A riddle for you: What do Jennifer Lopez, Margot Robbie, Mariah Carey, Khloe Kardashian, and Drew Barrymore have in common? No, it's not a zip code or an exclusive members-only club—it’s Tracey Cunningham.
If you see a star with a particularly immaculate hair color (especially a blond!) there's a solid chance it’s the work of the legendary colorist. She’s the reigning queen of everything from highlights to hair glosses in Hollywood. But unlike so many artistic authorities, Cunningham doesn't gatekeep her tips, techniques, or even the exact shades she uses on her glittering clientele.
Emma Stone's strawberry blonde? Cunningham's happy to volunteer the exact Redken shades, application order, and timing details used in an Instagram post. In fact, her grid might as well be a hair color directory for Hollywood: Kendall Jenner's sandy brown, Lana Del Rey's red-tinged brunette, Halle Berry's warm caramel highlights, and Charlize Theron's icy platinum are all present.
So, it's no wonder why Cunningham would want to take her knowledge, doled out to clients and Instagram followers over the years, and put it all into something a little more tactile. Her new book, True Color: The Essential Hair Color Handbook, is a masterclass in hair, dispensing years of experience and personal artistic philosophy into one volume. To celebrate the book's release, Byrdie caught up with Cunningham to learn more about her favorite clients, upcoming trends, and everything you need to know to get red carpet hair at home.
On Her Book, True Color
"The book is all about my hair color philosophy. I wanted to write this book forever, not only as a way to inspire and teach those who already color their hair but also as a way to speak to aspiring colorists. A combination of very hard work, genuine curiosity to learn the business, and the good fortune of incredible mentors allowed me to achieve the career of my dreams. I hope that this book shows you that even though it is hard work, you can do it, too."
Her Famous Coloring Tip
"Clients kept coming in asking for their children’s hair color. When you are a kid, your color is lighter. As you start to get older—and I mean even in your teens—your hair starts to get darker. I tell clients to bring in a photo of themselves as a child. Finding your lighter hair color from when you were a kid is the key."
On Summer Hair Trends
"People are ready to get out, show off, and live their best lives, and I'm seeing that with color. A lot of my clients are going lighter—highlights are back in! Every time I'm in the salon, I see hair getting blonder, blonder, blonder, whether their natural tone is a brunette, redhead, or darker blonde. Highlights look amazing on straight hair, curly hair, and textured hair—they are really versatile. Some are going super blonde, and others are sticking to a beautiful balayage or ombre that makes them look and feel their best. I just did a head of highlights on Khloe Kardashian and she looks amazing!
"Also soft blonde, like I did for Anya Taylor-Joy, is great for summer and works so well on people with light skin tones. It's so blonde it's almost platinum, but still feels very warm and looks amazingly healthy. For autumn, it’s always good to tone down a bit and I’ll start to see clients returning to the salon for lowlights—nothing drastic, just a shade or two deeper than their summer blonde."
Her Favorite Coloring Techniques
"I love doing multi-dimensional colors as they create a really natural look. Ombre is a great way to color brunette hair because you can tailor it to exactly what each client loves, and it’s the best way to keep a brunette true to their hair color without going blonde. Babylights work for any hair color or type, and I’m seeing more people ask for thin, "baby-like" highlights, almost like they were pulled through a cap the way they were done years ago. I like it because it's a fun look that works for any hair color, and the highlights can be any color you want—blonde, red, ashy, chocolate. So versatile."
Her Favorite Hair Product
"Olaplex No. 3 Hair Perfector ($28). It’s an at-home treatment that uses their exclusive patented technology to reduce breakage and strengthen hair, restoring its healthy appearance."
On Working with Famous Clients
"I’m traveling all the time to meet with clients who are on location. For J.Lo, I go there to do her hair and she has a wrap on her head, and she looks absolutely beautiful. So really there wasn’t much for me to do. Lily Aldridge’s hair is awesome because if you look at her color as a kid, it’s the same color. I knew her from when she was young. It’s not that I created this color for her. I was able to do the color on her from when she was younger."
The One Hair Trend She's Not a Fan of
"Bright, neon colors. Hair color should always flatter, not distract."
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Her Must-Have Skincare Products
"I can’t live without Barbara Sturm skincare."
Her Simple Coloring Advice
"See a professional colorist for your color. Put it in the hands of a pro. Maintain your color at home with the Olaplex No. 8 Bond Intense Moisture Mask ($28) at least once a week, swapping it out for your conditioner. The mask strengthens, moisturizes, and increases shine."