While watching the most recent season of The Bachelor, I had a moment of hair-color anxiety. It seemed as if every contestant had some form of severe ombré, not much different (I thought) from my own beachy, grown-out blonde. The next time I sat down with my colorist, I shared my fear. “Does it look like one of those Bachelor girls?” I asked. She ensured me it didn’t as my stylist swung by for support, adding, “Your color looks expensive.” That was the first time I heard someone describe hair color as looking expensive without referring to the actual price. And since then, I’ve heard it roughly ten more times. But what does “expensive-looking” color actually mean, and more importantly, how do you get it? Turns out it’s not just one thing. There are many factors that make up good hair color. I asked four professional colorists for their interpretation of the descriptor, and there seemed to be a general consensus. Make sure your next dye job incorporates these five factors, and pricey or not, it will no doubt look “expensive.”
Tone: “The tone [of your color] needs to complement and not fight with your skin tone,” says Rachel Bodt, a colorist at Cutler Salon in New York City. Without veering too much into color theory, Bodt recommends picking a reference photo (a celebrity, model, whoever) who has a skin color that’s similar to yours. That way, you’re not fighting with what will naturally look good. Color can also look drastically different in different lighting, so getting your hair dyed in natural light is the safest route. “My stations are against floor-to-ceiling windows, so I get a true reading on every shade,” says Kyle White, a colorist at the Oscar Blandi Salon in New York City.
Dimension: “When someone says ‘expensive looking,’ what immediately comes to mind are supersoft, sun-kissed, painted or balayage highlights,” says Bruna Luiza, a colorist at Soon Beauty Lab in Brooklyn. Think of the celebrities who often cited for their hair color, like Jennifer Aniston, Jennifer Lopez, and Hannah Davis (above). They all have a ton of dimension. “Adding a couple of face-framing highlights can definitely make hair look more expensive,” says White.
Gradience: This one in particular put my Bachelor fears at ease. “Hair naturally will have subtle lightness at the bottom,” says Bodt. “I think when that’s missing, it doesn’t feel as seamless and polished.” Single-process color, where color is run through from roots to ends, can create the opposite effect. “Porous ends will oversaturate with color and appear darker over time,” a look Bodt describes as inverted color and definitely not expensive looking.
Health: “I make sure the health of the hair is great, because dry hair does not look expensive,” says White. Keeping heat tools in check, getting regular trims, and deep-conditioning with masks and treatments are all important for maintaining healthy, nourished hair. But Bodt also likes to start from the color application. “I’m a huge fan of Olaplex because it allows you to go superlight or even get through old color without breaking the hair,” she says. “It’s like an antibiotic for the hair.”
Maintenance: Now that your color looks expensive, maintenance is the name of the game, and that doesn’t just mean getting your roots touched up every month or so. Bodt recommends trying a cleansing conditioner to wash hair without stripping it. Also, “Don’t underestimate how expensive looking shine can appear,” says White. To get that shine, Denis De Souza, a co-owner of Mare Salon in West Hollywood, likes a gloss. “If possible, get a gloss every four weeks to give it shine and refresh the color.”
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