Saturday, April 20, 2024

I’ve Spent a Decade Covering My Natural “Dishwater” Blonde. Suddenly, It’s a Trending Hair Color

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I called the braids my mom gave me as a child my “root beer float braids,” a nod to the blend of creamy highlights that would appear through the crisscross style. I grew up a natural blonde with light golden tones that sparkled through warmer honey shades. Every time I would tag along to my mother’s long hair color appointments, the colorists would gasp before saying, “You realize that women pay hundreds of dollars to have your hair?” I thought I wouldn’t ever color my hair until I went gray. I was wrong.

As I moved into the next phase of my life and went off to college, my hair made a big change, too. My once-bright roots started to fade into a darker taupe shade. My summery highlights were beginning to have more of a winter dullness. Not even the DIY hack of putting lemon in my hair while lounging in the sun helped brighten it anymore, though it had so many times before. My hair was now a dirty blonde color — often called “dishwater” or “mousey” due to its flat tone. Near the end of my senior year, I saw a photo and did a double-take at how dark my hair looked. In that moment, just as my hair color was fading, so was part of my identity. I didn’t look like myself.

I panicked and begged my mom (also a once-natural blonde) to book me an appointment with her colorist. She warned me that once I began dyeing my hair, it might be hard to go back. However, I was blinded with excitement that I could have that bright honey hue that made me feel beautiful. What I didn’t consider — as the smell of bleach lifted me (and my hair color) back to my youth — was just how big of a commitment I was making. I had just been inducted into a “club” of women who would routinely spend hours in the chair to emerge with fresh, glossy blonde hair.

Shelby Wax as a kid.

Courtesy of subject.

Courtesy of subject.


Meet the experts:

  • Emaly B is a celebrity hair colorist whose clients include Jennifer Lawrence and Dianna Agron.
  • Jenna Perry is a celebrity hair colorist and the founder of Jenna Perry Hair Studio.
  • Matt Rez is a celebrity hair colorist whose clients include Florence Pugh and Meghann Fahy.

Shelby Wax not long after highlighting her hair for the first time.

Courtesy of subject.

I left with a brand-new shade that I had never encountered before. Soft, sandy highlights were woven through a balayage of my “dull” roots. It was even lighter than my childhood hue and I loved the brightness it brought to my face. Five months later, I returned to the chair and had my hair painted again for another four hours. It has now been a decade of this routine and I have shelled out thousands of dollars to avoid that darker root color from growing out more than two inches. Recently, I’ve begun showing my colorist photos of myself when I was younger to try to recreate my former perfectly sun-kissed golden hue.

The experience of my hair losing its “luster” is an incredibly common phenomenon. “Children’s hair is not one color blonde,” explains celebrity hair colorist Matt Rez. “It has the depth of the natural base color — wisps of warm mid-lights that pop the bright blonde highlights. It’s like ribbons of colors melting together perfectly. As natural blondes age, their vibrant multi-tonal and color shades start to darken to a more muted and flat dark blonde or light brown.” This is caused by a natural increase in eumelanin, which determines brown or black pigment, due to hormones. Some people lose their blonde locks by the time they hit puberty, while others – like me – have their colors fade in their twenties.

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