Three years ago, I'd roll my eyes if you told me I'd be scared to dye my natural hair. Me? A devout hair straightener with once-completely blonde hair—never in one million years would I be scared. However, that all changed when stay-at-home orders were put into place. The moment an early-morning commute was cut out of my daily routine, so was my obsession with experimenting with my hair. I bought hours of my life back, and—over time—my heat-damage strands grew out, and untouched coils came in.
As my hair grew less damaged, I grew more in love with my curl pattern and vowed to resist potentially damaging styling options for as long as possible: No flat ironing, no extra-tight protective styles, and no chemical color. That vow didn't erase my curiosity, though. Instead, it intensified it. After a while, I felt my head of coils lacked oomph. I got a few haircuts to jazz things up and still felt underwhelmed, but then I imagined my strands with some color.
The bug that encouraged me to play with my hair sat on my shoulder like a sneaky devil, and I went from I'll alter my natural hair again, to maybe just a few highlights in a matter of weeks. My curiosity became a reality when I sat in Michelle O'Connor's chair at a salon event to learn about new launches for Matrix. O'Connor is the global artistic director for Matrix, and I witnessed her skill and artistry with color a few years ago at a beauty expo in Orlando. I knew that if I ever got the chance to sit in her chair, settling for a quick tzjuj wouldn't cut it—I had to seize the opportunity to get my curls colored by a master artist (and curly girl, herself).
I told O'Connor I was curious about coloring my hair but didn't want to leave the salon with ramen-noodle curls (I know from previous experience that can happen when you chemically treat natural hair). She took the time to educate me about Matrix's Curl Lights system, a professional ammonia-free lightening system that promises color without altering curl patterns.
Before O'Connor could even get to the technology of the Matrix innovations, I was skeptical. I honestly doubted it would be possible to put a chemical on natural hair and not have my curls wilt just a teeny bit. Still, she assured me that my curls wouldn't be compromised thanks to the powerful, yet nourishing Curl Lights system. “Coloring disrupts the hair’s natural moisture. The culprit is generally ammonia found in professional color products," O'Connor explains. "Matrix created Curl Lights to be the safest way to achieve sun-kissed highlights while maintaining curl integrity." The formulas used in the Curl Lights system also has nourishing ingredients like beeswax and ceramides to protect curls while you color them.
After getting the lowdown, I felt cautiously optimistic about dyeing my curls, and O'Connor suggested mocha-toned highlights with a face-framing money piece as my gateway to safe color. I trusted her enough to leap, but I didn't stop holding my breath until I saw my final look. Read more about my experience ahead.
Getting my curls treated with the Curl Lights system wasn't different from getting highlights when my hair was straight. O'Connor started on my curly strands and handpainted select sections with the Curl Lights lightening system mixed with 20 volume developer to lift the pigment from my curls. This was the step I was most concerned about, but I had to trust the process.
Once O'Connor covered my hair in the formula and foils, I had to let it process. Matrix Curl Lights can lift hair to level five in up to 15 minutes. However, it's important to remember that everyone's hair is unique. In my case, it took roughly 30 minutes for my hair to reach O'Connor's desired level. Once my color was lifted, I hit the shampoo bowl to have it rinsed out. I snuck a few feels of my curls at the shampoo bowl to ensure my hair was still intact, but it was too early to tell.
Once my hair was lifted to the desired hue (a slightly brassy yellow), it was time to tone. This step is what takes your strands from their naturally lifted shade to your desired, refined hue. O'Connor used Matrix Color Sync 7 Mocha Mocha and 8 Pearl to create a custom brown color for my highlights. She saturated my hair with the toner and let it process for an additional 40 minutes. We were nearing the finish line.
After my hair was completely covered with toner, it was time to rinse and style. O'Connor used Matrix A Curl Can Dream system to condition and style my curls. At the shampoo bowl, she detangled small sections of my hair with the A Curl Can Dream Co-Wash ($20) and styled it in small sections using the Moisturizing Cream ($24) from the range.
O'Connor used the traditional wash-and-go method of raking product through wet sections of hair to define and nourish curls. Once she applied all the product, I sat under the hooded dryer for 40 minutes before we finished the drying process using the Dyson Supersonic Diffuser attachment.
I was nervous about my grand reveal but thrilled to see my curls look even better than they did before they were treated. My curls were subtly colored in a warm brown tone that brightened up my face and they weren't wilted or limp at all. I knew the real test would be how my hair looked and felt when I styled it at home using my own products and techniques.
O'Connor instructed me to incorporate a few tweaks to my at-home routine, including using a weekly co-washing and the Matrix Total Brass Range (shampoo, conditioner, mask, and leave-in) once monthly or when I find that my color looks dull or brassy. Since then, I've taken O'Connor's advice, co-washing weekly between clarifying shampoos to avoid stripping my hair of moisture and using the blue-toned shampoo and conditioner to revive my color. Overall, my hair isn't damaged, and my curl pattern hasn't been altered one bit since getting the Matrix Curl Lights service.
I was a curly-color skeptic before trying Matrix Curl Lights, and for a good reason. As a previously-permed, heat-damaged, and color-treated person, I know firsthand the damage these elements can cause to natural hair, but it doesn't make them any less enticing. It's easy for a brand to claim a new product or formula won't alter curls, and another thing for it to deliver—Matrix has done just that.
The Curl Lights system has made me such a believer that I've considered going even lighter without worrying that my curls will melt away. Still, whether you wake up and want to go completely blonde or subtly switch it up—you can rest assured that there's a great option, so you don't have to sacrifice your curls for a new look.