Written By: Lori Barsamian
It is no secret that since the age of about 9, I’ve wanted to be blonde. Dabbling in whatever household items I thought would turn my locks from dark (I’m talking level 3 brown) to banana peel blonde. Lemon juice and hours in the sun only made me hot and sticky. Learning the hard way, Clorox Bleach and foils don’t actually lift anything, besides grout. ...Yes, I actually tried foiling my hair with Clorox. “Box Highlighter” luckily enough, didn’t lift at all. Before completely caving, determined to be blonde like the rest of the girls on my volleyball team, I bought a packet of “Quick Blue” from Sally’s, surely I would get highlights with the “professional” product. Hours later, I had lighter brown “highlights” and a ton of bleed spots at my scalp.
Desperate, I pleaded with my mom to go see my stylist, who at that point I only saw for the once-a-year back-to-school cut. Although he didn’t turn my hair platinum, I ended up sun-kissed and have been on the search for the perfect lightening technique for my brown hair ever since. And so begins my journey to lightness…
Walking into a bustling salon on a Saturday morning can sometimes feel intimidating. For me, it just feels like home. I watch the assistants hurriedly run around schlepping coffee and magazines to the stations in between timing colors and head massages at the shampoo bowl and remember the good old days of being in their shoes.
I worked at a salon throughout college, and after graduation upon moving to LA; I decided to become a hairstylist. I ended up working in the heart of Beverly Hills, learning from every stylist I met. I serendipitously met Jiwon Song - the most humble stylist you will ever meet, always ahead of the trends, and willing to share her styling knowledge. Working with Jiwon for almost 4 years, I learned her style, the proper way to mix bleach, shampoo, apply foils, and the best tools to use for the perfect blowout.
After leaving the hands-on styling world, only to write about it, I revisited Jiwon months later because she is the hair whisperer when it comes to keeping my locks looking like perfection. Much to my surprise, I was almost confused when I saw her begin to balayage my strands. In all the time I had spent with her, it was ingrained in my head that foils were always the way to go with my hair texture (thick, dark, and of Middle Eastern decent), based on how blonde I always begged her to make me.
What is BALAYAGE you ask? Besides the best thing ever… it is a more artistic approach to hair color and highlights. Your stylist paints your hair with bleach (or color), instead of using foils and sectioning, for highlights.
Always educating me, she explained that there were new clay based bleaches on the market that would allow her to balayage my hair, and lift to the level we normally achieved with foils. I have never doubted Jiwon and her abilities, so I sat back and watched her artistically trained hand paint in the perfectly placed pieces. About an hour later, sans foils, we rinsed out this clay based bleach, (for the first time ever) didn’t apply toner, and styled.
Clay-based bleach is a special type of bleach, used specifically for balayage. Its formulation and consistency are made for open-air highlights, so there is no need for film or foils. Once the clay-based lightener dries, the bleach stops working – so you don’t need to worry about over processing.
Over the years I have been lucky enough to gain knowledge through education and experience, and naturally, I want to share it with you, because everyone deserves great hair and a positive salon experience! Here are my tips to get what you want in the salon:
- First thing’s first, be on time. Even if your stylist is running late, you have no idea how much we appreciate you being there on time!
- Second, always be nice to the receptionist, being rude won’t get you anywhere and being sweet will only lead to favors, now, or in the future. Get to know their names and ask how their day is; after all, they are working on a Saturday.
- Now, onto the hard part: consulting with your stylist, which we aim to make a great deal easier. Sure, you’ve had a bit of anxiety on the car ride over, should I cut it? Should I keep the length? Summer is coming — lighter or darker? Are we doing highlights again, or should I change it up?
- Think about your style: If you’re seeing a new stylist — I would have these topics worked out in your head a bit before sitting down and bring along photos (or your Bangstyle app). If you’re revisiting your trusted go-to, talk it out with them! Chances are, if your idea for a new ‘do is unattainable, they will tell you.
- Dress the part: I always try to not only look my best when going to the salon, but to look MYSELF. I wear my makeup how I normally would and wear and outfit that accentuates my style. My stylist gets that I’m a bit boho, but if she had any doubts my 70s inspired flowy, printed dress will tell her. She always styles my hair accordingly.
- The color! What should you be asking for this season? BALAYAGE /ˌbalāˈyäZH/. I learned this word and technique early on. Its softness spoke to my bohemian heart and as techniques, tools, and products have progressed it is making a MAJOR comeback.
Why you’ll love it? The color is soft, and by soft I mean there are no harsh lines throughout your hair as sometimes seen with foils. It can be less damaging, with the new formulations and clay based bleaches used for balayage, you can get the desired result without over bleaching your hair. You can control when you will need to revisit. There isn’t a strong line of demarcation; it is soft, sweet, and understated. There isn’t a set time when to follow up, so I usually book my next appointment when I start feeling like a brunette again!