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How to Get the Exact Hair Color You Want

The world of hair color can be intimidating. With every colorist and salon boasting their tried and true signature techniques, stepping into a new salon means your outcome may be unpredictable. We’ve all had color services that are quick in-and-out jobs, but there are those of us who have been in the salon for the good portion of the day (hello 11 hours!). So, to take some of the guesswork out of the equation, we reached out to Dana Ionato from Sally Hershberger Salon New York to walk us through the salon visit, what we need to know before we go in, and how to get the color we want. Read her expert advice below!

White person standing in front of an ivy wall with a bright red hair color after a salon hair appointment
(via Unsplash)

1. Do your research.

Dana recommends researching your hair colorist prior to your salon visit. Don’t just choose a good name salon and pick anyone when you book your root touch-up or highlight. Also, make sure their bio is on the website, and read their mission statement. Trust the person you’re going to visit. “There is nothing worse than a new client in my chair that is so nervous, they make me nervous,” Dana shares. “Hair color is very tricky, and you want to create a relationship with your clients/colorist to hopefully have a long-lasting relationship.”

2. Keep your hair healthy.

Make sure your hair looks good. If it’s in bad shape, that can be part of the reason your color looks busted. Healthy hair gets better results and your colorist will be more excited to create something beautiful. If your hair isn’t healthy, you’re less likely to convince a new colorist to move forward with the color appointment. Keep up with your masks, limit shampooing to twice a week, and lay off the heat stylers when you can.

3. Do some pre-color maintenance. 

Coconut oil works best as a pre-color treatment. To keep it simple, use once a week for four weeks leading up to your appointment. Liquify extra virgin coconut oil and apply a good amount to your ends, then the mid-shaft. Leave on for 20 minutes before shampooing. As a deep conditioner, Dana recommends Shu Uemura Moisture Replenish. “It’s amazing,” she raves. For chemically damaged hair, Olaplex works wonders and she suggests brushing the hair out thoroughly at night with a Mason Pearson Boar Bristle Brush. Its ability to take natural oils and push them down to the ends can help repair the hair better than anything else.

4. Curate photos for inspiration.

With Pinterest and social media, there are so many references to find the perfect color. Choose your photos carefully. Pick ones you love, and know why you love them. Ask yourself…

  • Is my hair their length?
  • Do I have their thickness?
  • Is my texture similar to theirs?
  • Do I have their skin tone?
  • Are our features similar?
  • Do I style my hair? Because all color will look better styled in a photo.

With photos, make sure…

  • They are not black and white.
  • Also, bring photos of color you don’t like, and know why.

5. Know your hair language.

Hair language is more complicated than you think since there are so many shades and hues. Here is Dana’s cheat sheet:

  • Stay away from words like gold and warm, as when requested, this could be dangerous. Warm is orange, and if you hate yellow, you hate gold.
  • If you hate toner, know what it is is, and maybe why you hate it. If you’re a brunette, and your BFF who is Barbie blonde hated a toner three years ago at a salon, and she told you about it, then you don’t know what toner is.
  • Always be nice!
  • Figure out if you like a more solid look or more dimensional hair.
  • Know fad phrases. Don’t ask for “tortoise shell,” unless you get the concept. Trendy isn’t always right for every client. Know if you veer towards a more natural look, versus something more outside the box.

6. Be realistic.

Ask for what you like, and what you want to be. First blonde, brunette, or red, and then give a brief history of past maintenance you have done with your hair. Then be realistic with your goals and what you can handle going forward.

Be honest with all of your answers. “There is no wrong answer, nothing you say during this consultation will make me chose one color from the next. I need to know so the client will leave happy, liking the colors, and come back raving about their experience and become lifetime clients,” Dana says.

“I adjust everyone’s hair color based on skin tone, eye color, texture, and lifestyle. Try to dress how you dress up when you feel most chic and hot. Represent yourself in preparation that we will evaluate your style and give you something that reflects that. Try not to wear too much makeup so we can see your natural skin tones and highlights,” she also shares.

7. Come with clean hair.

If you are getting highlights, you must come in with clean hair. The oil from your scalp will prevent highlights from lifting. Dana shares she “likes to see the hair clean to get the best gauge on how dark the root actually is.

If you are getting a single process color, you may come in with dirty hair. This will prevent your scalp from overstimulation so you are more comfortable during your appointment. 

8. Schedule your appointment accordingly.

When it comes time to make the appointment, Dana shares some useful hair color appointment tips:

  • Make a consultation appointment to be extra sure you know what you want, how much time you’ll need, and who to book with. Then book your appointment that day for a different day. This ensures you book accordingly. If your appointment is booked wrong, you’re risking the service. If a hair colorist doesn’t have time to do what you actually wanted, it could be because it was booked wrong. Don’t trust your desk conversation. They don’t do hair.
  • If you know you have a lot of hair, pick an early appointment. Wednesday or Thursday is great, as it’s usually a calmer environment in the salon. That way you know you will get your colorist’s undivided attention.
  • If you want a better experience or it’s your first time to a salon, don’t go on a Saturday.
  • Try not to get too caught up in the process. Relax during you appointment and trust the colorist.

Things happen. Even if you follow the steps accordingly, there is a small chance you’ll leave with a color you’re not too fond of. If that turns out to be the case, HERE is what you should do!


This post contains affiliate links, meaning we may make a small share of the sale off any purchase you make.


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