From Hollywood to Main Street, it's the season for brunettes.
By LEIGH GROGAN
Brunettes are back in style.
From espresso and amber to maple and chestnut, brown is the fastest-growing hair-color choice, with about 9 percent growth over the past two years, according to Clairol.
This crowning achievement is being bolstered by a contingent of Hollywood celebrities who are forsaking their goldie locks: Reese Witherspoon, Britney Spears, Nicki Hilton and Ashlee Simpson.
Of American women who color their hair, most are blondes (39 percent), but brunettes are closing in (37 percent). Redheads follow at 18 percent. Rounding out the list are people with black, silver or gray hair.
So why is brunet hair suddenly so fashionable?
Unlike apparel trends, attitudes about hair color haven't been as quick to change, thus the long-lasting appeal of blond.
But Kristin Perrotti, beauty director at Allure magazine in New York, sees a major "brownout" occurring in the hair-color industry. She says women are going darker to reinvent themselves, change their look or just experiment.
"If ever a trend was working for women, being a brunette is it, because it can actually brighten the face, reflect highlights better and it's just a lot less hassle," Perrotti says.
According to a Clairol Colorwonderful survey, the perceptions about brunettes include:
UThey are considered trustworthy and polite.
UCEOs say they would hire a brunette first -- that's if hair color was a decisive factor.
UThey have the best family life.
Celebrities making headlines with their brunet tresses say they're doing it for a new look, a movie role, to repair damage or to travel incognito.
In the November issue of Glamour magazine, actress and former blonde Renee Zellweger says she loves her darker hair because "I can sit in a restaurant, and no one watches me eat. I can wait in line for coffee, and no one notices I'm there.
"I don't think I look different, but for some reason people aren't making the connection."
It can be liberating to return to the roots of one's natural hair color. Brunet is what most of us would be if we didn't color our hair.
But is it right for you? And what should you expect if you decide to become a brunette?
First, it's a much easier color to maintain than red or blond. Done right, going brunet means fewer trips to the salon for upkeep, less damage to the hair and less money spent.
Melissa Vanni is a color specialist at Stuart Angelo salon in Granite Bay, Calif. She estimates that 60 percent of her clientele are brunettes. Their color lasts from six to eight weeks if they use the proper at-home products.
"It's definitely lower-maintenance and a lot easier because you're putting in color, which the hair loves, as opposed to taking it out, which is what you have to do to become a blonde," Vanni says.
According to hair color giant Clairol, about 55 million American women color their hair (36 million at home, 19 million at a salon).
Clairol's Francine Gingras says there's also an emotional connection to hair color.
"Outside cosmetic surgery, changing your hair color is the next-best way to change your look."
She also compares hair-color decisions to relationships: "If you're using bleach and getting highlights with monthly maintenance, that's a marriage," she says. "You can date a pretty shade of brunet without the long-term commitment."
And brown is now the No. 1-selling color. Current hair color industry figures show that, in the United States, $573 million is spent each year on brown shades vs. $570 million for blonds and $230 million for reds.
Even California, well-known as a haven for blondes, is seeing a resurgence in brunettes. In Los Angeles, for example, colorist Tracey Cunningham of the John Frieda Salon says more women are opting for dark in a combination of colors.
"Or else it will look like a wig or a helmet," she says.
"The prettiest brunettes will have highlights that can range from violet to caramel. The goal is to try to come close to matching the natural color," Cunningham says. "Then they won't have to come in so often."
So you've decided to become a brunette. Now what?
Get a pro
First, book a consultation with a colorist. Toni Amen at Felicite Salon in Sacramento recommends looking at pictures and perhaps opting for lowlights first instead of an all-over color.
"That way you break in the color gradually," she says. "It can be a shock to some women to go from light to dark in one process."
Amen says that if you've been a blonde, the initial brunet will fade because it's hard for the cuticle to absorb the color. "But the more you apply the darker shade, the more it begins to take hold."
Coloring is an investment, so it's important to use products that nourish the hair and protect the color.
At the Frederic Fekkai salon in New York (where brunettes are revered), senior colorist Carolyn DePalma says to look for color-protective shampoos and conditioners and glossing creams for shine.
"The cleansing products are important because shampooing alone will cause color to fade." (Eighty percent of color is lost through water.)
"Avoid products with detergent, and skip a day if you can," she says. "Browns can go flat when the rich highlights diminish."
Glossing creams provide shine but be aware that most contain silicone, which can build up on the hair. Vanni at Stuart Angelo salon recommends using a detoxifying shampoo once a week to remove buildup.
If you use at-home hair color and you're a blonde who's considering becoming a brunette, it's financially -- and emotionally -- a good idea to let a professional take you darker.
Here's why: Using bleach strips the hair follicle of its natural color and opens up the cuticle. If you're hoping your hair will be the same color as the picture on the box, you could be headed for a crisis of color.
From glam to green
Ruth Schafer, a student at the University of California, Davis, has been home-dyeing her hair "Jessica Simpson" blond. When she wanted it to look more like her natural color -- and because it's fall -- she bought a kit like the one she had been using, only for darker hair.
"It came out looking ashy and green on the ends," she says, "so I ended up going to a professional, which cost $200, took three hours, and I ended up a redhead."
Schafer eventually colored over the red herself and is getting used to her medium-brown hair.
"It's been pretty dramatic, and I've been using a triple-moist hair recovery masque to repair the ends."
And is Schafer having as much fun as a brunette as she did as a blonde?
"Let's put it this way," she said, "I'll probably go back come springtime."