Glossy, thick, sleek, shiny: these are just a few words to describe the follicular advantages that most Asian women I know are blessed with. Jealous? As a naturally dull-, mousy-, flat-haired Caucasian, you bet I am.
But let’s talk colour now. Because for Asian hair, that’s when things can get a bit dicey.
As you know, we’ve been talking a lot about the Ombré hair colour trend—which involves a gradual change in colour from darkest, at the roots, to lightest, at the ends—and I’ve received a couple of reader inquiries about whether the look can be done on Asian hair.
The good news is YES! It can. (And don’t worry, there’s no bad news.) But I thought I’d take this opportunity to pick the brain of our favourite hair colour genius (and the guy who did MY Ombré a few months back), Luis Pacheco, consulting colourist for Clairol and owner of Hair on the Avenue in Toronto.
What I wanted to know was: Is Asian hair harder to colour? (It is.) Can it be DIY’d at home? (It can.) And how do you choose the right shade? Read on…
Why Asian hair is more challenging to colour
According to Luis, it’s because of the “thickness, darkness and concentrated levels of pigment.” That means it can resist holding on to the colour—and if you attempt to lighten it too much, it can go brassy. (Great.)
To avoid that happening, there are a couple of things Luis advises. First, you want to stay within two levels of your natural shade. I know that’s not quite as exciting as a radical change, or even the Ombré look, but as you can see on Miss Lindsay Price here, a just slightly lighter all-over brunette can still be really pretty:
It’s also nice on Kelly Hu:
Now this is a bit lighter still, but I ADORE Devon Aoki’s hair here. (If I’m not mistaken, her natural colour isn’t too different from this anyway.)
Maggie Q’s shade here is similar, but on her, it’s borderline—maybe a fraction too light.
And here’s Lindsay Price again… I think this is definitely getting into the “too blonde” territory. The condition of her hair doesn’t look great here.
All of this is to say: lighter shades are awesome, but proceed with caution. Not only do you risk the dreaded brassiness, but too light of a tone on Asian skin can also wash out your skin tone.
How to choose the right shade of colour for Asian hair
So we’ve established that you should only go within TWO levels of your natural colour. What else do you need to know?
Stay away from cool colours—anything with blue, green or violet undertones. Because Asian skin has golden tones, you want WARMTH. “Asian women tend to have golden skin tones, so they look best with warm shades like golds, coppers and reds,” says Luis. “Your safest bet is to choose a warm tone in the gold or caramel range.”
You also need enough colour to get complete absorption. Because Asian hair is so thick, it can make colour application quite challenging. One solution is to buy more than one box of the hair dye you’re using. Seriously—if your hair is very coarse, or long, or both, you can’t expect one measly box to do the job. So you might need two or three to get the best results.
Because it’s a foam, the formula gives you “more product volume, and it’s easier to spread,” says Luis. “These two factors combine to help ensure that the hair is completely covered and saturated with colour.”
Pro tip: No matter what colour you use, if you’re covering grey, leave it on for an extra 10 minutes, since Asian hair can also be very stubborn.
Pro tip #2: Asian hair is pretty resilient (even with colour, it doesn’t dry out as easily as other hair types), but you should still make sure to use a good conditioning treatment after colouring. The best ones come in your box of hair colour, such as the ColorSeal Gloss in Nice ‘n Easy.
How to enhance Asian hair with a darker colour
Somewhat less exciting/trendy than going lighter or Ombré is enhancing your hair with a close colour match. “My personal favourite for Asians is natural shiny black or darkest brown,” says Luis.
Think Olivia Munn:
Or Lucy Liu:
Shades that Luis recommends to get this look:
How to Ombré Asian hair
Okay, now let’s talk Ombré. The only examples of it I could find on Asian hair that even come close were on Maggie Q again. [Update: Since the date of publication, Jamie Chung, at the top of this post, is a newer example of Ombré Asian hair.] Although I’m not even sure you could call this Ombré—it looks more like balayaged highlights at the ends.
Here’s another Maggie Q shot. Kind of Ombré-looking, right?
And then there is this unfortunate Sandra Oh highlighting experiment:
Yikes. So instead let’s look to a couple of celebs who, while not Asian, have naturally dark brunette hair AND wicked Ombré colour.
Did I say have? Okay, that should be past tense in the case of Ashlee Simpson. This was pretty before she hacked it off and dyed it blonde…
Shenae Grimes has a slightly softer look:
To get the look on virgin hair, the instructions are the same as in the original Ombré tutorial:
- Choose a shade of permanent hair colour that is two (three levels max) lighter than your natural colour. I repeat: when you’re choosing your Ombré shade for the ends, stay away from anything too blonde—it’ll look weird. Stick with a warm, tone-on-tone colour. Think caramel tips! That will look HAWT.
- Part your hair in four sections. (Divide it from ear to ear and from the middle of your forehead to the middle of the nape of your neck.) Using elastic bands, section off the last third of the hair length—the ends of the hair in each section.
- Apply the colour to the sectioned off ends and let it sit for approximately 20 minutes.
- Remove the elastic bands and spread the colour about an inch above the pre-sectioned spot, where the elastic bands used to be. Be very, very careful when you’re working on the degradation of colour. According to Luis, on Asian hair it needs to be a really seamless transition from dark to light. You do NOT want a stripe around the bottom circumference of your hair. Once you’re happy with the blending, let the colour sit for another 10 minutes.
- Wash your hair, condition and style as normal.
If your hair already has a dark permanent dye in it, I suggest seeing a pro for advice before attempting this at home—colour cannot lift colour. And if you have existing highlights and want to add a darker colour on top, just follow the steps here.
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Have your say
Are you a fan of blonde or Ombré on Asian hair—or do you prefer a more natural look?
If you’re Asian, do you or have you ever dyed your hair?
Luis’ last piece of advice: “Never, EVER go blonde.” Anyone with me on this? Case in point: