I Got a Blonde Hair Makeover by L.A.'s New Balayage Master
I was born a deep brunette. Well, I was technically born bald, but soon the dark chocolate colour genetically predetermined for me grew in thick and long. Everyone in my family has dark hair; it’s just who we are. For 17 years, “snarky East Coast brunette” defined my identity.
The summer before my senior year of high school, I took it a step further. As moody teenagers are wont to do, I dyed my hair jet-black from a box. This was my first foray into the magical world of hair colour, and I was instantly hooked. Throughout college, I made my way across the colour wheel, from auburn to fire-truck red to bright strawberry, enraptured by the physical and spiritual transformation every time. Much to my hairstylists’ disgust, boxed hair dye was my best friend, and I wielded it like an aspiring artist with a 10-cent brush.
But then I grew up and moved to Los Angeles, where I decided that as an adult, I should probably turn my hair colour over to the pros. Plus, I’d recently become dead set on finally going where I always swore I never would: blonde.
I went blonde for the very first time a little over two years ago. After so many years of changing colours, I felt like I'd finally come into my own. Maybe the “blondes have more fun” axiom is true; maybe it’s just a tired cliché. But what I know for sure is that dressing up in this bold, blonde identity has skyrocketed my confidence like a never knew it could.
However, not all blonde is good blonde. And when your hair is as dark as mine, the struggle to maintain a natural, non-brassy look is too real. I’ve seen several professionals (already a recipe for inconsistent colour), and I have never quite been able to achieve the cool-toned, blended look I’m going for. Orange hair just seemed like my cross to bear.
But the other month, while cruising Instagram, I laid my eyes on the work of hair colourist Matt Rez. Rez is the new colourist to watch at Ramirez|Tran, the L.A. salon responsible for pioneering the coveted “lived-in” hair colour trend (a lifesaver for us brunettes). Celebrities like Jessica Alba, Margot Robbie, and Sophia Bush swear by the salon’s techniques. Secure an appointment at Ramirez|Tran, and you’re guaranteed the chicest, most natural custom blonde in the world.
Take a five-minute cruise through Rez's Instagram, and you'll understand why his work struck me. Rez specializes in his own unique version of balayage highlights. Traditional balayage is a foil-less technique where a colourist sweeps the lightening product over the hair to create a "graduated, sun-kissed effect," Rez says. This balayage technique creates a natural look that works well for those interested in more of a golden hue. But icy, cool blonde is the look of the moment. Unfortunately, achieving such a blonde with traditional balayage requires multiple sessions (meaning lots of time and dough).
But Rez is able to produce a cool, blended look in a single three-hour sitting. He does this by combining babylights (a more delicate highlighting technique) with ultra-bright, bold ends. He treats and glosses the hair as he goes to keep it toned and conditioned. “My technique allows for me to get lightest ends possible, the gentler way,” he says.
Eager to see this technique in action, I booked an appointment with Rez and arrived early on a Tuesday morning. It was surreal walking through the doors at Ramirez|Tran. Even as a beauty editor, it's not easy to get the hookup there. The space itself is stunning—white-walled and strewn with modern art. The styling stations are tucked away in cozy corners, making the place feel more like someone's home than a commercial salon.
I sat in Rez's chair, and his assistants got mixing. Each colourist at the salon has up to three assistants, who help execute the colourist's vision as he pops around from client to client.
Out of the gate, Rez's relaxed but professional presence put me at ease. (Apparently becoming a colourist has been his dream ever since dyeing his friends' hair as a young teenager. "I don't know why they let me do it," he says with a smile.)
Rez's vision for me was to create "a seamless, horizontal contrast of colour from a medium-light brown base to baby blonde ends." Translation: a perfectly blended lived-in blonde. The goal was to create dimension with vertical separation of the highlights and lowlights. "This creates movement in the colour," Rez says. There were also bands of three-month-old colour that had oxidized into brassy tone. Rez promised to correct these.
A brief note on brassiness: You might be wondering what causes the orangey tones that plague so many of us aspiring blondes.
Brassy colour is a result of oxidation, Rez explains. This is a chemical process that occurs when the cool pigments in permanent colour fade, bringing out the unwanted red tones underneath. Too much sun exposure can cause oxidation. It can also result from colour mistakes in the salon, like if your highlights are not lifted or toned to the proper level. You might also end up with brassiness if your colourist tries to lighten your hair colour too many shades (one and a half, to be precise) with a permanent colour formula. "I lift the hair colour to a safe level," Rez assures, "enough so I do not [bring out] unwanted tones [and so that] we are able to take the colour lighter in the future."
Rez and his assistants delicately painted my highlights and waited for them to set. Then, I made my way over to the sink. Normally the bleaching process wreaks havoc on the hair, leaving it crunchy and damaged. (It's the price we pay for life as a blonde.) But what I didn't know is that Rez had actually been treating my hair all along. His secret?
"I swear by Olaplex during and after all my colour treatments," Rez tells me. Olaplex is a treatment that multiplies the bonds of the hair, keeping it strong from the inside out. "It allows me as a colourist to push the envelope, with caution," says Rez. In other words, it's the secret to making his technique work on multiple hair types.
Olaplex isn't just a post-colour treatment, though; Rez actually mixes it with the lightening product in order to ensure a less damaging lift. A second Olaplex treatment is applied after rinsing out the highlights. Going lighter is a blessing and a curse," he says, "but Olaplex keeps the hair strong!"
Toning down the colour after lightening is the key to achieving a cool, natural result. But even before toning, everyone at the salon was already oohing and aahing at my transformation. I sat with my head in the bowl, giddy with anticipation.
But no matter how skillful your colourist, blonde colour can still oxidize after you leave the salon. Luckily, there are things you can do at home to stave off brassiness. "Colour-safe shampoos, typically low or no sulfate, are what keep the glosses and toners we use in the salon from fading," says Rez. "Purple shampoo used once a week or every two weeks help to keep the gold tones away." If you're dealing with red or orange undertones, try a green or blue-based shampoo. "The Watercolors line from Tressa is a great option," says Rez.
By the end of my session, I'd been in the salon for about four hours, and I was dying to see the colour. As stylist Keary Bledel blew my hair dry and waved it in prep for the final reveal, I was instructed to keep my back turned from the mirror. The hypnotic scent of Oribe's Dry Texturizing Spray (£19) filled the room, teasing me. But I didn't try to steal a peek. We all agreed: The transformation should be a surprise.
Slide the arrows below to compare this look to the before shot.
It's difficult to describe the feeling of looking in the mirror, and for the first time, seeing the vision of yourself you've had for years. When I was finally permitted to face the mirror, all I could do was beam. I didn't even know my naturally dark hair was capable of looking so cool, bright, and blended. I combed through my hair with my hands to make sure it was real (not only was it blonde, it was also extremely soft—thanks, Olaplex).
Rez helped me get the colour of my dreams, but maintaining it is up to me. I already have a stash of purple shampoo in my arsenal, but conditioning my bleached strands is also essential. "As beautiful as those pearly tones are, some dryness is associated with lifting hair colour," Rez says. The best way to take care of this is to treat the hair yourself in between salon visits. "For moisture, I am obsessed with Shu Uemura's hair masks," says Rez. "They are the best I have ever tried and deliver what they promise!"
In the end, I'll admit, this "makeover" is subtler than going from jet black to bright strawberry. But it just goes to show that hair colour is so much more than drastic, messy transformations. Hair colour is both a delicate art and a science. This new hue helps make me feel like the grown-up I always wanted to be.
Shop Matt Rez's favourite products for blonde hair below!
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