Melting Hair Color Technique

"Melting hair" is a fab hair color technique favored by top celebrities.

Photo: Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

If you're looking to change your hair color and want something dramatic that's also soft and natural, color melting is a great choice. Popular with celebrities, color melting blends the colors from dark at the roots to light at the ends, and if done right, it will look sexy, not stripey. The low-maintenance, high-impact benefits are one reason celebrity colorist Denis De Souza and "InStyle" magazine named this technique one of the "9 Hottest Hair Colors for Fall 2011."

Color Melting Defined

Balayage is a color technique in which a stylist sweeps a lightener or hair color onto the hair using a brush in freehand. Popular for decades, it gradually morphed into something called ombré, also known as color melting. Ombré and color melting are basically the same, although color melting is a slightly more subtle look, blending the colors a bit more gradually. Most stylists will call it ombré, so that's why you should ask for. It's very versatile, and can be natural-looking or eye-catchingly bold, but the main trick is to avoid giving you that "root grow-out" look.

Celebs Love It

Tracey Cunningham, of the Byron and Tracey Salon in Beverly Hills, says ombré is one of the coloring jobs most requested by her A-list clients, including Drew Barrymore, Ashlee Simpson, Alexa Chung and Lily Aldridge. Celebrity fave George Papanikolas of the Andy Lecompte Salon in West Hollywood has used the technique on Nicole Richie, and celebrity colorist Denis De Souza gave Olivia Wilde the ombré treatment.

Benefits

Ombré is a laid-back style that will save you time and money. You won't have to touch up your dye job as often, since your hair is colored from the ear level down. Although melting is typically used on brunettes, it's suitable for all hair types and can fade from your natural hair color to any shade of the rainbow you choose. "The great thing about ombré is, it can be subtle and natural or bold and brazen," says Marisa Moon of NYC's Sam Brocato Salon. Plus, it's an anti-aging hair color trick, since it mimics that sun-kissed look of your childhood.

Technique

Laurie Foley, owner and artistic director of L'Atelier de Laurie in the East Village, calls it "hair painting" and uses different brush strokes expertly placed to create a progressively lighter and nuanced ombré color. Depending upon the look you're going for, you can start with your own natural color or get an all-over darker shade first. Then, the tips are lightened with a hue lighter than your darkest hair and selected strands in the middle level come next. Stylists may use a brush to add in the different layers of color or pull them down with their fingers or a comb in sections. Sally Hershberger colorist Erin Bogartworks advises that it's best to start the ombré highlights at around chin level, with color only in the last two or three inches of each hair layer.

Tips

Prep with a good cut first, since sleek non-frizzy ends will show off the swingy movement of those pretty layers. Ombré can work for most textures, but it tends to look best on medium to long hair. If you want to try the look at home, "Us" Magazine suggests using a coloring kit to brush a darker hair color from the root to about three inches down, then go back through and brush a little bit more color down. However, to avoid a potential disaster, it may be best to let the pros work their magic. Regardless of where you get it done, you'll need to pamper those treated ends with a color-safe shampoo and conditioner and an occasional deep-conditioning treatment. Sally Hershberger colorist Erin Bogartworks recommends a leave-in conditioner to keep light ends healthy, like Shu Uemura Nourishing Protective Oil.

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