Dyeing to Dazzle

Custodian With a dry mop in a hallway

Hair Coloring Styles Range From Highlights to Vivid Vibes

By Jill Renkey

Hair color is back and is pushing business at local hair salons, where business is once again booming. Customers are eager to treat themselves, even if it means paying inflation-affected prices, following the pandemic when many were growing out their natural color or relying on a dye job from a box.

“When we opened back up after the pandemic, we were slammed,” says Amanda Shulman, a stylist at New York New York Hair Salon and Day Spa. “We’re so busy now, we don’t even take walk-ins anymore.”

Hair coloring trends span a range of styles, some in direct opposition to each other. Although customers are willing to open their wallets and spend hours in a chair for some of the most fashionable coloring techniques, they are also cost-conscious and busy, leading many to choose low-maintenance styles. Blended highlights are popular, but so are high-contrast pops of colors. Warmer tones and natural looks are in, while vivid colors remain hot.

“People are staying true to themselves,” said Taylor Carroll, a stylist at Thomas Scott Salon & Spa. “If they’re edgy, they’re sticking with the edgy styles. If they’re more into the natural look, they go natural.”


Blended looks. Stylists say low maintenance is the biggest trend in hair coloring, and blended highlights allow hair to grow out for three to six months before a salon visit is necessary.

The balayage style has been popular for years and has been a favorite of many celebrities. While it is often used to describe a look, balayage is actually a technique of painting lightener on random sections of the hair, usually with scant application near the roots but denser as the color progresses. Where foil highlights can sometimes look stripey, balayage gives the appearance of subtle grown-out highlights. Balayage styles a few years ago tended to show stark contrasts between the bleached and base color. But Nicole Webster, owner of The Fringe at Sola Salon Studios in Westview South, says balayage is moving away from “the really blond look. It’s more blended now.”

Like balayage, but even more subtle, is “lived-in hair,” which relies on a variety of coloring techniques and mixes natural color with multiple highlight colors. The process can take a whole day at the salon, but like balayage, lived-in hair achieves a natural-looking grow.

Gray blending is also popular—adding multiple highlights that are close to the client’s natural shade, but leaving some gray in, as opposed to covering the gray with one color that will require a root touchup in four weeks. The process gives depth to gray hair, making it look less washed out.

Chunky looks. On the opposite side of blended highlights is block color. The technique involves putting a block of a color on the hair that contrasts with the base color. For instance, a brunette might choose to make half her head, or certain sections of hair, blond. Also popular are “money pieces,” high-contrast highlights surrounding the face.

Warm colors. Ashy and platinum blonds are out, say several stylists, while warm, buttery blond colors are preferred. Browns described as “coppery,” “mushroom,” and “chocolate” are popular, as are shades of red.

Darker colors. Shulman notes that dark hair is in now. Rachel Ullman, a senior at Frederick High School, followed the trend by dyeing her naturally dark-blond hair brunette for the winter. “I felt like the darker color brought out my skin tone more, rather than being washed out by a lighter color,” says Ullman, whose stylist, Liz Grove at Cutting Edge Hair Salon, did an “excellent job.”

To some extent, darker hair is a seasonal trend. Ullman says quite a few of her teen peers dyed their hair dark for winter, but some have returned to blond, and she expects to do the same. At Urbana’s DNa LAB Organic Hair Chemistry, co-owner David Seifarth says some of his customers were starting to get a jump in early March on dyeing their hair lighter for spring.

 Healthy and natural. Natural-looking highlights and colors are part of an overall trend toward minimalist beauty, where makeup, hair and clothes look simple and effortless. In addition, customers have become more concerned about their overall health, says Tania Hollister, a stylist at Alter Ego Hair Studio. “It made them think about what they are putting in their bodies. We get people calling asking what is in our products and do we use organic?”

Vivids. Blues, greens, pinks, purples, reds and yellows—these vivids, also called fantasy colors, used to be seen almost exclusively among the young, but Hollister says clients of all ages are embracing vivids, either as highlights or whole-head color. Thomas Scott’s Carroll says clients are being more thoughtful about how they choose vivids, as they consider how their skin tone and eyes match the hair color. For instance, she says, bright red hair combined with reddish skin “can make you look like a tomato.”

Vivids are the opposite of the low-maintenance trend. The process, which can take four to six hours, usually requires bleaching the hair, then applying the color on top. “Home care is the most important part of maintaining your color,” said Tammy Winkler, owner of Studio Seventeen at Sola Salon Studios in Westview Promenade. “You have to be OK with washing minimally and with cold water.” Vivid colors tend to fade fast, several stylists warn, and need frequent touchups.

Winkler believes the pandemic played a role in vivids maintaining their popularity. “More folks are working from home now,” she says, “so they have more freedom with their look.”

No color. Several stylists said that a trend among many clients is to simply go gray. This started during the pandemic, and even as restrictions have lifted, some clients have chosen to keep their gray hair.


Consult with your stylist. “The process to achieve a particular color will be different for each individual,” said Rob Gross, a stylist with Style Station in Urbana. “Make decisions that best suit your hair type.” Webster says a customer’s hair can make certain coloring projects unrealistic or at least unattainable in only one visit. A good stylist will also discuss hair maintenance to make sure the customer is comfortable with the amount of time and money needed to protect the hair color.

Carroll recommends that customers be honest with their stylist. “We’re not going to shame you for using box color,” she said. “But we need to know if you used it, so we can formulate our product correctly.”

Use the internet. Stylists highly recommend that customers show photos of the look they are going for. In the past, customers might have clipped pictures from magazines. “When people bring in pictures of celebrities, I cover the face and ask, ‘Do you like the hair now?’” says Carroll. “Sometimes, it’s the celebrity that people like, not so much the hair.”

Most salons and their stylists are active on social media and use various platforms to post pictures of their work. Carroll also recommends the Everything Frederick group on Facebook for finding stylist recommendations and examples of their work.

Amy Brandt, owner of Salon Allure in Walkersville, says salons and stylists are becoming more specialized; two of her stylists, for example, specialize in vivids. A great way to pick out a stylist is to look at his or her online customer photos to see if they match the look of your coloring project.

Consider skin tone and bone structure. Skin tone plays a big role in how flattering a new color is going to be. An ashy blond color, for example, can clash with a warm skin tone.

A less obvious factor is bone structure. If you have a prominent chin that you don’t want to emphasize, for instance, a chin-length bob with money pieces can make your chin stand out more.

Protect your hair. Stylists agree that home hair care is important for keeping hair healthy and making color last. They recommend using salon-grade products formulated for colored hair and heat-protectant products before using irons or hair dryers. As hair color can now cost hundreds of dollars, it’s an investment worth protecting.

Frederick Magazine