Blondes may have more fun but brunettes definitely spend less time in a salon…
I have naturally dark hair.
Sitting at one or two shades above black, my long hair is so dark my mother calls me her ‘black-haired beauty’, even though she knows my hair is technically dark brown.
And, apart from a (potentially) ill-advised Goth phase in my teens when I changed my hair from almost-black to pitch-black by getting very familiar with supermarket box dye, I’ve never had an urge to change my hair color. Especially not to lighten it.
I’ve always liked my dark hair. Even when I watched all of my friends experiment with crazy colored hair, short bobs in bright unicorn shades or even dip-dyed tips, I’d always stood steadfast in my decision to stay close to my roots (pun intended) and keep things natural. Partly because I think I suit my dark hair, but mainly because I know taking your hair from black to blonde is notoriously difficult, despite how easy Kim Kardashian made it look.
But finally, after 20-something years with the same style locks on my head and Pinterest boards full of blonde and bold colored styles I secretly desired, I decided to bite the bullet and go for a dramatic hair makeover. “Same-old, same-old” just wasn’t cutting it anymore (sorry, couldn’t resist another pun), so I decided I’d take the plunge and transform my dark strands into a platinum blond/gray balayage look I’d been coveting for quite some time.
With the help of celebrity hairstylist Lores Giglio, director of LSG Creative, and hair color expert, Mitch Brown, I went from black to an eye-catching gray-ish platinum blonde – and boy, did I learn a lot about just how intensive the process actually is.
First things first…
The first (and potentially most important) thing you should do if you’re considering going lighter is to have a consultation with your stylist. In fact, if you enter a salon and say “Make me blonde!” and they say anything other than “Let’s have a chat about that first,”; run. Turn on your heels and leave the premises immediately, because they don’t care about a hair on your head (literally).
During the first consult, you’ll be quizzed on all kinds of things about your hair history. You should cover off how long it’s been since your last haircut, the last time you colored your hair, what color you dyed it, and whether it was a home or in-salon job. Have you ever dyed your hair all over, or was it just your ends? Asking these questions (and answering them honestly) is absolutely crucial because it guides your stylist on how best to approach getting you the results you want, and can help them give you a realistic timeline specific to your particular hair situation.
For example, your stylist will need to do things very differently if you’ve box-dyed your hair or had a color done in-salon – n now is not the time to cover up your cheapskate hair past. And if you’ve got untouched ‘virgin’ hair, it’s going to take a lot less time and be much easier to lighten your locks (turns out my mom was right when she told me I’d regret dying my hair as a teen).
During my consultation, I had a hair trim to rid it of breakable dead-ends, and was given two bottles of Matrix Bond Ultim8, a product which strengthens the bonds in the hair. I was told to use them both up in the month leading up to my first booked lightening session.
Giglio strongly suggested leaving the product in my hair for as long as possible – overnight or for an entire day if I could. This was to make my hair as healthy as it could be in a short amount of time, so it would take the stress of bleaching better when it came time for stage one, and be less likely to break off.
Getting down to business
Filled with nerves and concerns about coming out of my first lightening session with ghastly orange ends, or brittle hair which broke off in my hands from being over-bleached, I got to the salon in the mid-morning, coffee in hand. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I wouldn’t be leaving the salon until well after the sun went down…
Turns out, it’s not just your hair history which can determine how long it takes to take your hair from black to blond; the style you’re after can make a difference as well. Because I opted for balayage so I could keep my dark roots, and naively thought it would take less time than if I was to take my entire head to the salon basin, I was in for my first big hair lesson.
“It’s actually quicker to do the entire head. With balayage, you have to paint each layer, and do some virgin hair each new session instead of just doing it all in one go,” my colorist explained as he used his fingers to sort of smudge the lightener into my hair so it didn’t form an obvious line.
In fact, opting for balayage is a much, much slower process than going for a full all-over color. My first session in the salon took SIX HOURS – yes, you read that right – and because of the health of my hair, we were only able to do one application of bleach. “Your hair just couldn’t take it,” Brown told me. “Some hair is stronger and can handle it, and some can’t. Everyone’s hair is different.”
Of course, I did leave the salon with warm tones. It’s just part of going from black to blonde, so if you’re planning on taking the plunge and doing it, you need to be okay with having temporarily orange-ish locks. Your stylist likely won’t let you walk out the door with flaming orange hair – toner can do wonders – but before getting to blond, your hair is going to go through a range of different colors, and orange may be one of them.
I didn’t actually mind the caramel color I left my first session with, which was lucky, because I was stuck with it for just over four weeks in order to give my hair some time to deal with the trauma of bleaching it had just endured. And, once again, the Matrix Bond Ultima8 was my new BFF. We showered together, we slept together, and we spent entire Sundays together. I was determined to do everything I could to ensure the health of my hair while going blond, and if you’re interested in going lighter in a short time frame and having hair which doesn’t break off at the end of it, definitely get your hands on bucket-loads of Matrix Bond Ultim8, or Olaplex.
Taking things up a notch
Walking into my second session, my colorist noted how copper my hair had gone in the past four weeks. It turns out my hair fights going lighter every step of the way, and throws really warm tones, so this session, we’d be focusing on trying to remove as much of those brassy tones as possible. Because everyone’s hair is different, exactly how long it’s going to take, the kinds of colors you’ll get and how agreeable your hair is to going blonde will depend on your individual hair.
“You have a lot of hair,” Brown said to me during my second appointment. “But the actual strands are quite thin, so they damage easier than thicker hair.”
My long hair, and the balayage effect I was after, meant this time I would spend a draining eight hours in the salon chair attempting to lift the orange and see how much we lighter it would go. It got lighter – yay! – but it still wasn’t blonde…
I was loaded up with Bond Ultim8 again, as well as another product called Matrix Brass-off, a type of blonde shampoo with the express purpose of removing brassy tones, which was a godsend. In the four weeks between appointments, I used the Bond Ultim8 and the special shampoo and it did work to keep those orange tones at bay.
Honestly, my hair tips had seen better days, but it was nothing a trim wouldn’t fix, and my hair routine now took much longer than it had back in my brunette days. I also had to be cautious of how often I was using heated styling tools on my hair, both to protect the hair and also the color of the blonde, or ‘blorange’ as I’d started calling it.
The final sprint
My third and final appointment was six hours long and we finally achieved a blonde which had me mouthing “whoa” in the mirror.
I’d been so used to having copper-colored hair I had almost forgotten the end-goal of this hair-venture was to go blonde. My hair was “holding up”, in Brown’s opinion, but definitely needed a cut to remove the fried ends, and a good tone to remove the last hints of yellow. But after many hours of lightening, toning, trimming and color correction, the team at LSG Creative had achieved the seemingly impossible and transformed my hair from black to blonde in three appointments (over five months, a total of 21 hours in the salon chair).
Once I was blonde, the hair world was my playground. I toned my newly blonde locks to add the subtle gray hint I’d lusted over on Pinterest (see above) and got to experience the joys of having a statement hair look for the first time in my life.
The first lesson the process taught me is to definitely have that initial consultation and be extremely dubious of any stylist who says they can take you from midnight black to platinum blonde in one day without sacrificing the health of the hair at all. Even virgin hair and gallons of Olaplex will achieve that result. You need to have realistic expectations about how long it will take and the kind of results you’ll see, and that initial consultation is crucial.
The second is to stick with the same stylist if you can. Every hair professional has their own way of doing things, and for the sake of your hair, continuing to see the same person will ensure you get the results you were quoted and keep your hair in as good a condition as possible. In one of my sessions at LSG Creative, I heard a horror story of a client who was getting the same treatment as myself but had gone to a different salon to get her hair chemically straightened after her first appointment. And her hair just deteriorated in the basin. So definitely don’t do that.
The third is to be prepared to fork over some – serious – cash. Between the actual appointments (my experience cost around $2000 total), the shampoo’s and the hair care products, going from black to blonde, and maintaining it, costs a pretty penny. And you have to invest in a good toning shampoo if you want your hair to look bright and beautiful instead of dull and drab.
The time and cost involved in going from black to blonde gracefully and without ending up with damaged hair at the end of it is really intense, and you have to be committed. But it’s worth it in the end. I’m glad I finally got the guts to do something drastic and become a blonde (then gray) balayage babe.
Costs may vary depending on the salon and stylist you see, and your own individual hair quality.
Images via LSG Creative. (Featured image via shutterstock.com).
Comment: Have you ever gone from black to blonde? What was your experience like?