How to Dye Dark Brown Hair Cherry Red? (Step by Step Guide)

You’re ready for a new look and have grown bored of your dark brown hair and considering the gorgeous, vibrant look of cherry red. Maybe you went dark brown to disguise a grown-out color job. Maybe you need a change because of a bad breakup, or you saw this shade on a stranger and fell in love with it.

It happens to the best of us, my friend. We won’t judge you, and we’re here to help! Going to the salon can become expensive very fast, but you can still achieve quality results at home. The beauty of humans is that we’re all different.

Therefore, everyone has different hair types and textures, so these will be important things to think about to minimize damage and achieve optimal vibrancy. Another important factor is skin tone. Red dye is never just “red” and comes in orange (warm), blue (cool), or purple (cool) undertones.

While blue is more of a true red, which color of red is best for you depends on your skin’s undertones. If you are a neutral, you can pull off any color. If you are warm or cool, choose accordingly, and don’t be afraid to mix two shades of red you like.

As long as you remember to measure correctly and mix appropriate ratios, the color will still look amazing. We recommend comparing swatches of dyes you are interested in against your arm to see which you like best. We’ll cover some methods and products to try out to get the look you want.

  • How to dye dark brown hair cherry red?
  • How to dye dark brown hair cherry red without bleach?
  • Can you dye hair from dark brown to red safely?
  • What to look out for when you dye your dark brown hair to cherry red?

How to dye dark brown hair cherry red

Honestly, if you want to achieve the brightest red that is truest to the shade the longest, you will need to consider bleaching first. (If you have fragile or dry hair and absolutely do not want to bleach, scroll down.) Items Needed: non-metal mixing bowl, tint brush, disposable gloves, vaseline, bleach kit (includes lightening powder and 30 or 40 volume developer) OR bleach powder and developer purchased separately, semi-permanent one step red dye OR tube(s) of red dye and 20 volume creme developer, after color treatment.

*Always purchase one extra of these products in case your hair needs more than expected. I have long hair, so I always need at least two of each. You can always return unopened to store or keep on hand for touch-ups*

1. Prep

Make sure your hair is as tangle-free as possible by brushing unwashed but not overly dirty hair. This will give even coverage so you don’t have spots or blotches in your final result. If you have wavy or curly hair, you should straighten it with a flat iron first. Next, section your hair using non-metal clips. Using a comb, part your hair in the middle from forehead to the nape of the neck.

Take the comb to one ear and drag it to the middle part to make the first two sections. Repeat on the other side. This is a standard four-section split, but you may also drag the comb for a line above and below your ear to make a six-section split if you have extremely thick hair and are worried about even saturation. Be sure to wear a shirt you don’t care to accidentally dye or bleach.

If you’re worried about being extremely messy during the application process, it wouldn’t hurt to throw down an old sheet or some old towels to protect the floor and surfaces in your work area. Red dye can be very hard to clean up, and the staining gets worse the longer it sits.

Bleach can affect certain surfaces as well. The same goes for your face and ears. There are products available specifically for protecting skin from hair color, but vaseline is a great and cheap alternative.

2. Bleach and Developer

You will want to buy a bleach kit with bleaching powder and developer already included. You may purchase these separately, but items of the same brand are specifically formulated to go together and you don’t have to worry about fudging the measurements.

My personal favorite bleaching kit that I’ve had the most luck with is PANIC MANIC Flash Lightning Hair Bleach Kit (30 Volume). If you do choose to purchase separately, use the amount of developer the instructions on the powder say. First, add the powder to the non-metal bowl, then slowly mix in the developer in thirds, stirring well between each third.

Make sure this mixture is stirred well, of uniform color and consistency. Typically, it will be a little thick and should be about the consistency of pancake batter.

3. Bleach Application

Using your brush like a paintbrush, start at the most bottom sections and work up. The best way I have found to do this is to feather the bleach starting toward the bottom of the strip of hair you are painting and work your way up the strip in nice downward strokes.

You will soon get a rhythm and be able to work at a relatively fast speed. Remember to leave out your roots (about the first quarter inch of hair from your scalp) until the very end! You don’t want to get “hot roots,” which is obvious discoloration from the rest of your bleach job due to natural growth (virgin hair).

Using this technique creates a more “natural” gradient to your color job with the ends being slightly lighter than your roots. This also helps bleach out previous color deposits to help the blonde (and therefore red) be more uniform. Comb entire hair with a wide-tooth comb to ensure even coverage and saturation.

4. Bleach Processing Time

This depends on your hair. Check the color to know if you’ve had enough time for the correct lift processing. It will go from brown to an awkward orange to yellow to blonde. If you have virgin or lightly processed hair, this should only take about 20 – 25 minutes.

If you have very processed hair or a lot of previously deposited dark color to break through, this can take from 30 minutes up to 45 minutes. Please do not go longer than 45 minutes as this can cause extreme damage to your hair. Again, this depends on your particular hair, including the current level of damage and how dry your hair naturally is.

Some people also have hair that is just naturally resistant or accepting to the bleaching process. Please do not leave the bleach on for longer than 45 minutes. Don’t be surprised if you have to bleach more than once to achieve the level of blonde you want.


** If your scalp starts burning to the point of pain, wash the bleach out immediately! You may be having an allergic action, or worse, frying your hair to the point of falling out or breaking completely off. This is obviously something you do not want to happen. **

5. Wash, Rinse, and Dry

You must wash (with shampoo) all the bleach mixture out of your hair. If you do not, it will affect the red depositing into your hair. You may need to shampoo twice to make sure it is all out. After you finish shampooing, do not skip the conditioner.

The bleach will make your hair feel like straw if you do not condition and can affect the final results. However, do not put any products in your hair after the final rinse, and thoroughly dry your hair before moving on to the coloring process.

6. Color

Brush and section your hair and apply vaseline to protect your skin as you did before the bleach application. There are two ways you can color at this point. You may choose a semi-permanent one-step product and is used as-is with a tint brush.

(PANIC MANIC is my favorite of this and has a great red selection.) Alternatively, in a non-metal bowl, mix 1 part red dye color to 1 part to 1 part developer. The volume of the developer doesn’t matter all that much because you first bleached, but for this method, I think 20 volume developer (typically used for grey coverage) is the best to use.

Any brand of developer is acceptable, but for optimal results purchase the same brand of developer as your color, as they are specifically made to work together.

7. Color Application

With a tint brush, apply the product or mixture to the bottom sections as before but this time start directly at the root and paint the color down to the ends. Repeat until your entire hair is covered, and make sure you have covered your hairline well. The vaseline will protect your skin from staining and looking like a lobster after you’re done. Comb your entire hair with a wide-tooth comb to ensure even coverage and saturation.

8. Color Processing Time

You will only need to leave the mixture with the developer on for 20-30 minutes max, depending on how dark you want the shade to be. The one-step product usually does well within the same time frame; again, it depends on how dark you choose the red to be.

If you want a super bright cherry red, 20 – 25 minutes will work. If you want a darker cherry red, you can wait as long as 40 minutes to rinse. It depends on your desired result, so make sure to look in the mirror periodically to see the level of color deposit.

9. Rinse

If you can handle it, rinse in cool water, but do not use hot water. DO NOT shampoo. Choose a good after-color treatment to seal your hair cuticles and hold on to as many red particles as possible. My favorite brand of this to use is an ion, but as long as it is an after-color treatment, it will be fine.

Wait a few days to shampoo if you can to let the red bond to your hair as much as possible. If you can, skip the styling products, but if you absolutely need to use them, make sure you choose alcohol-free products to not dilute the red and diminish all the work you just did.

How to dye your dark brown hair cherry red without bleach?

Bleach majorly dries your hair out. Some people are also sensitive or allergic to bleach. You can still achieve a beautiful red without bleaching. Items Needed: non-metal mixing bowl, tint brush, disposable gloves, vaseline, tube(s) of red dye, and 40 volume creme developer, after color treatment.

*Always purchase one extra of these products in case your hair needs more than expected. I have long hair, so I always need at least two of each. You can always return unopened to store or keep on hand for touch-ups*

1. Prep

Following the “Prep” step above, detangle and section unwashed hair. Wear an old shirt and gloves, and protect your skin and work area from staining.

2. Developer and Color

Choose a red color you prefer based on your skin tone and purchase a 40 volume developer to be able to achieve the lift needed. You may mix brands, but the same brand of both is formulated specifically to work well together for best results.

My developer of choice isL’Oreal Paris Oreor Creme 40 Volume Developer, but ion has great developers, as well. Both brands offer a good variety of red shades. Mix 2 parts developer to 1 part color in a non-metal bowl, making sure the entire mixture is uniform in color and consistency.

3. Application

Apply the mixture to the bottom sections first with a tint brush, starting directly at the root, and paint the color down to the ends. Repeat all sections from bottom to top until your entire hair is covered, and make sure you have covered your hairline well. The vaseline will protect your skin from staining. Comb your entire hair with a wide-tooth comb to ensure even coverage and saturation.

4. Processing Time

You will only need to leave the mixture with the developer on for 20-35 minutes, depending on how dark you want the shade to be. It depends on your desired result, so make sure to look in the mirror periodically to see the level of color deposit.

5. Rinse

If you can handle it, rinse in cool water, but do not use hot water. DO NOT shampoo. Choose a good after-color treatment to seal your hair cuticles and hold on to as many red particles as possible. My favorite brand of this to use is an ion, but as long as it is an after-color treatment, it will be fine.

Wait a few days to shampoo to let the red bond to your hair as much as possible. If you can, skip the styling products, but if you absolutely need to use them, make sure you choose alcohol-free products to not dilute the red and diminish all the work you just did.

Can you dye your hair from dark brown to red safely?

Any time you dye your hair (bleaching or not), your hair will have some degree of damage from the chemicals. How bad the damage depends on your hair and the methods used. The curlier your hair, the drier your hair naturally is, and chemicals affect natural curls or coils more than wavy or straight hair.

If your hair is already processed (or over-processed) from previous color jobs, more chemicals will create much more noticeable damage. Aftercare is extremely important, especially if you decide to use bleach. If you choose to bleach multiple times, it is always safer to wait sometime between bleaching (at least a week or two).

Yes, you will look a little crazy during the in-between time frame, but your hair is much less prone to feeling like straw, or worse, breakage. ALWAYS use a hair mask or deep conditioning treatment to replenish moisture. There are great options at every price point.

A popular high-end option is Olaplex, but my personal drug store favorite is L’Oreal Paris Elvive Total Repair 5 Damage-Erasing Balm, which costs around $6. If you do not bleach, you will have substantially less damage, but to keep color vibrant, please do not wash your hair every day.

And if you absolutely must wash daily, consider more natural hairstyles that do not involve so much heat. Additionally, avoid styling products with alcohol as this also dries out your hair and dilutes hair color deposits.

What to look out for when you dye your dark brown hair to cherry red?

Do not have anything white or light-colored near your hair for the first few days after dying red. No white shirts, sheets, or towels; they will turn pink. Molecules in red pigment are much larger than blonde and brunette pigments, so they do not bond to the hair as well.

The same concept goes for the shower. Use warm (or cool) water to wash your hair and don’t freak out when you see some red in the tub. This is normal and to be expected in the first few washes. The biggest issue when going red is keeping the color intensity.

But there are a few ways to keep your red looking fresh longer. The BEST thing you can do is purchase color depositing shampoo or conditioner specifically for red. John Frieda makes an excellent duo, but there are other affordable dupes. If you don’t want to buy red-specific shampoo and conditioner, make sure you are using sulfate-free and color-safe.

You can also make your own red conditioning color treatment at home. Find an extremely white conditioner (like Tresemme) and mix some of your dye right into it. I like a ratio of 1 part dye to 5 parts conditioner. Use this 2-4 times after cleansing by spreading from roots to ends and waiting three or more minutes to rinse. This will also help blend new growth at your roots in between coloring.

Do your best to minimize the usual damage that occurs with regular washing and styling hair. As previously mentioned, skip at least a day or two between washes and avoid alcohol-heavy styling products. The less heat used while styling, the more your red will last.

Opt for more natural styles, like an effortless-looking tousle, or use Bantu knots overnight for smooth curls. I know this isn’t for everyone, and sometimes you just want to have a curling iron or flat iron moment. Use heat-protecting spray or cream and choose alcohol-free styling products if possible.

Most hairsprays are notorious for high alcohol levels, so watch out for this. Also, changing your hair will bring out different tones in your skin, so you may need to adjust your makeup accordingly to better match the more noticeable cool or warm tones.

I am naturally a brunette and like to go red myself fairly frequently, so I know how disappointing it can be when red fades or the shade doesn’t turn out quite as you thought. I have used trial and error with different techniques over the years and hope you found these tips and tricks helpful.

As with any cosmetic change to your appearance, there is no “right” or “wrong” way to change your hair, only what you want based on your tastes and personality. We hope you fall hair over heels for your new ‘do and appreciate you allowing us to be part of your self-expression!

Further reading material

I hope by now that you know how to dye dark brown hair Cherry red! I also hope that you’ve truly enjoyed this article. If so, you’re in luck. I’ve hand-picked some articles that you might also like to read. You’ll find them below. Simply click on one of the links and start reading!

How Long Does It Take For Hair Dye To Fade Out Completely
Can I Dye My Hair With Coconut Oil In It?
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