Blond after 50: Beige is not a hair color (VN newsletter, April 1, 2011)

Many of us are lifelong hair blonders: as gray takes over from dark brown at the roots, we continue to color without skipping a beat. And it’s no wonder.

As Master colorist Brad Johns of the Brad Johns Color Studio at the Elizabeth Arden Red Door Salon on Fifth Avenue in NYC says, “After 50, the right shade of blond can add a youthful lift to any woman’s looks. It allows you to wear less makeup. My clients who go blond or blonder now say they do it because they want to counteract looking dreary or drab. Those are the exact words I hear over and over.”

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Brad Johns is known for his sunny “child-at-the-beach” blondes but it is Johns’s ability to guide women through a dramatic color transition that makes him a star. Johns also knows (none better!) the difference between blond done right and blond gone wrong.

“If you’re already blond,” Brad Johns says, “and your hair is too monotone, too beige, too frosty, too taupe, too ashy or in any way resembles fur – you’ve got the wrong blond.”

Blond after 50: 4 things you should know
by Lois Joy Johnson

Here are some of Brad Johns’ professional tips on how to do blond hair color right at our age.

  1. If you are going from brunette to blond at this time in your life do it gradually.
    Taking it slowly will give you time to adjust to the change and evaluate how blond you want to be. Start with a few highlights around the face. If you like the effect, keep adding more highlights. When you’re really ready to be blond on blond, it will be necessary to lighten the base color to a light brown or a dark blond.
  2. Be prepared for a serious commitment.
    Going blond is high maintenance territory. Be sure your budget, willingness to get touch-ups every four to six weeks, and ability to upgrade your hair care routine is secure.
  3. If you’re a brunette going blond, double processing will be necessary.
    Double processing will be needed to lift or remove the dark pigments. The darker your hair, the more peroxide necessary to remove the color and the longer and more complicated the procedure. There are twelve levels of hair color from black at level 1 to light blond at level 12. 

    The red pigment in brown hair is resistant to change and getting past the mid-level red tones (and keeping red tones out of the hair at the roots) is always the challenge for brunettes who go blond. All naturally brown hair has orange undertones and dyeing brings them out. Your colorist needs to cut through the orange to get to the blond. This is why celebs that go from brown to blond and back again have a reddish intermediate stage in paparazzi photos. Use color-preserving products to keep your color from turning brassy during the process.

  4. Be cautious about making a color change this extreme if your hair is frizzy, dry, very long, or prone to splits, especially if you blow-dry and flat iron daily.
    Discuss options in consultation with your colorist. You may need to compromise and modify your color goal or your hair-care routine until your hair is healthier and in condition. Commit to weekly conditioning masks and switch to moisturizing shampoos and conditioners safe for color-treated hair.
  5. Not all blond shades are created equal. Be careful about choosing the right one for you.
    As our faces and bodies age, they do (and should) influence our hair color choices. Pro colorists say even a small shift in hair color can help brighten your skin tone, soften lines and wrinkles, and help counteract the effects of uneven skin pigmentation. 

    A good colorist can help you select the best blond shade solution for you. Celebs like Kim Cattrall, Christie Brinkley, Martha Stewart, Katie Couric, Candice Bergen, Ellen Barkin, Catherine Deneuve, and Diane Keaton are good examples of blondes who have modified their hair color to suit them as they age.

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Top 4 questions women ask about going blond after 50
A pro stylist responds

  1. What if my blond-on-blond highlights and color get too light?
    “Time to start over,” says NYC color pro Brad Johns. “Ask your colorist to make your base darker and then add a few fresh highlights. It’s all about keeping the contrast and while that’s important no matter what your color, it’s crucial for blondes.”
  2. Why is my blond color suddenly washing me out? I keep piling on blush and bronzer to compensate.
    “Your hair color is probably too white, too ashy or too beige” says Johns. “Ask your colorist to warm it up and brighten the color. The effect you’re after is like a child’s hair after a summer at the beach, or a surfer.” Lots of women can look too washed-out if their blonde is too close to their skin tone in terms of color or if it’s too solid with a one-color look.
  3. Do I need to go blond or can a few blond highlights do the trick?
    If you just want to add some flattering light and brightness around the face, a few well-placed highlights may be all you need. What shade those highlights take is not a one-size-fits-all answer. Brunettes can liven up dark to light brown hair with amber caramel, butterscotch, or toffee tones; redheads with golden, coppery streaks; and dirty blonds with a few honey, buttery highlights to get the effect of more light without a high-maintenance change. Highlights alone are also a great low-stress option for women of color with fragile hair who chemically relax their texture.
  4. How do I go back to blond after trying brunette again?
    Actresses change their color as they go from character to character, but the process needs time and baby-like care. If you have been dyeing your hair dark and want to go blond or back to blond, do it slowly. Stripping out the brown or black in one shot will not make you or your hair happy. 

    A professional colorist will guide you through the process over several salon visits. The idea is to gradually make the base lighter with a semi-permanent color that won’t damage the cuticle and then start adding in warmer highlights. If you’ve been blonde for years, tried to go back to brown, and then decided you prefer being blond, the cuticle will be very fragile. Put yourself in the hands of a master colorist and be prepared to be patient. This won’t happen overnight.


Lois Joy Johnson is the author of the Vibrant Nation beauty guide, Great Hair After 50: Hip hairstyles, best products for healthy hair, coloring secrets, whether (and how) to go gray, managing fine or frizzy hair, and solutions for thinning hair and hair loss.

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Posted in hair care, VN Newsletters.

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One Response

  1. Generic Image mperry48 says

    When my hair turned 90% white at age 50, I started rinsing with a strong sage & rosemary “tea” to darken it. My hair is now ash blond and looks very natural (not one uniform color but a blend of darker and lighter hues). Roots are no problem – I just spray some tea on them before my shower. If I ever become tired of the color, I can just stop using the sage and my hair will gradually become white again.

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