It wasn’t until after college that I finally got around to dying my hair for the first time. As someone who falls into the “blonde as a child” category, I’ve never grown to accept the murky, dirty brown-blonde my hair transitioned to over time. But, while high school and university were marked by frequent spritzes of Sun-In, once I reached real adulthood, I finally got around to seeing a colorist, who not only convinced me to lighten things up, but to actually try dying my hair bright colors. For anyone going through a post-pandemic identity crisis, or simply looking for a way to try something fun and new, it’s an experience that isn’t as scary or permanent as it might seem before taking the dive. I was convinced that I’d face an existential crisis the first time I tried it, but if anything it made me less self-conscious about my appearance — there was no hiding when your head is neon blue, so I had to just embrace it.
While there are plenty of at-home options for taking the plunge — ones that range in commitment from a single wash to semi-permanent — my method of choice has always been finishing a visit to the salon with a colored gloss rather than try to DIY it myself. It fades over a month or so, and while bright at the beginning, becomes more subtle over time. To me, it’s the ideal summer makeover choice — when I’m out and energized, I want my appearance to reflect that.
Working in a creative industry, I’ve always been able to be adventurous with my hair without fear of backlash, but it’s become a possibility for more women over the last year as professional mores have changed. “The interest in creative color has definitely heightened in many ways during the pandemic,” says Lucille Javier, a color specialist at Mark Ryan Salon who has helped me achieve my own colorful shades for over seven years. She explains that working remotely gave many clients the flexibility to try bright shades for the first time.
While part of the fun in choosing bright hair colors is the fact that there is no wrong hue to choose (I’ve found that somehow bright clothes and hair never clash or look bad together), Javier has seen an uptick in pink, greens, purples, and blues in particular. If you’re choosing a shade to try, Javier explains that a gloss is a more subtle option for adding color. “I would suggest this on someone who may not want to commit. It can also be applied to look more translucent, which I prefer for blondes,” she says, adding that for more permanent color options, look for direct dyes like Manic Panic. “The tendency with direct dye is that it usually holds onto the hair longer, meaning minimal fading due to how bold the color is. It’s not always so temporary, so I suggest a direct dye for someone who is certain on a tone and plans to keep it for a couple months.”
Color treating hair does mean you’ll need to do some extra maintenance to preserve the shade and keep your hair healthy. Since my hair is both highlighted and color-treated, it can dry out easily, so Javier recommends limiting washes to keep natural oils and maintain color. Since my hair is very thick, I aim to wash it once a week, but know that if your hair is thin and fine, you may need to wash more often. “The more you embrace the natural oils and shampoo less, the better the color will stay and feel healthier,” she told me in 2019. She also suggests washing hair in cold water, avoiding heat tools, and doing a hair mask between washes to help preserve your hair health.
Below, find a breakdown of products to help you achieve your colorful summer hair makeover.
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First things first, find a color that you’re excited to try as well as a dye with a level of permanence that works for your lifestyle. Whether you DIY it at home or are inclined to leave it to the professionals (like I do), the process is relatively quick and painless.
To maintain hair health and keep your color bright for as long as possible, there are a few crucial products to add into your rotation. Javier recommends Shu Uemura’s Color Lustre balm and Essence Absolue hair oil, but don’t be afraid to play around to find what works best with your hair type.