Formerly the territory of high school misfits and #pastelgoths, colored hair’s high fashion moment is less a moment and more an era. One to rival power brows or Balenciaga cutout boots. And like both those things, it looks a hell of a lot better in Nicole Richie‘s Instagram photos than it does in real life.
Don’t get me wrong — I love colored hair. Over the past decade I’ve progressed from schoolgirl bleach streaks done with a hook and cap to blood red, and back to the bleach before testing every shade Manic Panic had to offer, taking pit stops at platinum blonde. I had it done professionally, I did it in my bathroom, I did it with friends, when I was happy, when I was sad, when I was drunk, and finally, about a year ago, I decided to give it up completely. My hair is now a warm, regrowthy blonde. It’s boring. I look at the internet and it makes me jealous. But after hitting the bottle for so many years my hair desperately needs some TLC. And while I wait for those DRYBAR Mudslides to take hold so I can get another bleach fix, here are some things I’ve learned.
You know this, but putting any unnatural color in your hair requires that you first bleach the crap out of it. This involves stripping your hair of not only pigment but also moisture. If your hair is already damaged/grows slowly, you should probably stick to just bleaching certain sections enough to take the color you want, or using darker colors (i.e. deep purple) that don’t require you to go platinum first — only a lightish blonde.
2. It’s expensive.
Visits to a salon for bleaching touch-ups are necessarily and expensive — around $200 a job, and you’ll need one of those every couple of months. After 11 years I have come to accept that professional colorists do have a more extensive knowledge of suitable products and procedures than the staff at Ricky’s. However, unless you’re getting intricate color patterns put into your hair, you can save a lot by doing the actual coloring at home. Semi-permanent dyes will look different after as little as one wash, and if you’re paying a stylist an extra $100 to tint your ends pink every two weeks… Well, hope you like instant ramen.
3. Salons will be jerks.
If you are a professional colorist, the first step when taking someone to platinum is to give them a funny look and say “As if!” This is like insurance to protect against worst case scenarios, and requires you to smile and nod before explaining that you understand the damage involved. After this they will be totally cool.
4. Some colors won’t suit your skin tone.
Choosing hair color is like choosing foundation. Bright pink might look awesome on Charlotte Free, but it made my skin look really yellow. In general people who blush easily should stay away from warm pinks and red tones, and pale people from bright yellow and green.
5. Some colors are harder to maintain than others.
Blue is the most difficult color to maintain, because when it fades it just turns green. If you dyed your strands with a semi-permanent blue and waited for it fade out naturally, I’d estimate you’d spend one week with blue hair, five with green, and six with chlorine residue. Pastel pink and purple just get more pastely over time, which is nice for lazies. When I had pink ombré hair I used to make a mixture of 50% Manic Panic and 50% conditioner to deposit a little extra color into the ends in the shower.
6. The beach will not be your friend.
The beach is everyone’s friend, right? Wrong! The perfect unnatural color shade is a delicate balance, and repeated wetting and post-beach washing means one trip to the water can leave you with an entirely different hair color the next day. Since we’re going into summer, stick with colors and styles best described as “beachy” anyway.
Basically, be prepared to spend a lot of money and time and your hair. And if it all turns to custard, luckily cutting it all off is also in.