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The Salon Trap: Is My Stylist Ripping Me Off?

Aug27

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Dear Amy,
Since you and Philip seem to have this wonderful client to stylist relationship, I was wondering if you can help me out? My husband and I have been having the dreaded budget talks again recently, and one topic that always comes up is how much I spend on my hair. I am aware that
getting my hair done is expensive, and as I have gotten more gray even more so. The question is, am I getting too much done and getting sucked into some salon trap?
Right now I go every 7 weeks (she says 6, I say 8 so we compromise). I get highlights, a semi permanent color run through, toner, plus my hair cut, plus tip and I have no money left for products. Some background, I am in my early thirties, and saw my first grays at 18. I used to get highlights only, but as the grays started showing up more, the grays weren’t blending with the highlights as much anymore. That is where the color run through comes in. What is the toner for? Are all of these things necessary?
Thanks,
Jamie

While I admittedly do not know that much about the subtle art of covering gray hair, I can tell you that my jaw just about done hit the floor when you said “highlights” and “every seven weeks.”
Highlights. Every seven weeks. Seriously? Never mind the expense (although I imagine it is astronomical), I simply could not bear to spend that much time at the salon or deal with that much stress and damage to my hair.
I get highlights about twice a year. Of course, I don’t have any gray hair (yet), and I’m not changing the natural color of my hair. You didn’t mention your hair color (natural or what you’re trying to accomplish at the salon), but since you’re getting toner put in, I am guessing you are lightening your hair?
Toner is basically an extra step to minimize brassiness in blonds or downplay the natural color tone of your hair in order to make a dramatic change. Toner does nothing for gray hair, since gray HAS no underlying tone to neutralize.
I’d suggest that maybe it’s time to go single-process color for awhile. Roots only. Permanent, too. (I don’t quite follow the semi-permanent logic…everything I’ve read about covering gray states that a permanent dye is essential. Is it because your stylist doesn’t want to put highlights on top of dye? Or because your gray isn’t taking to the highlights? Or…I don’t know! I have so many questions!) Maybe even something you can touch-up yourself, at home, in a pinch.
Cover the gray completely and THEN talk about adding highlights back in for some depth, but the highlights shouldn’t be your primary tactic for blending the gray. It sounds like you’ve been past that point for awhile now, and yeah, maybe your stylist is just treating you like an easy and unquestioning cash cow.
While I certainly don’t claim to know exactly what the best process is for your hair, I do knot that two more things jump out at me and make me distrust your stylist: 1) You get your hair cut at every appointment, and 2) you don’t know what the toner is for.
1) You do NOT need to get your hair cut that often. Phillip recommends I come in every 8 to 12 weeks, and we usually stagger hair cuts and highlights so I don’t have to pay for both on the same visit. Unless you’ve got a crazy high-maintenance style like Posh Spice, most women can get away with getting their hair cut every two months or so. If your hair is longer and layered and you’re using decent shampoos, you can push your cuts even farther apart. Three months or so. Four cuts year.
2) Why why why why doesn’t your stylist explain things to you? Even if you are the super-quiet type who doesn’t ask a lot of questions, you should be told exactly why you are doing (and paying for!) what you are doing.
If you do trust and like your stylist, by all means give her a chance to create a more low-maintenance routine for you. You know, TALK TO HER. Tell her your budget concerns and lay down an ultimatum. (You may have to make a compromise or two in terms of your ideal color, like going darker or something closer to your natural pre-gray color.) Obviously, she’ll probably freak at the idea of you touching up your roots at home in-between visits and advise against it, but she HAS to understand that the cost and the commitment is wearing on you and is no longer acceptable.
If she continues to pressure or hard-sell you on the highlights and multiple-process approach, consider breaking up with her. Find someone else. Your Phillip is out there! Find him!

About the author

Amalah

http://www.amalah.com
Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy's daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it's pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to amyadvice@gmail.com.

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.


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27 Responses to “The Salon Trap: Is My Stylist Ripping Me Off?”

  1. BaltimoreGal Aug 27 at 11:17 am Reply Reply

    Amalah is totally right on the highlights. I get highlights and lowlights on my medium-to-dark blonde hair about three times a year and that is PLENTY. Especially on top of other color!!! Unless your hair is black and you’re dying it blonde…
    And if that’s the case, and you’re also fighting grey, you might honestly just want to re-assess. All that money?!?

  2. epoh Aug 27 at 12:41 pm Reply Reply

    Yowza. I don’t think I’ve gone to get my highlights re-done more than 3 times in one year. Often I only go twice a year. That’s the only time I get my hair cut as well. I probably spend $300 total in the hair salon in a whole year.

  3. Jenn Aug 27 at 12:59 pm Reply Reply

    Wow, I get my short (between jaw-length and shoulder-length), layered hair cut every 4-6 weeks because if I don’t, the layers grow out and I start to look like a yeti. Then again, I pay $12 for a haircut. Thank you, small town hairdresser!

  4. jodifur Aug 27 at 1:09 pm Reply Reply

    I also get highlites about 2 xs a year. You really don’t need them more than that. I get my haircut every 8-12 weeks. My stylist says 6, but I just can’t get there that often.

  5. elle Aug 27 at 2:00 pm Reply Reply

    Amalah’s right — sounds like you’re being taken for a ride. But what’s right for you will depend on the length of your hair and its natural colour. I’m naturally dark blonde but probably 25% grey now (yikes!). (My hairdresser calls my streaks ash blonde. Don’t you love him already?) I’m quite the gym addict, so keep my hair very short at the nape and back, 2-3 inches on top. I get my hair cut every 5-6 weeks to stop it getting in my eyes and going annoyingly random-curly, and get a half-head of highlights every other cut. It doesn’t cover all the grey, but I’m cool with that — with the highlights it really does blend. The roots only really begin to show 2 weeks or so before the next colour session’s due. I either live with them or use a semi-permanent root touch-up product (Schwarzkopf and John Frieda are in my (UK) bathroom cabinet right now. I say shop around — any decent, trustworthy stylist will be happy to spend time with you talking through your needs and budget in the hope of gaining your regular custom. Good luck, and let us know!

  6. LatteLori Aug 27 at 4:11 pm Reply Reply

    I’m a brunette who started going gray at 18, and I’ve been coloring my hair for many, many years.
    First of all, you will go broke if you continue with the highlights. A good colorist/stylist can give you depth and variations of color using a mixture. Mine is currently a mixture of three Redken colors, which gives me a dark brown with reddish tones. It does an excellent job of covering the gray. Personally, I think your stylist is doing too much. In over 20 years of hair coloring, I don’t think I’ve ever had toner applied.
    Secondly, you might want to shop around and see if you can find someone with more experience covering gray. I’m guessing that your current stylist doesn’t have a lot of experience with gray hair, but I could be wrong. I would recommend the Redken product that my stylist uses, but I just moved and I have no idea where the info is. Good thing my stylist has it written down!
    As for the dreaded budget, my stylist and I have an understanding: I touch up the roots myself for a couple months, then go to her for an all-over color. (I’m unemployed, so I have to do this to save money.) She charges more for an all-over color, and less for roots touch-up.
    I really hope you find someone who can cover the gray, and stay within your budget. I was positively ecstatic when I found someone who could actually color my hair and cover the gray. Good luck to you!

  7. Erin Aug 27 at 6:34 pm Reply Reply

    Toner is essential if you are lightening your hair. But all that stuff is not essential every 7 weeks.
    I am, admittedly, a hair princess. I am also budget-conscious. Sort of. My stylist and I are good outside-the-salon friends. She’s a fabulous colorist, and this is what she has me doing. I’m a natural blonde (a 9 on the scale), but it is dull, so we pump up the color with permanent single process, followed by a glaze for condition and shininess. (She just does this because she likes it.) I get the roots touched up every 8ish weeks, but only on the color. I get highlights usually every other time–16 weeks in between, and sometimes I’ll get lowlights then too.
    She cuts it every 16 weeks, maybe. (I do have long hair, and she’ll trim things in between for no charge when I’m in there touching up my roots.)
    Seriously. I’m a princess about my hair, and doing that much to your hair every 7 weeks is far, far too much. Is it dry??
    Next time tell your stylist you are on a budget, and see what she proposes. If she clings to the entire process she was previously doing and is unwilling to work with you, it is time for a breakup.

  8. Stacitee Aug 28 at 2:17 am Reply Reply

    Sadly, this is happening to me too. I’m going in for highlights tomorrow and I’m so glad I read this first. I’ve always wondered why my stylist uses semi-permanent color to cover my gray hair.
    Also, my sister goes in for highlights every 8 weeks… I’m not even kidding. We use the same stylist. Hmmmmmm.

  9. KMS Aug 28 at 7:51 am Reply Reply

    I have to wholeheartedly disagree if you are a brunette. I too, have been coloring my hair since I was 18 for gray hairs. You cannot go to single process unless you want to get your roots done every 3-4 weeks. Grays show up very very fast. You need those highlights (in my case, blonde) so that the grays will blend for a bit longer. But you definitely only need partial highlights around the face, not full highlights.
    Here is what I suggest: you get all over color and highlights (the toner is a must). The next visit about 7 weeks later, you only get the roots done. Some people are resistant to this, they fear it will not blend. Believe me it will, if you are coloring anywhere near to your natural hair color. The next time, you get roots only again. Then the 4th time, you get all over color and highlights. My hairdresser is good enough that I rarely get all over color, she just does roots and then goes back over my highlighted pieces. I swear by this routine. Also, I have to get my haircut every 7 weeks b/c my hair is curly and dry, but the other commenters are right that you might not need cuts this much.

  10. Broad Aug 28 at 11:59 am Reply Reply

    @ KMS: See, now I’ve heard from my colorist that toner is completely unnecessary if the colorist knows what they’re doing; it’s a total cheat so that they don’t have to think about how long to leave the bleach in.
    Otherwise, I follow exactly your routine and swear by it, too.

    • Joey May 24 at 6:09 pm Reply Reply

      NOT TRUE!  As a colorist myself, I will say that in some instances you might not need toner.  You can lift the hair with bleach and get to that perfect tone.  But not all tones are reachable by bleach alone and that is where toner comes into place.  Most of the time, toner is necessary.  Most people’s hair tend to “pull” red, orange, or brass, and then there are some who will lift up with bleach to a nice looking blonde.  However, this is less common than people who actually end up needing toner.  Everyone’s hair is different, and different people’s hair have different reactions.  Also, not all bleach is the same, they can vary in strength, tone, and process from line to line.

  11. AJMICK Aug 28 at 5:47 pm Reply Reply

    Wow. God bless my recessive genes! I’m a natural blonde and whenever I switch stylists they ask who colors my hair and I get to smile and tell them it’s natural. I can’t even imagine going through all of this and spending so much for hair color; but if I had to, I’m sure I would do it, too. I do get mine cut once every 8-10 weeks but I have long layers and fine hair and it starts looking pretty rough if I go too long. And to control any brassiness I do use John Frieda glaze mixed with my conditioner about once a week or so – it works great.

  12. Suzy Q Aug 28 at 6:00 pm Reply Reply

    AJMICK: Do you use the Frieda glaze for blondes or the no-color one? I also do not color my hair but since the grays have started blending in, I’ve noticed my hair is duller than it used to be. I need more shine!

  13. AJMICK Aug 29 at 1:40 pm Reply Reply

    Suzy Q – I use the one for blondes. I will add that I’ve been using it a couple years now (or as long as it’s been on the market?) and may not have noticed a HUGE difference the first couple times I used it but now my hair is very shiny and I never get the red/brassy tones. It’s a subtle change which is good as I think there’s less risk for damage and it’s so much easier than trying to use the glaze in a box every couple months. Actually, that might be a way to start; do the glaze in a box for a more intense treatment and then just upkeep with the John Frieda?

  14. jenjenqld Aug 30 at 5:48 am Reply Reply

    Dear Amy
    I love your column….
    I have found a trick to stop the expense of foils/highlights; I only have them hidden under the top layers of my hair. I touch up my own roots every 2-3 weeks (grey hair grows super fast in Indonesia) and can have wonderful blonde highlights peaking through with at least an inch of regrowth hidden.
    I now get highlights every 3-4 months and save so much money.

  15. e007 Aug 30 at 12:46 pm Reply Reply

    I started going grey in my early 20’s (I’m now 29) and go to my salon about every 10-12 weeks to get “color touch-up.” It’s an Aveda salon and my stylist basically just brushes the color on my roots(which luckily perfectly matches my natural brunette color). Grey shows up very well in brunette’s so 12 weeks is usually the longest I can wait.

  16. Ann Aug 30 at 1:32 pm Reply Reply

    I have ashy light brown hair and starting going grey in my early-mid 20’s – I get highlights/lowlights to lighten up my color and cover up grey. I go to my stylist every 6-8 weeks and really couldn’t wait much longer than 8 weeks because my grey shows very quickly.
    In general, it just seems like brunettes end up having to do a little more maintenance on their hair to avoid noticeable grey.

  17. Mary Sep 02 at 11:27 pm Reply Reply

    I have to disagree with the haircut thing. My hairstyle is very basic, low maintenance, but I do have bangs, and I get a haircut every seven weeks or it drives me nuts. A bang trim doesn’t do the trick for me. I am a brunette with mid-40s gray coming in. I get blond highlights (foil) which blend with the gray and really look good, IMO. I go about three times a year.

  18. Megan M Sep 05 at 10:05 pm Reply Reply

    I’ve got to chime in with the brunettes who are saying you can’t go that long between colorings if you have naturally dark hair that you’re trying to keep dark (i.e., not gray). I’m a 31 year old brunette with very dark but mousy hair naturally. I get blond highlights every 6 to 8 weeks to help blend in the gray roots that come in (but just on the crown and sides where I’m graying) plus either a root touch up or all-over color each time.
    I only got toner put in the 1st time I had highlights done, and that was because I was lightning to blonde hair that had been previously darkened.
    This all costs me about $180 each go. It’s expensive, but I like my stylist and I am too damm young to go gray!

  19. iamboysgirl Sep 06 at 4:46 pm Reply Reply

    Wow.. I can’t imagine spending anywhere near this kind of money to color my hair. I’m a dark brunette, who also started going gray at 18… I’m now 41. I color my own. Loving Care Gray Solutions is the ONLY thing I’ve found that covers the VERY shiny, white gray ones… and they are everywhere! I have to touch up the roots every 4 weeks, but it only costs me $9… for all you budget conscious ladies out there, you can’t beat that.

  20. Alex Jun 29 at 11:34 am Reply Reply

    I am a stylist in Joplin, Mo. I disagree with some of your advice, but agree with other parts. Clients that are more than 75% grey need to have highlights in order to lengthen their time between processes. If you do a single process all-over color, you end up with a “skunk stripe” after 15-20 days (depending on your body’s personal growth). Unless my clients have a short haircut, I recommend that we do their new growth only, every other time. For my most frequent client (3 weeks), that still puts her at highlight and haircut every 6 weeks. It truly depends upon their growth. As for toners, a lot of stylists will put a glaze on and call it a toner. In school, I was taught that toner is only for mistakes, but after having attended classes in Chicago, Vegas, Kansas City, and NYC, I have learned that toners are really just a tool to add depth, brightness, or even just shine to hair. I personally use a toner on every color process, blonde or not. But I also don’t charge my clients for that. I think you need to have a discussion with your stylist so that he or she can explain why she does her particular processes on you. Together you should be able to figure out a hair maintainable plan that will keep your greys blended, and your wallet happy!

  21. lulu Oct 23 at 2:14 pm Reply Reply

    I have very natural subtle highlights but I find right about 10 weeks my hair starts looking somewhat dull and that’s when I go get my highlights redone. I don’t have any grey popping up on the roots. What can I do in-between highlights to give my hair a lift and shine without having to pay for highlights. I’m tired of having to spend a whopping $160 every 8-10 weeks. P.S. by the way I have naturally medium dark brown hair. Thanks!

  22. Anon Nov 08 at 7:30 am Reply Reply

    Get yourself some hair mascara. It comes in a blonde colours. I do not think every 7 weeks is abnormal. I would be saying 6 aswell. A toner is used to counteract unwanted warmth (are you one of those people who say ‘I hate the orange’) or to add a reflect eg rich golden tones, peachy tones, golden/copper tones. Go to a training college if you don’t want to spend the money and are on a budget. Look online at salons in your area that are looking for training models. There is always ways of getting it done cheaper if you need. Regrowth is not cute.

  23. Angela Feb 27 at 9:33 am Reply Reply

    Demand that you ARE notcharged for toner unless it is a toner only procedure. Toner is si ple addsing green or violet dye inro your hair in order to CORRECT a lightening flaw. A great stylist wouldnt need after lightening toner and if they do, as ovten happens they should NOT charge clent for it.

  24. Haleh Apr 05 at 1:51 am Reply Reply

    As a professional hairdresser, here are my two cents, and a little ranting mixed in First of all, to everyone who seems to be flabbergasted about how often she highlights her hair, who are you to tell her how often she should get her hair colored?? If she wants to get her highlights done every 7 weeks, that’s her preference! Some people hate when their gray’s come in. I’d say get it done when the gray/regrowth is at the point when it’s bothering you. Not necessarily, 6, 7, 8 weeks or whatever. And personally, if your going to take the time to get your hair highlighted, why in the world would you only do it twice a year?? The grow out does NOT look cute, it looks sloppy. Don’t do it if you can’t afford the upkeep.

    If you don’t think a toner is necessary, opt to not have them do it, and risk seeing if there is a difference. It shouldn’t be on the stylist if your color doesn’t turn out good however. The stylist clearly think it’s necessary for a reason. If the hairdresser deems it necessary, it probably is. Anyone telling you that you don’t need a toner, (and if they use one this means they messed up) clearly has no idea what a toner is for. Lastly, as for as the semi permanent color, she mentioned that she starting coloring her hair because the highlights weren’t “blending” with her grays. The key word here is blending. If you want to blend the grays, and not fully cover them, than you WOULD want to use a demi or semi permanent color. It will make the grays look almost translucent. I would suggest if you want to cut costs down, you could get the highlights every other time (if the grow out doesn’t bother you), maybe do either a permanent color on your roots or keep going with the semi if you want to blend your grays instead of fully cover them, ask the stylist if you could somehow get away with not toning your hair (possibly by going for a different shade/level of highlighand cutting your hair every other time. This should significantly reduAs a professional hairdresser, here are my two cents, and a little ranting mixed in First of all, to everyone who seems to be flabbergasted about how often she highlights her hair, who are you to tell her how often she should get her hair colored?? If she wants to get her highlights done every 7 weeks, that’s her preference! Some people hate when their gray’s come in. I’d say get it done when the gray/regrowth is at the point when it’s bothering you. Not necessarily, 6, 7, 8 weeks or whatever. And personally, if your going to take the time to get your hair highlighted, why in the world would you only do it twice a year?? The grow out does NOT look cute, it looks sloppy. Don’t do it if you can’t afford the upkeep. 

    If you don’t think a toner is necessary, opt to not have them do it, and risk seeing if there is a difference. It shouldn’t be on the stylist if your color doesn’t turn out good however. The stylist clearly think it’s necessary for a reason. If the hairdresser deems it necessary, it probably is. Anyone telling you that you don’t need a toner, (and if they use one this means they messed up) clearly has no idea what a toner is for. Lastly, as for as the semi permanent color, she mentioned that she starting coloring her hair because the highlights weren’t “blending” with her grays. The key word here is blending. If you want to blend the grays, and not fully cover them, than you WOULD want to use a demi or semi permanent color. It will make the grays look almost translucent. I would suggest if you want to cut costs down, you could get the highlights every other time (if the grow out doesn’t bother you), maybe do either a permanent color on your roots or keep going with the semi if you want to blend your grays instead of fully cover them, ask the stylist if you could somehow get away with not toning your hair (possibly by going for a different shade/level of highligh
    ce the cost of your hair visits. Play around with a few different things. Get some suggests from the stylist. Most of the time we really do just want to make the client happy and feel beautiful. That way you’ll keep coming back.

  25. Haleh Apr 05 at 1:57 am Reply Reply

    Oops, somehow my comment got messed up. This is what it should say (minus the middle part):

    As a professional hairdresser, here are my two cents, and a little ranting mixed in First of all, to everyone who seems to be flabbergasted about how often she highlights her hair, who are you to tell her how often she should get her hair colored?? If she wants to get her highlights done every 7 weeks, that’s her preference! Some people hate when their gray’s come in. I’d say get it done when the gray/regrowth is at the point when it’s bothering you. Not necessarily, 6, 7, 8 weeks or whatever. And personally, if your going to take the time to get your hair highlighted, why in the world would you only do it twice a year?? The grow out does NOT look cute, it looks sloppy. Don’t do it if you can’t afford the upkeep.

    If you don’t think a toner is necessary, opt to not have them do it, and risk seeing if there is a difference. It shouldn’t be on the stylist if your color doesn’t turn out good however. The stylist clearly think it’s necessary for a reason. If the hairdresser deems it necessary, it probably is. Anyone telling you that you don’t need a toner, (and if they use one this means they messed up) clearly has no idea what a toner is for. Lastly, as for as the semi permanent color, she mentioned that she starting coloring her hair because the highlights weren’t “blending” with her grays. The key word here is blending. If you want to blend the grays, and not fully cover them, than you WOULD want to use a demi or semi permanent color. It will make the grays look almost translucent. I would suggest if you want to cut costs down, you could get the highlights every other time (if the grow out doesn’t bother you), maybe do either a permanent color on your roots or keep going with the semi if you want to blend your grays instead of fully cover them, ask the stylist if you could somehow get away with not toning your hair (possibly by going for a different shade/level of highligh
    ce the cost of your hair visits. Play around with a few different things. Get some suggests from the stylist. Most of the time we really do just want to make the client happy and feel beautiful. That way you’ll keep coming back.

    • BeeBelle Jul 20 at 8:41 pm Reply Reply

      I have been going to an Aveda salon for about 10 years. I get my highlights done every 6-9 months at my stylist’s recommendation. They grow out beautifully, and since my natural hair is ash blonde, they blend away the gray. I just wanted to point out that your comment suggests that people can get highlights on whatever schedule they want but then right afterwards says “if your going to take the time to get your hair highlighted, why in the world would you only do it twice a year?? The grow out does NOT look cute, it looks sloppy. Don’t do it if you can’t afford the upkeep” which I hope is only coming across as snooty as it does because it’s on an internet comments section. Trust me and my stylist, mine looks cute.

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