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Why I Got Sick Of Being A Blonde

Raise your hand if you miss something about your childhood. I miss my grandmother, I miss not having to think about paying the bills, I miss living in a world before 9/11 and frequent mass shootings, I miss Moscow, where I lived until I was 7 — and, on a more superficial note, I miss being a strawberry blonde.

When I was a teenager and still had traces of the Titian-like colour, my grandmother declared under no uncertain terms that I was not allowed to dye my hair, ever, until it turned grey, because, “Who would be crazy enough to ruin such an unusual colour? Don’t even think about it!”

As you may have guessed, the natural and common process of darkening — the increasing presence of the eumelanin pigment in your hair as you mature — happened, and by my 20s, my hair was...brown. In the words of several colourists, it was an “incredibly common, mousy brown.” Bubble, burst. Entitled-millennial sense of singularity, shattered.

That’s when the blonde bug bit me. I came to colourists armed with Pinterest boards full of Blake Lively and Emma Stone during their reddish-blond phases — hues I thought were pleasingly reminiscent of my own mane circa the fall of the Soviet Union. Naively, I thought the colourists could re-create these looks in a snap. Instead, I was told I’d first have to bleach my hair, then layer on more dye for an exact shade match. That sounded like a big commitment — so I went for an easier, bleach-free toffee blond, instead.

But for a certified lazy girl, even that was a lot of upkeep, and besides, with the exception of the first few weeks, I was largely unenthusiastic about the shade, which quickly leaned brassy. So I let it grow out. And while those visible, darker roots can be cool, after a while, that two-toned look felt tired. That’s when I decided it was time to fully embrace my natural shade (though in a your-hair-but-better way) — with the help of a professional.

Celebrity colourist Aura Friedman, who took me back to brown for this story, says people often go light out of a desire to call back their childhood hair colour. “Blondes and strawberry blondes as kids tend to turn this colour as they grow up; that’s what makes every colourist busy,” she tells me when I visit Sally Hershberger Downtown Salon in NYC for my transformation.
The Tint-Back
Aura’s technique is called "the tint-back," and although it’s not an entirely new concept, it’s gaining traction with celebs who’ve hit the bleach one time too many. “Tint-backs have gotten more popular only because there are more people going platinum,” Aura tells me. “At some point, they get tired of the maintenance and upkeep.” Recently, she took Scream Queens actress Abigail Breslin from blond to a deep espresso for her upcoming role as Baby in the Dirty Dancing remake.

A tint-back is essentially an attempt to match your natural hair colour as closely as possible. Aura uses a layering technique, first adding a filler to even out porosity, add back missing warm tones (gold and orange, in my case), and help seal the cuticle. A filler’s targeted protein blend patches damaged zones in the hair shaft, allowing any fresh colour to absorb evenly.

Next came a demi-permanent colour, custom-matched to my roots and formulated to layer over the blond-dyed part of my hair. Aura started at my nape, where hair is naturally darker, and finished with a few natural-looking highlights around the ends. (Most everyone’s hair is lightest at the ends.)

Aura added B3 Brazilian Bond Builder treatment to the filler, hair colour, and even to the gloss that I got two weeks post-tint-back. The additive rebuilds hair bonds broken during pigmentation to make the strands stronger and healthier, and locks in the dye’s vibrancy. This made my hair feel healthier when all was said and done.

Even the best colour can fade after a few weeks — especially if you abuse the heat-styling tools, which I’ve been known to do from time to time — so Aura sent me home with an after-care routine. So now, despite aforementioned lazy-girl certification, I’m following all of her tips (I’m committed, you guys). I shampoo once a week with a sulphate-free formula like B3 Brazilian Bond Builder’s Colour Care; if I need to shampoo more than that, a cleansing cream (like Hairstory’s) is my second-day go-to. Aura also suggested Nexxus Colour Assure Pre-Wash Primer. “It seals in your colour while repelling water at the same time.” And finally — and this was the hardest to get used to — my last shower step is a cool, cuticle-sealing rinse that prevents precious dye from slipping down the drain. (Aura recommends rinsing with a capful of apple-cider vinegar diluted in a gallon of cool water as another at-home sealing option.)

On a styling note, Aura’s assistant tipped me off to the salon’s 24K Golden Touch Nourishing Dry Oil for smooth, velvety texture. Paraben- and sulphate-free, it hits the styling sweet spot — after a few drops, the strands are light, not fluffy; textured, not greasy.

Hello, World

When I walked out of the salon, I felt like running down the street and singing show tunes, an instinct I thankfully avoided. I felt my equilibrium restored. I was done dyeing and angsting about my ever-growing roots, and that made me feel more like myself. Plus — partly thanks to the gloss — my hair looked anything but mousy; it was more of the rich, chestnut-like auburn I enjoyed before I started attacking it with dye in the first place.

After my tint-back, Aura asked me if I’d ever go strawberry blond. I had to think about it for a hot second, and my first response was, “Never say never.” I can definitely see it happening at some point in the future: committing, full-throttle with a double process — bleaching, and then painting on the colour.

But for now, I'm embracing going back to my roots.