Never deal with brassy, dull locks again.

By Lindsay Tigar
August 13, 2020
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There’s nothing quite like the strut out of your monthly visit to the salon: you feel confident, empowered, and ready to show off your style. But a few weeks later, when your fresh color looks brassy…what gives? The all-too-common complaint of brassy hair can be frustrating for stylists and their clients alike, but luckily, it is possible to get rid of brassy hair. And to prolong your fresh hue, adopting a few habits can make a big difference. Here, everything you need to know about brassy hair, as well as effective strategies for avoiding it.

What is brassy hair?

Jana Rago, a salon owner, hairstylist, and colorist, defines brassy hair as unwanted warm tones in the hair. “These tones can turn due to sunlight, washing with the wrong shampoo that doesn’t protect colored hair, or a mistake made by a colorist, like not using a toner,” she says. “The sun will dry out the hair by opening the cuticle on the scalp, which will lift the color out, causing the hair to look brassy.”

Depending on your hair color, the brassy shade will show up differently. As beauty entrepreneur and award-winning colorist Megan Graham explains, blonde hair will appear yellow or orange. A brunette or someone with black-colored hair will start to notice their locks looking orange or red, depending on how dark their hair is typically. For a redhead, hair may seem more washed out or faded.

Rago says that when new clients visit her salon, many are stressed about their color but can’t pinpoint what’s bothering them. More often than not, it’s the brassy undertone that doesn’t feel right to them, and they are hoping to find a fix.

How to remove brassy color from hair

If you're frustrated with your hair color and you’re on a quest to correct the brassy look, there are a few ways to get started. Though it’s essential to seek advice from a trusted local colorist who can access your locks in person, these tips will help you better understand what you need to correct the brassiness.

1

To give your hair a makeover that entirely removes any hint of brass, Graham recommends booking a color-corrective appointment with a professional stylist/colorist. Make sure to request this specific type of treatment when you book the session, since it gives the expert a heads up on your needs. As Graham puts it, the only way to thoroughly remove a brassy tone from hair is to go through a multi-step process that treats every last strand.

A color-corrective appointment addresses what happened to your hair before you came in for help. Graham says that, a permanent color is often the greatest culprit of creating brassy, rusty tones. This is in part because it was poorly named. “It’s not actually more permanent than some other hair colors, it simply creates lift,” she says. “In the process of lightening the hair, the permanent color unearths the red and orange tones that are present in all hair types.” For darker shades of brown, the permanent color then deposits a darker tone on top of the lightness it created, but in a few weeks when the color fades, Graham says the client is left with an unpleasant shade of brown. 

Because of this phenomenon, many professional colorists like Graham will use a demi-permanent color to avoid brassiness. Unlike permanent hair color, she says a demi-approach fades in a different, more natural-looking way. 

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2

Though your hairstylist and colorist is the expert, Rago says it’s worth discussing adding on a toner to your scheduled appointment. This is applied after the dye is washed out and can go a long way in preserving the life of your hue. “This will tone down the hair to hide the warm undertones. When you don’t do this, your highlights may look too blonde if you’re a brunette,” she says. “Also, the toner helps blend the colors together and can be used to achieve your desired look.”

One important note: Rago says toner is like a temporary bandage, since it’s not a permanent solution. To maintain your preferred shade, you’ll need a toner every month to six weeks, dependent on your hair texture and how often you wash your hair.

3

Just like you think critically about the quality of the water you drink, Rago says it’s important to be mindful of the water that cleans your hair. She suggests investing in a water filter for your showerhead to prevent the brassy-colored look. Not only will it filter out the hard water and minerals that can cause build-up and create a brassy shade, but it will also leave your hair softer—and healthier.

4

For most women, a hot tool—a blow-dryer, flat iron, or curling iron—is part of their daily haircare routine (though the pandemic might have put a temporary pause on that) to achieve cute hairstyles. Our hair would be more durable if we avoided heat all together, but that’s not a reality for most people. Unfortunately, heat can make brassiness come out faster, so Rago suggests adding another layer of protection. This can be an oil, a blow-dry cream, or a heat-protective serum and should be applied daily.

5

An effective way to give your strands a little TLC between appointments is to use a specifically colored shampoo, based on the color you’re attempting to achieve. For blondes, Matteo Vazquez—a color education coordinator and colorist for Mario Tricoci—recommends a richly formulated purple shampoo to distribute purple pigment to your hair to neutralize brassy tones. “Violet is the opposite of yellow or gold. When the two meet, they neutralize and diminish the gold. The more usage of purple shampoo, the cooler the hair will get,” he says.

Rago says brunettes should opt for a blue shampoo, to do the same. Redheads should go for golden shampoo. All of these are available on Amazon, or you can ask your colorist for his or her best recommendation. And remember: Only do this treatment once a week to prevent over-washing.

6

Though it may not always be possible or affordable, the best way to prevent brassy hair for brunettes, blondes, redheads, or people with hair of any shade is to have regular appointments. Much like you check-in with a doctor, colorists are trained to keep your locks healthy and glowing. (Keep that expertise in mind when you’re deciding how much to tip your hairdresser.) According to Vazquez, brassiness usually appears because the color is overdue for a touch-up or a color refresher.