Right now, I'm guessing that cozy sweaters have become your BFF and your daily commute starts in the dark. It's at this point that lighter hair starts to feel a bit oxymoronic. Trends like 'glow lights', 'tweed blonde', and 'golden-hour balayage' served us well all summer. For me, though, those soft looks just don't hit right come winter.
I know I'm not alone in wanting my hair to have a bit more depth and mystery at this time of year. 'Mousy brown hair' and 'expensive brunette' are popular Google searches this week. (Dark hair offset statement lips and jewel-tone manicures, after all.) So when the temperature drops, you might be looking for something less Euphoria's Cassie Howard and more like her edgy rival, Maddy Perez: moody and brooding.
Enter: liquid brunette.
What is liquid brunette hair color?
The liquid brunette hair color trend was dreamed up by colorists Zoë Irwin and Nicola Clarke at John Frieda. Essentially, it's dark-brown hair with a hint of warmth and lots of gloss, like this shade by The Hair Collective on Instagram. "I call it mocha-noir, because it's deep and bitter like a 70% chocolate bar," says Irwin.
Take a look at old pictures of '90s power couple Winona Ryder and Johnny Depp: that's the trend encapsulated. "The liquid brunette is a super-high gloss," adds Clarke, who counts Madonna, Dua Lipa, and Kate Moss as celebrity clients. "There's a big conversation about uber-shiny hair right now, and this color almost makes the hair look wet."
How is if different from...brown hair?
The most common misconception about dark brunette hair is that it's an easy DIY job. Just stick a jet-black bottle of dye all over and you're good to go, right? But no convincing, flattering, or natural-looking brunette comes from store-bought box dye, according to the experts.
Some people think liquid brunette is an all-over color or a tint, which you apply from root to tip, says Irwin. "Often when you go and pick up that packet of hair dye, it will go wrong. This is because all of the fine hairs around the hairline grab the color and appear dense — and this is very jarring to the skin tone." Irwin believes there's a difference between a good brunette and a bad brunette, and it's all to do with how and where a professional colorist places the color. Liquid brunette is multidimensional and there's a glow to it. Just like virgin brunette hair, liquid brunette contains multiple tones.
As someone who has loyally bleached their hair for over a decade, I was convinced. But going brunette was a scary process. Every time I've attempted to go back to my roots, I've hated it and paid a lot to reverse the mistake. It always washed me out and made me look like a sickly Victorian child, in my opinion (and in the opinion of some very brazen friends, family, and hairdressers). For this reason, I was totally shocked when I looked in the mirror and loved what I saw after booking in with Irwin.
That's because liquid brunette is all about 'micro-slices', like this shade by Romeu Felipe on Instagram. These are little sections of hair that are dyed either one shade up, one shade down, or slightly more ashy than your global [aka all-over] color. "We treat these tiny strands with very low peroxide bleach and we make the first half-inch of the hairline a shade lighter to frame the face," Clarke explains. "Then we add a gloss on top for a really beautiful finish."
How do you get liquid brunette color?
It's difficult to give a step-by-step breakdown because the process will be different for everyone, depending on your skin tone and hair texture. In my case, Irwin used slightly darker shades around my hairline, roots, and all over to make my eyes pop. She then ran slices of lighter shades through the mid-lengths and ends to soften the look. Irwin also used semi-permanent dye to make the color look more sheer and convincing. To amp up the shine and nail that lit-from-within look, Irwin enlisted an acidic color [or, a toner] to flatten the cuticle and to achieve more light reflection.
Why is liquid brunette so popular for winter 2022?
Hair trends are almost always influenced by fashion and pop culture. We're currently seeing a return to '90s gothic glamour, for example. The streets are packed with rails of silk, velvet and metallics, long leather jackets, chunky boots, and cross necklaces. On the other hand, boxy tailoring (à la The Frankie Shop) is having a huge moment thanks to the likes of Bella Hadid and Hailey Bieber. This is exactly what '90s supermodels like Cindy Crawford, Claudia Schiffer, Naomi Campbell, and Christy Turlington were wearing back then.
What does this era’s comeback have to do with liquid brunette hair, you ask? It's a stark contrast to modern, beachy blonde or balayage. "Hair is kind of like fabric," Irwin explains. "If you've got soft hair lying on heavier, weighty, high-shine, high-voltage clothing, it doesn’t work." But don't panic if you're blonde. There are so many cool '90s aesthetics inspired by Gwyneth Paltrow or Carolyn Bessette-Kennedy. Think, yellow blonde hair, which Irwin and Clarke have named 'uptown blonde' (and are also offering as a service at John Frieda).
The final result
As cringe-y as it sounds, I've never felt more like myself than with liquid brunette hair. My eyes look more blue, my teeth look whiter, and my skin looks clearer. Plus, I don't have to worry about my eyebrows not matching my hair or my dark roots exposing me as a faux blonde.
Liquid brunette does not discriminate, either. It would suit anyone, as long as their natural hair is some form of brown. "Any brunette can have liquid brunette hair," says Irwin. As well as complementing blue and green eyes, liquid brunette is a total complexion booster with the ability to make your skin glow almost as much as your hair. "A multidimensional color like this makes skin look amazing," says Irwin. "It’s not a boxed-in brunette with a face in the middle. It's not a slate of color; it has dimensions."
If you're low maintenance, don’t sweat it. Liquid brunette is a breeze to keep in check. As pieces of your color are matched to your roots, you're less likely to notice it growing out. If you've gone for a semi-permanent color like me, it will gradually fade, but not dramatically or super quickly. According to Irwin, your first application could last you months. Just make sure you're using shampoo and conditioner for colored hair that are sulphate-free and won't strip your strands.
As for the shine? That doesn't go away. A brunette will always shine more than blonde, simply because of the way light reflects on darker hair, Irwin reassures me. And when it is time for a refresh, you won't be sat in the salon for the whole day. The entire process took around three and a half hours from start to finish, which is pretty speedy considering how dramatic the transformation was.
Liquid brunette is definitely a stronger look than I'm used to, but I'm taking it as a challenge to get more experimental with my makeup and style. So far I'm wearing stronger colors and more textures. In terms of makeup, I'm playing around with eyeliner, glitter, lip gloss, and pops of color (hello, purple lipstick) after years of sticking to gold eyeshadow, pink blush, and nude lips to complement my soft, blonde hair color.
I think it's safe to say that I’ve well and truly gone over to the dark side. I’ve officially kissed goodbye to my tired bronde era and I'm so happy about it. Liquid brunette is forever.
This story was originally published on Refinery29UK.
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