How To Choose the Best Red Hair Color for You—And Walk Away Feeling Like THIS!


(Photo by Lizzy Sullivan) My reaction to my new red hair. Delighted, clearly!

In the past week alone, I've had multiple strangers (New York strangers, mind you) stop me on the street and ask, "Are you a natural redhead?"

My response? An enthusiastic "Nope!" and a referral to the magician, er, colorist, responsible for my mane — Rick Wellman, co-owner of Patrick Melville Salon, who's also worked his rockstar magic on the likes of Nicole Richie and Catherine Zeta-Jones.

But before last week, my hair looked like thisstraggly, looong overdue for a trim, and subtly tinged scarlet from my previous dye job months before.


(Photo by Lizzy Sullivan)

As you can see I've been red before, but every time prior I've just hit up a salon that sounded familiar — hm, did I hear about this place on Girls? — plopped down with a photo of Emma Stone circa Super Bad, and said, "Make me like her!" Apparently, I was doing it all wrong.

So, like Caitlin's experience with Rita Hazan, going to a fancy salon was everything.


(Photo by Lizzy Sullivan) Analyzing. What to do? What to do?

The first thing I learned — even though, I technically already knew this, but it's always a good reiteration — red is the hardest hue to maintain, mostly because its color molecules are the largest of all the hair colors.

That said, if it's not obvious from the before shot, my commitment to upkeep is, shall we say, lacking. (Blame New York rent costs.) So we opted for a low-maintenance, natural-looking red with a bit of oomph: ombred or ombre red.


(Photo by Lizzy Sullivan)

We started with highlights. Yes — highlights before all-over color! For me, this was a first. And it highlights (heh) a common mistake people make when going red.

"The key to getting a vibrant, dimensional red is changing the formula," Rick told me while biolighting, the salon's signature highlighting process that uses biodegradable cloth instead of foil. "You want to use a darker formula at the ends. Deeper, more natural at the root, and pump up the copper at the ends. At home, people tend to put the vibrancy all over, and it looks less natural."

Hear that? Bright at the ends, natural at the root. (Funny enough, that's also the key to minimum upkeep, hoorah!)


(Photo by Lizzy Sullivan) Bayalaging.

After biolighting, Rick bayalaged a few pieces where my hair naturally fell toward the light — another trick to making red believable, and we discussed tone.

"What color jewelry do you like better on yourself?" he asked.

More lessons in fanciness: If you're more attracted to gold or have gold flecks in your eyes, you have a warm skin tone. Coppery reds work best for these folks. Love silver? Cool, dark reds are for you. I went with gold.

Taking my laziness into account, Rick threw Jessica Chastain red out the window immediately — "Those copper orange tones would look nice on you, but if you don't want to come back to the salon every four weeks..." — and instead landed on Christina Hendricks — "The warm, dark copper will make your fair skin glow, and it'll fade more naturally."

Off to the sink I go!


(Photo by Lizzy Sullivan)

While we waited for the color to set, we chit-chatted about his tips for going red at home:

"If you're not gray, and you're just dying your hair for fun, I recommend using Clairol's Natural Instincts. Use one of the demi reds, so it's not as permanent and the fade out will look more natural. Pick a strawberry or copper to get that coppery Jessica Chastain or Christina Hendricks color. It's more of a color depositor, so you can put it right over highlights for dimension."

What colors look best on redheads:

"Bright blues, navys, blacks, emerald. Emerald looks really good on coppery redheads."

Which skin tones red hair doesn't work on:

"People who have olive skin, dark eyebrows, dark eyes, reds don't tend to look as natural on them. It's not complementary."

Should or shouldn't you dye your eyebrows:

"Dying your eyebrows makes a huge difference. They tell you not to do that because you have to be super, super careful. You have to use a brush, and can't be sloppy with it. But I suggest for the last five minutes, use the same color from your hair on your brows. Just to soften them a bit. Eyebrows can be ashy, and with red hair you want to take the edge off."

So, when the clock whittled down to five minutes, that's what he — well, his assistant — did.

(Photo by Lizzy Sullivan)

After a final gloss to hold everything in, I was whisked off to the Patrick Melville — he's styled everyone from Christina Hendricks (my hair twin!) to Brooklyn Decker — for a final cut. (He actually gave me a trim before I started with Rick. Another fancy salon first for me!)


(Photo by Lizzy Sullivan)

If your stylist doesn't already do this, be sure to ask if they will or — sorry to say, find one who will — finish things off with a dry cut. After taking off some dead ends and putting the sweep back into my side-swept bangs, Patrick blew out my hair and trimmed based on where my highlights fell to better accentuate the color. (Expert hair color tip: Good color and a good cut go hand in hand. You need both to play up the other! But, more on that later.)


(Photo by Lizzy Sullivan)

The final product? A radiant — dimensional! — copper red that caused my boyfriend to stare at me, jaw-dropped, and say, "You look like a sexy rocker chick!" (You win, you lose.)


(Photo by Lizzy Sullivan)

I'll just go ahead and chalk the BF's comment up to the fact that I feel... Confident. And that, you guys, is how you know you've picked the right red hair color.

Be sure to check out the new Patrick Melville Pipino Salon in Nolita, if you're in the NYC area. Also, stay tuned for tips on color maintenance, new color trends, the best hair care products, and more, right here, all this week on StyleBistro!
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