When we opt for lighter, sun-kissed strands, or even just a notch below our natural tone, bleach is often the answer to lifting out hair color. As an oxidizing agent, bleach has the capability of opening up the hair cuticle and dissolving the hair's melanin or natural color. It's also the primary culprit for those pesky unwanted orange tones that show up in the hair, if not right away, after a few rinses. Though bleach is often to blame, there are plenty of other factors that may be contributing to unwanted orange tones in your hair color such as water quality, sun exposure, and products used. To learn more about why these unwanted tones appear, we tapped two of Los Angeles' most sought-after celebrity colorists, Tracey Cunningham and Cassondra Kaeding.
What's The Issue With Orange Hair?
When melanin is stripped from your hair, the underlying pigments are revealed. In darker colors, that often results in an orange, brass-like color.
When it comes to getting our hair color done, getting unwanted orange tones can be surprisingly natural. "In the coloring process, once hair is soaked with oxidizing agents, it will ultimately dilute the melanin in your hair," explains Cunningham. "All hair contains melanin, and melanin is responsible for the lightness or darkness of your natural hair color." So when we lighten our naturally dark hair color, "the underlying pigments in darker colors are one of the reasons that hair can turn that orange brassy color during or after a coloring session."
To put it simply, "Brunettes have underlying pigments of red and or orange in their hair," Kaeding explains. "When the hair oxidizes, those are the tones that want to come through."
If you're a brunette who has ever tried lightening your hair color, you likely know the struggle of that brassy tone we're trying to avoid here. "I've also noticed that when color isn’t lifted enough to get past that naturally occurring orange stage, you may end up with over-processed hair," says Kaeding. "This makes it hard for the hair to hold onto color and results in dull, damaged hair with a brassy tone."
Meet the Expert
- Tracey Cunningham is a sought-after celebrity colorist and co-owner of Meche Salon in Los Angeles. She is a Redken Brand Ambassador and the author of True Color: The Essential Hair Color Handbook.
- Cassondra Kaeding is a Redken Brand Ambassador and hair colorist at 454 North in Los Angeles. Her clients include Hailey Bieber, Olivia Munn, Sophie Turner, and many others.
If your unwanted orange tones aren't the result of a recent color job or lightening process, there are many other reasons why your color can turn orange, Kaeding says. She names heat styling, water quality, sun exposure, and hair products as factors that we may normally turn a blind eye to. Keep reading for expert-approved advice on how to successfully eliminate unwanted orange tones from your hair color.
Use Purple or Blue Shampoos
If you're looking for an at-home remedy, Kaeding suggests reaching for a blue or purple shampoo. It's a simple matter of color theory, relying on the complementary colors of a color wheel to cancel out unwanted tones. "Using a color correcting purple shampoo will undoubtedly cancel out the overly warm, orange tones and keep that cooler, brighter blonde you desire," says Cunningham.
So if your blonde is too warm and you want to cool it down, opt for a purple shampoo. And if you're dealing with straight up orange (less yellow), try working with a blue shampoo. As Cunningham notes, the tones of these shampoos are going to help neutralize your lightened strands.
Apply A Gloss or Toner
Another preemptive move you can make before leaving the salon: "Talk to your colorist about booking a follow-up gloss about four weeks after your color service," says Kaeding.
Cunningham agrees that using toners and glosses over time will help keep unwanted brass at bay. "Ask your stylist to use a gloss before you leave the salon to lock in your desired tone, add shine and condition." (Her pick for a gloss: Redken Shades EQ.) Ensuring your colorist uses a toner after bleaching is also crucial, Cunningham adds. "A professional will know what color cancels out orange in order to neutralize the brassy warm tones before you leave."
At the end of the day, Kaeding says hair color is going to require maintenance—so be prepared to stop into the salon regularly to get a quick gloss treatment and keep your color looking vibrant and fresh.
Use A Water Filter
Water also plays a huge role in the lifespan of our hair color. Many of us (especially blondes) have heard the common adage of avoiding pool water because, be it chlorinated or salt, these chemicals have the potential of oxidizing and turning the hair an unwanted hue (most commonly, green). But pool water isn't the only H20 to be considered. "High minerals in water can cause hair to turn brassy," says Cunningham, who highly suggests using a purifying shower head filter to keep those minerals from building up and stripping your precious strands.
Kaeding reminds us that water exposure in general is a possible cause if your color begins to slowly shift before your eyes. "The more you shampoo, the easier it is for your color to fade."
The products you use on your hair at home are another consideration. "Hair products that contain a lot of chemicals, especially alcohol, can have an effect on your hair color," notes Kaeding. "These products can range from shampoos and conditioners to coconut oil, hairspray, and beyond."
To combat such effects, both experts recommend staying sulfate-free. "A sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner will keep you hydrated and neutralize the brassy tone," says Cunningham, who suggests the use of three or four times a week.
"My two personal favorites that I recommend to my clients are Redken's color treated shampoos, conditioners and masks," says Kaeding. "For blondes, I love the Color Extend Blondage Color Depositing Purple Shampoo and Conditioner. For brunettes, I highly recommend Redken's Color Extend Brownlights Sulfate-Free Shampoo and Conditioner. Using these products on a weekly basis will help with the wanted hues of brass!"
Ease Into Lighter Color
When taking a lighter approach with your strands for the first time, be patient. Especially when doing something extreme or in high contrast with your natural color, a platinum or light blonde result, if done all at once, can lead to that brassiness that nobody wants, explains Cunningham. "A single-process allover blonde color session is something I do not recommend," she says. "Instead, have your colorist work in highlights and lowlights versus coloring every strand."
Easing into lightened strands, Cunningham assures us, will minimize the potential for a whole head of unwanted orange tones.
Avoid UV Rays
Similar to water exposure, sun exposure can have unwanted effects on your hair color. "Exposing your hair to excessive sun exposure can dry out your hair and cause the blonde to fade," says Cunningham. "When your hair is exposed to oxygen and UV rays, your hair’s underlying warm tones are revealed, and before you know it—brassiness and orange abounds."
Wearing a hat and opting for some shade can help protect your blonde from the unwanted effects of those UV rays. That's not to say you have to avoid your daily dose of vitamin D at all costs, but simply be mindful of your exposure time, especially if you're beginning to see some changes in your color. "The strength of the sun can really strip out hair color just enough to leave it orange or red," says Kaeding.
What causes hair to turn orange?
Reasons include high-mineral or chlorinated water, frequent sun exposure, high-sulfate and high-chemical products that can strip the hair, or simply lifting out melanin in a color treatment and revealing naturally existent undertones.
What's the fastest way to remove orange color from hair?
Scheduling a gloss treatment or toner with your colorist will eliminate any unwanted orange tones.
Can you remove orange hair color from home?
By making small changes such as getting a shower head filter, limiting sun exposure, using sulfate-free products and blue/purple shampoos, you can decrease the chances of your hair turning orange.
Healthline. "How Long Should You Leave Bleach On Your Hair?" 21 September 2020. https://www.healthline.com/health/how-long-to-leave-bleach-on-hair#how-bleach-works