Is there is no sadder reminder of summer gone by than old highlights framing your pale face? Faded and wispy, they clash with their darker outgrown roots. My own tired tendrils brought me to a cross-road: To re-dye or re-grow it out?
How many other women face the same problem? I’d guess millions, and I’ll bet those numbers rise when the weather gets grim. Whether you have outgrown highlights, lingering lowlights or a fading semi-perm rinse, the temptation to re-color in winter is fierce. Blonde hair goes ashy, grays become prominent, and in-between shades just seem more so on a gray day.
Boosting or completely changing your hair color without scalding your scalp, getting the wrong shade or spending a bundle takes some research. Mine started in a wig shop. Dragging a completely black Halloween wig onto my head I proved one thing: Pale skin with blue tones can handle darker hair, and blonde highlights are not for everyone. My J. Lo days behind me, I marched into Oscar Bond salon in New York and shook my sad hair in the colorist’s face. Instead of screaming, she just smiled and offered all sorts of comforting solutions. I learned that re-dying, recovering a little gray or simply returning to natural needn’t put you on a chemical treadmill of salon dependency. Rather, heed these smart ways back to gorgeous winter hair.
Color-treated hair is weak and dehydrated. It needs a weekly deep-conditioning treatment and special treats such as a month’s break from shampoo (just wash with conditioner), and natural masks like olive oil or whipped egg yolks to keep it shiny. If you must recolor, go to the salon with dirty hair — the oil will protect your scalp!
SALON OR SELF-HELP?
Covering roots can be done safely at your kitchen sink, but you need a friend to help you reach the back of your head and a reliable alarm clock to tell you when you need to rinse out the gunk. Low ammonia, low peroxide dyes are gentler, and match the color to your face — not the model on the box. Commercial dyes tend to be darker than advertised, so choose a shade one or two lighter than your natural color. Some dyes are also more toxic than others. Avoid anything that contains phenylenediamine, acid blue 168, acid violet 73, acid orange 87 or solvent brown 44, as these ingredients have been linked to cancer, says Rona Berg in Beauty — The New Basics. To care for home-tinted hair, wash it in cool (un-chlorinated) water, avoid too many blow-outs and splurge on luscious conditioners.
THE COLOR QUESTION
There’s a big difference between maintaining an existing color and making a radical change. If you’re going to the trouble (and expense) of a professional colorist, why not be a little more adventurous? The present color of you hair might be dictated by complacent make-up habits (the dreaded coral lipstick!), the wrong cut or simple conservatism. I am going a whole shade darker this Christmas to embrace rather than battle my pale white skin. With a different eye shadow or a wavier style that reveals more layers of color, you might find a hidden redhead or a russet blonde waiting to break free. And if you opt for a rinse instead of permanent color, your experiment won’t feel like a new tattoo.
Sometimes a color-enhancing shampoo or a henna-rich conditioner is all you need to boost fading semi-permanent color. To hide grays, try hair mascara, which lasts 24 hours, or color mousse, which can last for weeks. To get highlights without actually dying your hair, find a salon that will weave highlighted extensions into your hair. Non-damaging, lengthening and highly glamorous, it’s the ultimate answer for non-committal types.
For something lasting but not devastating, demi-permanent color is ammonia free and deposits color without lightening. Lower in peroxide and more subtle in the way it blends, a demi leaves less obvious roots. For permed hair, a semi-permanent dye is best because the process involves no ammonia or peroxide. Like a demi, the color lasts six weeks and is subtle at the roots.
THE WHOLE ENCHILADA
If you decide a whole-head dip is the only way to go, you’ll need the gentlest touch possible. Salons have the advantage of better techniques, more sophisticated products and formulas unavailable at drug stores. They also know the degree of color you need. Don’t go in without examples of hair you love torn from magazines, and do wear your regular palette of make-up colors. As salon lighting is not so natural, drag your colorist outside to reveal your true hair and skin tones.
If you’re willing to maintain your re-growth with touch-ups every six weeks or so, the benefits of a permanent color can be rich. Be sure to ask for a low-ammonia, low-peroxide formula, and lean toward products that use botanicals. Try to avoid a bone-dry blow-out immediately after you color, and instead let your hair a rest awhile. Lastly, lift your chin and shake your head as you leave the salon. My mother swears by this feminine flourish, the perfect expression of her triumph over age and nature!