Lighten Up! Summer Hair Color Inspiration From L.A.'s Coolest Stylists

Looking to take your locks lighter and brighter for summer? Then, you've come to the right place, because Los Angeles has a serious obsession with highlights. Perhaps it's because our city is perpetually sunny — so highlights never go out of season — but West Coast colorists know their way around a bleach bowl. From the varied techniques (baby lights, sombré, balayage) to the rainbow of potential hues (honey, wheat, caramel), the possibilities are truly endless.

But, how do you know what works for your hair color, texture, and lifestyle? We've tapped some of our favorite L.A.-based colorists to provide some much-needed inspiration. Even better, each stylist in our slideshow is also lending some ultra-important guidance, explaining their technique, and what to ask for if you love the look. Now, all you have to do is pick what you want. (We know, not exactly easy!)

Click through our slideshow for all the summer-hair inspiration you need to go lighter and brighter by Memorial Day.  

Photo: Courtesy of Johnny Ramirez.
Stylist: Johnny Ramirez
Salon: Ramirez | Tran

As one half of the founding team of Ramirez | Tran, Johnny Ramirez knows a thing or two about taking his clients (including the likes of Jessica Alba and Gwyneth Paltrow) lighter. His signature "lived-in color" is a natural-looking take on ombré, and delivers quintessential California beach hair. His process includes teasing, then bleaching, the ends of hair, then weaving in baby-fine highlights through the rest of the locks to ensure the hue is perfectly blended.

Upkeep: The best part? Since it's a soft look, it will grow out beautifully. "It lasts five to seven months if you don't have grey hair," Ramirez told us. "And if you do have greys, you just have to come in and get your roots touched up."
Photo: Courtesy of Emily Mott.
Stylist: Emily Mott
Salon: Spoke & Weal

Have dark locks and a fear of commitment? Believe it or not, there is a perfect look for you to try. Colorist Emily Mott calls this "progressive color" and suggests you ask for balayage (hand-painted strands), applied in baby-fine strokes, only after the entire head has been teased. (Your colorist will understand the direction.) This allows the highlighted pieces to be soft and undetectable. "This look can work for just about everyone," she says. "You want it to be subtle, so avoid too much contrast between the highlights and your natural color."

Upkeep: In theory, this style is so subtle, it can last until the highlights are trimmed off. But, if you want to maintain the look, plan on going in every three months for a touch-up.
Photo: Courtesy of Shai Amiel.
Stylist: Shai Amiel
Salon:
Capella Salon

For those with naturally curly locks, we turn to Studio City-based stylist Shai Amiel, who lightens ringlets like no other. For this particular look, he "softened her overall color to give a richer golden color, and added hand-painted highlights for [more] dimension." If you can't get in to see Amiel, give your colorist those notes and ask for soft, honey tones. "This is great for anyone who wants to feel blonder, without having to damage their hair," he notes, since bleaching key pieces is only a fraction as hard on the hair as all-over highlights.

Upkeep: "This requires very low maintenance," Amiel told us. Expect touching-ups for overall color every three months and highlights only once a year. "Keeping the highlighted pieces random gives her regrowth a very natural look."
Photo: Courtesy of Shai Amiel.
Stylist: Shai Amiel
Salon:
Capella Salon

See, we told you Amiel was the master of curls. This enviable look involves the same technique as before, but uses cooler hues for a softer, less dramatic finish. Ask for rich blonde highlights that mimic the effect of the sun. "This is great for anyone who enjoys their natural hair color and wants to add a little extra splash of color," he told us.

Upkeep: This soft and easy style only requires touch-ups every six months.
Photo: Courtesy of Tauni Dawson.
Stylist: Tauni Dawson
Salon: Nine Zero One

"I would describe this look as a softened-out ombré, or sombré, which allows a blonde to keep the depth but play up those beautiful sun-kissed ends," colorist Tauni Dawson told us. To accomplish this, she suggests asking for fine highlights throughout the root area and a heavier highlight or balayage through the ends. "Keeping the highlights fine throughout the top is what softens and connects this color to the bright, beautiful ends!"

Upkeep: You should skip a base color, and the regrowth will be soft and natural-looking, allowing you to go between three and six months between salon visits.
Photo: Courtesy of Emily Mott.
Stylist: Emily Mott
Salon: Spoke & Weal

For those looking for pale-blonde inspiration, we turn to colorist Emily Mott. Here, she did a heavy foil of baby-fine highlights to reveal a pale-yet-dimensional finish. "Anyone can pull off this look; it's not how dark or light you go, but how you tone it," she told us, referring to the super-cool hue. (Yes, it's a cool look, but note, we're talking about the tone.) She refers to this as a "beige blonde," and further neutralized any warm tones with Aveda's Blonde Finish toner after the highlights were washed clean.

Upkeep: This one is not for the commitment-shy; you'll need to come in for touch-ups every six to eight weeks.
Photo: Courtesy of Morgan Parks.
Stylist: Morgan Parks
Salon: Nine Zero One

You don't have to strive for traditional blonde to go lighter for summer. Just ask Nine Zero One colorist Morgan Parks, who adds dimension to brown locks for a sun-kissed finish. Her advice? Ask for natural-looking, sandy-beige highlights that are lighter around your face and towards the ends of hair. "Especially with brunettes, lightening your hair takes time, so be patient and don't settle for bright and orange," she says.

Upkeep: "The great thing about this look is that it's low-maintenance," Parks told us. Your highlights will grow out gradually, almost like they came from the sun instead of the salon. If they start to get brassy from the actual sun — which can happen — you can pop in every four to six weeks for a toner to refresh them.
Photo: Courtesy of Crystal Betke.
Stylist: Crystal Betke
Salon: Hairroin Salon

The trick to this blonde color comes in two parts: Hairstylist Crystal Betke did an "extremely fine" weave and selected two cool, "wheat blonde" colors to alternate. Your stylist should be able to pull this one off with only those directions, but be sure to give him or her a heads-up. "When booking your appointment, make sure you ask the receptionist for a full weave, and to add a little bit of extra time," she informed us. Getting the natural dimension it takes from a super-fine weave requires more patience than a normal foil set.

Upkeep: Since you're coloring right up to the roots, you'll need to get back in the salon every eight weeks.
Photo: Courtesy of Anja Burton.
Stylist: Anja Burton
Salon: Ramirez | Tran

"This is very low-maintenance and perfect for someone that just wants to enhance their natural color," colorist Anja Burton told us about this dreamy, sun-kissed hue. If you can't get in to see her in L.A., she suggests throwing around the word "tippies" with your own colorist. "Inspired by children's natural hair color and surfer hair, it basically means only to color the ends of hair," she says.

Upkeep: Since you're not touching the roots, this style can add a pop of brightness to locks every six months without regrowth.
Photo: Courtesy of Crystal Betke.
Stylist: Crystal Betke
Salon: Hairroin Salon

Of course, we didn't forget those who want to go really light. Dare we even say platinum? We suggest you make an appointment with Crystal Betke to score what she calls "natural platinum." Not in L.A.? Request a consultation to talk it out with your colorist. You'll likely need a bleach and tone or a double-process color, but if you're looking for a similar result to the one in this image, follow this additional advice. "During your consultation, inform your stylist that you do not want something really ashy," she says. "Instead, you would like something more neutral with a little bit of ash."

Upkeep: Expect to be in the salon every four to six weeks.
Photo: Courtesy of Stephanie Witter.
Stylist: Stephanie Witter
Salon: Salon Sessions

For tips to score honey-colored ombré, we went directly to the source of this shiny look: colorist Stephanie Witter. "Ask for a golden, honey base around a level six, with a heavy ombré on the ends," she instructs. "Just make sure they know how to blend the two colors together!" As she point out, this technique-heavy look is best splurged on, with a colorist with a solid book of beautiful ombré.

Upkeep: If you're changing your base color, as Witter did here, you'll need to come in every six to eight weeks. But, if you stick to your natural color and just highlight the ends, you can expect to have it last five to six months.
Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Conner.
Stylist: Sarah Conner
Salon: Mèche

Get ready for some serious hair jargon: Mèche colorist Sarah Conner calls this look baby lights meets sombré. (Or, as we call it, gorgeous.) "Ask for face-framing highlights starting a few inches away from the root, as well as very subtle balayage-d ribbons scattered about the middle sections to ends of hair," she says. "The key is to keep the highlights away from the roots." Depending on how heavy the hand that's coloring it, the result can be subtle and soft or light and bright. (Translation: Be sure to be very clear about what you're looking for!)

Upkeep: Sticking to your natural color for the base? You can come in for highlights only once or twice a year! Those doing a base color will need to make appointments every four to eight weeks.
Stylist: Becky Bentley
Salon: Salon Sessions

Taking naturally black locks to a soft, golden blonde is no easy task. "I call this hair painting, or hair melting," colorist Becky Bentley told us about her lightening strategy. First, she took the base color to a rich, chocolate brown, then hand-painted strands with a golden, caramel blonde.

Upkeep: Expect to be in the salon every six to eight weeks, touching up the roots; then, have the blonde brought closer to the scalp every other time, or about every 14 weeks.
Stylist: Yvonne Brown
Salon: Mèche

"This color is amazing for the girl who has always wanted to go blonde, but is afraid to commit," Mèche colorist Yvonne Brown told us. To get a look that's "dark and light in all the right places," the colorist paints baby-fine pieces, starting a few inches off the roots. As for the color? Ask for a warm, sandy blonde and throw around the term "lived in" to help your colorist envision what you mean.

Upkeep: "The grow-out process for this is up to the client," Brown told us. "Typically, it takes anywhere from two to four months before we start seeing a difference in tone."