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Everything You Should Know Before Trying Candy-Colored Hair

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Look around San Francisco, and you'll see everyone from teenagers to cool moms sporting brightly-dyed hair. If you ever dreamed of having purple hair, there's no time like the present. But how do you achieve (and maintain) those wild locks? The first step is to find a colorist who understands highly-pigmented hues.

You already know the best places to color your hair; it's time to discuss the reality of switching to a shocking pink or an electric blue. From taking the plunge to daily care and touchups, this is what you need to know about candy-colored hair.

Color virgins: prepare to sit awhile.
The first step in hair brightening is bleaching or lightening your hair to the lightest shade of blonde possible. Salon Miel owner and master colorist Ledora Francis says, "The time it takes to lighten hair depends on your current hair color and your desired result. Medium blondes and light natural blondes usually need only one lightener application and a toner of your desired shade. While medium to dark hair clients or those with previously colored hair may need several applications of lightener to get to your desired shade." (If you're new to color lingo, toner corrects unwanted hues in your hair— like brassy, orange, or ashy hints. It also works as a hair top coat, adding shine and sealing in color.) Stripping your existing hair color to prep for bright color can can take a few hours or all day. Be patient and bring a book.

Bright color is custom mixed.
"Most bright colors are custom mixed to match your skin tone," Ledora explains. "We might test strands of hair to check the ratios to get the color just right. This is the biggest difference between getting your hair colored at an experienced salon versus doing it yourself. Salons know how to evenly apply the color, add shine and moisture, and make it look vibrant."

Maintenance is a chore, but it's not as bad as you might think.
"Once you have pre-lightened your hair to the correct level of lightness and toned it to your perfect shade, the maintenance is pretty easy. Depending on the depth of your desired color, you may need a toner every two to three weeks for pastels and every three to six weeks for more saturated tones like a royal blue or purple," Ledora predicts. Plan for salon visits, unless you learn to do it yourself.

Take steps at home to prolong your color.
Julia Johari, a bright-haired local musician with the bands Vela Eyes and The Lovemakers says she goes to the salon every three to four months for touch-ups, and preserves her color by washing her hair less frequently. (Rocking a head of blue, purple, and green for over a year, Julia is well-versed in how to maintain that candy-colored do.) "I have really fine hair that gets greasy quickly, so I use dry shampoo almost daily. Since fun colors like blues and pinks tend to fade pretty quickly, I often dye it a color that's more intense than I want. Over several washes, it fades beautifully into the pastel shade I wanted. Sometimes I add color (like Manic Panic dye) to my conditioner to throw some color back in. It helps extend the length of time between salon visits."

Invest in special products for colored hair.
Ledora recommends using a specialty shampoo like Oribe Shampoo for Beautiful Color to keep color looking vibrant. Johari agrees that the right products make a difference. She uses Sachajuan Dry Shampoo to freshen her hair between washings and applies Oribe Supershine Moisturizing Cream on her ends to keep them healthy. When it comes to conditioners, she's learned not to cut corners. She swears by Oribe Gold Lust Repair & Restore Conditioner and Sachajuan Intensive Repair Conditioner.

Fun color means not-so-fun hair damage.
"Depending on how dark your natural hair or previously colored hair was, and your hair's existing condition, there can be some damage. It's important to use the right products at home to make your color last and not further the damage," Ledora advises. Johari says that she's noticed that her previously dark, healthy hair became more dry when she started bleaching and dying it. "I've had to implement a few more products into my overall regimen to tame flyaways and keep it from looking dry...I find that using strong pigment makes my hair look healthier."

Costs vary. Expect to pay between $100 and $300.
At Salon Miel, pricing starts at $95 for a small section with a junior stylist to $280 for an all over bright with a senior stylist. Every salon and every stylist will charge a different rate. Clients with darker hair will pay more for multiple lightener applications than those with lighter hair. Before you take the leap from natural to bright, be sure to schedule a consultation with a salon. Bring photos of what you want and questions for your colorist. The salon should be able to quote you a price before you take the plunge. —Debbie Min

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