My hair has been through a lot over the years. Growing up, I really didn't mind my straight, jet-black Asian hair. If anything, it was one of my features I never really had to worry about since it was weather-proof and very low maintenance. But like many teenagers, I started experimenting with my look by wearing makeup, changing my style, and naturally, my hair. I began in middle school with Sun-in, a hair-lightening spray that I used so generously that my hair eventually turned a very interesting shade of brassy orange. So after a few years of using Sun-in and highlighting my hair with boxed kits, I decided to go back to my natural state and did the biggest hairstylist no-no. I box-dyed my hair back to black for a fresh start in college and I left it like this for 3 years so my hair could grow out. It wasn't until my senior year of college that I decided to do something drastic and began my ombré hair journey.
Over the next 4 years, I changed my hair look up around every 6-8 months with a different balayage. It is also within this time frame that I personally grew a lot and celebrated many milestones. It's refreshing to be able to change up your look during different chapters of your life and I highly recommend shaking things up with your personal style and look every so often. Not only can it be a welcome change and confidence booster if you're stuck in a rut, but it's also just a fun and temporary way to change up your look. What I love about ombré hair is how beautiful it looks with different hairstyles (especially braids and curls), it's relatively easy maintenance, and that it can look as natural (or unnatural) as you like. Keep on reading to find out how I've been maintaining healthy Ombré hair for the last 4 years and to see all of the colors of my hair journey!
I use the terms ombré and balayage interchangeably in this post even though they are not the same coloring technique. While ombré color is more of a consistent gradient from dark to light or vice versa, balayage is a more natural technique that leaves darker pieces on the bottom of the hair to create dimension and sun-kissed highlights. All of my coloring are technically balayages, though I feel like my hair sometimes looks more like a traditional ombré gradient.
Tips for Maintaining Balayage & Ombré Hair
+ Find and Trust a Color Expert. Not every hair stylist is equal and not all stylists know color. Make sure you find yourself someone who has ample experience in hair coloring, specifically an ombré/balayage expert if you can find one near you. Check out their reviews, customer testimonials and social media pages for a portfolio of their work. Finding someone who lives and breathes ombré is vital because they know how to mix colors to not only achieve your desired outcome but they will be creating the color patterns on your hair that determine how well your color will grow out. If you find someone you like and trust, keep them as your regular colorist because they will know your hair better than you do. Trust me, the money is worth it. I leave my hair in the trusted hands of Effie Lei, owner of Hare Studio in Brooklyn, NY. I don't know where my hair would be without her. She is hands-down THE BEST.
+ Tone. Toner is a vital product that neutralizes brassy yellow and orange tones on bleached hair. Since ombré and balayage hairstyles will have portions that are lighter, chances are high that you may have developer some brassiness after a few months. While you can tone with products at home (see purple shampoo below), a professional toning can do wonders and make your hair last for a few more months before you are due for another color session. Prices vary depending on the salon and location, but in my experience, a tone can cost around $80-$100+tip which is much cheaper than another $300-$400 for a full session.
+ Minimize Use of Heat Styling Tools. Call me crazy, but I don't own a hairdryer, and if I do use one, it's only about 2-3 times a year. I only curl my hair for special occasions, and if want some texture, I will braid or put my hair in a bun while its semi-damp. I truly believe that minimizing the use of heat is one of the easiest ways to see an improvement in your hair health. You'll notice less split-ends, less dryness, and feel less guilt. Using straighteners, curling irons and blow dryers at high heat can fade color quickly, so if you really do need to use them, just use them sparingly and turn down the temperature.
+ Shampoo Once a Week. This one's not for everyone, but I find that my hair stays shinier and looks healthier throughout the week the less I shampoo it. Your scalp produces natural oils that coat your hair and protect it, and shampooing too often will strip the hair of these oils. Not only will your ends feel drier, but it will also make an ombré look less fresh since dry hair also tends to highlight more splits ends. If once a week freaks you out, try decreasing your currently # of days 1 at a time to test out what you can tolerate without it feeling too gross. A lot of hairstyles actually look great on second and third day hair, so you can switch it up with braids and buns in between shampoos. Sometimes, I'll hop into the shower and wash my hair only with conditioner at the end and skip the shampoo portion.
+ Get Regular Trims. I'm guilty of not getting regular trims enough, but this is a relatively easy way to keep your ombré from looking dull. I think one of the things that makes an ombré style look dull is when the ends start looking very scraggly. A trip every 8-10 weeks should help to keep the split ends at bay. Just make sure not to go overboard with the length since you want to preserve the color at the tip as much as possible.
Holy Grail Hair Care Products
Unfortunately, ombré and balayaged hair doesn't last forever, no matter how much dough you spend on your locks. Luckily, there are plenty of products out there to help you preserve your color and maintain a healthy head of hair for as long as possible. I've never been one to use many products on my hair because it not only gets expensive, but also because less is more. If you use the right products, you'll only need to keep a few key things on hand, which is especially helpful if you travel a lot like I do for work. These 6 products below have been life-changing and I hope I can convince you to give them a try.
1. Shimmer Lights Shampoo. Purple shampoo is definitely a game changer when it comes to being able to tone your hair in the comfort of your own bathroom. Shimmer Lights is an award-winning protein-enriched color enhancing shampoo that does that job of toning down any brassiness on blonde, silver or gray hair. Whether you have blonde locks of sorts or just highlights in general, purple shampoo helps to remove the dullness, refreshes the color, and leaves your hair shiny.
2. Living proof Restore Condition. This gem was a recent Sephora find and has quickly become my favorite conditioner to date. While it is formulated for dry or damaged hair (which I don't really have), I found it to still be a really nourishing daily conditioner. Ever since using this conditioner for the last few months, I've noticed that my hair is both softer and shinier. This conditioner works well with all hair types and textures.
3. No. 3 Olaplex Hair Perfector. I've been seeing Olaplex products scattered along my salon walls for quite a few years now, so there must be some magic in those little white bottles! Olaplex is a three-step treatment process that works at the molecular level to ultimately restore broken hair bonds and strengthen the hair for future breakage. I personally have not tried No.1, a bond multiplier, or No. 2, the bond perfector as they are both salon steps. However, I did give No. 3, the Hair Perfector, which is an "at-home treatment that reduces breakage and visibly strengthens hair, improving its look and feel". I use the Hair Perfector about once a week on damp, unwashed hair by running it through my hair and leaving it on for about 10 minutes before I shampoo and condition in the shower. While I've never had very thin hair, I have noticed that my hair is stronger and thicker after consistent use the last couple of months. I am curious to try the entire system now since they sell No. 4 Bond Maintenance Shampoo, No.5 Bond Maintenance Conditioner , and No.6 Bond Smoother at Sephora. I just picked up the shampoo to try out and am liking it so far!
4. Macadamia Deep Repair Masque. When your hair is in need need of some deep moisture, look no further than the Macadamia Deep Repair Masque. This treatment is one of the few products that have stuck with me throughout the years and has stood the test of time because its that good. The masque itself is very thick and creamy and also smells amazing! A little goes a long way, especially since if you use it only 1-2 times a week. If you want extra luscious locks, considering sleeping with the product overnight using a shower cap and rinsing in the morning.
5. OUAI Hair Oil. When it comes to hair oils, I've only tried jojoba and almond oils before and found them to be a bit to greasy for my liking. OUAI's hair oil leaves the perfect sheen whether I leave my hair straight or curl it, and I love that it doesn't weigh by hair down. I usually rub 1 pump in my palms and then run it through my damp hair after showering. I also use it on dry hair when I feel like it's lacking moisture. The 1.5oz, $28 bottle is quite steep compared to other natural oils, but it will last a long time with daily use. I
6. Batiste Dry Shampoo. I don't know where I would be without dry shampoo. Seriously, I think I get anxiety when I travel and realize that I forgot to bring some with me. Batiste dry shampoo is a holy grail item that has saved me from greasy scalp emergencies on one too many occasions. For those ombré-d gals out there, dry shampoo will be your best friend. While the powder shouldn't be a replacement for regularly shampooing your hair, it helps to save a wash or two a week, ultimately preserving your color. I personally love the Batiste brand because they make different scents and also a dark brown color that is perfect for darker roots.
My Hair Evolution
My first balayage was done by the fabulous Jenn Shin, originally part of BECENE Studios in Rockville, MD. She has since opened up her own studio, Jenn Shin Studios. Make sure to check out her work and consider her for your hair because this girl knows what she is doing! As a newbie in the professional hair coloring game, I really didn't know what to expect. I explained to her that I wanted to do something dramatic and unique, but also expressed my greatest concern of damage from the bleach and color. She walked me through her coloring process to explain how she would minimize the damage without touching my roots and also recommended some products to help tone down brassiness and maintain the vibrancy and shine of my hair.
Based on my request description, she created the most beautiful rose gold color melt in my hair. To this day, it remains one of my favorites, though I will say that the pink unfortunately fades fairly quickly, as most non-neutral colors do. And then the addiction began!
One of the biggest struggles I have with my hair is that it needs regular maintenance. Once you begin with an ombré or balayage, it becomes a cyclical to regularly get your hair done so it doesn't look grown out. Another option is to just slowly grow out your roots until you can just cut off all the color and start with a blank slate. The issue I had when I first bleached to a pinky-hue was that the pink faded and then the brown faded soon after to reveal the much lighter blonde hair I had underneath. I was left with a lot of yellow and orange brassiness and knew I needed to head to the salon again for a fresh look. Luckily the timing was right because September 2016 is also when I start my full time career in consulting!
I discovered Effie Lei at Hair Philosophy, located in Little Italy in New York City. She is so incredible and has many years of color experience under her belt. Seriously, she can make your wildest hair dreams come true. She listened to my hair history and listened to request for a silvery-blonde look, which is exactly what I got! I would go back to this color in a heartbeat.
I waited a whole 8 months before I returned to Effie to rescue my hair once again. As you can tell from this "before" photo below, my silver faded into the distance over the months and my roots had grown out. You can tell from the ends that my hair was also very dry and in need of deep moisture. Even though it was summer, I wanted to go a bit darker for a change. I had spent the last year with very light hair and kind of missed my darker hair. The brown she did on me was beautiful, and though it looked a bit too dark for my liking initially, the color faded to a lighter shade over time.
Before my April trip to Denver and after my trip to Bolivia, I decided to change things up. I didn't intend to go so dark again , but ended up with a brown-ish, gray balayage after leaving Hair Philosophy again. To be honest, I think this is one of my least favorite colors of the bunch I have had when I left the salon. However, I will say that it sometimes takes a couple days after leaving the salon for the style to grow on you and the color to fade a bit. As with all my colors, this brown-gray also faded into one of the most beautiful, natural looking balayagesI have ever had. So my advice is if you don't initially fall in love with your color, give it a few days before you complain and ask your stylist for a fix.
By this time, Effie had moved to her own salon, the Hare Studio, in Brooklyn New York. Hare Studio is located behind her ViVi Bubble tea shop on Court Street, which is awesome because you get a free bubble tea to sip on in your chair while she works her magic.
After going dark for my last two visits, I was very vocal about wanting to become a blondie again. And man that is exactly what I got! I loved my new blonde hair for my trip to Thailand. This is the color where I really felt like I looked drastically different. Many people also noticed the change, especially my mom who has always expressed that I should dye my hair less (lol). This is the lightest I think I will probably go with my hair.
Effie is very good at listening to what her clients want. That is one of the reasons why I always refer friends and family to her because I know they will be in good hands. During my last balyage, she really hit the nail perfectly. I wanted something natural that would need less upkeep over time than the blonde I had before. I also really wanted a little bit of silver without it looking too grey or dull. My description is a bit difficult to conceptualize but she really brought it to life!
Thank you Effie for being someone I truly trust with my hair over the years! I think a lot of people can agree with me that finding a stylist that you really like and trust is difficult to find. But when you do, hold on to them and never let them go.
Thank you so much for reading this post and following me on my hair journey. If you have any comments or questions, I would be happy to answer them in the comments or in my dms :)