En español | We miss our stylists and colorists. In fact, we miss the whole salon experience — the chitchat, the camaraderie and the confidence boost of a fresh color, cut and blow-dry. But these are strange times so here's my advice for women 50-plus: Use this break to reboot your hair health and learn some DIY skills that just might become part of your new normal even when salons do reopen. Here are 10 ways to take control of roots, dull brassy color, dead ends and haircuts gone wild:
1. Know some hair fixes are not a good idea
This is not the time to go blond or back to brunette or start playing guessing games with box color from an online drugstore. Take one stressed-out, dye-hard salongoer with chemically processed hair and no DIY color skills, add some drugstore color on top of all that and it's easy to end up with badly botched hair. It's also not the moment to chop your hair to a pixie or hide under a hat till it's all over. But that said, there are positive things you can do.
2. Focus on your roots
This is the key to immediate calm. All it takes is one product and five minutes to stop obsessing about that inch or so of gray, white or grimy brown at your part and hairline. Most root touchup products are water resistant so sweaty, humid, rainy days are no problem. Select a shade closest to your own and a formula and format that match your needs.
For precise coverage: Choose a brush-on powder (these come in eyeshadow-like compacts) like Color Wow Root Cover Up ($35, target.com) or Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Root Touch Up Powder ($10, target.com) or gel/cream with a sponge-tip applicator like Garnier Express Retouch Gray Hair Concealer ($9, target.com).
For regrowth of more than one inch: Choose a tinted root-camouflage spray like L'Oréal Paris Magic Root Cover Up ($11, ulta.com) or TRESemmé Root Touch- Up Temporary Hair Color Spray ($8, target.com)
The mist also fills spaces at the scalp for a thicker look so it's a good choice for fine, thin hair or a sparse hairline.
For a more lasting root coverup: Try a semipermanent or permanent formula like Revlon Root Erase Hair Color and Root Touch Up ($10, target.com) or Clairol Root Touch-Up Permanent Hair Color Kit ($7, target.com). These do not shampoo out but since you're just covering roots, your original salon color remains untouched.
3. Try a color-correcting shampoo, conditioner or mask
If your dyed blond or brunette shade has gone brassy, apply a tinted shampoo/conditioner once a week. This neutralizes and revives your hue. Since the cool colors blue and purple are opposite on the color wheel to warm colors like yellow, red or orange, using a cool blue or purple shampoo like Kristin Ess The One Purple Shampoo and Conditioner ($12 each, target.com); L'Oreal EverPure Brass Toning Purple Shampoo and Conditioner ($7 each, target.com) cancels out unwanted warm “brassy” tones. Don't get too hung up on the “for blondes” or “for brunettes” labels — as long as it's a blue or purple tint it will work for all.
4. Keep white or gray hair sparkling
Hair that's gray, white or in a growing-out-to-gray stage can sometimes look yellow, dingy, extra dry and dull thanks to mineral deposits in shower water, chlorine, styling-product buildup or hot tools, environmental pollution or smoke. Your two-step at-home cure is a brightening shampoo like Matrix Total Results So Silver Shampoo and Conditioner ($19 each, ulta.com) or Shimmer Lights Purple Shampoo for Blonde & Silver Hair ($10, ulta.com) plus a moisturizing mask like Matrix Total Results So Silver Triple Power Hair Mask ($24, ulta.com) or Carol's Daughter Monoi Repairing Hair Mask ($32, ulta.com). Apply these weekly to restore a clear color and more luminous look.
5. Opt for an online color brand that offers pro help
If you really need more than a touchup, your patience has run out and going gray is not on your to-do list, try this option. You'll pay a little more than for drugstore color but this eliminates the scary guesswork of DIY color. Both eSalon (esalon.com) and Madison Reed (madison-reed.com) use a detailed quiz to identify your exact hair color, texture, skin tone, amount of gray and so on. eSalon has a colorist whip up a just-for-you color formula and advises you during the process. The Madison Reed site provides a hair quiz and a colorist to help you choose from over 45 available shades. For those who live in areas without stay-at-home orders, some small salon owners are even mixing up formulas for clients and leaving them outside the shop for a drive-by pickup. Check with your salon to see if this personalized service is being offered.
6. Settle for a trim
You can't possibly replicate years of experience and training and become an overnight expert at doing a real haircut. I suggest you opt for a cleaned-up version of your usual hair and just snip splits at the tips. (If you don't, they will continue splitting further up the hair shaft causing irreversible damage.) Keep snipping every few weeks and a bigger cut won't be necessary anyway. Don't get carried away by celeb pictures and try to turn your shoulder-length lob into a Helen Mirren bob or decide to go Jamie Lee Curtis short. All you need to do is look reasonably groomed and like yourself for waist-up conversations on FaceTime, Skype or Zoom.
7. Stick to three basic trimming rules
Yes, the Internet is filled with YouTube tutorials on how to cut your own hair but they're mostly for teens and millennials not mature women with a bunch of other hair issues. We can't afford to mess up, can we? The musts:
Use real hair shears if possible. A pair of scissors like the ones pros use in salons is preferable. If not, use the sharpest scissors you have — hopefully not those for kitchen/household tasks or gardening. Small crisp-cutting brow/nail scissors are a better option.
Snip on clean, dry hair styled the way you usually wear it. If you go back and forth between blowout sleek and wavy or curly, blow-dry or flat iron your hair straight for the trim. This will allow for shrinkage when you wear your hair with more texture.
Cut when you are alone and focused — not early in the morning or late at night. Think of this as Salon-YOU time. No distractions.
8. Freshen the ends
This 1/4-inch snip is what salon pros call “dusting.” Work in inch-by-inch sections using your first and middle fingers as a clip to hold each section smooth as you snip the ends. Start at the front where dead ends and splits are usually worse. Make sure both sides of your bob or lob line up evenly by pulling them forward to meet in front. Snip the ends at crown and back by holding sections straight out or up so you can easily see what you're doing. For shorter hair, work the same way. Keep sectioning the hair and snipping tiny bits at the end of each section. For curly hair, section it into small twists and trim the end of each twist.
9. Trim or cut full bangs
A full fringe can add instant style to any haircut desperately in need of a fresher look. Work on clean, dry hair. Section off the bang area to form a triangle with the top point at the crown, side points above the outer arch of each brow. Pull or clip the rest of your hair back. Comb the bang section straight down and snip straight across to a length just beneath your eyes. Then, holding the scissors vertically with blades up, snip into the ends (called a point cut) in increments a quarter inch at a time, working from one end to the other. Keep repeating until you reach the desired length, which will be just below your brows — a universally flattering length that allows for shrinkage and bounce.
10. Amp up the conditioning, detox the heat styling
Give your salon-deprived hair TLC with extra conditioning masks and less heat styling. While this is a good time to try air-drying as a break from blow-dryers, flat irons and curling irons, many of us really depend on a blow-dry to give thin, flat or wimpy locks fullness. Instead, try a two-minute rough dry just to give your hair a cushion of air for volume. Start with freshly washed hair prepped with a leave-in conditioner. Bend at the waist and blow dry from beneath using hands to tousle your hair and encourage separation and lift. Be quick. Then toss your hair back and continue to air-dry without any brushing or further manipulation. For a wavy look, separate damp shampooed hair into chunky sections and pin curls or braids and air-dry. Then unroll, tousle with hands and you're done.