In the world of hair color, there’s one shade that brings more frustration than any other: blonde.
When it’s done correctly, blonde hair is pure perfection—all caramel and honey with dark roots or, alternatively, icy silver. However, it’s important to respect your hair stylist’s expertise to achieve the best-looking color possible.
To help guide you through the world of sunshine-inspired color, we called on one of our favorite experts. When she’s not serving as Redken’s creative consultant for color, celebrity colorist Tracey Cunningham is unofficially ruling as the queen of the blondes. Once you’ve seen a photo of her clients, it’s impossible to forget the depth of color, the natural-looking highlights, or the glossy finish.
If you’re looking to achieve a more beautiful blonde shade or are just starting to consider leaving the dark side for the first time, read on. Cunningham has some knowledge to lay on us.
Blonde Takes Time
Lesson number one is surprising to many people. Hair dye virgins often think they can schedule a hair appointment, arrive with chestnut hair, and leave with sandy blonde. In reality, hair color isn’t that simple. It will probably take you more than one appointment to achieve your dream color.
Likewise, maintaining your buttery hair color takes time, money, and effort. Be prepared to set money aside in a “blonde budget” for touch-ups and specialty products.
With that in mind, it’s doubly important to be sure about your desire to go blonde before committing to it. If you’re in doubt, give ombre or highlights a try before totally going for it.
One Kind of Blonde Doesn’t Fit All
While you’re musing about how much hair maintenance you’re willing to do, Cunningham has another question for you. What kind of blonde do you want to be?
“One blonde doesn’t fit all,” she says. “From brondes to beachy California blondes, there is a range of shades for every client.”
Before you settle on a dream shade, factor in your skin tone, your budget for salon visits, and your willingness to care for the color at home.
Always Choose a Professional
When you’ve officially decided to become a blonde and have picked a few choice shades, you might feel a kind of strange pride rising in your chest, a feeling that you really could just bleach your hair on your own. Box dye is so much easier to use these days, right?
Wrong. Cunningham, who has seen many a nightmare hair situation, says salon is the only way to go.
“Always see a professional colorist,” she says. “They will be able to help minimize the damage and can better predict a final color result.”
In other words, achieving the right shade of blonde isn’t just a matter of a few saved dollars and not changing out of your pajamas. If you’re not meticulous about the hair lightening process, you may be dismayed to discover a head full of newly straw-like strands that seem to have the potential to snap off at any second.
The Small Touches Make a Big Difference
Anyone can dye hair blonde, but not everyone can make it appear perfectly sun-bleached and natural. That’s what sets Cunningham apart from her peers. Instead of angling for a specific shade of blonde or a traditional ombre, she thinks outside the (dye) box.
“I always talk about babylights—the fine highlights you had as a child,” Cunningham explains. “Those are key to so many of my blonde looks. They are meant to look natural and sun-kissed, not overly processed.”
If you’d like a similar degree of depth to your new blonde hair, do a little research about your colorist. Be sure to choose someone who specializes in blonde, to achieve a result that’s exactly what you wanted.
Do Your Photo Research
The golden (no pun intended) rule of going blonde, according to Cunningham, is to put together an inspiration collage of photos—the kind you probably haven’t made since middle school.
Whether you save a few images on your phone or physically bring them to your appointment, the photos will give you a starting point for your colorist consultation. Cunningham says the images aid the professional in understanding what shade you’re seeking.
“You might be saying one thing, but I hear another,” she explains. “The only way to ensure you and your colorist are on the same page is to show examples of exactly what you are looking—and not looking—for.” Still, remember to treat these images as inspiration—not exactly what will happen to your own hair. Depending on your mane and its current color, your colorist will try to land on a shade that’s very close to what you requested.
Happy Hair Dyes Differently
If you’re interested in going blonde within the next year, pay attention. Coloring hair is a delicate process, one that inevitably inflicts some damage on your strands. Now is the time to cut back on hair color, hot tools, and daily stresses. Start protecting your mane.
Even the happiest, most gently cared for hair might require multiple sessions at the salon to achieve the perfect, sunny color. That’s a reality you should be emotionally (and financially) prepared for.
“As a colorist, my number one priority is to maintain the health and integrity of each client’s hair,” Cunningham says. “I would rather take longer to achieve your desired hair color than compromise your strands.”
You’ll be thankful for all that patience when you’re left with somewhat silky strands, not crispy, overly-bleached bleached ends.
Half the Work Happens at Home
Last, but never least, is what happens once you’ve happily bounded home from the salon. With blonde hair, the work is never done.
“The products you use at home are just as important as what I use behind the chair,” Cunningham explains.
To minimize fading in between salon visits, purchase a color protecting system of shampoo and conditioner. Don’t forget to try a hair mask or two, either.