4 Things I Did to Salvage My Damaged Hair in Less Than 6 Months

Without getting rid of my color.

Updated 10/24/19
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I was scrolling through old photos the other day when I realized between the years of 2015 and 2017, I changed my hair color no less than seven times: brown, blue, a darker brown, then pink, a sunny blonde, a quick brush with rose gold, and finally, back to blonde. But while this experimental phase (or identity crisis, depending on how you look at it) earned me the title of Byrdie’s resident hair chameleon at the time, I’ve actually been happily committed to the butterscotch color I’ve been sporting ever since.

So I was shook when, while visiting Los Angeles hairstylist Mikhayela Curry early this past summer for a touchup, she outright refused. She told me the best thing she could do for me was snip off my fried ends, and that if I had any hope of growing out my hair and restoring some health to it, I better take a few months off from the bleach. And she was totally right: For the next few months, I became religious about my conditioning regimen and watched as my root line began to descend at a rapid clip.

how to salvage damaged hair
Victoria Hoff

It was when someone commented that my hair looked “so ombre!” that I knew it was decision time: If my hair still wasn’t healthy enough to commit back to blonde, then I’d better just dye it brown and call it a day. This time, I headed directly to my friend Matt Rez, celeb colorist and Redken color ambassador, and told him to tell it to me straight. The verdict: I was good to return to my faux-butterscotch roots, so long as I agreed to a few stipulations.

Rule #1: Highlights over a full bleach.

“For remedial coloring, I say keep it minimal,” says Rez. “Doing face framing or faux partial foiling around part-lines and edges gives you the appearance of a true partial or full foils.” The trick to this is choosing a shade that’s a close bump-up from your natural color. That’s why Rez and I have usually opted for a golden-butterscotch hue rather than a light, ashy blonde: It’s an easy companion to my light brown roots, so that my entire head looks sun-kissed and “done” when in reality, it’s just a lot of expertly-applied highlights.

“Ask your colorist for a midlight to be weaved in with your highlight foils,” he advises.

Rule #2: Speaking of midlights…

They’re one of Rez’s specialties, and his secret to stretching out the time between color appointments. (Remember: Less color equals less damage.)

“The midlight is a connector between your base color and highlights and brings two major benefits when going low-maintenance and letting your hair recover,” he explains. “By adding in a midlight, your base color is preserved in between the highlights and you get extra brightness without warmth taking over; hence, new growth comes in and the line of demarcation is not as harsh. Secondly, a midlight is achieved with a hair color, not lightener or bleach.... so when the technique is used properly, minimal color damage is done to the hair!”

Rez is the expert for this technique: so much so, that he’s actually partnering with Redken to release a midlight kit to salons everywhere next month. (Psst: Ask your stylist about it.)

Rule #3: Work with a stylist who won’t bullshit you.

I’m talking unflinchingly honest—someone like Rez or Curry who will tell you when it’s time to give your strands a breather. “Pick a colorist that really cares about the integrity of your hair and will be honest with you about possibilities,” says Rez. “I’m known for saying ‘No, that’s not possible,’ or ‘I’m not the right person to take the risk.’ Clients have always appreciated that.”

Rule #4: Rethink your at-home routine.

I had to come to terms with the fact that my very hands-off hair regimen simply wasn’t going to cut it if I wanted lasting color and healthy strands. During my hair-rehabilitation period before going blonde again, I began religiously applying Verb’s Ghost Oil ($16) to my ends at Curry’s behest—a recommendation so successful, I now keep bottles in my car and at my desk at work. (FTR, it also smells amazing.) 

Beyond that, I try to wait at least a week between shampoos, have begun skipping hot tools altogether (even my straightening brush), and like to combine my beloved La Tierra Sagrada Jojoba Oil ($42) with a leave-in conditioner. If you do plan on heat styling, protection is a non-negotiable: Rez recommends Redken’s Extreme Play Safe ($24). “It actually treats your hair while protecting from further damage,” he says. 

how to make hair healthier
 Victoria Hoff

The bottom line? “Colored hair needs home maintenance,” says Rez. And that, perhaps, has been my biggest lesson of all: While a good stylist can get us so far, with great blonde hair comes great responsibility.

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