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3 Things You Need to Know to Achieve Your Best Blonde

Balayage blonde hairstyles
Balayage, ombre, babylights…. You know the lingo, you can list your favorites and if you’re as blonde-obsessed as I am, have probably pinned all the above to a “Hair Goals” Pinterest board. Thanks to modern day technology, image sharing platforms are literally at our fingertips making it easier than ever to find color inspiration. But being a passionate Pinterest curator doesn’t always give the clearest insight into what type of blonde is right for you.

Maybe this situation sounds familiar: you spend weeks searching the perfect inspiration photo, have a great consultation with a hairdresser who totally gets it: ‘Buttery blonde? No problem!’  You read fashion magazines as your color processes, feeling more confident by the minute only to find when facing the mirror that your new color looks great but you… don’t. Maybe your skin looks sallow, your eyes look dull or you’re suddenly conscious of the redness in your cheeks. You leave feeling like you need to apply makeup or change your outfit to try to rectify something that just feels off. 

Or maybe it goes something like this:  you love your color but hate the regrowth after just a few weeks and since you didn’t budget for a retouch this soon, it’s going to be a long two months! 

It was said best by English musician, Jim Morrissey, “I maintain, if your hair is wrong, your  entire life is wrong.” I’m with Jim. When your blonde is wrong, your entire life is wrong (or at least it feels like it).  The right blonde should work with you, not against you. Your haircolor should bring life to your eyes and your skin— not take away from it.  In other words, the right shade of blonde won’t leave you running to Sephora to pile half the store on your face.  And similarly,  your blonde should be something that you can maintain and enjoy without feeling like you need to wear a hat around the last month before your appointment.

The right blonde is out there! Believe me. When your perfect shade of blonde meets a spot-on application, it creates what I lovingly refer to as a “Goldilocks” blonde— when your color is not too this, or too that— it’s just right.  

So how do we find it? We’ve all heard the key to achieving the perfect color starts with a great consultation. And if the consultation is the first place you look when you’re dissatisfied, you are on the right track! Did we miscommunicate what we wanted? Do we need more photos next time?  Or is it something else? What if we got exactly what we asked for and what we really need is a different vision or— ouch—a new hair goal?

For most of us, the consultation we need to consider is the first and most important conversation, the one that happens long before we’re sitting in the salon chair: the inner consultation. That’s right.  As we’re reading blogs, pinning, liking and screenshotting photos from social media, we’re consulting with ourselves, often deciding what is and isn’t right for our hair.  By the time we’re in the chair, we’ve already become attached to key words and phrases that have a huge impact on the service we’ll ask for and ultimately, receive.

Our inner consultation is louder than the voice of our hairdresser.  I know firsthand. “I want to be cool,” was my old jam, by the way.   I’ve been blond since the age of thirteen. What started as just a few highlights for my eighth grade graduation evolved into investing four years of babysitting money into blonding services. When I moved to college, a hundred miles away from my salon, I caved and tried a box dye that turned my hair yellow. Not a pretty kind. Like a Big Bird from Sesame Street kind.  I had to wait 3 months before I could afford to fix it at a pricey salon in Boston. During that time, I decided two things. One: I was going to enroll in Cosmetology school. Two: I would never let my hair look yellow again.

But once I was a cool blonde, I still wasn’t happy. I assumed it was because I wasn’t cool enough and turned to purple shampoo, a product designed to neutralize unwanted warmth in the hair. It’s a great system when used moderately on blonde or grey hair about once a week. I used it. Every. Single. Day.  The worse I looked, the more I thought I needed the shampoo. Whenever I see photos of myself from that time, although it was over ten years ago, I look older than I do now. My skin was ashen against the silver-violet highlights I rocked long before pastel was a trend. I looked eighteen going on eighty.  Now as a hairdresser, myself, I understand why my stylist would beg to incorporate forbidden WARM tones into my color.  It was to create the balance I so desperately needed.

When it comes to achieving our best blonde, we need to improve inner consultation first. And that starts with understanding the 3 biggest factors that will affect our color: the level, tone and placement.
Blonde Balayage Hairstyles from Constance Robbins
Photo credit: Constance Robbins

1. Know Your Hair Color Level

Let’s start with level, or in other words, the amount of depth in your hair, the darkness to lightness ratio. Levels are marked on a scale of 1 to 10. 1 is true black and 10 is lightest blonde/pale yellow. The level of your natural hair has a lot to do with which level of blonde will suit you. Typically, color looks best within 2-3 levels of your natural color. If you’re naturally dark brown— again, typically— platinum blonde will be hard to maintain and could wash you out. Opting instead for the popular “bronde” family would be an admirable choice. Of course there are always exceptions. Placement plays a huge factor, lighter shades can work well with dark hair when incorporated properly. Your stylist will assess your level for you, but when it comes to finding your inspiration photos a good rule of thumb is, look for hair that’s within 2-3 levels of your own.

Blonde makeup skin tone

2. Find Your Skin Tone:

When I was unsatisfied with my color, it was because I was skipping one of the most important factors: tone. I thought cool blonde would flatter my blue eyes, but because I’m medium with warm undertones, it was completely washing me out. I achieved my Goldilocks blonde years later when I learned to incorporate balanced tones like gold-violet and golden-beige into my color. Here’s how to find what blonde is right for your tone:

Fair Skin

  • Cool undertones: Golden or light strawberry blonde will add welcomed warmth
  • Warm undertones: hello, ice princess! Champagne and platinum are stunning on you

Medium Skin

  • Cool undertones: Stick with natural, sun-kissed, just-left-the-beach-blonde
  • Warm undertones: Opt for neutral tones like sandy, wheat and golden beige Olive undertones: Compliment your skin with honey, toffee and café au lait tones

Dark Skin

  • Cool undertones: Warm it up with caramel colors
  • Warm undertones: Soft honey and amber tones will make you glow

It’s about balance! Rule of thumb, if you have cool undertones, warmer blonde tones will look best on you and if you’re undertones are warm, you’ll look best with cool or neutral blonde tones.

Balayage Blonde Hairstyle with foil

3. Choose the right Placement & Technique

Know which type of service you are asking for.

 ‘Ombre:

(French word meaning to shade) this style is generally darker at the scalp into mid-lengths and gradually gets lighter to the ends.  Ombre hair is typically achieved by using a *balayage or freehand painting technique and is ideal for clients looking for a low-maintenance style.

S’Ombre:

(soft or subtle ‘ombre) has a subtle progression of color from scalp to ends, the scalp darkest like an ombre and the ends are the lightest. However, it’s a softer transition, blending more tones throughout the hair. Grow out will be soft.  Maintenance about 10-14 weeks.  *For the record: The French term ”balayage” literally means to “sweep.” The technique can be used to create an ‘Ombre or S’Ombre by painting the hair in sweeping motions, it can even be incorporated with foils. But remember, balayage does not describe a service.  

Full/ Partial Foil:

Foils are used to weave hair color or lightener through fine sections of hair. More strategically placed, foils have the ability to give a higher impact of color. A full foil highlights the whole head, while a partial foil addresses the color around the face and crown, leaving the hair underneath natural. If you have darker hair, it’s a good practice— unless you prefer the contrast underneath—to opt for a full foil every 3rd visit. Touch up 8-12 weeks.

Babylights:

These are micro highlights frame the face, creating a multidimensional look. Hair looks like it’s shimmering, and it’s nearly impossible to detect a single strand of colored hair. The heavier babylights require a touch up much like a highlight, 8-10 weeks, a more gentle application can stretch 12-14 weeks.

Glowlights:

The newest emerging trend in haircolor from New York to L.A. This Baby lights-balayage hybrid created by celebrity stylist, George Papanikolas, marries the best of both worlds.   It can be more natural, or lighter and brighter depending on the desired blonde. Glowlights uses a combination of micro weaves and free hand painting to mimic how the sun would naturally lighten hair: lightest around the face  and ends, while leaving depth in the crown. Moderate maintenance, about 7-12 weeks.

Double Process:

 For an all –over blonde. Hair is pre-lightened and then toned. Think classic Marilyn Monroe, or the latest Kylie Jenner. This bombshell look is not for the fragile hair and clocks in at the highest maintenance: 4-6 weeks.   Now it’s time to live your hair goals.  Get going, going… blonde! 
Kiera Doyle is a hairdresser and writer living in New York City. She’s no longer purple-shampoo-dependent but enjoys its benefits from time to time.

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