Few changes rock the mirror like a new hue for your hair. And the glow of beautiful tresses may brighten your mood, too. Nine out of ten women say there's a link between their hair and their self-esteem. But which hair color option is right for you? A hint of henna -- or a bold salon blonde? What about DIY to hide the gray? Browse ahead to find your most flattering look.
Whether you're an old pro or coloring for the first time, here's a bit of wisdom: Just because you can pick anything from platinum blonde to jet black doesn't mean you should. Look at photos of yourself as a child. That's probably the color that's most flattering for you. If adult life has turned your hair mousy, try going back to the sun-kissed tones of your youth.
If you want to try a color you've never had naturally, think about your skin tone and eyes. People with fair skin and light eyes can pull off the widest range of shades, though the wrong dark shade can be aging. Those with olive or dark skin and dark eyes can go darker, but not too light. And if you have very pink skin, ash tones will be more flattering than golden hues.
Temporary dyes give you a faster escape plan, if needed. A rinse washes out in one to two shampoos. Semi-permanent dye comes out in eight to12 washes. Demi-permanent lasts up to 28 shampoos. They have no ammonia, so they don't sink too deeply into the hair shaft. You can darken hair, or add golden or red highlights -- but you can't go lighter. Dab a little on your wrist two days before coloring to check for a reaction.
Permanent color -- the most popular kind -- can take your hair in a totally different color direction. Home kits offer an endless palette of blonde, brunette, redhead, or glossy blacks. For platinum or any hue that's more than three shades off your natural color, head to a salon to get it right. You might even try on a wig, first, to make sure you'll like a drastic difference. Big changes are hard to undo.
Do it in stages. If the results are too subtle, you can always deepen the shade the next time around. Or, add highlights when you go dark to steer clear of a solid "helmet " of hair. Both options are easier, and will probably leave you happier, than if you start too dark and want to scale back. Going too dark too fast can make you look old before your time!
Red can be spectacular! It's one of the trickiest colors to pull off, though, so mind a few tips: Stay away from blue reds -- they tend to look unnatural. Cedar reds are usually warm and luscious colors on natural brunettes. Henna, made from a plant, is another way to add some red or reddish-browns. Whatever shade you choose, do a strand test to make sure the color stays true all the way from the roots to the ends.
Blonde hair with dark roots is trendy, but hard to pull off. You'll get a softer look as hair grows out by using more than one color. Already-blondes can apply permanent color to take hair two shades lighter. Then, add highlights or dark blonde lowlights for a natural look. Dark hair needs a double-process dye job. First a stylist bleaches out your natural color, then applies new blonde color.
You need really good skills to handle highlighting at home. It's tough to avoid damaging your hair or creating hard-to-fix, patchy results. Better to head to your salon and ask for highlights and lowlights (strands of darker-than-natural hair). The deep color adds depth and makes your lighter tresses even more vibrant. These accents can be painted on or added using foil papers.
If you're just starting to go gray, you can blend away the intruders with a mild semi-permanent color. If your hair is more than a quarter gray, you'll need a stronger demi-permanent product. These choices will gradually rinse out as your roots grow in, preventing a streak of gray at your part. If your hair is mostly gray, use permanent color every four to six weeks.
Good news: You're not likely to damage your hair by coloring it. Just don't leave bleach on for too long or lighten the ends over and over. This can leave hair porous and brittle. If you're coloring at home, follow the instructions about how long to leave color on the ends and how often to touch up. For most shades, every four to six weeks is ideal.
Whether you straighten your hair or use a perm to add long, loose curls, do it before you color. You may be able to use semi- or demi-permanent color the same day -- check the directions on the box to be sure. Before applying permanent color, wait seven to 10 days and wash your hair at least once. Always do a strand test first, to see how the color affects your permed or straightened hair.
Your hair came out too light, so you try to fix it by applying a warm shade of light brown. Now you're sporting pink! Trying to fix a bad dye job yourself often takes you from oops to OMG. See a good colorist right away. It's easier to fix the original mistake than to work on a correction gone bad.
Your hair can still look lustrous as your belly gets bigger! Very little, if any, hair dye gets into your system and reaches your baby. If you're still worried, don't color your hair in the first trimester, when a baby's most important development takes place. To avoid fumes that can make you nauseous, try a dye with no ammonia or peroxide. Finally, highlights can perk up your color without even touching your scalp.
To keep your new color rich and shiny, use a conditioning shampoo and follow that up with a conditioner that contains silicone. Wear a hat in strong sun or try a sun-protective shampoo. The sun's UV rays can fade your gorgeous hair color, especially reds.
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- Sharon Dorram, celebrity colorist, Sharon Dorram Color at Sally Hershberger in New York.
- American Academy of Dermatology: "Going To Great Lengths For Beautiful Hair: Dermatologist Shares Hair Care Tips For Healthy And Damaged Hair."
- American Cancer Society: "Hair Dyes."
- Clairol: "8 Things You Should Know Before You Color Your Hair."
- FDA: "Hair Dye Products."
- Jeanie Leddon, MD, PhD, dermatologist.
- KidsHealth.org: "Pregnancy Precautions: FAQs."
- Organization of Teratology Information Specialists: "Hair Treatments and Pregnancy."
- Proctor and Gamble: "Hair Color Research Update."
- Sally Beauty: "Hair Color 101."
- San Francisco Exploratorium: "Better Hair Through Chemistry."
- Women's Health.gov: "Cosmetics and Your Health Fact Sheet."