How many times have you walked into the salon primed for a big hair change ('I'm going red!' 'It's time for a bob!') only to stick with the same style you've been sporting for years? Hair makeovers don't have to be jaw-droppingly dramatic. In fact, a small change to your color, cut, or texture can yield big, beautiful results-and simplify your morning styling. Here are our three favorite new tweaks that make a huge difference.
1. Light Up Your Color
Super-subtle highlights that look slightly grown out-as if you got them naturally over the course of a sunny summer-are an easy way to transform your look for fall, says Rona O'Connor, owner of Lukaro Salon in Beverly Hills. 'They brighten your complexion, bring attention to your eyes, and accent the shape of a cut,' she says. Best of all, highlights that start a few inches away from your scalp don't need to be touched up as often-a big time- and money-saver.
At the Salon: If you're blonde, ask for what O'Connor calls 'sunflicks'-highlights one to two shades lighter than your original hue that are painted throughout your hair, starting two to three inches from roots all the way to ends. A similar technique works equally well on dark hair, too: Request two shades of 'brownlights'(one light and one midlevel brown), which will grow in subtly and need to be touched up less often.
At Home: New kits take the guesswork-and oops factor-out of do-it-yourself dyeing with tools that make it easier to place color exactly where you want it (i.e., mid-lengths to ends). L'Oreal Paris Touch-On Highlights ($13; drugstore.com) features a finger-fitted fine-toothed plastic brush that lets you 'pinch' on color precisely. And Clairol Nice 'N Easy HairPainting ($13; drugstore.com) creates subtle highlights on the top layer of your hair with an easy-to-use brush.
[ pagebreak ]
2. Go for the Bang
'Bangs can chisel cheekbones, highlight your eyes, and hide fine lines and wrinkles on your forehead,' notes San Diego–based stylist Jet Rhys. Plus, they're a five-minute way to freshen any style without sacrificing length.
At the Salon: Before you make the cut, ask your stylist to inspect for cowlicks, which can prevent forehead fringe from lying flat or sweeping to the side. If she gives the look a go, request fringe that flatters your face shape. No matter which style you choose, ask your stylist to snip conservatively, leaving bangs on the long side. (They'll look shorter when they're dried, and she can always take off more length if need be.)
At Home: While it's risky to cut new bangs yourself, you can easily trim existing bangs at home. In general, fringe needs to be touched up every four to six weeks. If you'd like to give it a go, here's what Rhys suggests: Spritz totally dry hair with medium-hold hairspray, then place a fine-tooth comb through bangs up from underneath (comb teeth should face your mirror). Slide the comb down toward the ends, stopping when it's even with the outer edges of eyebrows. Starting in the center and gradually working your way to either side, make vertical snips into the hair right below comb teeth with the scissors pointing up toward the ceiling. 'This technique gives a flattering, wispy edge and prevents you from going too short,' Rhys says.
[ pagebreak ]
3. Get it Straight
A keratin straightening treatment smooths waves and curls, and rids strands of unruly frizz, according to hair pro Josh Shores, of Maxine Salon in Chicago. How straight your hair actually gets will depend on your texture: Fine, wavy hair will most likely straighten out completely, while super-curly strands are typically left with a soft wave. The best part about the treatment? No matter your texture, you'll be able to blow-dry your hair in less than half the time it normally takes. Plus, 'unlike some of the older Japanese-style hair-straightening services, keratin treatments actually improve hair's health,' Shores says.
At the Salon: Find a stylist who uses a keratin-based formula without formaldehyde, a chemical used in some of the older treatments that can damage hair. A few systems that offer formaldehyde-free formulations: Brazilian Blowout (find salons here), Global Keratin Hair Taming System with Juvexin (Find salons here), and Keratin Complex Smoothing Therapy (Find salons here). The smoothing process varies depending on which system your stylist uses, but in most cases she will shampoo, then apply the keratin treatment. She'll then blow-dry your hair and probably flat-iron it. The last steps differ, depending on the system used. You may need another rinse and final blow-dry, or your stylist may apply a special finishing product that you leave on for up to 72 hours before shampooing (be sure to ask for instructions).
In all, the process takes one-and-a-half to three hours and costs from $150 up to $400, depending on your hair's texture, length, and the system used. The results last for three to five months (if you wash with a sodium chloride– and sulfate- free shampoo).
At Home: You may not be able to do professional-strength straightening on your own, but Garnier Sleek & Shine Blow Dry Perfector 2-Step Smoothing Kit ($12; drugstores) has a similar effect-it locks out frizz with hydrating rice oil and cysteine, an amino acid that helps to smooth hair. Apply the first step (a serum) to damp hair, wait 20 minutes, and rinse; then distribute the heat-activated cream and blow-dry hair straight. Your smoother locks last for up to seven shampoos.