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. Princess: Little Man! Mary changed her hair!!

    Little Man: Mary looks different.

    Princess: Why did she do that? Did she want to know what it looks like? Why doesn’t she like it? Does she like it at all?

    Should I have Princess read your blog post in full? My kids are so funny. I would LOVE to see it in person. I’ve never had much luck coloring my hair myself…so I’m feeling your pain. In a big way. I’ve done that before. Thought I was going brunette, only to have it turn red.

    You’re so cute anyway! And as women, we reserve the right to change ourselves….good or bad!


  2. Your end result looks wonderful! Good for you for taking the plunge! 🙂

    P.S. The next time you need to fix a coloring mishap, just call the 800 number on the color box. The folks who man those lines can give you the exact formula to balance out your hair or make it whatever color you were after in the first place. I know from experience. ;^)

  3. wow, I think you look great!

    I’m glad you have teens to “help”. and love the links. At the very least this served as a wonderful story!

  4. Sounds like you nearly gave him a blonde, a brunette AND a redhead all in one night!

    I think it looks good!

  5. How totally adorable!! I love it! I had to laugh at your story because I have had hair days like that.

    One time, while living in FLorida, I colored my hair very very blond. I flew home for a visit, and when my father saw me, he lowered his glasses, looked at me, then my mother and said to her “Jean, please fix that” as he nodded at me.

  6. I LOVE it! It’s so cute! It will seem less bright after a week… said the mom who tried to fix her daugher’s hair recently.
    My oldest’s hair has always been dirty blond, but has started coming in dark brown. So after 3 months, there was a crazy looking line of bleach blonde (summer hair) and dark brown (her winter haircolor). Since she has a dance competition coming soon, I thought I’d f”fix” it and it came out very red. She cried. I felt horrible.
    I tried to do another color that was browner, but it still wasn’t right. It’s less startling than the red or two-toned color it was, so it’ll do until it grows out right.
    I don’t want to ever have to “fix’ hair again!

  7. I like it very much. And if it will make you feel any better, I did the exact same thing early in the spring. I wanted a little change and as I was wandering up and down the aisle of haircolor a little voice in my head was saying “Leave now while you can! Dont’ do it! Don’t do it!” But I saw those boxes of color and those girls on the boxes look so pretty and I figured if bought it I would look pretty too, right? So I did it and it was a disaster, I too was a pumpkin head only not pumpkin but one of the orange colors in the crayon box, melon or cantaloupe or something. Bad. I had no choice but go to a salon to fix it. So much for saving a few buck by doing it myself.

  8. I have done that too several times you think I would have learned the first time. A girl in our church her name is martha and she has a hair salon and I have clled several times saying “martha 911”. hey I just tried to save a little only to end up spending more

  9. I think it looks quite nice. But if it makes you feel better red is the color that fades the fastest. Something to do with oxygen levels and the color not getting penetrating the hair shaft as much. My daughter colors her hair red and it really does fade. Quickly.

  10. I LOVE it!! You look great! Thanks for posting the pic (and taking my gentle ribbing!)

  11. You look lovely.

    I remember the one time I tried a bottle of hair color on mine. I used to have sort of blonde hair and I wanted it lighter. So I put on the ash blonde coloring and it turned strawberry blonde! I just let it grow out and by the time my wedding day came, it had faded out to the blonde I was looking for in the first place.

  12. That looks fantastic! I’d think you’d paid a professional a fortune to do it (if you weren’t you, that is, of course!).

    But I do feel ripped off – you didn’t snap pics of all the intermediate stages … and YOU CALL YOURSELF A BLOGGER???

  13. 61 comments?! Wow, a great post that’s got everyone talking :). The picture looks great, whatever the pain it turned out beautiful!

  14. After all that, it’s GORGEOUS! I can imagine your horror during the process, though. Are you on a well? My well water takes the red out pretty quickly . . . .

  15. I have tried and tried to get my hair to dye red. It will just go to a light strawberry blonde that fades to blonde within 2 weeks. I am SO jealous!

  16. Mary, I think you look darling, but I have so been where you are and went. I did the whole ball cap thing after the same highlighting goop went awry and left me with carrot soup for a hair color.

    If you call Loreal for help, they will give you suggestions and even send you some coupons to redeem your terrible experience. Check for that 800# and give them a jingle. You could use the coupons for the next time you get a “wild hair” to change your color : )

  17. This is the first time I’ve been here, so I have no idea what you look like as a non-redhead, but I think it looks GREAT!! I’m sorry you had to go through so much to get there, but I think it’s very pretty.

  18. Mary! I think you look BEAUTIFUL, and WAY too young to be the mother of 8 children; one of whom is in college!

  19. So much for “Nice ‘n Easy” eh?

    Oh what I wouldn’t give for that Rewind Button sometimes!