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If you’re a so-called “bottle blonde,” and have to resort to salon services to maintain your lightened locks, you know that being blonde is not only expensive AF, but it’s also just downright hard. Before taking a deep dive into our comprehensive blonde hair color guide informed by Los Angeles based colorist (and bona fide blonde guru) Linet K, let’s first address some of the potential reasons for why we oftentimes find ourselves leaving the salon dissatisfied (and sometimes straight-up horrified) with the end result. The most common reason for leaving the salon in a state of distress is that your expectations simply weren’t realistic and/or weren’t matched with your budget, the condition of your hair, your natural color’s aptitude to lift (lighten), or the time limit you’d allotted for the service.
If you’ve ever tried to go from a brunette (or worse, redhead) to blonde with only one salon session, you’ve probably been told that this transformation is virtually impossible to undergo within one day if you plan on actually leaving with some hair left on your head. Of course, aside from consulting with your colorist about possibilities and options, it’s also possible you weren’t specific enough in communicating your hair goals or simply didn’t even know what you wanted (all you knew is that it wasn’t what you left with).
Even if you have the most amazing colorist in your city and bring in the most illustrative inspiration pics the margin of “error,” walking out of the salon with the exact shade, undertone and effect you dreamed of us is unlikely without the right vocabulary. Not only is there a highly nuanced shade palette when it comes to a vast range of different hues under the broad “blonde” umbrella, but there is also a slew of different tones (ash, neutral, golden, icy…and the list goes on). There’s also a ton of different blonding techniques that will each give you a different look.
On top of this, colorists and hairstylists seem to have adopted their own language choc-full of mystifying terms and descriptives, and if you don’t know the jargon, you may be at a disadvantage when you’re trying to distinguish whether you’re coveting dimension, a smudged root, or blended babylights, or whether you’re looking for a “bronde,” baby blonde or champagne-hued accent highlights. “The best thing to do is to take in photos of what you like because your interpretation or understanding of cool, neutral, and platinum are not the same or someone else’s understanding of those terms,” Linet advises.
Balayage, babylights and partial highlights offer the most natural-looking blonde requiring less maintenance and offering a more forgiving grow-up process, while bleach and tones give an all-over blonde (often platinum-white) but you’ll have to be religious about root touch-ups every 3-4 weeks to avoid stark lines of demarcation. “Balayage lasts for between 3-6 months, whereas highlights need a touch up every 4-6 weeks, so you can save money with a balayage with more infrequent salon visits,” she says.
According to Linet, it’s also important to factor in the condition of your hair, if you have a ton of breakage from previous bleach jobs or excessive heat styling, a bleach and tone or platinum highlights, aren’t ideal. “Balayage [tend to be] the least damaging because the bleach doesn’t go all the way up to the root, and there are fewer pieces of hair bleached compared to highlights or babylights,” she says. Regardless of which technique and tone you decide, ensuring you protect the integrity of your hair (another popular salon term, I’ve heard numerous times), selecting the right products to maintain your hair’s health and keep your locks bright and brass-free is essential.
The two products she recommends to her blonde clients? A good bond-builder and violet-hued shampoo. “Olaplex will keep the hair strong and healthy! Purple shampoo only once a week to keep it bright, otherwise, it will start looking grey,” she suggests. See below for some of our favorite blonde looks and find out exactly how to ask for them.
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A bleach and tone service involves the process of applying bleach in section to the entire head to a pale yellow or white level and then applying a toner to get the desired undertone. This icy (white, cool-toned cast) is achieved by using a purple or ash-toned glaze over pre-lightened locks. As mentioned, bleach and tone blondes should expect a high-maintenance and expensive salon routine because root regrowth looks stark compared to sectional highlights, hand-painted balayage, or super blended babylights.
Color Lux Cleansing Conditioner
Using a color-depositing conditioner formulated for platinum blondes will help keep your hair fresher for an extended amount of time. Color Lux’s Cleansing Conditioner in the platinum will help counteract unwanted warmth and keep brass at bay in between your salon appointments.
Butter blonde tones are universally flattering on a wide range of skin tones, and they require much less upkeep with maintaining the tone than ash, ice, platinum, and cooler-toned hues. She also appears to have what’s called a smudged root: a process that involves the colorist adding a glaze or demi-permanent gloss darker than the blonde color applied over your roots to soften any harsh lines from your highlights and to help make the grow-out look a bit more natural for those who prefer to only visit the salon for touch-ups a couple of times a year.
ColorLites Color-Depositing Shampoo
This pigmented color-depositing shampoo comes in a variety of hue-enhancing shades, including options for white platinums, golden highlights, and beige blondes. The shade “sandstone” is perfect for maintaining buttery blonde shades.
Mushroom blonde is probably one of the biggest hair color trends swirling about this summer, and for good reason. The ash-based hue is a combination of grayish-brown and neutral blonde, infused with highlights and low-lights in a myriad of different shades and tones for an ultra-natural look that still delivers ample dimension and character. The color melt technique is a popular way to nail this look because it concentrates on lighter shades at the bottom of the hair with a gradient effect from the root to strands. It’s one of the most fuss-free hair services you can choose from, and it complements the multifaceted ‘shroom shades beautifully.
Fanola No Yellow Shampoo
I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, this violet-tinged shampoo is the ultimate brass-blocker I’ve found. Colorists swear by it — even to use in place of an actual toner. It’s that good. This formula will help keep the mushroom tones nice and ashy and will counteract brass.
Babylights are one of the go-to highlighting methods used on clients looking for a super-natural looking blonde that mimics the enviable soft dimension you’ll see on naturally blonde tresses of children (most people lose this lustrous effect with age). This method offers a super-subtle look and tends to grow out beautifully depending on how light you go.
FEKKAI Baby Blonde Shampoo
This blonde-enhancing shampoo helps keep golden locks looking shiny and vibrant, but isn’t as pigmented as other purple-toned shampoos, so it won’t leave your locks looking ashy or silvery.
Another bleach and tone example, this striking blonde has been bleached to a pale yellow and toned with an ash or silver toner to create a grayish hue. If you choose to rock this look, prepare for some serious commitment when it comes to your maintenance routine. We advise investing in silver or violet-hued shampoo to maintain the brilliance and counteract brass (especially if your natural hair color is darker) in between salon visits.
Luesta Hair Brightening Mask
This two-in-one hair mask delivers anti-brass powers to keep yellow tones at bay, while also conditioning the hair to reverse breakage and bleach damage.
This ash-blonde look is accented with a touch of face-framing highlights positioned strategically around the face for a sun-kissed effect. I’ve also heard these accent or face frame highlights referred to as “pops,” money pieces, crown highlights, and frosted tip highlights in salons.
Kérastase Blond Absolu CicaFlash Conditioner
This fortifying hair treatment will keep your brighter pieces healthy, strong, and hydrated while also boosting their brightness when your in-between visits to your colorist. It’s infused with hyaluronic acid fills, which work to help repair damage and prevent further breakage.
Giselle’s signature beachy highlights look effortless and sexy — and they’re actually just as low-key when it comes to maintenance and grow-out as they seem. Balayage is a process of highlighting that (usually) favor the hand-painting technique for placement rather than foils for a more natural look. Balayage often has a rootier look, without being full-on ombre.
CHI Ionic Illuminate Golden Blonde Conditioner
Keep your golden strands bright and healthy with this subtle color-depositing conditioner, which also doubles as a bond builder for repairing and restricting damage.
Bronde (you guessed it, a slightly blonder brunette shade) is a great option for those on a budget or those who don’t want to fuss with frequent salon appointments to deal with roots. It adds just a touch of dimension and brightness to your natural (or color-treated) hue without a huge investment or commitment. This bronde shade has a pop of blonde with cascading, ultra-thin “ribbon highlights” position around the entire head (as opposed to accent highlights) where the sun would naturally hit.
DP Hue Gloss+ in Dark Blonde
This color-refreshing gloss gives the perfect pick-me-up to keep warm bronde hues fresh. This low-maintenance look requires little upkeep, but adding a gloss like DP Hue’s will help you push back frequent visits to the salon.