually a pretty red.”

They stared at me for about 20 minutes while I looked anxiously from face to face. Finally they decided it looked a little better. “But it sure is…………… bright,” my husband said.

Sighing, I went back into the bathroom and stared at myself for awhile.

My daughters came in to stare too.

At some point I realized that I actually have a redhead’s complexion. Fair skin, freckles, rosy glow. Hmmm…..I’m glowing…..maybe this hair color isn’t so bad after all. The feeling of optimism lasted for a few seconds ….until I realized that the reason I was glowing was because — duh — I had flourescent hair. Flourescent, people.

I was ready to cry.

But I still had unopened hair color, and it was only 11 pm. I couldn’t give up yet.

The girls and I started choosing little bits of hair to streak with blonde. If some of it was blonde, there’d be that much less red to look at, right? Made sense at the time, anyway.

Per directions, we started at the front and went around to the back of my head, alternating sides and picking small bits to highlight, brushing goop on with a little brush. It took forever. The goop kept going places it wasn’t supposed to go. It took forever.

The directions said to leave the color on for 15 minutes after the entire head was highlighted. But by the time we got to the back, it had been half an hour since we’d applied the stuff on the front hair. And after noticing the whitish peroxide markings on my daughter’s fingers, we realized this second stuff was not color– it was BLEACH. I looked close. The back goop had hardly been in at all and already the front bits looked white. White.

I rinsed out one of the front bits in the sink and made the terrible discovery that on that ONE shaft of hair I had THREE distinct colors– red at the bottom, goldy-red in the middle and my real dishwater blonde still right next to my head where we hadn’t got close enough with the goop. My 18 year old laughed and said, “You’re an agouti!”

She looked again. “No, not an agouti. More like a brindle.”

(Later my hubby said it actually looks a lot like an American. Such a reassuring family I have.)

Ack, ack, ack. Totally freaked out, I shooed the girls out so I could shower — again. I contemplated pretending I was sick so I would not have to go to church. Only problem is, we invited the entire family over Sunday evening for the two year old’s birthday.

Desperately hoping the hair would not fall out in clumps, I blow dried my hair once more. By now my blow dryer was sounding like it was ready to croak.

Once dry, the higlights were yellow, not pure white as I had feared. And the variation in color did help break up the solid flourescent redness of me. Best of all I was so tired that I was no longer recoiling in horror every time I caught sight of myself. Along about midnight I declared it done, half hoping the color would rub off on my pillow in the night or something.


In the morning, sure enough, it didn’t look quite as awful as I feared. Still a big change. But at church more people commented on my 2 year old’s birthday dress than my hair. And the ones who noticed my hair said it was cute.

I still feel terrible conspicuous. I still have the birthday party this evening to get through. I’m still not entirely sure I won’t run to a salon in the morning and beg for my old hair back no matter what it takes.

But there is a bright side in all of this. I found the perfect thing to give my husband for his 40th birthday.

A redhead.


  1. Red is cute, and though I can’t see much from the picture, it looks like you got it all figured out. I have never paid for a haircut; this is the luxury of having a mom who does hair for a living.

  2. From one redhead to another – welcome to the club! It takes a strong woman to carry off a headful of red hair successfully and I have faith in you!

  3. LOL! I have totally done that myself – something in you just takes over and won’t let you give up.
    But really, that picture? Looks beautiful. Your hair matches your eyebrows and you do have beautiful coloring for being a redhead. I say flaunt it while you’ve got it 🙂

  4. Flip. Sorry to laugh at your predicament, but I actually chuckled aloud. It’s been a LONG time since I’ve done that. What a hilarious story!

    And I’m with the others, the red looks nice.

  5. You know what is WORSE than coloring your hair a shade wrong? Giving yourself a HIDEOUS haircut. I did that once. I looked as if I had been scalped, literally.

    I think you look lovely. Try Color Experte next time. Even color with just the right amount of highlights.

    Just sign me L’Oreal 5 Reddish Brown (always with a coupon!!)

  6. My rule of thumb: Never mess with God’s intention.

  7. hahaha…

    loved the ending

    the same thing happened to my mother the night before my college graduation–she was horrified that her hair turned out bright red and i was sent to the grocery store at 10 at night to try and find something that would tone it down (it turned out well and gave us a really good laugh–well, mom was laughing the next day, not so much at the time)

    consider it good bonding time with your daughters –and it doesn’t look that bad 🙂

  8. It looks good Mary – a perfect match with your eyebrows.

    That was the problem with the purple shade that I acquired once…. didn’t match my eyebrows at all 🙂

  9. Oh yeah, reds are tricky. My last attempt turned out kind of … burgundy. NOT the look I was going for. The picture looks good though, and don’t worry, it always looks the most drastic to you, not to everyone else. In a week it will have faded a teeny bit, and you’ll be used to it, and you’ll think it’s great. 🙂

  10. Oh, what a night! But, from the picture, I’d say it looks great! ‘ll bet if you give it a little time, you’ll start loving the new, redheaded you. And you not only got new hair color, you gained a colorful (!) memory that you’ll no doubt laugh over with your family for a long time to come.

  11. Mary, it’s great 🙂 enjoy it!

  12. I agree, you make a smashing redhead.

  13. oh my…what an ordeal you went through!! looks terrific.

  14. I agree with everyone else…a perfect match with your eyebrows. I have to say to all of you who do your own hair…YOU ARE SO BRAVE!! I cannot imagine what kind of mess I would end up with! Loved the story.

  15. the story was laugh out loud funny and you hair looks to be a great color, enjoy it!! i have always wanted to be a redhead.

  16. That was an awesome story!! You had me laughing out loud there. I think the color looks really nice, but I so wish we had step by step photos!

  17. Oh Mary, I laughed tilll I cried. Been there and done that, only I AM a redhead to strat with. My hairdresser told me henna would be wonderful, and it turned out neon orange. I had to wear a scarf for 3 months or I blinded everyone. I am very creative with scarves now. I agree with the others……… it looks great and does go perfectly with your eyebrows! And give the man a star, his response was perfect!

  18. Mary,
    I rarely laugh out loud when reading, but I did today! It looks like everything turned out okay 🙂

  19. I totally did the same thing once. I dyed my hair the color of a manila envelope. It was awful. Then I dyed it brown and then red. In the end it looked close to my original brown, but with read highlights.

    From what I could see of yours, I think it looks rather fetching.

  20. I have to agree- it looks really pretty-

  21. It is a beautiful color!

    And the story….I was laughing out loud reading this! (Sorry…)

    But truly, it is a very pretty color on you from what I can tell in the picture!

  22. I think the end result of your hair looks really good! I am a complete wimp when it comes to doing things with my hair. I’ve never coloured my hair, and don’t think I would have the nerve to do so.

  23. I feel your pain! It kills me to get my color done prof. I too was with “bottle” last night and I wish I had had the courage to change it up a bit. I like the red too.

  24. OK, I’ve been thinking about self-coloring for the first time, but I think you’ve talked me out of it. 🙂 The color in the picture doesn’t look bad at all, though.

  25. The grand finale looks fine on you.
    Instead of going to Wallyworld, I would probably have pulled out the hair clippers for a buzzcut. Hair keeps growing.
    It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature.

  26. Maybe you still are a brindled agouti in other parts of your head, I don’t know, but the part in the picture really does look nice. 🙂

  27. I like it (from what I can see) and I know I am pointin gout the obvious – but you do know there are normally 1-800 numbers on the back of the box to call if you have a mishap right?

    I soeak for all of us when we say we want a full size picture! 😉

  28. After all the drama I wasn’t prepared to like it as much as I do. I think it’s really cute.

  29. KEEP IT, WOMAN! Looks great!

  30. I acutally think the red looks great, Mary. It works well with your coloring.

    Enjoy it! And your story was hilarious.

  31. I think it looks nice! not at all fluorescent! 🙂

  32. Way to go Mary!!!!! The full photo is great! Nothing to hide after all.

  33. God work all things together for good…

    Even hair color gone awry! You look great.

  34. I think it looks great!! Ok I’m a little bias I have red hair and 3 little red heads. =)

  35. The red is fabulous on you! I’ve been doing mine red for years – sometimes branching out into the home highlights department as well. This past summer it was red with blonde highlights and my husband affectionately termed me “Tangerine Head”. Currently back to auburn, but you never know.

    Anyway – don’t stress it. It looks better than you think!

  36. I think it’s cute. Keep it. Although what will you do about the roots in 6-8 weeks time? I’ve always had a secret hankering to be a redhead–I think a sort of bright copper would be good on me–but it’s the thought of the roots that keeps me from it.

  37. I know… I’m trying not to think about it. I’ll probably add some brown streaks and blonde streaks and gradually work back towards a more natural color…but it is going to be a pain.

  38. I like it even more now that I’ve seen the whole head. Turned out really well! 🙂

  39. Wonderful story–thanks for sharing. I agree that you look great. And step-by-step shots would have been fun too. 🙂

  40. It looks good. And you do have the complexion of a red head. My worst color mishap a professional hair color job. I was supposed to go deep burgundy but ended up bright purple. I looked like a Christmas ornament.

    I learned from another colorist that if I have a mess up, the best thing to do is to use temporary color to cover mistakes. Permanent color removes the old color from the hair shaft and then deposits the new color causing the streaks etc. Temporary color just coats what’s already there.

  41. I think that it looks good and you do have the complexion of a redhead. My husband told me that I looked like Rod Stewart after a hair coloring mishap. Not exactly a compliment in my book. And it was right before the holidays too and we were going home for Christmas. I did get it toned down, but when I saw the pictures from that time recently, UGH! I didn’t tone it down enough.

  42. Love the new hair, but my favorite part of the story is hearing that your girls got to take part in your “fun!” I can only imagine that this will be a family funny for a long time . . . “Hey, remember the time mom went red . . . “

  43. I had a blast reading about your self-coloring woes… but honestly, I really like your new shade! 😉 I have a red-head complexion, too. I have always had brown hair, though (except for that few months after I tried a “WASH OUT” burgandy color). I was only 16 and working at a pizza place with a burgandy uniform at the time… I looked like a “company gal”. Too funny. I haven’t used a wash-out hair color since then! You are a brave, brave lady. Two years ago my husband did the blonde highlighting in my hair when we were at a hotel together for the weekend on a business trip (without kids). It was fun doing “girlie” stuff with him. The final results were actually really great and well-blended… just the extra shine I wanted. I told him he was in the wrong line of work – he missed his beautician calling! He told me not to push my luck. I’ve been wanting some highlights lately… but too cheap to go buy the kit. Kev said he would do it again if I wanted. I caught myself thinking of adding copper or red this time, so your post caught my eye! I’ll be sure to at least apply the stuff evenly if I try it! 😉

  44. Okay, by now we should be aware that when there’s something on a blog I can’t honestly address without hurting someone’s feelings I keep my mouth closed, yes?

    It looks just fine. Honestly.

  45. I once had a blond HANDPRINT on one part of my head. Never trying to dye my hair blond again.

  46. Look how LOVED you are!!! You got tons of posts encouraging you! : ) You DO look great in red!!! I’m impressed that you kept going at it by yourself….I probably would have been in tears from the carrot-top! But there’s NO evidence of a carrot-top!! Looks like you had a definite plan going in, and it turned out just as wanted! : ) Did you do your eyebrows?? They DO match your hair exactly! : )

  47. ADORABLE! You totally pull it off!

  48. Oh I’m always afraid of things like this before I color my hair. (which I was planning to do tnight!) I use the nonpermanent kind though, so it’s easier to deal with. What a story though!!! LOL

    And it is actually nice looking! Not what you expected, but it looks GOOD on you!

  49. IAt looks nice! But then I am rather biased toward redheads – what with living with 5 of them. And I’m bald – so what do I know.

  50. Shawnda, I didn’t do a thing to my eyebrows.In real life they don’t look quite that red…also, the hair on my hair is redder than the second picture. The first picture shows the color more truly.