Read This Before You Get Those Highlights

Naaila Khan

We get it, when it comes to highlighting your hair, the sea of #hairspiration on your feed isn’t nearly enough. It’s a chemical process, after all, and you want to go in with all the information you can get. So we got on the phone with two of Hollywood’s favourite hair colorists – Kitty Nadel, Color Director at New York’s Ted Gibson Salon, whose roster includes Lady Gaga and Idina Menzel and Nicole Tresch, Colorist at Rita Hazan Salon New York, which is responsible for everyone from J. Lo to Beyonce’s hair transformations. Between them, they’ve got you – and your hair – covered.

1/10 Why highlight:

Nicole: “Whether or not you’re brunette or blonde, highlights, subtle though they might be, show off dimension and layers, versus just being one single colour. They help accent the shape of your haircut and brighten up your face just a little. Everybody can do with some highlights, I think.”

2/10 Is bleaching absolutely necessary?

Nicole: “If it’s virgin hair, bleach isn’t necessary; you can use colour as a highlight, but you’ll have to use a stronger peroxide in that case. If there is pre-existing colour deposit on your hair, you have to use a bleach; there’s no way around it. And if you want to go really light, you have to use the strong stuff. I’ll be honest, if there’s a chemical change, you have to use a chemical.”

3/10 What’s the deal with all that foil?

Kitty: “It depends on what you want. There are two major techniques; one is using foil, where you weave the hair through, highlight those sections and then cover it with foil. This creates finer highlights that blend into your hair naturally, and they’re symmetrical.

The other one, balayage – think Khloe Kardashian or J. Lo – is done is by painting streaks of colour or lightener with a brush on the pieces that you want to accentuate. This isn’t necessarily symmetrical, and it may or may not get all the way up to the roots. It has more variations and gives more movement to the hair, because it’s not all one colour.”

3/10 ‘Levels’ in hair colouring:

Kitty: “Hair levels are used to determine what shade your natural hair is and is basically used as a guideline for colouring the hair. Every level has an underlying pigment, which is exposed when the natural hair colour is lifted.”

“Indian hair is usually level 3. All my Indian clients expose a lot of red and orange and so by knowing that, a suitable toner can be used to counteract that pigment.”

Nicole: “The levels differ with hair colour brands, but usually level 1 would be black and level 12 would be white blonde, and beyond that, would be a Gwen Stefani platinum blonde.”

4/10 Are there any rules about hair tones?

Kitty: “I judge what hair tones suit a person by first figuring their skin tone and eye colour. Usually, if you’re green-veined, you’re a warm tone and if your veins appear blue, you’re a cool tone. It also depends on different times of the year, because people might be a different tone in the summer, versus in the winter months.”

“For Indian hair that hasn’t been coloured before, I like starting with a nice chocolatey brown because it’s warm but does have some violet in it, so it’s a bit muted. I always believe less is more when it comes to highlighting for the first time – also, it gets lighter over time so try to keep it darker.”

Nicole: “If you’re very olive, then you can pull off something that’s ashy. If you’re pink, then you’d need some warmth like gold and honey shades to complement your skin.”

5/10 What if you don’t like the end result?

Kitty: “If you feel your hair is overly highlighted, ask your colourist go give you some lowlights to break it up. It’s just colouring your hair with your natural hair colour to cover up some of those old highlights to give your hair some movement. There’s also something called a tint-back, which is colouring all of your hair to its natural colour.”

Nicole: “So, if your base colour is brown and you have some blonde pieces in there that you want to get rid of, you can do a darker blonde – it doesn’t have to be as dark as your base, but just a darker colour weaved in to give dimension, so it’s not all one solid colour."

6/10 Things to keep in mind, first-timers:

Nicole: “Bring pictures of what you want, so you and your colourist are on the same page, because if you’re a first timer, you might not know all the terms. Most times, people need a visual to understand colour.

Also, be prepared for your hair texture to change a little bit because of the bleach. For a lot of people who get highlights for the first time, they find their hair doesn’t get greasy as fast, it it has more body, and they love that. Also expect to have a maintenance – it could be just 3-4 times a year, nothing too crazy, but there is upkeep involved.”

7/10 On hair colour trends:

Kitty: “We’re getting into fall, so it’s more tortoiseshell, beachy highlighted looks. It’s semi-natural, just like how your hair would lighten up on its own when you’re at the beach. There’s also an alternative colour trend right now with non-traditional colours – lots of greys and violets.”

Nicole: “I hate to use the word ‘trend’, because honestly, I believe in working with what suits you and your skin colour. But yes, the ombré look is not going anywhere – maybe not a severe one, but a gradual dark to light.”

8/10 Let’s talk maintenance:

Kitty: “I recommend using a very moisturising shampoo like Kérastase Réflection Masque Chroma Captive and L'Oréal Vitamino Color. Don’t wash your hair for at least 48 hours after colouring, because the highlights need to set in. Then wash your hair once every 2-3 days, as opposed to everyday or every other day. You could use alternatives like dry shampoo instead.

A good repairing conditioner ike the Kérastase Thérapiste and the L'Oréal Vitamino Color Conditioner is important if your hair is bleached. It’s great if you can do a hair mask once a week if your hair is very damaged, but don’t keep it on for longer than 20 minutes because masks that have protein in them will make your hair brittle.”

Nicole: “Rita Hazan Ultimate Shine Gloss is great for dark brown hair, it keeps the colour intact and it’s amazing. Weekly Remedy treatment is great because it strengthens the hair up again – it’s life changing.”

9/10 Upkeep:

Kitty: “For foil highlighting, going in for a gloss every 8-10 weeks is good, and for most balayage re-doing it every 3-6 months is fine, although I do recommend a gloss every 8 weeks. If you don’t have time for that, you could use a tinted shampoo at home as well, but I would consult a stylist before picking one because I’ve seen some bad things happen with those!”

10/10 To DIY or not to DIY:

Kitty: “I wouldn’t – you could run into a lot of problems with that. Maneuvering seeing yourself in the mirror can be quite hard, and the evenness of it could be compromised. I don’t know one person that has coloured their own hair and hasn’t had to go to a salon to correct it!”

Image courtesy Instagram @beyonce


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