Nicola Clarke is the U.K. colorist that celebrities go to when they want the perfect blonde. Her clientele includes pretty much every famous Kate (Moss, Bosworth, Winslet, Cate Blanchett), as well as Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow and Sienna Miller, to name a few. Needless to say, Clarke is the queen of colour. She is also the only person I trust to balayage my naturally-red hair, even though I now live in a different country from her Nicola Clarke at John Frieda salon in the buzzing epicenter of London.
With platinum hair trending for F/W 19 and "blonde" as the most-searched hair color on Google and YouTube, I called on Clarke to share her advice for finding your perfect shade of blonde. If you’re thinking of going blonde or you’re already blonde but want to go blonder, then read this before heading to the salon.
1) Skin Tone Is Key
"The most important thing when going blonde is that it works with your skin tone," says Clarke.
For fair skin...
"Personally, I love cool, bright hair tones with fair skin—an almost Scandinavian blonde with sections of ice-white tones to lift the hair and give it some dimension. Think Kate Bosworth (below) or Cate Blanchett."
"Highlights and balayage in cool blonde tones work well on Asian skin tones, to soften and add dimension. Be careful not to choose a shade that's too warm, as it can look brassy."
Influencer Tina Leung (below) gets it right.
On olive skin...
"Balayage works well with olive skin, making the blonde look more natural. Think warmer blonde tones for more of a beach-blonde look."
Jessica Alba (below) with blonde balayage.
Of course, rules are there to be broken. "I recently took some models for a hair show in Washington for the hair brand Virtue Labs and one of the girls had olive skin," Clarke says. "We bleached her hair, but I’d only do such a big color change using Virtue Colorkick. It is keratin that I add into all my colour formulas. It protects the hair through the process, ensuring it stays as healthy as possible."
If you have an olive skin tone and you want to go for a drastic all-over blonde, Clarke recommends asking your colorist to "add a shadow at the root, after bleaching and toning, which will blend perfectly with the skin and hair color."
For Darker Skin Tones
"I would recommend using a dark blonde around the face to lift color and frame the face without lightening the overall shade too much," Clarke says.
Ciara (below) lifts her complexion with highlights.
2) Talk Candidly With Your Colorist
While it's important the blonde suits your skin tone, Clarke notes that "hair color is very personal and needs to suit your style."
"Speak to your hairdresser and talk them through your style and look before going ahead with the color," warns Clarke. A whole new blonde look could mean you need to switch up your wardrobe or makeup by adding in new colors.
"Find out how your new blonde will work with your lifestyle and if that is realistic," she says. "You don’t want to wind up with hair that you don’t have the time or finances to maintain."
3) Take Plenty of Pictures to the Salon
Pictures are a brilliant way to convey exactly what you do and don't like about a particular hair color. "I recommend bringing along lots of images to share with your colorist of blondes you like," says Clarke. A selection of images means you're more likely to find your perfect blonde in the mix.
"You can go through them together and your colorist can explain which shades will work and why," adds Clarke.
4) You Might Not Go Blonde In One Session
There is a huge gulf between a few balayage pieces and a full-on platinum blonde overhaul. Depending on the condition of your hair, Clarkes notes you may need to "use treatments and masks to prepare for extreme changes."
That's why a colorist will always insist on a consultation and potentially a strand test to check the strength of your hair before embarking on a serious switch-up. Be warned, they might send you away with a strengthening regimen to prep your hair so you can reach your desired blonde with your strands still shiny, healthy and intact! "Give your colorist at least six months to a year if you want a big color change," says Clarke.
5) Tweak Your Blonde From Season to Season
Once you've gone blonde, you'll realize that it's really easy and fun to tweak it from season to season. "In the summer, a few lighter pieces of balayage around the face can really brighten the face and make hair look sunkissed," says Clarke. "Come autumn and winter, going a few shades darker will give you a more mellow blonde. But at the end of the day, the blonde you choose should come down what you like, rather than what you feel you should have!"
And Remember, Look After Your Blonde
"It’s always good to know how to keep you blonde in the best possible condition between visits to the salon," notes Clarke.
You see, blonde hair is notoriously changeable. You may have a cool, clean, crisp blonde when you leave the salon but within weeks it can turn brassy. When hair is bleached, it becomes more porous than virgin hair, which means pollution and tap water particles can get inside, as well as UV rays, which causes the cool blue molecules in your toner to lift out and leave red tones behind—hence, why your hair can start looking warm. So when your colorist tries to sell you product, take note of what they are recommending. If it's too expensive to buy everything, that's okay—tell them how much you can afford and which products you should invest in and where you can save.
"Virtue Labs Shampoo and Conditioner are amazing, the most important thing is to look for sulfate-free shampoo, this will help keep the colour looking its best," recommends Clarke.