Blonde Ambition: Getting the Color Right

May 20, 2010 at 3:32 pm , by

My natural hair color hovers somewhere in that ho-hum range between blonde and brunette, so I’ve submitted my strands to a lot of experimentation over the years. I’ve gone darker; I’ve gone lighter; I even went red during an angsty high school phase (I’ll admit it, I totally copied that icon of 90s teen angst, My So-Called Life‘s Angela Chase). But for the last several years, I’ve been much tamer with my mane, just getting blonde highlights to brighten up my hair. So I don’t know what came over me, but a couple of weeks ago I decided that I wanted to be a real blonde. Like, platinum, Marilyn Monroe, Gwen Stefani blonde. I impulsively booked an appointment with my colorist. And here’s where it started to go terribly wrong. I didn’t bring any pictures to the appointment. I just figured my stylist would intuitively know which shade would work best with my skin tone. I was also totally unprepared for how long the process took (3 hours!) and that burning sensation on my scalp (my lovely stylist, a Brooklynite by way of Texas, joked about the Southern no pain, no gain beauty philosophy: “If it ain’t burnin’, it ain’t workin’.”). By the time she finished, it was after 10 p.m., I was exhausted, and I wasn’t loving my look.

I felt like I was wearing a wig—it looked too yellow and kind of clashed with my skin. Since I haven’t done anything this drastic with my hair in a long time, I wondered if it would grow on me. It didn’t. After living with it for a full day, I called my stylist, told her my concerns, and she made time for me to come right back. She knew she had picked the wrong shade, and it only took about 30 minutes to apply a new, softer blonde toner. Buh-bye brassiness.

During that first OMG-what-did-I-do day, our beauty director Erica Metzger reached out to expert colorist and blonde guru Brad Johns (who’s handled the heads of Johnny Depp, Christy Turlington, and Jaime King) for his opinion on what went wrong. So last week I slipped into the pro’s chair at his studio in Elizabeth Arden’s Red Door Spa for a consultation. Brad gave me some tips that may prevent other aspiring blondes from making the same mistakes, along with a few face-framing highlights to add some dimension to my new color. Now, I finally felt bombshell.

Here, Brad’s wisdom for making the blonde transition as painless as possible:

1. Stay close to the hair color you had as a child. For natural-looking color, stay within a similar range. If you were brunette as a kid, you won’t be able to pull off platinum blonde very easily. (And yes, I was a tow-headed child.)

2. Know what you want. Do you want to be beach blonde or iconic blonde? Beach blonde, with lots of golden highlights (Brad’s signature look) looks much more natural, and it’s easier to maintain. But iconic—that super-light, platinum look—is, well, iconic.

3. Shop around. If you’re nervous about coloring your hair, and don’t already have a trusted colorist, book consultations with a few. You need to find someone that you can communicate with and trust.

4. Bring photos. To illustrate what you want, take your stylist three pictures of hair color that you love, and three pictures of color you hate. They know in technical terms what can be done with your hair, and will steer you toward a color as close to your ideal as possible. “Think of your colorist as a painter,” says Brad. “They know what color goes best with the canvas”— i.e. your face. If you don’t understand the terms he or she uses to describe color, ask them to show you pictures. Golden might mean one thing to you and quite another to your colorist.

5. Go for more dramatic makeup. Lightening to a shade like mine requires a new makeup routine. “Darker hair frames your face, which automatically makes your eyes a focal point,” explained Brad. “When you go blonde, you lose that frame and need to define your eyes more.” Play with new shades to find a look that works for you, whether that’s a dark, smoky eye with nude lips, or heavy lashes with classic red lips.

6. Be prepared for the upkeep. Solid blondes should definitely expect at least a once-a-month commitment, unless you plan to rock your roots. And be sure to up your conditioning routine to keep your hair shiny, youthful, and brilliant.

What’s the most dramatic thing you’ve ever done to your hair? Was it a hit or a hair horror story?

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