Choosing to go blonde, why or why not?

One of the many blonding services that I provide at the Queen Shop Hair Salon in West Toronto. Getting hair lighter is my thing!

There are so many hair colours out there in the world, but as a hairstylist, I know what the most common natural hair colours out there are. Most people are naturally dark haired….black or brown. A small percentage of the population is red haired, and dirty blonde…but even fewer are are the light blonde. So let’s talk about the idea of being “blonde”. What does that mean and what does that entail?

Blonde hair in western culture has been the conventional beauty standard for decades, mostly for females. While dark hair has it’s beauty moments, such as it’s mainstream normalcy in Asian culture, or in alternative goth emo sub culture; in general though, very light hair has been most unquestionably desirable. Which goes to explain why highlights and balayage are my bread and butter service. But I digress. What does being “blonde” exude? I’d say it’s a feeling of freedom, passion, carefreeness, poise, softness and uber femininity that other hair colours are not as readily associated with; it’s not to say that dark hair doesn’t convey beauty,. But it’s a more cerebral beauty. It’s more mysterious and fleeting. In terms blatant obvious beauty, blonde hair does it in one go.

Famous Blondes:

Elle Woods from “legally Blonde” is a prime example in how her appearance changed the way people treated her. Elle had to fight to be taken seriously in law school, to been seen as “smart”. She had a depth of knowledge in the area of fashion and make-up, but it was not deemed as a strength that was worthy of respect. Marilyn Monroe, an icon of blondeness was mostly revered for her sex appeal, and countless interpretations of her life story shows how she had been, in a way, a victim of her fame. Having started out as a pin up model, Marilyn was often overly sexualized. Madonna, Gwen Stefani…represent the other side of blonde beauty. They took to it as a way to express and embody ambition. They are strong and determined and have a voice, a direction. They were artists.

Image from Legally Blonde, 20th Century Fox, 2001.
This image released by Netflix shows Ana de Armas as Marilyn Monroe in “Blonde.” (Netflix via AP)
“I’m just as girl” a song lyric made famous by the Singer of No Doubt, Gwen Stefani.

Things to consider before going blonde

  1. Different hair gets different degrees of damage when going blonde. Very fine hair breaks easily when lightened, and dark coarse hair can also break easily because of the amount of lightning strength needed to lift it so many levels. It’s important to proceed with caution.
  2. Blonde hair requires more maintenance to keep it looking good. But ironically, once hair has been lightened, any additional chemical services on it also makes hair risk breakage. Lightened hair needs more moisture as it’s lost some of it’s ability to retain it. And it needs time to recover from being lightened.
  3. Going blonde as a way to cover grey hair is one of the best reasons in my opinion to go blonde. Instead of monthly visits to the salon, blonde foils make the greys look like highlights, or at least less noticeable. And the visits to the salon for colour can be stretched to 4 to 6 months.
  4. Going blonde just for “fun” is not fun, in my opinion. Because of the commitment needed to upkeep it and the potential damage it causes to healthy hair, it’s just not worth it for a temporary kick from having a change of colour. It’s also expensive and time consuming to do, and not everyone looks better with lighter hair.
  5. There is the danger of blonde addiction. After a while of being blonde, the colour sometimes looks dull for some reason and there is an urge to add more highlights, to keep going blonder. It happens because we get used to being blonde and don’t see how light we actually are. And the down side of that can be an over processed and unbalanced platinum mess. So beware of that!

What are the joys and pitfalls of any hair colour? I’m sure its all very personal to each of us. And as long as we wear the colour we feel the most “us” in, nothing can go wrong. But let’s be nice to our hair, even if we are not planning to grow it past our shoulders, hair should always be encouraged to let it do it’s own thing.

Different blonde “me’s” I always have fun being blonde and will keep this colour for a while. It suits me, no?

To be or not to be…(blonde, that is)

Over the years I’ve sported many hair colours. As a naturally dark haired Asian woman, I’ve always been fascinated by any hair colour other than black since anything other color was always tricky to acquire. It required chemicals like ammonia and peroxide to lift my dark hair so that other colours could be seen. And even then, black hair generally lifts to a horrendous reddish orange; not an easy colour to cover up. Black hair is beautiful, shiny and deep, but for the me, the desire of having a colour of something else less ordinary was constantly in my mind.

In highschool, it was boxed dyes and over the counter concoctions of brown hair that I aimed for. But the results from boxed dye were barely noticeable, yet rendered my black hair a little bit more fried and red looking,. It wasn’t until much later on in my life that I dared to play with bleach lightener on my hair and take a dabble in “toning”, a part of being blonde. But I felt I always had to go back to black. It was hard to constantly be a different colour. I did have a phase where I sported more fantasy colors like a purple, by lifting my black hair and then adding a sheer purple color on. Over the years I have written many articles about changing hair colours, but it wasn’t until I went to hair college and learned professionally how to lighten hair, that I really dared to go all blonde and stay this way. I now am pretty much permanently sporting a light blonde all over hair colour and touching up my roots every couple of months or so.

Some links to past posts I did about hair colour (I really did like to play around a lot)

I do like being blonde. The saying blondes have more fun may be true…but aesthetically speaking, I feel it suits my pale skin tone and compliments my small eyes, and small face by not being too striking in darkness to compete for attention. Blonde hair has a way of fading away into the background and letting face make-up have a say. Also, I love the way lighter hair can support more delicate shades of colour that on darker hair would be unnoticed. For example silver blonde looks much different than sunny blonde but it is just a few tones clicks away on the scale. Also being blonde and Asian is very unique and lets me escape the mundanity of standard black hair that I was born into. Despite blonde hair being an uber sexualized hair colour in culture, there is power in embracing this beauty ideal when in an attempt to break the negative stereo types that come with it. Blondes are not dumb. I actually feel very smart and accomplished when light haired. It gives me a reason to speak up and project the way I wish to be perceived. I want to express that women are more than the sum of their parts; i.e. the colour of their hair or skin. We should be defined by our character and actions, much more so than our physical appearance. Having control over how one is physically perceived is very powerful because of the freedom of choice it presents.

This is how I maintain a blonde colour at home (I went to hair college, so I don’t actually recommend others to play with lightener):

My roots have grown in. Bleeck. I don’t mind this look, but any longer than an inch of dark hair looks too unkept for me!!! Time to touch up my base.
I don’t recommend doing this at home, but I’m a professional, so it’s ok! It is tricky not overlapping previously lightened hair, especially at the back, which is why I experience breakage from time to time. I have to carefully apply lightener on my base twice to lift it to yellow.
Not done yet. My roots are lifted to my max level, but it’s the wrong tone. Don’t that shade of banana! My next step is toning. I like to wait a few days to let my hair rest. Then I apply a demi permanent hair colour in an ash base to get rid of the warmth. I boost the toning power by adding a violet dye to the forumula! It’s complicated to colour correct properly, so again, leave this to the professionals.
Tada! All done. This photo is actually taken a few shampoos after toning, so some of the excess color has washed off. I like to over tone my blonde hair so that as it washes out, the colour stays even…I think my blonde colour is like a silvery beige. I really like how soft and natural it is. Like maybe I was born with it!

Go dark brunette, without a regret!

I love playing with hair color as one can probably tell from all my posts about hair dying over the years…I feel nothing feels fresher than a change of color. Natural black hair is gorgeous, but after a year of playing with lightener, aka bleach/peroxide, I have rocked lighter hair color all summer in the way going“bronde”, which is a very light brown. Being a dark brunette, I could never go to light butter blonde without killing my hair, but in general I have been wearing much lighter colors than I was born with.

But a recent resurgence in the brunette hair color has come about…basically because of the royally babe-alicious Meghan Markle. I think she really showed the world how amazing dark brown hair can be since getting engaged and married to Prince Harry really put her in the spotlight.. She set the bar high for a representation of brunette beauty, and it has inspired me to let go of my beachy light locks, for a dark chocolatey brown; a refreshing look for my sister’s upcoming wedding.

The new Duchess always made dark hair so glamorous. (Photo by Max Mumby/Indigo/Getty Images)

No regrets

In the past I have gone darker with tons of regret, and I’ve learned a lot from the mistakes I’ve made. All the pitfalls of dying darker were results in hair color that was either too dark, too green, too inky, or too flat. Here are my tips from going lighter to darker and loving it:

  1. Go for drama: Going only one shade darker will not be noticeable and has no mystery or depth. I recommend aiming for 3-4 shades darker for the freshest change. Sometimes it’s scary getting a dark color because it’s so intense! But I have a tip to combat this (see tip #4).
  2. .Choose demi-permanents: When getting hair darker, pigment is being added to the hair shaft, and only needs to be on the surface, unlike lightening that has to go deeper to remove color.  A less harsh way of dying is by using demi permanent colors. Because they use less peroxide, they are gentler to hair than permanent color, and add deeper tones. It’s also easier to lighten hair back with a demi if not truly satisfied.  Demis, unfortunately, will fade faster, but at least the fade will be less brassy since less pigment is lifted with a low peroxide dye.
  3. Notice the hair tone you are starting with: Previously lightened hair has a certain base tone to it that is very visible. It can be neutral, golden, red, or ashy. The base color that a darker color will lay over, should be on the warmer side, since red and gold tones are what makes dark hair pretty. If the starting hair color is very translucent and pigment free, sometimes adding an redish auburn color first is needed to create depth before adding a darker color on top.
  4. A trick I use for not going too dark and inky: Buying two shades. Demi permanent color always processes darker than the sample swatch since it is adding color and not lifting anything. For example, starting with light brown hair and adding a light brown demi, the results will be dark brown because of layering. To keep hair from being too intense in darkness, I like to dilute my dark shade with a blonde or clear color by a ratio of 1:1 and use the right amount of activator accordingly. This makes sure you are getting the dark color you want, while the texture of each strand and subtle highlights are still visible…resulting in more faceted color.
My Own Results

To get my hair to Meghan Markle dark, I had to be careful or else I would get something too dark and flat. So I used an ashy brown mix of colors on my warm roots, (Wella Demi in 5N and 7A) and then a neutral brown mix on my midshaft and ends, since they had an ashy light tone (wella demi in 5N+8N). I diluted the brown color by adding some blonde shades to both mixes of color.

See how in the sun, it’s visible how the back and ends of my hair picked up the dark demi permanent differently. It was also ashier because of previous lightening.

The only thing I had to tweak after darkening was the different color on my midshaft and ends. The back of my hair was so light from previous dye jobs, it didn’t pick up the demi fully, and was also a cooler tone. I fixed this by doing another treatment, a rinse of auburn red in a semi permanent color. (Semi permanent is peroxide free and like a conditioner with dye, no activator needed). And now hopefully, I feel my hair is uniformly dark and mysterious!

After the rinse in an auburn red semi permanent to fill in my mid-shaft and ends. Nice and evenly dark. Yay!