By the looks of my Brit + Co author page, you might assume I’m a hair color aficionado. With reports on everything from colombré to moonstone hair to opal hair I’ve seen it all. But while I’ve written about it, I’ve yet to actually try it. In fact until now, I have dyed my hair a grand total of one time. I totally admire the rainbow hair I see online and in my office (my deskmate Angela Velez is currently rocking oil slick hair), but it all seemed a little bit too high maintenance for me. By that I mean it involved some maintenance which is more responsibility than I was willing to accept. But then I heard about “lived-in color,” a budding technique that’s meant to stay looking good for up six months. I figured if there was any hair trend I was going to try, this one would be it.


Trademarked by celeb stylist Johnny Ramirez, lived-in color is basically a seamless combination of balayage (or ecaille tortoishell hair color) and ombré. I’m guessing you’ve heard of ombré by now, but if you’re not yet familiar with balayage, it’s a technique that’s meant to resemble that sun-kissed, natural-looking hair color you used to get at the end of summer as a kid with ultra soft highlights that give off a beachy, natural vibe. Lived-in color takes balayage a step further by seamlessly blending that look with your roots so there is no noticeable growth line. While your hair won’t be exactly the same after six months’ time, the color is meant to stay within the complimentary tones of the overall hair color creating a look of natural change and progression as the months go by.


To put this technique to the test I teamed up with esteemed colorist CK Karkhanis. Karhanis is the lead colorist at Archer Salon and was recently awarded the “Best of Beauty” award by Allure for best hair color in SF. I knew I was in good hands but I’ll be honest with you guys, the hair salon and I have had a very rocky relationship in years past. I’ve walked out way too many times with a cut that wasn’t even close to what I was looking for. Now that I’ve finally reached a style I’m happy with I was slightly terrified that I’d walk out with yet another huge hair fail. But, since this was all for the sake of hard-hitting, investigative journalism, I decided to face my fears. CK showed me a photo of a color progression she thought would look good, I gave her the green light and we were off.


First, CK free-hand painted strands with lightener (not bleach) to carve out a pattern in my hair that would create soft shots of brightness on my ends. Each layer was then covered with saran wrap to help insulate the lightener and protect the pattern from the following section. Once she got to the top layers she used foil to create ultra fine, dimensional highlights. To my surprise, CK swapped the brush she was using to apply the lightener for a plastic knife! When I asked her why she told me, “I use a plastic knife sometimes for foils in lieu of a brush because it allows for the most even, maximum saturation.” Finally, she used a two-part tint to blur my roots and give the color a dark-to-light graduated effect.


After everything was applied, it looked like this. I was looking all kinds of crazy.


After hanging out under the heat for a few minutes, we began rinsing out my hair section by section. When I saw what it looked like I was a little bit worried. The color looked pretty harsh and slightly orangey. I had a brief flashback to the one time I decided to bleach a strand of my hair in college and ended up with a random orange streak. But CK assured me that it was still in its rough stage. She says, “This is like your face before you put all your concealer on.” And she was totally right.

She tells me, “After hair is lightened, especially if there’s previous color, there is a rawness to it that may need a finishing tint to create a desired effect. For me, the final tint is like lipgloss over lipstick, and is used to layer shades of color to achieve a glossier, enhanced result.” CK applied that final tint while I was still over at the sink and then I was off for a blow-dry.


And voila! My color was still dark at the roots but made a seamlessly lighter progression towards the ends. When I sent my mom a snap she wrote back, “I haven’t seen your hair that light since you were little!” So immediately part one of the look I was going for seemed to come across. When I headed to the office the next day my co-worker told me, “You look like a California girl who actually gets sun.” So, I’d say that CK did a pretty great job giving me sun-kissed highlights that replicate what your hair used to look like when you were a kid :)


In the two weeks since my appointment, I’ve only grown to love the look even more. Before I went to see CK, I was feeling like it was time for a cut. Everything was looking a little bit dull and flat but since my appointment, my hair seems to have much more dimension. That’s no coincidence though. When painting my hair she told me that the balayage technique is kind of like contouring for you hair, in that can help create layers that aren’t actually there. I’ll admit, I was a bit of skeptic at the beginning but I’ve now officially come to the dark side (er, light side?).

What hair trend are you excited to try in 2016? Share an inspo pic with us on Twitter @britandco.

Photography: Kurt Andre
 Colorist: CK Karkhanis
Salon: Archer Salon, 33 Grant Ave San Francisco, CA 94108