Brad Johns, artistic director of Avon Salon & Spa, discusses the most difficult color to achieve and maintain—red.

Red haircolor has always been a staple of glamour. Rita Hayworth, whom I consider the iconic auburn, made the shade popular back in the 40s, and various celebrities have worn it well since then, including Ann-Margret, Susan Sarandon, Molly Ringwald, Nicole Kidman, Deborah Messing and Cynthia Nixon. Many clients and colorists may like red hair, but it presents its own special set of challenges. Here, my thoughts on this most difficult of shades.


Of all my clients, only five percent have red hair. I don't do a lot of reds because most women don't wear it well. I'm a big believer in natural-looking reds, and I find these work best on clients who:
  • had red hair as children
  • had or have parents with red hair
  • have green eyes
  • have a creamy pale complexion or freckles

When I speak of natural-looking reds, I mean auburn, copper or strawberry. Redheads should never be the color of a vegetable or a wine—no eggplant or burgundy. A red with a purple undertone doesn't go with any skintone and can look freakish. The only exceptions here would be if your client is under 20 and wants to experiment, or is an actor coloring her hair for a part, or a musician in a rock band. I like reds to be the color of an Irish setter or a mahogany-colored horse. Women look more natural with a copper undertone like a newly minted penny.


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During the consultation, it's vital to communicate with the client using photographs because everyone has their own idea of what auburn or copper looks like. Inform your client that red shades are the most difficult to maintain. They lose strength and fade more quickly than other colors because of UV (sun) exposure and because the red molecules are very small and tend to wash out more readily. Let your client know that she will need to maintain her color at home with shampoos that add red to replace what's lost. She should also shampoo only when necessary—with red haircolor, the less you do, the better. Also, have her rebook her next appointment in four to six weeks.


Make sure your client knows that the color will be a work in progress. If she is a brunette, start with an auburn and see how it wears. If the color gets lighter but still looks good, go with it. If the color gets lighter and turns orange, have her come back for a rinse. For blondes, I recommend trying copper or strawberry shades. For a virgin application, try mixing your red shade with 20 volume peroxide and begin applying 1/2 inch to 1 inch from the scalp to the ends. After the color has developed to where you want it on the ends, go back and reapply the same formula to the root area and make sure it blends.