Pastel Hair Color: 8 Pro Tips for Achieving and Maintaining It

A recent Tommy Hilfiger ad featured his usual bevy of sun-kisssed all-Americans with dirty blond hair of the Gisele variety, but one lovely lady with shoulder-length pink hair was thrown into the mix.Similar scenarios abounded this fall 2014 New York Fashion Week, where girls with unnaturally pretty hair dominated the runway. Natalie Westling’s shocking red hair made a statement at Prabal Gurung and Rodarte’s muse Chloe Norgaard revealed she uses a combination of Colour Jamz and Manic Panic to create her special lavender-pink hue.

The look feels particularly fresh and current when paired with simple makeup and minimalist clothes. We’re inspired by the three pastel “real girls” who are featured throughout the article, and particularly fell for the icy lavender bowl cut variation. Unusual tresses paired with monochromatic clothes and a bold lip gives the look modernity and elegance.

This look isn’t only fun; it’s also fairly non-committal. Pastel tints don’t usually keep for more than three weeks, and they’re easily applied at home. Itching to try it out? We grilled a few of our favorite colorists—Meg Hartigan-Sanchez from the Marie Robinson Salon in New York City and Emily Owen of Dyer+Posta in Atlanta—for their best tips and tricks on how to get and keep the elusive pastel of your dreams. Here’s what they had to say.

Jane Houle
Pastel hair

 1. Start Off With White Hair

The trick to achieving a true pastel shade is to start off with white hair, says Hartigan-Sanchez. Whether you are working from a double process or just a few pieces of hair, it needs to be lifted to snow white, past the yellow stage of blonde, or the pastel color will appear darker. For this step, we strongly suggest you visit a blonding specialist.

2. Choose Your Pastel

Manic Panic now makes a “pastelizer” which can be mixed with any of their colors to cut them down and make them read much softer on the hair. Their Virgin Snow toner can also be mixed with their color to dilute it. “I often cut funky colors with lots of conditioner mixed in to help make it as pastel as possible,” says Hartigan-Sanchez. “I recommend doing a test strand to find the right balance of pigment.” While Manic Panic seems to dominate the arsenals of do-it-yourselfers, there is also a line by Pravana Haircare called ChromaSilks Pastels that offers a professional level of pastelizing. The Pastel formulas can be mixed with the company’s Vivids collection to create more intense but still soft shades; for instance, mixing the Pastel Too Cute Coral with the Vivid’s Orange would arrive at a bright melon shade.

3. Seal Your Shade

These types of semi-permanent dyes typically fade each time you shampoo, so Hartigan-Sanchez suggests trying this old-school trick to make them more permanent: Rinse with equal parts vinegar and water after you’ve achieved your desired shade.

Jane Houle
Pastel hair

4. Wash Hair Every Other Day

To prevent fade, the less you shampoo the better. At the most, wash hair every other day and use cold water and a sulfate-free color safe shampoo. “I recommend Color Minded Shampoo from Bumble & bumble,” says Owen.

5. Mix Color With Your Conditioner

Mixing in just a little of the color (seriously, just a little, it can be strong!) with conditioner is a fantastic way to refresh it, says Hartigan-Sanchez.

6. Invest in Dry Shampoo

If you’re worried about oily roots, use a dry shampoo in between washes. The dry shampoo absorbs excess oil, giving you a fresh look, but don’t go too heavy. Pastels work great with dry shampoos just like blondes do: You can’t even see it!

7. Color Maintenance

Unlike regular color, pastels do require a little more maintenance and upkeep. Be sure to speak with your stylist in depth about how often you should be booking your appointment. It is usually recommended to come in every three to four weeks to lighten your roots if you have naturally dark hair and to refresh the pastel color.

8. Not Ready to Commit? Fake It

“Even though these colors are not permanent, they are not always easy to completely remove from the hair,” says Hartigan-Sanchez. So if you’re feeling experimental but not quite committed, there are a ton of hair-chalk products on the market in a variety of pastel colors like mint, blush and lavender.

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