You've probably noticed that "summer" and "sun-kissed" are often jammed together in the same sentence. Sure, in a dream world, sunny days would be accompanied by a glorious three months of effortlessly highlighted hair, no salon appointment necessary. But this is the real world we're living in, where the weather errs on the side of stifling and we're all seeking solace in the comfort of the AC, a safe distance away from the sun's harsh rays — thus dashing any hopes of them poetically "kissing" our hair.
Luckily, there's a way to give your hair the look of naturally lifted, sunny brightness, without spending a week laying out on the beach with a headful of lemon juice. Because one, who has time for that? And two, has anyone ever been able to pull that off without their hair turning orange?
Celebrity colorist Rita Hazan, the seasoned pro that gave Beyoncé her buttery blonde curls and J. Lo those smooth caramel highlights, tells us that the best way to give your hair a naturally highlighted glow is to ask for a golden accent. Yes, that involves heading to the salon — but once you see the results, you'll be booking your next appointment posthaste.
Wait, what's a "golden accent"?
The celebrity-approved color technique, as coined by Hazan, is how she's brought A-listers with naturally darker hair colors and complexions into a blonder light, without looking fake or going full-on platinum. "If you're looking to go a shade or two lighter in the summer, it doesn't have to be bleached blonde," says Hazan. "I'm not seeing too much of that single-processed bleach. Instead, the golden highlight is more of blonde that someone would assume you just picked up from a beach vacation — it's soft and subtle, but there's a glow."
The trick, Hazan says, is to lighten your hair while still maintaining dimension. "If you have naturally dark hair, you have to keep some of that darkness, so that the lightness doesn't look unnatural," she explains. "In that case, you want to keep the base color darker, and then just infuse a golden tone that's one to two shades lighter than your base color, so the highlight shade should be a direct play on your base color."
So, if you're fair with dirty blonde or light brown hair, your highlight might read as a buttery blonde, Hazan explains. But a natural redhead should opt for a more strawberry, rose-gold tone, which will look slightly different. If you're a very dark brunette, a deep golden shade will add the brightness without looking like a dye job.
Hazan says that, in order for the golden to read as warm and bright, it's important to stay away from anything that leans red or orange. "Gold is not orange or brassy. It's a super-soft, dimensional blonde with more of a yellow tinge to it," Hazan explains, adding that you always need to be cognizant of your base when choosing your golden hue. "Highlights are meant to accent a pretty base color; it's not a single process," she says. "A good analogy is, if you're highlighting a book, you wouldn't highlight every word, just the key parts — it's the same thing with your hair. You just want to mix some highlights in as an accent to the base color."
As far as placement, Hazan leaves that up to personal preference. "Some people like darkness around the hairline, so face-framing highlights don't work for everyone," she says. "The key thing to remember is that there has to be a balance of highlight throughout the hair, so it's never a big blob of color."
So what should you ask for?
"Use words like 'buttery' and 'sun-kissed,'" Hazan advises. "And make sure that you're emphasizing that it should look natural — like a little blonde kid at the beach at the end of the summer, after their hair has lightened in the sun. There should be warm tones in there, but they're not orange-y." To make sure you're getting what you want, bring ample photo inspiration to your colorist.
Follow Hazan's pro guidance, and your highlights will look au naturel well into fall. So you can spend your vacation days face-down on a beach towel with a trashy book to one side and a margarita to the other, no lemon-soaked hair to be seen.