November 29, 2013

Best Highlights for Dark Hair

Every year is the same story, do I want highlights or not? It usually happens during the summer, but this year it happened a little later, almost at the end of the summer. But it doesn't matter when, what matters is that it always happens! I get bored with my one dimensional color and wish for contrast and change.

As soon as I see my hair a little healthier and shinier, I figure I can abuse it a little with color. The problem is that my hair is dark brown and highlights can be tricky, and if badly done, they can be downright horrible.

Let me explain.

To me highlights look best (or at least they are easier to do) on blond hair. If you have a nice base of dark blond hair then streaks of platinum blond or golden blond hair will look great. But if you are a brunette, you need to be careful, because the wrong highlight color will make you look like you are going grey, no doubt about it.

It's happened to me: a bad hairdresser with no clue. I asked for highlights and she treated me as if I were blond, so she streaked my dark brown hair with blond highlights. Results: I looked like a skunk. Even from a distance you could count exactly the number of highlights streaks on my head. I went home and washed my hair immediately with a deep cleansing shampoo which toned down the highlights some, but the damage was done. I had to basically color it all back to brown to fix the mess.

After that last disaster, it's easy to understand the fear I felt when I had to look for a new hairdresser in the new town I had recently moved in to. I wanted highlights but I was afraid of the risks, so I wasn't just going to walk in the first hair salon and hoped for the best! I had a plan.

First I researched all the hair salons in the area to death. I read the reviews. I went to a few salons to talk to the people inside, to see if they were busy, to see if I could get a feeling of the happiness levels of the actual customers sitting in their chairs. I did this a few times over and finally, after a month or so of researching these people as if I worked for the CIA, I picked my winner and made an appointment. And then two days before the appointment, I almost canceled it, because I was so traumatized and scared that I almost said to myself: "forget it, you're better off leaving your poor hair alone!"

Fortunately my little "fashion angel" appeared on my left shoulder and encouraged me not to listen to that "lazy devil" who would walk around in sweat pants and sneakers all the time and get a haircut every 5 years or so.

So with two days to go, I now had to do anything I could to better my chances that this new hairdresser wasn't going to further traumatize me and my hair. I started looking at pictures of highlights. I needed examples to take with me, as if this hairdresser was going to be deaf and couldn't hear me explaining what I wanted (sadly, a lot of hairdressers ARE in fact deaf to customers' requests).

I picked good and bad highlights pictures. I had such a portfolio you would think me an expert on highlights. Or a woman who cared a bit too much about her hair. Or someone just overly anal. And you would be right on all counts.

Due to limited time, and the fact that I didn't want to scare off my new "supposedly" great hairdresser with 20 pictures of bad highlights job, I picked just two "bad" pictures to take with me.

This was the first one I showed her.

Before I even showed it to her I said:


I DO NOT want my highlights to be so obvious on my head.

I am actually surprised that Halle Berry got such a bad color job. Highlights should be more subtle.

My new hairdresser took an interested look and nodded her head.

When I was sure she had taken it all in, I pulled out my other "bad" picture, this one of Kelly Clarkson, and spelling it out once again, I said to her as clearly as I could:

"Another example of what I DO NOT want"

My hairdresser took the picture in her hands, looked at it for a second, and then gave it back to me and smiled at me, and for a moment I felt we were part of the same secret club, that club that knows all about bad highlights.

(But seriously, does nobody tell these superstars when they get a bad hair job? Do they just let them go out there hoping nobody will notice?)

After we agreed on those two bad jobs, I was ready to share with her my special picture. The picture that was supposed to replace a thousand words (in my case make that ten thousand). The picture that was going to "make or break" my hair.

Oh, how I was hoping that once I pulled it out I would see a ray of light on my new hairdresser's face! A ray that would let me understand that she understood. A clear sign that things would be ok.

I prepared her: "Ok, THIS is what I WANT" and I pulled out Eva Longoria's picture and showed it to her, immediately pointing out how her highlights blend in beautifully with the rest of her hair.

My patient new hairdresser took a look at Eva and nodded once again, then we discussed how her highlights were not at all blonde but more of a caramel color.

We agreed that to avoid too much damage to my hair, we were going to go with regular color and not real highlights (bleach, ouch!).

And lastly, I told her that my goal was to have my overall color to be lighter but natural. She replied how putting lighter streaks would give the impression that the rest of the hair was lighter, too (I knew this). And that with time the highlights would lighten up anyway (I hadn't thought about that).

In the end, I think I saw that ray of light in her face and I felt relieved. I had once again hope that things (highlights) would be ok. At the end of our conversation (I guess I need pictures AND thousands of words), she told me not to worry (who me? worry?? ha!), and sat me down in her chair and went to prepare her color.

One hour later I was a happy camper.  :)

She gave me these caramel streaks of color and they look so natural... I love them! Each one of them!

And while at first the color change wasn't so obvious (we were, after all, going for subtle) with time the highlights are lighting up and are still beautifully blending in.

Next time, we agreed, we will lighten the color of my hair a little more by using a shade lighter than what she used here, and applying it to the darker hair (the hair that hasn't been colored yet).

This way I will have two different sets of "highlights" growing at different rates, which should make the roots problem less visible, if at all.

So I guess all my research paid off: I found a good colorist and I have no doubt I will go back to her.

It's funny how sometimes it takes a long time until we finally figure out what works best for us. It personally took me years of trial and errors, to finally wake up with the answers in (on) my head.

And if something doesn't work for you despite looking beautiful on everyone else around you (I'm talking about you silly blond highlights on silly brunettes!), it takes courage and maturity to finally admit it to yourself, but when you do, you will feel liberated and never again you will have to walk around with unflattering hair color.


Daisy said...

Is everybody busy with Black Friday?

The caramel highlights are very pretty, flattering the natural hair color and not clashing with it.


NY Spender said...

Thank you, Daisy. :)

Yep, I spent black friday shopping more than I first wanted to, but the deals were pretty good and I couldn't resist! ;)

Daisy said...

I highlighted my dark hair for a few years. But my hair turned gray prematurely about 2 years ago and I have had to color my hair since. I stopped getting highlights. I usually use a dark or auburn shade from Clairol. Is it ok to still get highlights over already color treated hair? It won't break my heart if this is not a good idea but just curious.


NY Spender said...

Absolutely! I've done it in the past and it's common practice. Go for it! :)