Haircut and color: When done correctly, they flatter your face and features, make every outfit look better, and make your confidence soar.
But when cut and color go wrong, they can go so wrong. Think accidental chops, unnatural hues, hair loss, and bleach-induced breakage, not to mention the loss of sanity and money.
In short, friends, the stakes are high when it comes to hairstyling.
We talked to three veterans in hairstyling and coloring to learn the dos and don'ts for getting everything you want from your salon visit. Read on for expert tips on how to get the best cut and color for your hair.
Meet the Expert
Research Stylists & Colorists on Social Media
If you want to freshen up your 'do but don't have a stylist or colorist, Instagram is the best place to find one. "Thanks to social media, you can have a very good gauge of what the [person's] skills are," Josh suggests.
"Also, talk to your friends that you trust that have similar hair type and texture to you and get their recommendations," he adds. "Don’t be scared to stop people on the street with similar hair types and ask them who does their hair."
Never Turn Down a Free Consultation
Most hair pros should be willing to give you a brief consultation to talk about your desired cut or color; take them up on it.
"If the stylist isn’t listening to what you want for your hair and isn’t willing to be collaborative, then it may be a good sign that they are not the best fit for you," Josh says. "If they are controlling too much of your end result without hearing you out, it may be time to jump out of the chair."
During your consultation, look for other details that indicate the stylist is or isn't for you. Azadganian suggests ditching hairstylists that "don’t look the part and aren’t professional."
If you show up to your appointment and find a dirty, disorganized salon, thank the stylist and move on, Azadganian says—an unclean environment is a dealbreaker.
Don't Wash Your Hair Before Your Appointment—Ever
Should you wash your hair before a cut and color appointment or not? It's the age-old question in hair care. Both Josh and Azadganian say not to bother shampooing.
"You never need to come in with freshly washed hair; you are going to get your hair washed at the salon!" Josh says.
Azadganian adds, "As a matter of fact, if you’re getting an updo or styled for a special event, dirty hair works best."
If you don't want to go about your day with oily hair before your appointment, freshen it up with a little dry shampoo. Ouai's dry shampoo is formulated with rice starch and sea salt to make greasy hair look bouncy again, and freshens it with a gorgeous rose scent.
Bring Photos of What You Want—and Don't Want
Coming to your appointment with photos—from magazines, the Internet, or social media—is still a best practice for getting great hair. "Bringing photos of a past haircut or style they loved or a celebrity with a similar hair type is the best way to show stylists the type of look a client would like," Josh says.
But snaps of styles you don't like can be just as helpful. "Bringing in pictures of what you don’t want is a good way to show the stylist what to avoid when creating your look," he explains.
Don't Try to Use Stylist Lingo
"If clients bring pictures of the type of style they are looking for, it will avoid any confusion with terminology," Josh says.
Ask Your Hair Pro's Opinion—and Really Listen
If you're not sure whether a cut or color will make you look your best, ask for your stylist's advice, Azadganian urges.
"Our job, if done right, is to prescribe a haircut that suits the individual's face shape and bone structure," he says. "We are to educate them on what’s best for them and why."
A good stylist will take what clients want into consideration and suggest cuts and colors that are both flattering and achievable, he says.
"[I] can’t create more hair when hair is fine and thin, or make you a blonde when your hair is almost black," Azadganian explains. "The best is when someone works with what they have, rather than fighting it, to get the best look and style possible."
Consider Daily Upkeep Before Big Changes
If you don't have time for daily styling or frequent trips to the salon, make sure your stylist or colorist has that intel before giving you a new look.
"Sometimes, people see a look on a celebrity and want to mimic it without understanding that celebrities have a lot more help in keeping up with their colors and styles," Josh says.
For instance, if your desired look requires daily heat styling and you're not up for that, talk to your stylist about similar styles that look great air-dried. Likewise, don't get single-process platinum blonde hair if you can't make it to the salon frequently for root touch-ups.
Going Blonde? Book Your Haircut Second
If you have or want blonde hair, always book your cuts after your color service.
“As a blonde specialist, it’s hard to create bright blondes, platinum blondes, and pastel colors without any damage," Scott says. “I think it’s best to cut after so you can clean up any damaged ends.”
Some clients make the mistake of trying to speak hairstylist at their appointments, leading to confusion. Don't try to use words like "blending," "dusting," or "tapering"—instead, tell your stylist or colorist what you want using plain language, illustrating with photos if at all possible.
In between appointments, Scott recommends repairing bleach damage with Olaplex products, which help restore hair's keratin bonds. Olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector ($28) keeps hair conditioned and breakage-free when used as a weekly treatment.
Schedule Color After a Big Chop
Speaking of cut-and-color scheduling, if you want to lose a lot of length, save yourself a headache and book your color afterward.
“If you are making a huge change to your cut—for example, if you have long locks and you want to chop them off into a bob—then I would do the cut first,” advises Scott. “Another case where I’d cut first is if you’re going from no layers to adding a ton.”
Avoid Major Cuts After Balayage
If you've recently gotten balayage highlights, don't schedule a major haircut anytime soon. “The biggest mistake I see is clients doing a heavy balayage on their long hair and then wanting a big chop a few weeks later,” Scott says.
“When you do this, the effect of the balayage is ruined because you’re chopping off the brightest parts," Scott continues. "Not to mention you just wasted a couple of hundred dollars because now you need your color done again.”
For Low-Maintenance Hair, Choose Layers
If you like to go months between salon appointments, avoid choosing single-length haircuts like angular bobs. "Any super blunt haircut will require frequent trips to the salon to ensure it stays a straight line as your hair grows out," Josh says.
Want Rainbow-Colored Hair? Be Prepared to Maintain It
Truth hurts: That indigo hair color you loved may gradually fade to green without proper maintenance. Pastel and rainbow shades require frequent salon visits, so book follow-up appointments ASAP.
"Any hair color will fade and dull over time, but especially non-natural colors will not remain as bright as you would like them," Josh says. "If you want to keep the color fresh, make sure you can go into the salon to brighten it."
At-home care matters, too. “If you’re doing pastel colors or fashion colors, the best way to keep them vibrant is by using a cleansing conditioner," Scott says. He recommends R+Co Analog Cleansing Foam Conditioner ($32), which gently cleans hair without stripping dye using ingredients such as argan oil, jojoba oil, green tea, and herb extracts.
If You're on a Budget, Avoid High-Maintenance Styles
If you're pinching pennies, you may be tempted to visit a bargain salon for a quick trim. Don't, Azadganian cautions.
"If you’re on a tighter budget, find the best stylist you can and get your hair done less often," Azadganian suggests. "Why settle for less than the best?"
Coloring techniques like balayage and softly layered cuts can make your hair look great for months on end without touch-ups or trims.
Don't Do Color Touch-Ups at Home
One habit Josh wishes his clients would stop: attempting to color their hair—especially with dark dyes.
"Going too dark is the worst thing you can do," Josh explains. "It can be extremely costly to lighten or attempt highlights on dark hair."
Instead of touching up your color with box dye, use a temporary color spray. DPHue Color Touch-up Spray ($28) cleverly disguises roots between hair-coloring appointments and comes in a wide range of shades.
Hate Your Haircut or Color? Give the Stylist Another Chance
Even the best stylist can have a bad day. If you get a bad cut or dye job, ask the person who did it to fix it; they'll probably do the work gratis.
"In the same way a stylist should be honest, so should the client," Josh says. "If they don’t like the outcome, then the two of you can work together to try to try and fix it."
"It’s not always good to run to different stylists to try to fix it," he warns. "That can make it worse."
If the second time isn't a charm, move on. "Wear a hat for a week, take a deep breath, and think of an escape plan," he suggests.