Everything You Need To Know About Hair Color
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Transform Your Look1 of 14
By Emili Vesilind
Sealants, semi-color, balayage. When it comes to coloring hair, the lingo can be as confounding as a Fellini film. So we’ve tapped two top colorists — Sharon Dorram of Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger in New York, and Begona Fernandez de la Vega, senior colorist at the Frederic Fekkai salon in Los Angeles — to unravel the complexities of hair hues.
Semi vs. Permanent2 of 14
Semi-permanent color — also known as semi-color — is usually a vegetable-based color that slowly washes out, said de la Vega, so it doesn’t lighten or cover tough grays. Permanent color actually dyes the shaft of the hair, so there’s no going back.
Single vs. Double3 of 14
A single-process hair color is just that – the color is applied and that’s that. It can lighten or darken the hair, and “it can be a semi-permanent or permanent color,” said Dorram. While a double process “is like Marilyn Monroe – bleaching out the hair and toning it.” The latter, added Dorram, isn’t a trifling matter, because “it’s hard on the hair and it’s high-maintenance.”
Just the Highlights4 of 14
There are dozens of ways to highlight hair, said de la Vega, including balayage — which is hand-painting the hair with highlights — using fingers or a spatula to deposit a lightening cocktail and, of course, foiling, which involves strategic strands of hair painted (usually with a flat brush), then wrapped up into neat little packets and left to lighten.
Framing the Face5 of 14
“The worst kind of highlights are those that are evenly dispersed from the front to back,” said Dorram, who looks to kids’ sun-streaked hair as a model for her highlights. To avoid the dreaded striped-tiger look, concentrate the heaviest highlights around your face, and if you’re a brunette, don’t rock highlights that are drastically lighter than your base color.
Photo Description6 of 14
When describing your perfect hue to a colorist, come armed with a photo, said de la Vega, because “amber-y brown” and “really blond” probably means something different to just about everyone. Dorram also recommends trying on wigs prior to your appointment if you’re in the market for a major color change.
Know When To Walk Away7 of 14
Dorram suggested being wary of any colorist who automatically recommends changing your hair’s base color — which requires regular, pricey salon visits for upkeep. “It’s an easy out or it could be a quick fix,” she explained, adding, “I try to give people low-maintenance hair color. Nobody wants to spend $500 every five weeks.”
Getting Real8 of 14
The most unrealistic requests, Dorram notes, are dark brunettes asking to be Reese Witherspoon-style blond. “If hair is thick and strong, you do highlights,” she noted. Still, Doram is always hesitant to change the base color of hair when it involves major lifting (or lightening).
Health Nut9 of 14
Hair color that ravages hair is all but nonexistent in professional salons these days, said de la Vega, adding, “There’s a lot of concern over keeping the hair healthy in the products we use now.” But neither colorist would vouch for the hair-protecting qualities of at-home hair color, so stick to major brands if you’re new to home coloring.
Kitchen Beautician10 of 14
When coloring hair at home, Dorram recommends attempting a single-process color only, and “you never want to go one or two shades darker or lighter with a home color.” As for do-it-yourself highlights, “I wouldn’t recommend it,” said Dorram, while de la Vega added, “You could end up with problems — patches, burned hair…not good.”
Brass Attack11 of 14
If you’ve ever been plagued with brassy — or yellowish— highlights, it’s probably because the product “was probably rinsed out a little earlier than it should have been,” said de la Vega. “A professional will see when highlights are ready to rinse.”
Tone It Down12 of 14
Toner is a product used on highlights to gently tweak the hue of the newly lifted hair color and add shine. But “when the client doesn’t want any gold in her highlights, you don’t need to tone,” said de la Vega. But achieving highlights without any trace of gold is only realistic for the light-locked. “If you’re dark brunet, it would be impossible; it would be burning your hair.”
Gentle Wash13 of 14
Yes, it matters what shampoo and conditioner you use if you have colored or highlighted hair, said de la Vega. “By using a specialized color shampoo and conditioner with an anti-fade ingredient, you will protect the color.” Shampoos and conditioners formulated for specific colors— even those from grocery-aisle brands — are a better choice than sulfate-heavy products made to scour manes squeaky clean.
Shine Enhancer14 of 14
A sealant is a product that closes the cuticle of the hair shaft, creating shine and protecting the color against fading. It’s not always used but would be the final step in a coloring appointment, said de la Vega. But be careful — it can be removed in the very next shampoo if you’re lathering up with a harsh shampoo.