I don’t take a lot of risks when it comes to my beauty routine. I like to keep my mornings short and easy, and I’m hesitant to buy new products. Even trying a new face wash can feel like a big commitment to me, which is why it is unsurprising I never do much with my hair.
Aside from a brief period in high school where I experimented with pink hair (shout out to my BFF Jenn who spent an afternoon playing with Manic Panic dyes with me), my hair has always been the same, somewhat long and brown with no definitive cut nor dimension. I’ve dabbled with highlights twice, but never kept up with it. With summer quickly approaching, however, I decided it was high time to try something new on my now-virgin hair.
Enter: Rita Hazan. I was lucky enough to spend an afternoon with Hazan, the celebrity colorist who has worked her magic on women like Beyoncé and Jennifer Lopez (casual). I told Hazan I was hoping to try balayage, the hair dye technique that I heard results in a super natural look because of the way dye is painted onto hair. In the end, I walked away with newly lightened hair and amateur-friendly advice for keeping it that way all season long. Below, the best tips Hazan shared with me.
Go to the salon with an open mind.
While I walked in with balayage in mind, Hazan suggests talking with your colorist, so he or she can help decide what technique is best for you, your hair type, and your desired result. “I don’t know if you should tell somebody who’s really good at their job what technique to use,” she said. “Balayage is good for certain types of hair texture, and it does not work for other hair textures. I would say just show pictures of what you mean, what you like, and let them figure out the best way to execute what you want.” So, what kind of hair is balayagegood for? “Curly hair, it’s not great for. It’s good for hair that’s strong.”
Think about the kind of hair you have.
Beyond texture, it’s also important to consider whether your hair has any dye in it when you’re considering going lighter. I learned that undyed hair (what I had walking in) is considered “virgin” hair and can be easier to work with in order to get exactly what you want. Hazan added: “It’s also healthy hair that hasn’t been fussed with, so the color takes a little bit easier.”
Bring reference photos with you.
As she mentioned before, take some time to find photos of exactly what you want and bring them to the salon with you. Hazan says it’s helpful to your colorist because “you always get an idea of what they’re thinking.” But that doesn’t mean it’s exactly what you get. Hazan said sometimes what people show her is not realistic, but “you work it out from there.” She explained, “I think if somebody has a thought in their mind, it’s in their mind, they can’t take it out, but at least you know what their expectation is, and you can compromise and come to a middle.”
Enjoy the color as it fades.
Hazan explained to me that color in your hair oxidizes and changes from week to week, so she suggests enjoying it during all its different stages. “I think a good color gets better over time. If you have good color, it should fade or blend into your hair in a really natural and better way than when it even started,” she said. “The first week, it’s super bright and light, and then it calms down a little bit, and then it just kind of looks worn in. Like a good pair of jeans, the longer you wear them the better they get. [It’s] kind of the same thing.”
Think about your lifestyle.
To be completely honest, when I first spoke to Hazan, I showed her inspiration photos that featured girls with bright blonde highlights and tons of hair dye, not thinking about the fact that I was walking in with dark brown hair and a lazy habit of avoiding hair salons. Hazan pointed out that it might be jarring for me personally to go so dramatic and that, with my lifestyle, it could be better to start out with something more subtle and then keeping adding more, if I wanted.
This approach is something Hazan seems to do with all her clients. She says when she’s considering hair color for someone like, oh, I don’t know, BEYONCÉ, she considers the fact that she’ll be seen under harsh stage lighting as well as out on the street. Hazan said, “You have to know your balance of ‘how can I make it dramatic enough to read on film and on camera and on stage—but it won’t look crazy in real life?’ There’s a fine line of how to do that.”
She continued, “I went to one of Beyoncé’s concerts, and I’m like OK, this is how she moves, this is where her hair is going. So the next time I did her hair, I have this all in my mind. I know how her head shakes, and she bounces her hair back and forth. And if you notice it, her color’s always on point because I’m paying attention to that. While you’re probably watching the concert, I’m watching the hair.”
Know that you can always leave.
It can be intimidating to sit in a salon chair and give up control (Is this why I never do it? Help!), but Hazan wants you to remember that you should always feel like you can leave. “If somebody doesn’t want to answer your questions, get up and run,” she said. “You also want to enjoy yourself, you don’t want somebody bossy, you don’t want to be afraid to tell your colorist something. It’s supposed to be fun, for god’s sake.”
“You’re not mean if you walk out,” she continued. She compared it to one of her past summers, where she made it her mission to go on dates. “I started to go to the bar, get a drink and sit down, and if I didn’t like him in five minutes, I was like, OK, I got to go… You’re either vibing or you’re not vibing. It’s the same thing. If you’re feeling uncomfortable in someone’s chair, even if it’s in a doctor’s office, get up and run the hell out of there because it’s following your gut. Your gut’s telling you, ‘Not good.'”
This article first appeared on ELLE.