The last time I had the urge to dye my hair, I was 10 years old and thought chunky, stripey highlights were the single most stunning thing you could have on your head — especially if they were paired with butterfly clips. I sprayed about a gallon of Sun-In on my dark strands, waited about 12 minutes as the signature orange streaks developed. Even in the era of Ginger Spice and Vitamin C, I was less than thrilled with the results. After that slightly traumatic experience, I decided to stick to my natural dark brown hair for 16 years straight. And while I'm not usually overly protective of my hair, I just never got around to dyeing my hair again at any point. Until now.
After 26 years with dark brown hair, I was ready to try some fun, lighter hair for summer in New York. Save for the Sun-In experience in 2000, I knew absolutely nothing about how to prepare to dye my hair for the first time, but luckily I was in excellent hands. I visited veteran colorist Nicole Tresch at Rita Hazan salon in New York, who had endless hair coloring wisdom to pass on to a newbie like me. Here's what I learned from dyeing my hair for the first time in my life, and what you should know before you visit the salon yourself.
1. Know What You Don't Want
Most "things to know" lists will tell you to bring in a photo of the style you want, but as a virgin dyer I had a hard time confidently picking a color. I wanted to leave some of that decision making up to the pro, which Tresch says is fine — as long as you know what you don't want. "If you don't know what the word [for the technique] is or [can't find] the picture of what you love, show me what you hate or what you definitely don't want," says Tresch when I ask about her number one tip for new clients. Even if you don't know the specific industry terms for the type of hair color you want, being able to give the colorist a clear visual of what you're going for will make the entire process smoother.
2. Be Realistic About How You're Going To Style Your Hair After You Dye It
"If you aren't going to wear your hair wavy and curly, don't bring a picture of somebody that has all wavy and curly [hair]. Your color looks different [depending on the style]. It doesn't look the same [straight] as when it's curled," explains Tresch. Find a photo of a hair color you like on someone with a similar hairstyle and texture, because the colorist will build your color based on your typical hairstyle. If you have a photo of how you usually wear your hair, bring that too. Seems pretty straight forward, but it's honestly something I didn't think about before I visited the salon. And if you're planning on getting a haircut around the same time as a dye job, make sure to get it cut before you see a colorist. There's no point in paying for a dye job when you're just going to cut out all of the new color a week later.
3. Try This Balayage "Hack" If You're Worried About Harsh Bleach On Your Hair
Instead of painting the color on without the use of foil (aka balayage) Tresch teased the roots of my hair and added foil. Balayage is a free-painting technique, and while it's become more popular in recent years, Tresch prefers teasing the hair and using foil, because "you have to use a really strong peroxide with balayage, which might make your hair orange." Her technique isn't as harsh on the hair, and this way, she said,"You don't kill the hair that way, it grows out easier, and it looks seamless."
4. If You're Getting Highlights, Make Sure To Ask The Colorist To Tease Your Hair
In addition to protecting your strands, the teasing has a positive aesthetic effect for highlights. "That tease pushes some depth up top, and it creates almost a balayage look with the foil," explains Tresch. I was very conscious of avoiding the stripey highlighted look I loved so much in the 2000s, so Tresch assured me that the best way to avoid the look was to tease the hair from the root before adding bleach. I'll let you judge the final results for yourself.
5. Pick A Blonde That Works With Your Overall Coloring
Since I have darker coloring, Tresch advised me to pick a "more honey blonde" for my highlights. "Too ashy of a blonde would be really dull on your base color. You need to have a little warmth, but not brass, not yellow," advised Tresch. Her advice to dark brunettes like me is to "keep your depth, your own natural color, and get blonder at the ends of your hair so you still feel like yourself." For a hair dye virgin, easing into a new hair color sounded like excellent advice.
6. Stay Away From Well Water & Chlorine After You Bleach
If you're dyeing your hair for the summer and you're planning to spend a lot of time in the pool after you get highlights, make sure to "wet your hair down first with regular water, to create a barrier before you jump right in," says Tresch. Chlorine turns blonde hair green, and well water can make your new blonde highlights look dingy, so avoid it all costs if you can.
7. Switch Up Your Hair Products After You Color
"Here's the thing about highlighted hair... it does get a little bit dryer," Tresch reminds me when I ask about the upkeep of my lighter locks. "When you're used to having dark hair, the light reflects on dark hair [and] it looks shiny. Light doesn't reflect the same way off of [blonde] hair, so [you might want to use a] gloss to keep it looking shiny," says Tresch. It's also important to use a shampoo for color-treated hair because it contains less detergent, so it won't strip your hair of its natural oils. Tresch recommends a Rita Hazan product called Breaking Brass Gloss, which keeps the hair shiny and ensures blonde highlights don't start to look brassy.
8. Embrace Not Having To Wash Your Hair As Frequently
"Because it's a bleach and it kind of roughs up the texture of your hair, you'll get like three days out of a blowout now," Tresch tells me as she's finishing my hair. Three days? With my somewhat thin hair texture? Without dry shampoo? It seemed too good to be true. "You're going to go, 'I almost want to go get highlights just so I don't have to wash my hair as often,'" says Tresch. And three days after my dye job, I finally believed her. My original blowout from Rita Hazan stylist Christine Healey lasted three full days, and my hair remained totally polished and grease-free, even with very little dry shampoo. This was definitely the most unexpected added benefit of my new look.
9. Expect A Lot Of Compliments
I'm not big on selfies, but I had to document my new blonde tresses immediately after Tresch completed my look. After posting the photo to Instagram, the likes started rolling in and I received several texts about the new look. Not a bad way to end my first hair dye experience!