How to Rebound From a Big Hair-Color Regret

It’s gonna be okay!!!


It was 23-year-old Emely Grullon’s idea to go from “brassy” blonde to gray, a change that she’d been considering for a long time and just recently got the guts to try. She’d been dying her hair the same color for six years (she’s naturally brunette) and she wanted something new.

She hated it.

“I had a consultation first. I said I wanted gray, [this story was originally about “going gray at 23″] but the photo I brought in was ash-y blonde, so my colorist suggested we add gray toner for a more dramatic effect. I said go for it. It took a lot of bleach, which I’d never used before. When I looked in the mirror once the stylist finished, I had a panic attack. I thought I had ruined my hair forever.”

But of course, she didn’t. Emely’s so-called “disaster” was fixed in a single return salon trip. “I called my hairstylist and said it was too extreme for me. I asked if there was any way to take the gray out and fix this. She said no problem, and after a day spent in her chair, I’m blonde again, and I’ve been getting so many compliments on the new color.”

After hearing Emely’s tale, I called up celebrity colorist Carlina Ortega of NYC’s Rita Hazan Salon. She’s the woman who took Emely from blonde to gray and back again, and good news: she says these kinds of hair freak outs don’t have to be a big deal. So you went too hard on the unicorn trend and decided you hated it? Here’s how to rebound.

…First, build in time for a consultation.

If you want a major color change, or even a minor one, Ortega encourages clients to come in for a consultation separate from the dye job. This way there’s time to ask lots of questions without feeling pressured. It also ensures they’re 100% on the same page about the final results. “Sometimes clients will say ‘ashy blonde’ but show me a photo of golden blonde. We have to communicate about what you want, what will look good, and how much time it will take to achieve your desired results.” If you’re going from dyed-red hair to platinum blonde, for example, the right process — one that allows for the least amount of damage to your hair — could take a month and mean multiple visits.

Yeah, but CELEBRITIES always seem like they go from black to blonde overnight…

“A lot of celebrities are wearing extensions,” says Ortega. “They have the new color on top and extensions under so that their hair doesn’t look damaged.”

Okay. You have the consultation. You go in for your appointment. You like the new color but your hair has lost its life and feels like straw.

Curly hair like Emely’s is fragile. When you get something done to your hair that it’s not used to, it takes about a week to go ‘back to normal.’ I gave her a protein treatment when she came back to strengthen her curls.” You don’t have to wait a whole week for it to “settle,” however. Be proactive and ask for a protein treatment immediately following a color process. It’s good for all hair types. You can also ask your colorist to suggest hair masks to use at home.

You hate your hair and want it dyed back IMMEDIATELY!  Possible?

Kinda. Ortega was able to strip the gray toner from Emely’s hair in one day and replenish what she took out with the protein treatment, but that’s not always the case — it depends on the color you dyed your hair. If you went from blonde to black or red, or used henna, your hair colorist can take it down a notch right away, but will likely suggest you come back in two weeks to a month for round two. (If you’ve been dying your hair dark for a while, it can take even longer to strip the color down.) “You need to give your hair a chance to breathe.”

Don’t feel awkward about saying, “This isn’t what I wanted.”

“It’s better for me to fix your hair right away and make you happy rather than have you live with it and not say anything,” says Ortega. “The people who keep it inside start to hate it even more, then they hate life and then they hate me. If you don’t like your hair, let me know. You’re not going to offend me at all. The best thing about color, the reason I love it, is because you can always fix it, always tweak it, and it’s often a subtle change that makes all the difference.”

You won’t have to pay extra to have it fixed

“Most salons’ policy is that they will fix your hair within a week, free of charge,” Ortega says.

Good luck out there, hairy friends, and take the risk your Pinterest board is always encouraging you to try.

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  • i remember having a moment like this around 2010… i was early with the ombre trend (hairstylists in budapest weren’t really familiar with it yet) and had gone in asking for blonde tips and a fade from my natural brunette roots. i came out with straw coloured (and textured) hair that had a clear line around my ears where the bleach had been applied (twice for good measure). cried on my way home and was too nervous to go back. ended up going to a different salon to get it fixed, took about 2 years to grow all the straw out!

  • Julia Schnell

    Her hair is the hair I’ve always daydreamed about having (but mine is straight and fine).

  • Basil

    I’ve had two major hair colour disasters (both self inflicted, and when a student, so virtually no money to have it fixed). The first was when I decided to go from (dyed) blonde to brunette, but went for a blue toned brunette and didn’t leave the colour on for long enough. The result was … green hair. It was hideous! I hacked the worst of it out and attacked what remained with bleach.
    The second was when I was dying my hair a darker shade of brunette, but decided to go for a red undertone and … once again didn’t leave the dye on long enough. Also, there was TERRIBLE colour build up so my roots were lighter than the ends. I had this hot mess of a hair do for my brother’s wedding – I still can’t look at the photos.

    And this is why I stick with my INSANELY expensive colourist, because he wouldn’t let me do anything stupid and every time he does my hair it comes out looking like I’ve been hanging out on a beach for a few weeks, with natural sun kissed blonde streaks. His work has also managed to remain looking (relatively) good with six months between appointments (new baby – my advice is get your hair done just before you’re due to give birth)

  • Carlina Ortega

    I actually loved working on this. I’m glad that proper communication allowed everyone to be happy with the end-result. That’s one of the keys to achieving your desired hair color. Very well written and very informative article!

  • autillicautnullibi

    PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE do not home dye your hair with henna unless you are absolutely sure of the process and color. Color correcting from henna is an extremely long and hard process because the metal additives in henna can cause extreme reactions with hair dye and bleach. Always be honest with your stylist about what processes your hair has been through – I’ve literally seen hair boil because someone didn’t disclose henna usage.

  • shannon

    omg this is giving me flashbacks to the time i asked for a soft blond ombre when i was in college! i brought in pictures of chiara ferragni and her perfect hair and the stylist didn’t listen to me whatsoever OR look at my chart (as i had been going there for my color for years but decided to give the new stylist a chance. HUGE MISTAKE!) i walked out with orange hair after he scolded me for not telling him my hair has been dyed before (in the same salon with my chart at his disposal). it was awful. i was too afraid to ask for a manager or say something, so i made an appointment at another salon and spent another $200 for someone to fix my hair. it still wasn’t what i wanted, but was much better than what i had! i spoke to a stylist at the first salon recently about the experience, and she yelled at me for not saying something, and told me that i wasn’t the only person he did that to! turns out he didn’t last long at the salon,we talked for a half hour about how awful he was. lesson learned the hard way, for sure!