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How to Pull Off Rainbow Hair and Still Look Like an Adult

By Crystal Martin

 
Isak Tiner
 

When that ‘80s signature, rainbow-coloured hair made a comeback, it was wilder than ever. Layers of crazy pink transitioning to purple, blue and green now pepper Instagram feeds and pop up in everyday life — and not just at the Mermaid Parade.

But what about rainbow hair lite? Something prettier, more wearable, designed for the woman who secretly adored the whimsy of that Starbucks Unicorn Frappuccino but can’t rationalise a mermaid-hued mane at her 9-to-5?

The colourist Rachel Bodt of the Cutler salon suggests a “beautiful, lush and sophisticated” alternative: seashell hair, as in the gentle iridescence of a shell’s interior. “This hair is for someone who wants colour that’s interesting, but the really funky colours won’t work,” Bodt said. Here’s how she did it.

Isak TinerA model with bleached hair, ready for the next process of colouring, in New York.
A model with bleached hair, ready for the next process of colouring, in New York.

Bleach and Tone

Pastels show up best on pale blond hair. To get there, your colourist will do what’s called a double process. Bleaching removes the natural pigment from the hair, then toning returns colour to your strands to create the right shade of blond.

A double process can look good on all skin colours, from dark to fair. “It’s like red hair that way,” Bodt said. “You just have to find the right tone.” Her rule of thumb: Match the blond tone to your skin’s undertones. Golden undertones look best with creamy shades; cool skin tones look good when paired with platinum white hair.

“The paler the hair, the better it absorbs these colours,” Bodt said. “It’s like painting a white wall versus painting a pale yellow wall.” Ideally, a big bleach job is better left to professionals.

Very curly hair tends to be dryer and more delicate because of its spiral structure. It might not be able to handle a complete bleach job. “You should have your colourist do a test patch,” Bodt said. “If the hair loses its elasticity or breaks, you won’t be able to bleach it.” Women with textured hair or those who simply don’t want to do a double process can highlight some pieces, or curls, a light blond.

Isak TinerRose gloss is painted onto the roots, with much of the blond left visible, on a model in New York.
Rose gloss is painted onto the roots, with much of the blond left visible, on a model in New York.
Isak TinerRose gloss is pulled through to the ends after being painted onto the roots, on a model in New York.
Rose gloss is pulled through to the ends after being painted onto the roots, on a model in New York.

Layer in Colour

Bodt used Redken Shades EQ, a demi-permanent gloss — “meaning it has both ammonia and dye so it deposits the colour inside the hair shaft,” she said. It’s not as durable as regular permanent colour, lasting a few weeks at best. “The colours are also dusty, which helps the overall look be more muted,” she said. “And since I’m using real hair colour, not Manic Panic, which is just pigment, the colours are more natural rather than cartoonish.”

Bodt painted rose onto the roots and pulled the colour through to the ends of pieces scattered throughout the hair. “The key to this look is leaving a lot of the blond visible,” she said. “That way the pastels don’t hide or distract from the beautiful blond. It’s a complement.”

After rinsing the rose gloss, Bodt added diluted rose and violet glosses all over. The effect of this step is more transparent, leaving a light tint to the hair. This “ties everything together, so it’s not just pink roots and then suddenly blond hair,” she said. She finished the look by painting on ribbons of violet throughout.

Isak TinerA seashell look is finished by painting on ribbons of violet throughout after an application of rose gloss on a model in New York.
A seashell look is finished by painting on ribbons of violet throughout after an application of rose gloss on a model in New York.

“If you really want to go for it, you can do a semi-permanent rose or violet all over the hair,” Bodt said. “If your hair is highlighted, the dusty pastel shade will pick up more the palest blond hair, but your whole head will have a beautiful dusty pastel cast.”

In very curly hair, the roots aren’t always visible. So Bodt takes a more customised approach. “You have to look at how the curls fall around the face and paint those that are most flattering — perhaps around the cheekbones or at the ends of some curls,” she said.

Isak TinerAfter rinsing out colour, a model's hair is treated with a protective spray in New York.
After rinsing out colour, a model's hair is treated with a protective spray in New York.

Style With Texture

Leave the hair textured, Bodt advises. Don’t use a flat iron or blow-dry it pin straight. Since the colour is woven throughout, it will be hidden if the hair has no movement and volume.

“Seashell hair is actually the perfect summer colour,” Bodt said, since we’re all straightening and blow-drying less anyway. “And you don’t have to maintain it. The colour just washes out, so you can do it once or twice and then let your blond base colour come through. It’s like jewellery for the hair — sparkle without commitment.”