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

Expert Help"I’m not getting older, I’m getting blonder" used to be the mantra of women over 40. But sultry brunettes like Teri Hatcher and blonde/brunette betweeners like Diane Lane and Calista Flockhart make a good case for staying closer to our roots.It’s hard enough choosing a lipstick, let alone a 24-7 cosmetic like hair color, without a little expert advice. The color pros on our panel have a waiting list of clients stretching from New York to L.A., but here, their attention’s on you — and on your top questions about color selection and maintenance.MORE’s Color ExpertsBrad Johns Avon Salon and Spa creative director and consultant to ClairolBrian Keller Frederic Fekkai Salon and Spa, Palm BeachLouis Licari Louis Licari, New York and Beverly HillsBeth Minardi Co-owner, Minardi Salon, New York CityLouis Viel Co-owner, Miano Viel Salon, New York CityJoel Warren Co-owner, Warren-Tricomi Salon, New York CityThe Fine Art of Being a BlondeQ. I went blonde at 20 for fun, then even lighter at 35 to soften lines and brighten me up. Is this my lifelong shade?A. "Hair color should be fun, not a jail term. A good colorist varies the color as you age. Your skin loses pigment, and the amount of gray affects coverage techniques and formulas. You’re also dealing with textural changes, like thinning (from hormonal changes) or increased coarseness as your percentage of gray rises. You should always adjust your hair color — going warmer as your skin gets paler, or changing to formulas designed for your current level of gray." — Brad Johns Q. I don’t mind my roots showing, but it looks more chic on 20-year-olds than it does on me. What do I do?A. "Layered cuts take the fear out of roots. Bangs, pieces, and a choppier effect help blur boundary lines so you don’t see obvious regrowth at the hairline or part, like you do with bobs and blunt cuts." — Joel WarrenA. "A perfect one-color look at 40 can appear unnatural. A little darkness at the roots is not bad at all. In fact, coloring roots a half shade darker is a pro trick to create depth and realism when skin tone and hair color are very similar." — Louis LicariQ. My hair color is washing me out. I’ve been self-tanning or adding more blush to compensate. What’s wrong with my color?A. "It’s probably too ashy, too white, or too beige. When your hair begins taking on the hue of expensive fur, tell your colorist to brighten it, warm it up. Show her pictures of Sheryl Crowe, Kim Cattrall, and Christie Brinkley." — Brad JohnsA. "Very light blond color can wash out some complexions, especially olive or deep honey — going too platinum can age you 10 years." — Beth MinardiQ. Will going blond flatter wrinkles and fine hair?A. "Going softer in color, not necessarily lighter, flatters textural changes in maturing skin and hair. Sometimes a few highlights are all you need, but blonding creates less contrast between scalp and hair, making it a good option if your hair is thinning. Combining several shades of highlights — soft golden blond, light buttery blond, and strawberry blond, for example — has a cosmetic effect on skin that’s pale, sallow, or lined, but the right mix depends on your skin tone. Ask your colorist to use a range of highlight shades, not just one." — Louis VielQ. How blond is too blond? What’s the boundary between classy and trashy at 40?A. "Most women want to look sunny and radiant, not punked-out. Women in their early 40s tend to ask for gold — they’re more into the sun-kissed surfer blonde ideal. Women in their 50s, who first got hooked on blonding with frosted streaks, ask for champagne or cool, ashy blonde. I think everyone looks better in warmer golden tones, though." — Brad JohnsQ. My highlights don’t blend away my grays like they used to. Sometimes my hair looks gray-blond right after a touchup.A. "It’s time to add a single-process color to your base. You can still highlight over that, but the overall color underneath will add more coverage." — Louis LicariStaying Brunette, and Loving ItQ. My Demi Moore-like hair has always been my signature. Now, at 40, it’s hard-looking (and thinner) instead of hip. Should I give it up?A. "No. 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. It also enables the colorist to get a light, wheaty color minus any red, a common problem for brunettes gone blond." — Joel Warren Q. If I condition every day and use moisturizing products designed for color-treated hair, do I also need to deep-condition?A. "The bigger the color change or the more complicated the color, the more maintenance is required. Most women think maintenance refers to the frequency of touchups, not the aftercare. A deep-conditioning mask once or twice a week is essential — but it takes no more than three to five minutes, thanks to higher percentages of emollient ingredients like shea butter and botanical oils. A mask right before you color is key: You want the cuticle in great shape before any chemicals are applied." (Try Bumble and Bumble Damage Therapy Masque, $10; Phyocitrus Mask, $32.) — Brian KellerQ. Will the new wet-to-dry flat iron damage my hair more than blow-drying followed by flat-ironing?A. "Both styling methods are damaging if used too frequently and aggressively. Always shield your color with a protective silicone spray before heat styling, and use the lowest temperature setting. Frankly, I’d rather you blow-dry and then briefly flat-iron if you must, lightly and quickly running the iron over spots that need extra smoothing." — Brad JohnsQ. I swim to stay fit, but it’s turning my hair green. What do I do?A. "Nothing works a hundred percent — water seeps in even under a bathing cap — but there are several pre-swim treatments that slow penetration of the chemicals in the water. Kerastase Soleil Huile Genereuse spray ($29), an oil that gives hair a sleek, shiny look, is very effective as a preventative in the water. Follow up with a shampoo and conditioner that remove copper residue from pool water. Otherwise it can remain in cracked cuticles, giving blond hair a greenish tinge." (Try California Baby Swimmer’s Defense Shampoo, $10.) — Beth MinardiQ. I hate my new hair color. How long must I wait to recolor?A. "If you really hate it, you can go back in 48 hours. Let your scalp and hair settle for a day to give the cuticles a chance to lie flat. Then deep condition before you go to the salon. Use a very rich product with shea butter, and leave it on as long as you can." — Brad Johns Q. After years of highlights, I’ve morphed into solid blond. How can I regain contrast without going darker?A. "Lowlights on the under layers can provide you with enough contrast so the color regains a more natural look. Or start over. Color the whole head with a semipermanent dark blond (which will also add shine), then add subtle highlights. Resist highlighting every time you go for a touchup — that’s how you wind up with a whole head of highlights. Three or four times a year will maintain a multitonal look." — Brad JohnsQ. Roots are supposed to need a touchup every four to six weeks, but mine show up two weeks after I color. Should I touch them up then?A. "Do a mini touchup. Just put color around your hairline and one inch on either side of your part. This technique also works if you love your natural color and only want to color the gray at your temples. Use a Q-tip to get just the strands you want. Don’t apply color all over every time you color, either. Slick conditioner on the ends while the color is cooking at the roots, then refresh the ends by working the color through them (right over the conditioner) for the last five minutes." — Louis LicariQ. My brows have some gray in them, but I’m blonder than ever. What color should brows be? The same color as my hair? Darker? A. "I have a pet peeve: Marcia Cross’ matching red brows on Desperate Housewives. Brows should be softer in tone — never too blond, because they disappear, exaggerating lines around the eyes. Brunette brows shouldn’t be too dark, as they give the face a severe look. And redheads always look better with browner brows." — Beth MinardiQ. Are color-enhancing shampoos and conditioners really any good to prevent fading between appointments? How can I be sure they won’t change my color?A. "These products brighten like a glaze, and some do deposit a tiny bit of color, but they don’t have enough power to change it. I recommend mixing a bit of color-enhancing shampoo with your everyday shampoo each time you wash your hair. It kicks up the color without your having to worry about buildup." — Brian KellerQ. Is the Japanese straightening technique safe for color-processed hair?A. "Be extremely cautious with relaxers. Salon straightening treatments are effective, but can be hell on color-treated hair. I find that the more conventional cream relaxers are less damaging than Japanese straightening for hair that has extreme color — for example, double-process blond on a former brunette. If the percentage of highlighted hair is high, or if your highlights have progressed past the golden stage to yellow or white, any kind of relaxing will cause breakage." — Beth MinardiAt-Home ColorOur picks of new products that make it even easier to get the look you want.For BrunettesFor very dark browns who want to go lighter without going redder: L’Oreal Superior Preference Les True Brunettes ($10) — gives you a true nutmeg or mahogany without any red intruding. For serious gray coverage that’s also gentle on hair: Clairol Herbal Essences Bold ‘n Brilliant Color ($10) — permanent, so it covers gray, but ammonia-free and enriched with botanicals. To lighten very dark hair: Garnier 100% Color Ultra-Lift Browns ($7) — provides one-step lightening of up to four levels without brassiness.For BlondesFor overall lightening plus highlights in one box: L’Oreal Couleur Expert Multitonal Color System ($22) — permanent gel-cream color plus highlights and lowlights. For total gray coverage plus deep conditioning: Clairol Hydrience Deep Moisturizing Color Creme ($8) — comes with a large size of Pantene IntensivMoisture After-Color Therapy. For extra-light shades: Garnier 100% Color New Blondes ($7). For convenient touchups between color jobs: Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Root Touch-Up ($7) — 10 "halftime" portions of color for parts and hairline.For In-BetweensFor an extra layer of shine: L’Oreal Tone Refiner ($9) — a sheer five-minute gloss that tones down brassiness and ramps up shine. For slight lightening that’s gentle on hair: Clairol Natural Instincts ($8) — a nonammonia, no-roots, low-peroxide gray-blender with aloe and ginseng conditioners.For your choice of bold or subtle highlights: L’Oreal Paris Hi-Light Styliste Hi-Control Brush-on Highlights ($11) — a slim highlighting wand and chunky streak brush; four shades. For a color fresh-up: Artec Color Depositing Moisturizer in a warm shade like Orange Marigold or Ginger Root bumps up highlights ($16).Originally published in MORE magazine, July/August 2005.

First Published Mon, 2009-04-06 18:17

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