Break Out of Your Hair Rut
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Break Out of Your Hair Rut

5 new ways to get a brilliant color update -- at home or in the salon.

At Home

You Want: A Subtle, Sun-Kissed Boost

The Technique: Balayage, a paint-on method of highlighting that gives hair a soft, sun-lightened look. This surfer-chick style "is the big trend in hair color right now -- lighter pieces just around the hairline and only on the ends," says Ashley Javier, color and style expert for Herbal Essences.

Best For: Those with hair that hasn't been chemically treated who want low-maintenance color.

Get It: "Balayage is great for do-it-yourself highlights because precision is not an issue," says Kyle White, a colorist at the Oscar Blandi Salon in New York City. (Try Garnier Nutrisse Nourishing Multi-Lights, $7.29, drugstores.) Stay within three shades of your base color and just paint a few strands around your face. When choosing a shade, let your skin tone guide you. If you're fair, go for cool shades (platinum, beige, ash); if you're olive-skinned or darker, pick warm hues (gold, caramel, bronze). Then blend away any mistakes with a gloss (such as John Frieda Luminous Color Glaze, $9.99, drugstores) that matches your base, suggests Kim Vo, of the Kim Vo Salon at The Mirage in Las Vegas.

You Want: Anti-Aging Vibrancy or Gray Coverage

The Technique: Single-process permanent color delivers a solid, even, glossy shade with great shine. It's most commonly used to cover gray -- especially on women who are more than 25 percent silver.

Best For: Hiding grays, going lighter, or transforming your existing hue. Whatever your color, permanent dye can create a richness that the shades we're born with rarely have, says Vo. But since permanent color grows out (rather than rinsing away or fading), you'll need to touch up your roots every four to six weeks.

Get It: This process is pretty easy to tackle at home. (Try Revlon Colorist, $15.99, at drugstores.) If you're going lighter, stay within two shades of your existing color. Going darker? Use a color that's one shade lighter than you think you want. "You can always go deeper, but if you go too dark, you're in trouble," says Ryan Finch, a colorist at the Cutler Redken Salon in New York City. Then simply follow the directions on the box. "All permanent color stops processing after 45 minutes, so you really can't leave it on too long," says Vo.

You Want: Healthy Shine

The Technique: Semipermanent color -- including glosses, glazes, and vegetable dyes such as henna -- lasts three to six weeks and slowly fades over time, so roots aren't an issue. "Semipermanent products coat the hair with emollients and silicones, delivering amazing shine," says White.

Best For: Livening up faded color or if you're just starting to go gray and can't deal with the upkeep that comes with permanent dye. "When a gloss fades, your grays will appear translucent, giving hair a highlighted look until it completely washes out," White says. Mild semipermanent formulas are also safe for pregnant women, those with sensitive scalps or allergies, and anyone trying to cut back on chemicals.

Get It: Stay in your color family -- brunette glaze for brown hair, blond glaze for fair hair -- and choose a hue that's a little lighter than you think you want. (Again, you can always go darker next time.) We like L'Oreal ColorSpa Moisture Actif, $7.99, at drugstores.

In the Salon

You Want: More Volume and Movement

The Technique: Foil highlights involve sectioning the hair, weaving out select strands from those sections and coating them with color before wrapping them in foil. "You get softer, less obvious regrowth than you would with single-process color, plus beautiful dimension, which gives the illusion of fullness," says Finch.

Best For: Those with fine hair in need of body who want a low-maintenance option. "By adding just a few foils around the hairline and going only two shades lighter, the color grows out very naturally, and there's little damage to hair," says White. What's more, highlighting can work on any color. Brunettes should experiment with chestnut or light brown, and redheads can play with copper and gold.

Get It: "See a pro for foil highlights," says White. Bring in a "hair envy" photo for reference, and tell your colorist to work his magic just around your face (doing your entire head can look dated and obvious). Stay within three shades of your natural color for the best results.

You Want: A Brighter Skin Tone

The Technique: Lowlights (darker strands of hair) add depth to your color, which gives you a more luminous complexion. "They're essentially an extension of your God-given shade, which is why they're anti-aging," says Finch. The color at your roots is selectively carried through the length of your hair, using a color product that's slightly lighter than your natural shade.

Best For: Reintroducing deeper, darker tones to hair that's been over-highlighted or bleached out by the sun. "There's really no better way to break up solid, all-over color or brassy ends," says White.

Get It: At the salon. "Since color is being applied to already chemically treated hair, you'll want to rely on an expert who knows how to choose the safest, gentlest products," says Finch.

Your Hair Color-opedia

Permanent Color

Used to cover gray or to go from one shade to another (say, blond to brunet, or vice versa), permanent color contains ammonia and peroxide to deposit long-lasting pigments deep within the hair shaft. You'll need to touch up roots in four to six weeks.

Semipermanent Color

Contains tiny molecules of dye that coat the hair's outer cuticle and rinse away after several shampoos. Since it contains no ammonia or peroxide, semipermanent color can only brighten or darken existing color, not change it, and is gentler on hair than other methods.


Swells the hair's outer cuticle, allowing dye to penetrate.


Permanently traps in color molecules.

4 Ways to Make Your Color Last

  1. Some processes can be harsh, so strengthen your hair the day before you color by combing a mixture of equal parts mayo and egg whites from roots to ends. After 10 minutes, wash with a gentle shampoo and condition as usual.
  2. After dying, deep-condition with a weekly mask to prevent fading, says Finch.
  3. Shampoo every other day (or less) with products containing silicones and UV filters, which lock in dye and block out rays.
  4. Once a month, use a clear gloss, like Clairol Natural Instincts Shine Happy, $8.99, drugstores, to help boost shine.

Originally published in FITNESS magazine, February 2008.