Why Is My Naturally-Brown Hair Turning Red? Hair Color Changes Demystified!

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Have you noticed a change in the color of your hair even though you haven’t been dyeing it? You have to be wondering: why is my naturally-brown hair turning red?

Red happens. Though it may be a bit unnerving to see your hair color changing ‘on its own’, there are several reasons this will happen.

In this article, we are going to look at hair and how it gets its natural color, the different reasons naturally brown hair can turn red, and how to fix it and prevent color change from happening.


Understanding Your Hair

First things first – in order to understand why your naturally brown hair is turning red, you need to understand your hair structure and what makes up your natural color.

A natural strand of hair is made up of two or sometimes three components.

The Cuticle

The cuticle is the outermost, colorless layer. It’s made of flattened cells that overlap like the scales on a fish or clay tiles on a rooftop. The cuticle protects the inside of the hair shaft from damage.

The Cortex

The Cortex is made up of long proteins that twist, like the old-school telephone cords. Those twists give the hair elasticity and allow it to stretch to a certain point, without breaking. The pigments that give your hair its natural color are found among these protein strands.

The Medulla

The medulla is not present in every hair. It’s a soft, spongy tissue that is generally found in coarse, thick hair. Fine hair doesn’t tend to have a medulla. The medulla does not affect the color of your hair or how it behaves, so we don’t need to worry about it.


Your natural hair color, which is found in the cortex, is made up of melanin. All natural hair color is made up of four pigments of two types of melanin—black and brown pigments called eumelanin, and red and yellow pigments called pheomelanin.

The shade or depth of hair color is determined by the concentration of melanin. The more melanin produced in the hair, the darker it is. The tone of the hair is dictated by the ratio of black and brown eumelanin to yellow and red pheomelanin.

More black and brown pigments create a cool-toned hair color, while a predominance of red and yellow pigments creates a warm-toned hair color.

Blondes and those with light-colored hair tend to have yellow undertones. Lighter brown hair typically produces warmer orange undertones. Those with dark brown or black hair have red undertones.

So you can see where we’re going with this. If your hair is turning red all by itself, it has something to do with your natural pigment undertones coming through.

If your hair is turning red all by itself, it has something to do with your natural pigment undertones coming through.

Why Is My Naturally-Brown Hair Turning Red?

There are several reasons why naturally brown Hair is turning red.

Well, now you know why red, and not say blonde or black… it’s because dark brown hair naturally has red undertones.

But why it’s changing can have to do with different things, both external and internal.

External Causes of Brown Hair Turning Red

1. The Sun

Overexposure to the sun bleaches your hair, causing your hair to look lighter. So why is your hair turning red instead of blonde? It all goes back to the pigments in your hair we discussed earlier.

Just like when using hair bleach, the cool toned colour pigments (black and brown eumelanin) are the first to be lifted out of your hair during the bleaching process. There are more warm coloured (red & yellow) molecules than cool colour molecules.

The warmer molecules are also larger, so they are the last to be lifted out of hair. Remember, as someone with darker brown hair you have more red molecules than yellow.

It’s those residual warm tones that are harder to lift that have been left behind that create a reddish tinge to brown hair.

Preventing sun hair bleaching is easy – get a hat. Or don’t spend so much time in the sun. But if you enjoy being outdoors and a wide brimmed hat isn’t your style, you can opt for a UV protecting spray, cream or leave-in conditioner for your hair.

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2. Hard Water

Hard water is high in dissolved minerals, most often calcium and magnesium, but can contain chlorine, copper and other minerals as well, depending on where you are.

A buildup of these minerals can strip some of the pigment from your hair leaving you with a reddish tinge.

The best way to protect your hair from hard water is to get a water softener that attaches to your shower head .

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You should also invest in a good chelating shampoo. A chelating shampoo contains specific “chelating agents” that remove residue and buildup of styling products and environmental pollutants. They also removes chlorine, metal and mineral deposits, such as calcium, magnesium and lime scale.

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Chelating shampoos are pretty harsh on your hair because they will strip your hair of its natural oils, which makes them extremely drying.

Chelating shampoos should not be used more than once a week. And make sure you are using a good deep conditioner afterwards.

3. Chlorine

If you are an avid swimmer and spend a lot of time in chlorinated water, that too can affect the color of your hair. Often it can go greenish, but not always.

For chlorinated water, you should always wet your hair first with fresh water before jumping in the pool. A swimming cap will also help to protect your hair. Using a leave-in conditioner and shampoo specifically formulated for swimmers can also go a long way to preventing chlorine from fading your natural color and drying out your hair.

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4. Heat Styling Tools

Things like your blow dryer, curling iron or flat iron can wreak havoc on hair, leaving it dry, damaged and can cause some of the hair pigment to oxidize.

And we already know it’s the cooler, smaller black & brown eumelanin molecules are always the first to go, it leaves behind the orange and red.

Best way to deal with a colour change due to heat styling tools is, as you may have guessed – stop using them.

However, if you are living in a cold climate in the dead of winter and you’ve washed your hair and have to go out, you may not have time to sit around and wait for your hair to dry naturally. So sometimes ditching the blow dryer isn’t always possible.

But if you must use one, always use the lowest heat setting and use a heat protectant.

Internal Causes of Brown Hair Turning Red

Internal causes are as a result of changes going on inside your body because of things you eat (or don’t eat) and other factors, including genetics and hormones.

1. Genetics and Hormones

The color of our skin, our eyes, and our (natural) hair are all determined by our genes. Funny thing about recessive genes is that they can lie dormant and activate at different times in our lives. This can sometimes account for color changes in our hair.

A gene can be reactivated by age and changes in hormone levels.

Now where genetics are concerned, there’s not much we can do to control that.

Although you may not be able to control your brown hair from going red, there is a way to fix it. Keep Reading!

2. Poor Diet

Hair color can also change due to malnutrition. Kwashiorkor caused by a severe protein deficiency can turn your hair red. This deficiency usually occurs in countries where people’s diet has high levels of starch and really low levels of protein, like in developing African countries.

Kwashiorkor actually translates to “Red boy” in an African dialect because the one symptom that stands out the most is orange-red hair.

You might be thinking that it’s unlikely anyone reading this article with a device and access to the Internet is going to be suffering from malnutrition.

That’s where you’d be wrong.

True, people in a first world nation are unlikely to have Kwashiorkor, which is also characterized by symptoms having to do with not eating enough food. But a plain old protein deficiency, also known as hypoproteinemia is probably a lot more common than you would have thought in a place like the US.

In the day and age of restrictive fad diets (think keto, paleo, vegan, gluten-free, etc.) and people so eager to jump on the latest trend bandwagon, it has a LOT of people eating diets without properly understanding them.

In the day and age of restrictive fad diets (think keto, paleo, vegan, gluten-free, etc.) and people so eager to jump on the latest trend bandwagon, it has a LOT of people eating diets without properly understanding them.

The danger of these restrictive diets is that a lot of them were formulated to target specific health problems. And they were meant to be administered by a doctor or nutritionist with oversight to make sure that they are being properly supplemented with the vitamins, minerals, nutrients and macronutrients (like protein, for example).

But what’s happening is that people hear a celebrity endorsing a particular diet and start following it without all the information.

So despite living in the land of excess, there are loads of people on these diets, thinking they are being healthy. But they are, in actual fact, suffering from malnutrition – not from lack of food, but from lack of proper nutrients. They don’t know enough about nutrition (or the diet they’re on) to properly supplement their diet with whatever their diet is missing.

If your hair is turning red and you are on a restive diet in which eating meat or dairy is not a part of, then you might want to take note.

If your hair is turning red and you are on a restive diet in which eating meat or dairy is not a part of, then you might want to take note.

The best way to see if you have sufficient protein in your diet is to go to the doctor for a simple urine or blood test.

Now if it turns out you are lacking in Protein, you might want to give your restrictive diet the heave-ho and concentrate on creating healthier eating habits – not restrictions, and start eating more protein-rich foods.

How Do I Keep My Brown Hair From Turning Red?

Now we’ve been through different preventative measures to keep brown hair from turning red, depending on the cause.

In addition to the suggestions above, there is one other thing that will help return your hair back to your natural brown: color depositing shampoo.

In addition to the suggestions above, there is one other thing that will help return your hair back to your natural brown: color depositing shampoo.

A color depositing shampoo will neutralize unwanted undertones. But before you run out to get a bottle of purple shampoo everyone’s been talking about, purple shampoo is not going to fix your red.

Have a look at the color wheels. Colors opposite each other on the color wheel will cancel each other out.

Purple shampoo is to tone brassy yellow in hair, not red.

If Your Red Is On the Orange Side:

Now if your ‘red’ is more on the orange side, then a blue shampoo  is what you need.

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If Your Red Is On the Red Side:

If your red tones are more red than orange, you need a green color depositing shampoo .

We’ve put together several articles on various color-depositing shampoos, and how to use them.


Written by Kayla Young

Kayla is the founder of LuxeLuminous. She has worked professionally in the tanning industry for years. She has been interested in esthetics since childhood, and has tried every hair, skin, and makeup product ever produced (more or less).