Help! How to avoid a horror hair colour

Sometimes you walk out of a salon with the opposite of what you wanted – what went wrong?! Our agony aunt, winner of Creative HEAD Magazine’s Most Wanted Colour Expert 2021, Ashleigh Hodges is here to help one reader whose expensive new hair colour was NOT what she asked for

Dear Ashleigh…

The initial inspiration look shown to the stylist. Image: @thecombmag

“I went to a hair colour appointment with a clear vision in mind, along with photos of what I wanted and was ready to spend more money on a big brand salon as I thought this would mean better quality. I wanted a balayage or ombre effect with high contrast and a grey tone. At the start of the appointment, we looked through my inspiration photos and she shared pictures of salon clients so we could find what would work for my hair. We agreed on something slightly less dramatic than the photos I had, but it felt like we found a place where it would still stand out (albeit little less radical) and I felt happy with that.

The end result was not as expected. I had an (admittedly, very well done) subtle, honey-blonde balayage instead of anything resembling my desired grey look. She was ecstatic about how it came out, raving about how it looked good on me, and wanted to take a photo for the salon’s social channels. I was confused and I felt gaslighted; she made it sound like this is what I’d asked for.

I wish I’d said more at the time, but honestly by that point (more than five hours later) I felt exhausted and anxious and just wanted to leave. I didn’t have it in me to argue with this stylist, who had been quite confrontational throughout the appointment. I called and spoke to a manager at the salon a few days later and she seemed to know who I was and that it hadn’t gone to plan. They offered me a free appointment to fix it but I didn’t feel comfortable going back.

How do I avoid such a disastrous hair colour appointment in the future? How can I make sure I communicate what I want properly to my stylist?” – Burnt-out Balayage, London

Dear Burnt-Out Balayage…

Bless you, that sounds really traumatic, and definitely not how a hairdressing appointment should go! It should be relaxing and calming. And you should 100 per cent be walking out of there, even if it’s not exactly what you want, with an idea or a plan of how it’s going to become that. As you said, you had a clear vision and some photos of what you wanted. So I think the key thing with your conversations with the consultation is to really ask about how long it will take to get to that image, because it may mean a series of appointments.

Discuss, first and foremost, whether your dream hair colour is 100 per cent right for your hair, your hair type and your lifestyle. If you’re active and wash your hair a lot, or swim a lot, or like being out in the sun, then ashy grey toners simply won’t hang around long.

Then you need to discuss the maintenance behind what it is that you’re after – all of this should be happening before any colouring. You may need to go back to the salon every few weeks to have it re-toned to keep the grey, or using some toning shampoos at home will also help keep that going.

Once you’ve understood whether the style you want is correct for you, and what the maintenance of that will be, then what you want to do is find out where you’re currently at and how long it’s going to take you to get there. If your starting point is now a beautiful blonde balayage then in your next appointment it should be easier to get to your grey look. Just like if you were to go to a personal trainer, you’re not going to become a marathon runner after one session. Within that first appointment, you’re going to have a plan put in place to get you to that point; it may be a couple of appointments, or it may be a whole year plan. At each appointment, discuss with your hairdresser what worked and what didn’t from the previous one.

If you are a nervous client, go in and have consultations with a couple of different hairdressers, in a couple of different salons, to really soak up the vibe try to get a feel of whether or not they’re right for you. Most salons offer a free 15 minute consultation when you go in and have a skin test for them. Perhaps do a couple of those and reflect on which one you felt most comfortable in.

Good luck with it, and I really hope that the next one is a better experience for you. Coming into a hairdressers should be a really relaxing and calming experience. I know you tried a big brand salon, but if you’re nervous it might actually benefit you to maybe go to a little boutique salon, which might be a little less intimidating.


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