They say history repeats itself, and that’s certainly true when it comes to fashion and beauty trends (case in point: the inevitable return of low-rise jeans). Hairstyles, too, cycle in and out of fashion. This year, we’ve seen many popular styles from the ‘90s (like the iconic ‘90s bob) regain popularity. And while we love a ‘90s look, we feel it’s about time for ombre hair—one of our favorite 2000s hair trends—to have the reunion tour it deserves.
The latest iteration of ombre hair doesn’t only look effortlessly cool, it’s actually more low maintenance than its predecessor, with subtle color melts and natural-looking finishes. According to Matrix Global Educator Philip Wolff, the “seamless transition” from one hue to another means ombre hair makes trying a new color easy—and cuts down on upkeep.
Ahead, we deep dive into the ombre hair color trend and share a step-by-step guide on how to achieve ombré hair at the salon.
What is ombre hair?
Traditionally, ombre hair features darker roots that gradually fade into a lighter brown or blonde tone at the ends. However, the technique is versatile and can be achieved with nearly any combination of hair colors, from natural hues like browns and reds to fantasy colors such as purples, blues, and pinks.
When it comes to this hair color, the words ombre and balayage are often used interchangeably, but they are slightly different. So, what is the difference between balayage and ombre? According to Wolff, ombre refers to the overall look, while balayage is the technique used to achieve the look. Moreover, balayage can be used to create a look that has a delicate, hand-painted effect, as well as a visible gradient-like result commonly known as ombre. So, while it’s not wrong to call ombre a balayage, there is a difference— and understanding that can help better equip you for what to ask your stylist.
Is ombre still in style?
Like many style trends, ombre has faded in and out of style and is currently having one of the biggest color comebacks. So while yes, ombré is still in style, this current version is a slightly different version than what you may be envisioning. “We are now seeing a more refined version of the iconic ombré look with face-framing [highlights] incorporated,” says Wolff.
This soft take on traditional ombré perfectly complements the popular no-makeup makeup trend and is a more natural-looking color with a gradual transition from dark roots to light ends.
What colors work best for ombre hair?
There are lots of ways to play with ombre hair color. With that said Wolff notes that clients looking to achieve the classic ombre color “would ideally sit between a soft brown to a dark blonde.” But you can go as subtle or as bold as you’d like, depending on your style and what colors you choose to pair together. Start with whether or not you want to keep your natural root color as the base. Some of these ombre color pairings include dark roots with pink, lilac, or blue ends. You can also switch it up with blonde roots and orange ends or blonde roots with rose gold ends—the possibilities are truly endless.
How do you get a modern ombre at the salon?
If you want to get the modern ombre hair look, going for something that is more natural and low maintenance is key. When consulting with your stylist, ask them to assess your natural root color and suggest what color you can pair it with for an organic look. This will ensure that the transition between dark and light isn’t too stark—which also means that you won’t have to touch it up as often as it grows out. Additionally, Wolff says it’s important to communicate with your stylist and ensure they consider your skin tone when creating your ombre. Picking a color that complements your complexion well will give it that effortless feel we’ve been talking about.
How to Get Ombré Hair Step-By-Step at the Salon
Ombre hair requires a specific, expert technique—it’s not something you want to DIY unless you’re a pro. That being said, understanding the basics of what the process entails can help ensure you’re able to clearly communicate your goals to your stylist. Learn how Wolff helps his clients achieve their perfect ombre hair look below.
Step 1: Section The Hair
Wolff starts by sectioning his clients’ hair into four quadrants. He achieves his by creating a middle part from the hairline to the nape of the neck (as if creating pigtails), then horizontally dividing each section into two equal pieces.
Step 2: Begin Bleaching
Starting at the nape of the neck, Wolff will apply the bleach or lightener, working his way up toward the crown of the head. Since ombré involves a subtle gradient of color, the goal is for the hair to be lightest at the ends and seamlessly melt with your natural color.
Step 3: Create Front Highlights
Once bleach is applies to the strands around the back and sides of the head, Wolff adds strategic face-framing highlights to create a natural-looking blend of color around the face. If a root melt is needed, he’ll start that now, too.
Step 4: Rinse Using Anti-Damage Products
As soon as the hair is at the desired lightness, Wolff says, the hair should be completely rinsed to avoid over-lightening.
Optional: Ask your colorist about using Redken’s Acidic Bonding Concentrate, a 5-piece haircare system formulated to combat visible damage—precisely the ally you need post-bleach.
Step 5: Tone
After rinsing, Wolff tones the hair using a Redken Shades EQ formula to achieve his client’s desired shade. Once it processes, he rinses it out with water only (no shampoo) and conditions with the Acidic Bonding Concentrate Conditioner.
(If a root melt is needed for a more seamless blend, he’ll add that here to complete the look. This can only be assessed after bleaching, highlights, and toning are complete.)
Step 6: Finish and Style
Finally, Wolff completes the process by blow drying and styling his client’s hair. Ask for a wavy blowout—the loosely textured style will help highlight your hair’s new dimensional color.
How much maintenance does ombre hair require?
Wolff says a proper ombre “has the potential to completely grow out seamlessly.” Of course, how much maintenance it actually requires, he says, depends on your hair type, natural color, and additional color(s) to make it ombré.
However, if you’re working with gray coverage or using fantasy colors, keeping up with ombre hair color can require similar maintenance to all-over color, meaning you’ll want to touch up your roots as they grow out.
As far as damage is concerned, ends likely won’t need to be touched up that often, so it’s not the most damaging look. However, chemical processing can have a drying effect on the hair, which can not only harm strands but also impact color. “In order to maintain, replenish, and enhance your color, your at-home haircare routine is crucial,” says Wolff. “I recommend the Acidic Bonding Concentrate system [for at-home care as well], starting with the shampoo and ending with the leave-in—these products are extremely versatile for all hair types, textures, and colors.”
So, what does the return of ombre hair mean? In short, natural-looking and healthier-feeling hair with a hint of nostalgia. Be sure to check out more maintenance tips for ombre hair in our How to Maintain Color-Treated Hair guide.
Interested in trying out a new hair color for winter? Book an appointment with a colorist near you to try modern ombre hair for yourself using our salon locator.
Header photo credit: @slayejae