A Guide to Hair Color

How to arrive at the best of all possible shades? Our panel of superstar colorists answers your most-asked questions.

By Lois Joy Johnson
There are lots of options for dark hair now, and you’ll want to take advantage of the fattening effect of color, which swells the hair shaft, creating bulk and texture. You can add highlights a few shades lighter than the base in caramel, honey brown, or auburn for a more lush, dimensional look. Or you can go for warmer allover color, perhaps a subtle reddish brown." — Louis VielA. "Choose spicy-brown highlights like nutmeg and cinnamon for contrast if your skin and hair have warm undertones. The finer the highlights, the more subtle the effect. If you’re a cool, smoky brown and have an olive, very pale or ashy skin tone, ask for cool gemstone highlights in a topaz or quartz hue." — Brian KellerQ. I had subtle highlights added to my short brown hair, and I couldn’t even tell they were there. Should I have done something bolder? A. "Yes. Those fine golden highlights that give browns a beautiful honeyed effect look better on longer hair — collarbone-length and below. When you combine safe, middle-of-the-road color and a short cut, by which I mean chin-length to short-short, it’s just matronly. Don’t be afraid to have your colorist add bolder streaks you can really see." — Louis VielQ. I prefer my natural color and want to color only the gray without a fake look. How do I do it?A. "A demipermanent color will heighten your natural shade, not change it, and will target grays so they blend in. You’ll need to redo it every four to six weeks, but there are no obvious roots to worry about. This approach will work until you’re 50 percent gray, and then you need to either add highlights or go to permanent color." — Brian KellerA. "Hair, like skin, loses pigment over time, creating a dull or faded look even though there’s not much gray. If you use demipermanent color, don’t pick a shade that’s too dark. Many women think their hair is darker than it actually is, and go too dark on the first try." — Louis LicariQ. My brown hair looks wiggy. Is it the cut or the color?A. "Color that’s uniform, especially dark hair, needs texture or a few pieces slightly lighter than the base to break up the solid look. Think about adding layers or highlights around the face. Both cut and color need to be in sync. If your stylist is giving you a ladylike bob and your colorist is giving you buttery chunks, you need a mediator. It’s important that color support the cut, and vice versa." — Brad JohnsQ. After 10 years as a blonde, can I go back to brown?A. "I’d try lowlights first. I use nonammonia demipermanent colors on selected strands, adding a variety of browns to the blond base for a brown-blond look. Allover brown will make you feel like you’re wearing a black hat on your head, and every line in your face will seem to show. And if you don’t like it, you’ll be stuck with it, since color comes out darker and drabber on hair that’s been repeatedly blonded. Even gentle, nonammonia shades in light brown can turn black when you apply them to blond hair, so beware!" — Beth Minardi A. "There’s a big area between blond and dark brunet to consider. Try on wigs in a range of brown shades to see if you can adjust to the contrast between skin and hair. Go halfway and add a lot of lowlights into the blonde, or try a single-process color that’s a medium honey brown rather than a deep brunet." — Brian Keller Q. Can I retouch my salon highlights with a kit, and see my colorist for "guideline coloring" every three to four months?A. "Highlighting kits are terrific for the teens and 20s, but after 40, they’re not very easy to use. Dark hair has orange and red pigments that can turn highlighting tricky, and gray only complicates matters. Use a home kit if you’re artistic, your colorist is willing to direct you, and you’re naturally a muddy blonde who was blonde as a child. Then, it’s foolproof." — Brad Johns Keeping Color HealthyQ. Will highlights really destroy my hair?A. "Highlights can be destructive in the wrong hands. The typical formula of high-volume peroxide covers gray effectively but can be extremely drying. Ask for an oil-based tint instead, like Redken’s new professional line Double Blonde, which highlights over a single-process color without harming hair.

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