A (Very) Complete Guide to Hair Coloring

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hair color tips guide
Photo: Courtesy of @Natascha.Lindemann

Don’t know your balayage from your bleach or your ombré from your elbow? Don’t panic, because we tapped Jess Filewood, top stylist and colorist at Aveda Dubai, to find out everything you need to know about hair color. From the different techniques and which one’s for you to how to help your color last longer and what not to do, these are all the top hair color tips we’ve been dyeing – pun intended – to know.

What are the different color techniques?
The main ones are:

Highlights: highlights create more of a classic, clean effect. It’s color that comes directly from the roots, is wrapped in foils, and is applied straight from the root and painted down the hair from root to tip. I like a having a multi-tonal effect in the hair, which is why I love highlights.

Balayage: balayage is the reverse of highlights as it’s from tips up to roots. The nice effect of this is that you don’t have that grown out ‘highlight’ effect, so it’s really good for people that want a low maintenance, easier look. It’s less hassle but still on trend. I think this is what’s in fashion at the moment, and a lot of people wear it with a wavier style as it’s much more effortless.

This isn’t always the case, though. I’ve noticed that in this region we get a lot of Pinterest pictures that come in of balayage on really dark hair, fading into a gray color. This is much higher maintenance and more of a fashion look, so it does take more time and upkeep compare to your regular balayage.

Feather lights: these are basically really fine highlights which give a very soft, sun-kissed effect. This is more popular with blondes who want their hair to look like it’s naturally really blonde. It definitely works better on blondes and lighter hair colors, as it’s not really possible to do on darker hair.

Ombré: ombré is dark color fading into light. It’s similar to balayage, but ombré is more of a fashion color and balayage creates a softer effect.

Lowlights: this is when a color darker to your natural hair color is applied. It’s great if you don’t like your natural root regrowth as it looks less prominent and breaks it up. If you have darker hair, it softens the regrowth too and is more of a highlight.

Glass hair: a trend that’s really big now is glass hair, which is basically super shiny hair. So a sharp, clean cut and very shiny color – which can be achieved with a glossing color or lots of shine sprays.

I’d definitely say that the movement now is definitely towards low-key, effortless looks. We don’t want to overcomplicate things for ourselves!

Glass Hair

Olivia Culpo Glass Hair Trend
Photo: Courtesy of @OliviaCulpo

What’s your top tip for someone who has never colored their hair before?
I think bringing in pictures is the best thing. Sometimes people get nervous or embarrassed to bring them in, but hairdressers find it really helpful as we get a clear visual image of exactly what you like. We need to know what you like and what you don’t like, so even if you come in with pictures of things you don’t like we know what to avoid. There’s no point giving someone a high-end, high maintenance look if they can’t come back to the salon every few weeks to maintain it. Thinking about your lifestyle is a really important factor.

If you go to more of a ‘high street’ salon, you’ll get given a big book of colors to choose from – and this indicates that the base color is premixed with the toner. You pick a color that’s already premixed in a box, and they just grab it and mix it up. We mix our tone and base color separately, so we can make it completely tailored to you.

Speaking of toner, what does it do and is it essential?
I personally use a toner after every color service, even if it’s more of a glossing color. It really helps rebalance the tone of the hair, which is especially important in the Middle East where the water is much harsher and there’s a lot of chlorine. Toner helps restore shine and reduces any unwanted tones – essentially, it’s a color re-balancer. You can achieve that ‘glass’ hair look too because you can use it to create a lot of gloss and put some goodness back into the hair. Some clients who don’t want to color their hair that often come in just for a toner, as it gives their natural color a refresh which is great on Emirati or darker hair. Remember that the sun will still lift darker colors!

Do you think natural hair colors are as effective as chemical ones?
I may be biased, but yes! That’s what drove me to Aveda. I worked for one of the big mass brands for five years and my hair was really dry, dull, and damaged – even though I was always using professional hair products and having it regularly trimmed. The bleach and the colors were a lot harsher and stronger because of all the chemicals, so I used to sneak off to Aveda to get my color done and that’s when I really noticed my hair quality massively changed. I didn’t want to work for a brand where you only saw breakage and damage, I wanted to my own hair to be a reflection of the brand I was working for.

I do think that sometimes natural colors don’t last as long, but it does really depend on how you look after your hair at home.


Balayage Gisele
Photo: Courtesy of Getty Images

Are there any chemicals to avoid in hair colors?
To be honest, not really. 40 years ago Aveda’s founder Horst Rechelbacher saw that there was a future gap in the market for a more naturally derived hair brand, but he always kept ammonia in his hair colors because he never saw it as a bad thing. A few brands have come out with ammonia-free color, but they replaced it with chlorine. When you go into a pool you can feel the effect of chlorine, and it only has a five-year case study compared to ammonia which has always been around!

Are there common mistakes hair colorists make that we should be aware of?
I think the biggest thing in this region is the lifting of hair color, and it really comes down to training. For example, I trained on European hair which is much finer and more delicate, so we were very careful and fragile with it when lifting color. Whereas in this region, hair is a lot thicker and they know that color needs to be left on for much longer to lift the hair. The problem then is if that’s done to European hair, it just snaps and breaks off. So it really does depend where you are in the world! You just need to ensure they’ve been trained according to your hair type. I also think a stylist should say no to a guest if they don’t think it will work. It’s important that they have the confidence to say no and for the client to understand the importance of their hair and their texture and their limits. It’s all about educating.

What’s your advice for women with dark hair who want to go blonde?
I would recommend doing so very gradually, but it does depend on the hair type and texture. If it’s virgin hair that’s never been colored, it’s likely to lift a little quicker because it hasn’t had dyes on it before, whereas if you use a lot of henna or dark dye the process will be longer. Do it little and often rather than having a huge bleaching session. It’s also about the maintenance and home-care afterwards, because you need to keep hair moisturized after any bleaching service. Hair color is always going to dry out your hair. It’s like when you go out in the sun and it dries your skin – you’ll use aloe vera or a moisturizer to put the softness and hydration back in. Think about your hair in that way!

What about blondes wanting to go darker?
Blonde hair is naturally more porous, a bit like a sponge, so it will suck up the color and release it quite quickly. It’s more of a blank canvas underneath, and it doesn’t have much natural color pigment to hold onto the color you put on top, so you should always pre-pigment your hair. This involves using a toner or a semi-permanent color over the blonde, not as a dark as the color you want to go but an in between shade, so when you put the darker tint over the top it has something to hold onto.

Also be careful when you are going darker that they don’t just put the dark color straight onto the top, because if you’re naturally a warm or an ashy blonde it can sometimes fade off to a khaki green color. So pre-pigmentation is essential, and if your hairdresser doesn’t know what that means – walk out of the salon!


Ombre hair color trend
Photo: Courtesy of @AvedaUK

Is it true that going back to blonde after dying hair brunette is very difficult – whereas the other way around is much easier to reverse?
I think that is true, but it does depend on your hair texture. That’s why the pre-pigmentation is a good idea, because you get to see a darker color in their hair before they commit to going much darker. A toner is a great way to have a darker color for about 20 washes before committing.

What’s the best way of combatting the damaging and drying effects of hair color?
It’s all about the aftercare and making sure your stylist uses the right products, and that you’re not bleaching your hair too much. Be realistic about what your hair can take and what it can’t. Use a color saving shampoo, which is great to protect against the stripping effects of water, and use something that contains protein and is moisturizing – like our ‘Damage Remedy’ range. It contains soy, macadamia, and quinoa to help nourish and replenish the hair and strengthen it from within.

What should we avoid doing?
Heat styling is a big one. Blow-drying your hair is okay when it’s necessary but be sure to use a strong heat protector. You wouldn’t put 200 degrees onto your skin, so why would you onto your hair? Especially because it’s already dead! If you have longer hair, remember that it’s taken a few years for the ends to grow down from the root, so it’s been subjected to much more battering in its lifetime compared to the root area, which is why we focus on that area a lot more. A protein treatment is great to strengthen it.

What’s the best way to prevent color fade or change over time?
Use color preserving products. I really believe using a color protector is key. You don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars coloring your hair only for it to be totally stripped out in a matter of weeks, all for the sake of not buying a 15-dollar shampoo! If you don’t like the sun lifting your hair, use a sun protection cream or spray on your hair. They work great against chlorine too.

Speaking of chlorine, what do we do if our hair gets that horrible green tinge?
There is the myth that using ketchup on hair combats the green! It does work, but you want to go for a chlorine remover or detox shampoo, which acts like an exfoliator on the hair and scalp. In a lot of cities, the pollution can dull down hair color too, just like chlorine does. We neglect our scalps a lot, but we need to remove product build-up as that can change color and make it fade.

How can women work out which hair color will suit them?
It depends on what colors they wear and their style – you need to get an idea of their personality. It also depends on skin tone and eye color. If someone’s really fair I would never use a really dark color or a heavy ash, as it will just wash them out and make them look ill! If you are very fair, you want to go for something a bit warmer and richer to complement your skin tone.

If you’re warmer, then you’re lucky because both tones can suit you well. A lot of warm skins don’t want warm hair though, so they’re more likely to go for the ashy effect. If you have hair that’s dark and ashy or if it’s dark with an orange undertone, it’s very different. Orange is a light color and it adds brightness, so if you put an ash toner on that it will make your entire hair look darker. A lot of women don’t understand that, so we do need to educate. Get advice from your stylist, show pictures, and trust your judgment. Also get your stylist to clarify what they’re going to do – a lot of the time they go off and you have no idea what they’re going to do!

Are there any natural/DIY remedies that really work for hair?
I do really believe in natural remedies. Coconut oil is a really good one but be careful on how you use it, as it can add a build-up to the hair so use a good exfoliating shampoo. If your hair follicle is blocked, new hair can’t go through – so focus on the mid lengths and ends. Eggs are said to help with the shine of hair.

Debunk the biggest hair myth you’ve heard.
A lot of women are scared to brush their hair as they’re worried more hair will fall, but actually that’s the worst thing to do! You lose around 100 hairs a day naturally, so if you haven’t brushed your hair in three days, and then you go to wash it, you’ll freak out because you’ll end up with loads of hair in your hands!

It’s really important to brush your hair directly from the scalp – to feel the brush on the scalp – as that will remove the dead hair that’s fallen away from the follicle. You also want to exfoliate the dry skin off the scalp.

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