When hair color is good, it's rich and gorgeous—the stuff of bus-stop-advertising legend. When hair color is bad, it's a train wreck. Here's how to make sure you fall into the former category.
1. Do Your Prep Work
Split ends look even split-end-ier with highlights, so get a trim before you color. It's also best to wash your hair the night before coloring—hair that's too clean or too dirty can mess with how the color turns out. And if you're going to a salon, wear your hair as you normally do so the colorist can get an accurate sense of your style.
MORE: Read This Before You Dye
2. Know Yourself
Dorky as it may sound, you have to be yourself when it comes to hair color. If you're fair, don't look at Salma Hayek for inspiration. And if you're olive-tone, you will never pull off Scarlett Johansson blonde, no matter how much bleach you pour on. Pale and pinkish skin look best with blonde or light brown hair, while those who have medium or dark skin with yellow or golden undertones should go for more coppery auburns and dark browns.
Your hair's texture is also a factor. As a general rule, wavy hair can handle up to five or six shades of color, but if your hair is pin-straight, stick to more uniform color—highlights will look very obvious.
3. Stock Up
4. Wrap It Up
5. Learn How to Communicate
6. Take It Easy
Like a Spinning class or a new relationship, blonde hair works better if you baby-step your way into it. If you go from Michelle Obama brunette to Donatella blonde overnight, you will destroy your hair. Don't go more than two shades lighter in base color or four to five in highlights in one sitting. Achieving a pretty shade of blonde usually takes anywhere from four to six sessions. More than that could burn your hair—and burned hair looks like crap in any color.
7. Fix It Up
If you were hoping for strawberry blonde but ended up flaming scarlet, you can mute the color by slathering on a deep conditioner while hair is damp, then covering it with plastic wrap and a hot towel. (Try Neutrogena Triple Moisture Deep Recovery Hair Mask.) After ten minutes, remove the towel and the plastic wrap, blast your head with a blow-dryer, leave the mask on for another ten, and then shampoo and condition. If the color still sucks, see a pro.
8. Avoid Bad Things
Hair has vices, too. They are: overzealous heat styling, chlorine, excessive washing, and the sun. (Imagine how great your highlights would look if only you lived in an igloo.) If your hair turns green or brassy, wash with a purple-tinted shampoo once a week. (The pros all recommend Clairol Professional Shimmer Lights Shampoo.) And prevent future damage by coating hair in conditioner before you go to the beach or pool.
If your hair turns dry and crunchy from overzealous heat styling, try a deep-conditioning mask once or twice a week at home. For fine hair, we suggest jojoba-and-shea-butter-infused Pureology HydraWhip Light Moisture Hair Souffle,which moisturizes without weighing hair down; for medium to thick textures, try an ultrarich formula likeL'Oréal Paris EverPure Moisture Deep Restorative Masque. If that fails, ask your colorist for an in-salon glossing treatment, or you can try an at-home version likeJohn Frieda Clear Shine Luminous Glaze.