I feel like I speak for every dark-haired girl when I say at some point we’ve all wanted to “go a bit lighter” with our hair colour. Maybe not even “blonde” but definitely lighter. Personally, I loved my hair the most when it was lighter and in good shape; hair styles had more definition and it just looked magical. Seriously, it was so good, and I miss it so much. Everyone asked who did my colour, everyone said it looked amazing, but what everyone didn’t know was before I had monthly visits to Carlton Hair salon, I had hair disasters and had ZERO clue what it would take to get the colour I wanted.
What I’ve learnt the hard way through failed experiences though, is that getting lighter locks that look GREAT is not going to be a simple paint, wash and blow-dry solution. No babes, you have to put in the work AND the money and you have to do it regularly. My failed attempts at going lighter were caused by not managing my expectations of what my hair could do, skimping on paying for a good colourist, not doing my research or the worst of them all; thinking I can make great colour a DIY project. Sound familiar?
Now that I have had many mistakes and also a year and a half of success with going lighter, I’m writing the article I wish I’d read before ever putting dye in my hair as a very dark brunette. Here’s what I’ve learned, and a mini interview with my hair stylist from Carlton in Cavendish, Christiline Bush, who is an international award-winning colourist.
WHAT I WISH I KNEW AT FIRST:
You cannot just go to anybody. I REPEAT: YOU CANNOT JUST GO TO ANY BODY FOR YOUR COLOUR. That nice aunty’s hair salon on the corner may have been great for layered cuts, treatments, brazilians for all these years but getting your colour done is a totally different story. You need an experienced colourist and you need to see examples of that person’s work before choosing them to do your colour. If you don’t see a before and after that looks like what you want, on someone whose hair was the same colour as yours, don’t go to that person. Every good colourist or the salon they work for has or should have an IG account with transformations on them.
It’s expensive. Your first appointment alone could easily cost you between R1000-R2000 and up. This depends on whether you’re doing your whole head versus half, highlights versus a full colour and of course the length of your hair is a determining factor. You’ll probably need a moisture treatment too.
You may have to colour in stages. Every light colour job is going to mean you have to bleach first, then tone to the colour you want. The lighter your desired colour, the longer you have to bleach. But the problem is, you can’t do all that bleach in one sitting because your hair will suffer incredible damage. This means you may have to go back a few times, giving your hair breaks in between bleach sessions. Some people work toward light hair over one or two years. You may want a unique, grey-brown hair colour that still “looks dark” but the reality is you will still have to do a lot of bleach work first before that colour will be yours.
It’s high maintenance. Remember, your hair is going to grow out, so you’re going to have to head back a month later to touch up your roots. Furthermore, you can’t just wash with any shampoo and conditioner (because it will affect your colour and moisture) and you need to wash your hair with purple shampoo too, at least once a week, to maintain that expensive, non-brassy look that shines cool silver.
If you have a beautiful natural texture that you love, know that it changes. Most of the time you can forget having pretty air-dried hair after swimming. The frizz is real. You may need to need to use all the anti-frizz solutions under the sun.
INTERVIEW WITH CHRISTILENE BUSH FROM CARLTON HAIR
What do you wish people knew before going lighter?
“I wish people knew what the maintenance of it is, and to have realistic expectations of going lighter, and also depending on what shade you’re starting from and where you want to be, everything can’t always be done in one sitting of an appointment. Sometimes it can take five, six or seven times of going lighter gradually over a period of time before you actually get to the colour you want. You also have to be able to deal with all those shades in between your starting shades and your end shade, and that takes patience!”
What would you say is the best way to care for your hair to maintain your light colour and nourish the hair itself? What should the routine look like?
“Firstly, you’d need to go for an in-salon treatment every four weeks. Salon treatments use a finer formula than home treatments so it penetrates your hair a lot deeper. The longevity of the treatment is therefore also quite a bit longer, around ten to twelve washes, while a home-based treatment is more instant and on the surface of the hair.
Secondly, you need to be using a great sulfate-free shampoo and conditioner, because sodium dehydrates hair too. So you need less salt, and your protein plus moisture balance needs to be in sync.
You then also need to include a purple/silver shine shampoo into your routine about once per week to maintain a cool tone if that’s what you’re after, or else it will have that brass shine.”
So is swimming in the ocean really bad for your hair if you’re going lighter because of the salt water? Or is once in a while fine?
“Once in a while is fine but if you are going to spend a lot of time outside, in the sun, swimming in chlorine or salt water, it’s good to protect your hair with a barrier. You actually get sunscreens now for your hair. Most professional brands have suncare ranges. You can also get an oil moisture mist that creates a barrier for your hair”.
I didn’t write this article to discourage anyone from lightening their hair, because believe me, once you get it right it’s absolutely glorious. Truly GLORIOUS. However, these were all the things I wish I had known before jumping head first into a bottle of bleach, I had to pay R2000 for a proper colourist to fix my hair and I don’t want that for any of you. You have to know lighter hair is an expensive hobby that you get to wear every day. The maintenance also easily becomes a way of life and if you’re keen for that, then go for it, because I can confirm that even semi-blondes have more fun.