Going Pastel: My Experience and Tips

Unicorn/mermaid hair was a massive trend in 2015 and I'm sure it won't be going away anytime soon. Even if the trend eventually fades, any year's a great time to go bold regardless of what's "in." However, like any major change that you plan to make to your appearance, it's best to really look into it first and gain as much necessary knowledge as possible in order to achieve the anticipated outcome. With that said, here are some tips I'd like to share based on my experience and prior knowledge on achieving pastel hair. It's gonna be a long one, so get your reading glasses ready and perhaps some eyedrops!

Disclaimer: I'm not a hair expert in any way, but these are just some things that I learned from personal experience and a little bit of research, so I thought they might help especially for those who are on a tight budget.

Let's just start off with the inevitable truth that going pastel will not be cheap if you want it to look amazing and professionally done. Unless you're a hairstylist or you have access to professional hair equipment and products, it's nearly impossible for you to do it completely at home in a way that won't damage your hair. To get your money's worth, I highly suggest contacting various salons for prices, reading lots of reviews on Yelp, and looking into specific hairstylists and browsing through their work (Instagram/Yelp photos/portfolio websites).

When talking to different hairstylists, be able to tell whether their prices are reasonable or downright expensive. I actually had a consultation at a salon in Old Town Tustin prior to the one I went to, and that hairstylist was going to charge me $100/hour for the color correction process alone and she wasn't even willing to give me the color that I wanted. Eventually, I contacted Michelle (who actually has tons of experience on pastel colors and is incredible at it) and she gave me a quote of around $350 based on how long, dense, and dark my hair was, also given that she was gonna work all day.

Shear Steele Salon @ Garden Grove
Once you've found a hairstylist and he/she has provided an estimate, expect to pay anywhere below or above that price range because you'll never know exactly how long the session will be and whatever complications you may encounter. I actually ended up paying much less than I expected perhaps because my hair wasn't as thick as Michelle thought. 

Another important thing about the cost that people need to know is that what you're mostly paying for is everything your hairstylist does before applying the pastel color. That includes the incredibly tedious process of foiling especially if you're doing a balayage (more on that later), getting your hair to an almost white platinum blonde, shampooing/conditioning, an oil treatment to decrease damage, and possibly a haircut and styling. Adding the pastel toner is actually a quick process relative to everything else, and the dyes that many hairstylists use are surprisingly super affordable (Pravana, Redken, Manic Panic, etc.) that you can easily do this part yourself. With that said, don't feel like you wasted hundreds of dollars after finding that the color has faded after a few washes (mine lasted two weeks tops) because, in reality, it's only a fraction of the price you paid for, so it's certainly not a "waste" as everyone likes to tell me.

To wrap up this super long section, I'd say that it's definitely worth it if you're willing to keep your hair pastel-toned for quite some time. If you really wanna save as much money as possible, go to the salon only to get the platinum blonde/bleaching done and do the pastel toning at home (but make sure to do it correctly). The great thing about having that platinum blonde base is that you can easily play around with different pastel colors every few weeks, and once it fades, it won't even look bad at all! I actually ended up loving how it looked when my rosy lavender hair faded to a silvery blonde.

Go for a Balayage
If you've always wanted an ombré, make sure to ask for a balayage. It'll cost a tiny bit extra, but I assure you that it's much more worth it in the long-run. It's essentially a "highlighting process in which a colorist hand-paints or 'sweeps' color through small sections of hair," resulting in a very natural look that doesn't require much maintenance. The best part? No need for unreasonably expensive monthly touch-ups at the salon because it's done in a way that when your roots grow out, you won't have that harsh halo-looking line - instead, the growth will look subtle and completely natural.

Getting it Done
Some hairstylists work on a time crunch and are only able to dedicate 3-4 hours per session, so if that's the case, expect to book a second appointment on another day. Luckily, Michelle cleared her schedule for me and spent pretty much the whole day on my hair, which I definitely appreciated because I live pretty far from the salon and it would've been such a hassle to go back. The whole session took about 7 hours, which is understandable given how long my hair was and the time it took for my dark base to lift. It surely didn't feel that long though because everyone at the salon provided a very comfortable environment with snacks and A+ music.

Limiting the Damage
The scariest part about dyeing your hair this light is probably the possibility of damaging it to the point that you'd have to cut it all off, but girl, I got you covered! Coming from someone whose hair has been box-dyed for years, bleached poorly, and heat-styled frequently, my hair has felt healthier after going pastel compared to before, and I think a big reason for that is the Olaplex treatment that Michelle gave me. What Olaplex does is it reconnects broken disulfide sulfur bonds in the hair - it's essentially a "reset button for your hair and by doing so allows you to rebuild the strength, structure and integrity to the point where a color or chemical service would then be feasible." Having said that, I highly recommend going to a salon that uses this method because it's your safest bet at restoring health back to your hair especially if it was already damaged. Keep in mind that the products in this line are very expensive, thus, this process also factors into the overall price you're paying for, which is another reason that I think it's well worth the money. 

Another tip that might not be the most pleasant thing to hear is that you have to purchase tons of aftercare products to maintain the integrity of your hair and keep the color lasting for as long as possible. I personally think that the most crucial part of maintenance is keeping the platinum blonde base from getting brassy, and the only way to do that is to invest in a good-quality purple shampoo & conditioner. Michelle recommended the TIGI Catwalk Fashionista Violet Shampoo & Conditioner, which I find super effective in neutralizing the orange tones and getting it back to a nice ash blonde. She also recommended It's A 10  Miracle Leave-In Plus Keratin to keep my hair from getting dry and brittle. For a little bit more TLC, I bought a massive jar of coconut oil (super inexpensive and has lots of other uses) for a DIY weekly deep-conditioning treatment.

But is it even that damaging?
Yes and no. It will certainly cause some kind of damage but only due to the bleaching process, which is an inevitable and integral part of achieving pastel hair. However, if you're naturally blessed with platinum blonde locks, then you're in luck and I definitely envy you because this whole thing won't cause your hair any damage at all. On the other hand, if you're like me who was born a brunette, there's nothing you can do other than to bleach your hair to the lightest level of blonde possible... but as I mentioned earlier, the Olaplex treatment significantly limits the damage that bleaching causes, so in reality, it isn't all that bad especially compared to using box dyes. 
First at-home retouching with Pravana Chromasilk Vivids in Violet
Moreover, while the pastel color only lasts a few weeks or so, retouching it/switching it up is a lot easier than you think, and the best part is that it's absolutely damage-free no matter how frequently you do it. The reason being is that all you really need is a crap ton of white conditioner and a dye of your choice. My personal recommendation is Pravana Chromasilk Vivids in Violet because it's so incredibly pigmented that you literally only need a drop or two per session... and that thing comes with a whopping 3 ounces of product! With that said, this quick process is actually doing you a favor because it's basically a deep conditioning treatment. I'll have a whole separate post on how I retouch my pastel hair and the progressive fading of the color, so stay tuned!

Basic Tips on Maintenance
You've probably heard of these a million times already from virtually anyone with long hair: wash hair to a minimum, avoid hot water when showering, limit use of heat styling tools, always apply heat-protectant, and do heatless hairstyles. 

Prior to going pastel, I would wash my hair every other day, but to keep the color vibrant for as long as possible when I finally got it done, I've been trying to narrow it down to twice per week. I know it sounds gross especially if you can't stand oily hair, but dry shampoo will be your best friend. I use Batiste Dry Shampoo (Original), which has been nothing but good to me. If you want a fancier option that seems to be getting all the rave lately, try the Bumble and Bumble Prêt-à-Powder. Also, as much as it sucks to avoid hot showers, it's kinda necessary to keep your hair follicles healthy and intact. I mean you can always take warm showers when washing your body, but make sure to switch to cold water when it comes to your hair.
As for styling, I've actually been really good at avoiding heat for the past year or two (it's mainly how I grew out my hair) because I typically just braid my damp hair the night before and I'd end up with loose waves. However, I absolutely love what a curling iron does to my new pastel locks, so I've been gravitating towards my 1-1/4 inch barrel lately, but I'm trying really hard to use it sparingly and go for heatless hairstyles instead. I definitely recommend looking up tons of braided hairstyles, casual up-dos, and other looks that don't require a heat styling tool. If you really can't resist straightening or curling your hair on a regular basis, always make sure to apply heat-protectant especially on the ends. I either use TRESemmé Thermal Creations Heat Tamer Spray or It's A 10  Miracle Leave-In Plus Keratin.

In a nutshell, I'd say that joining the unicorn club is quite a commitment. Pastel hair requires a lot of dedication because of the extremely high maintenance, so if you're perfectly up for that, then go for it! It's always fun to experiment with different looks particularly when they're outside your comfort zone. Dyeing my hair a fun color at some point in my life was actually one of the little things on my bucket list, and I'm truly glad that I got to check it off this year. I say have as much fun as you can with your fabulous unicorn mane regardless of all the stares you're gonna get!

I hope this super lengthy post helped and was somewhat enlightening in a way. 'Til next time!
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  1. Your hair looks absolutely stunning! I am in love with the colour, and you have perfected those curls :D xx

    Brand new post - Leah Talks


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