Hair-color crisis made me see red

Sunday, August 15, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 10:01 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 19, 2008

I’ve written about my hair troubles in the past and as the older I get they don’t seem to get any better. When I spotted the first gray hair I dashed to the beauty parlor (now called a salon) and had the offensive strand dyed (the pc word is colored, but that makes me think of crayons.) I’ve been covering up the gray for almost two decades now, and it’s winning. At first I would have it colored every few months, then every six or eight weeks. Now I have a standing monthly appointment. I hate the process. I sit before the mirror while the stylist sections off my hair with a comb and then with a paintbrush coats each section with a thick paste that turns black almost immediately. By the time she’s finished with the first step I look as if a bucket of tar has been dropped on my head. Then I have to wait for a half hour while the solution “cooks.” About 10 minutes into the cooking part, my head begins to itch, but scratching is a no-no unless I want permanent dye on my fingers. By the time the 30 minutes is up, the stuff on my hair is as hard as a brick. Then it’s time to wash the excess out of my hair. This is also the time she reaches for some potent liquid to remove the dye that has remained on my face and neck. Whatever she uses removes any makeup in its way and leaves bright red blotches on my skin. The final step is cutting and styling my hair. The entire process takes about two hours, and I’ve learned to bring a book and a makeup kit.

Over the years, the hair that isn’t gray has become a mousy brown — not the rich brunette that I hated growing up. So recently I decided that I wanted to be a redhead.

“Why don’t we just give it a few red highlights,” the stylist said cautiously.

By the look on her face I could tell I was venturing into dangerous territory, so I agreed. When she removed the towel I couldn’t help but gasp. The front of my head was tomato red!

Seeing my dismay she told me the color would tone down in a few days. I mentally went through my calendar hoping I didn’t have to appear in public for a week. I left the salon wishing I had brought a hat.

The first person I bumped into (literally — I had my head down trying to scurry to the car) was a friend I hadn’t seen in months.

“Shar …,” she stopped mid word. “Oh my God, your hair is really red.” She didn’t bother lying by saying she liked it.

When I got home I rewashed my hair with a dandruff shampoo — it has the strongest detergent. Blowing it dry I realized I was still a raving red head, the soap hadn’t softened the color a bit.

The big test came when my husband got home from work. I have the most easygoing noncritical husband in the world, but when he saw me his mouth opened and nothing came out. Finally he squeaked out something about my hair being kind of loud and ran away from me, saying he had to change clothes. Throughout the evening there were times when I caught him staring at me. Finally, right before we went to bed, he got up the courage to tell me that he didn’t really like my hair color. He’s too nice to say the word hate.

The next morning I called the salon hoping to get in that day. My stylist was booked, but the receptionist said she had an opening the next afternoon at 4 p.m. I just had to stay out of sight for a day and a half.

I arrived at the salon a full hour early (I had no place else to go). We went through the same ritual as two days prior, and the result was a dirty amber. Once again she assured me that the color would continue to tone down over the next few weeks. It did look pretty good indoors, but once I stepped out in the sunlight my hair would light up like a red beacon.

My kids were smart enough to keep their mouths closed other than a few snickers behind my back, but my grandchildren wanted to know what happened to my head. Now that I think about it they may have meant my mind.

That fiasco was six weeks ago. I just went back to the salon last week. I’ve had it with red; this time I told her I wanted to see if blondes have more fun. My hair is now various colors ranging from a soft brown to a few stray red strands to straw.

My youngest son finally spoke up (and I think he was speaking for the entire family).

“Mom, your hair is so many colors you look like a mutt. It’s time you acted your age and let your hair grow out gray.”

I’m afraid that won’t be happening for a very long time. I’ve even set aside some money for a touch-up before the viewing of my dead body.

If you have a comment or know of a color I should try next, please e-mail me at

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