Maintaining Red Hair: What Didn’t Work for Me

As I mentioned in That Elusive Red, ever since I put some coppery red streaks in my hair, my new life goal is to keep my color from fading. Over the last few months, I’ve tried a number a products—some with success, some without.

My search for hair care products that would help preserve my color was compounded by the fact that I am allergic to methylisothiazolinone (MI), a horrible preservative that is in nearly every shampoo, liquid soap, or liquid beauty product on the planet, and was named the 2013 Contact Allergen of the Year.* While it doesn’t affect everyone, increasing numbers of people are wondering why they suddenly have incurable rashes, eczema, and red, itchy, oozing skin. (If you’re one of those people, read the labels of your dishwashing soap, and all your beauty products…I bet methylisothiazolinone or methylchloroisothiazolinone are in nearly all of them. Dump them all and watch your skin miraculously clear.)

Products Without MI That Didn’t Work

Alright, first let’s set a baseline here: my hair is naturally brown with some grey in there too (I’m about 25% grey, mostly on top). I do a medium brown base color to cover the grey, then bleach the streaks, then color the bleached bits red. So when I am discussing the success of the products below, bear in mind that it is red on top of bleached hair, which won’t garner the same success or result as red color on top of naturally reddish hair.

Products that didn't help maintain red hair color


After I first colored my hair, I started using John Freida’s Radiant Red Conditioner (1) (the accompanying shampoo had MI, so it was a no-go), and while it was a decent conditioner, I didn’t see any color preservation. For the record, I used the conditioner in conjunction with a sulfate-free, MI-free shampoo, and it still didn’t deliver.

Along the way, I stumbled upon Rita Hazan’s Ultimate Shine Red Gloss (2) at Ulta. This foaming, between-shampoo-and-conditioner product turned out to be a huge disappointment. It not only didn’t add color or shine, it smelled (and tasted) disgusting.

Tasted? Huh? 

No, I didn’t ingest the stuff deliberately. But when you’re in the shower killing time with this too-liquid foam on your hair, it inevitably drips down your forehead and face, and onto your lips. And every time that happened, I felt like I was being poisoned (and probably was). After three attempts with this fickle foam—at $26 for five ounces—I’d had enough. I took it back to Ulta for a full refund. Consider that one a total fail.

Halfway through the John Freida conditioner bottle, I discovered Quantum’s Riveting Reds Color Refreshing Shampoo and Conditioner (3) at Sally Beauty Supply. Both products were MI-free (OMG!), and supposedly color-depositing to “restore and brighten” colored red hair. I loved the fragrance, price point, and promises, but unfortunately, this pair didn’t deliver either. In fact, I think they stripped my color because it turns out they contain sulfates.

How STUPID is that? Compensate for a color-stripping chemical by including a color-deposting one. Isn’t that kind of like robbing Peter to pay Paul?

Needless to say, these went back to Sally for a refund as well. I don’t play, people. If I spend more than five bucks on a product and it doesn’t live up, it goes back. That’s one of the great things about living in the U.S.: excellent customer service and super refund policies. Take advantage.

So those are a few of the products that didn’t work for me. Soon, I’ll share some methylisothiazolinone-free that actually do live up.


From Wikipedia: Methylisothiazolinone.


  1. Also, with red hair — I am the queen of dry shampoo. Not to sound too gross, but when I first get my hair done, I try to go as long as possible (4 days, which is long for me since I have fine hair) without shampooing.

    1. Stephanie, I do the exact same thing! It’s really not gross at all unless you have oily hair. I don’t, so going 4-5 days without a wash is no biggie for me.

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