What Does Your Hair Color Say About You?

A star colorist analyzes why we go lighter, darker — and a little crazy — in the salon chair.

There's a reason why one of the first things fugitives do when they're on the run is dye their hair: Hair color is an identity—when you change it, you can become a different person. Fugitives tend to go dark because they want to hide and disappear, while most celebrities tend to go lighter and lighter because they crave the constant spotlight.

In fact, a lot of clients come to see me when they're going through life changes. Sometimes it actually helps bring out what she's feeling inside—or how she wants to feel. What else can you do in two hours that completely transforms you (but that can be undone, unlike plastic surgery)? I see so many women drastically changing their color at the end of a relationship that I've coined it the "breakover"—instead of a makeover. I think it's an intricate part of the healing process. The right hair color can give confidence, enhance your mood, and make you feel sexy again. I don't have scientific proof, but I know people feel better when they get up from my chair.

When Tinsley Mortimer was going through her divorce, we decided to take her platinum. Tinsley likes to be noticed and wanted a pick-me-up. She's told me that getting her hair colored "is like sunlight—the brighter it is, the happier I feel!" Her natural color is actually a medium brown, but she said she's always felt like a blonde. A lot of people feel they're trapped in the wrong hair color.

When another colorist botched up my client's hue, she had to go to her therapist and double up on her meds. When I fixed it, my client told me she felt like I had removed a cancer from her body! Another high point of my career was when Charlize Theron came into the salon right after she'd finished filming Monster. Her hair was an ugly, mousy brown, but as soon as I did her first highlight, I saw her transform. When she left, she gave me a hug and said, "You made me feel like a woman again."

In my chair, blonde is by far the most requested shade—and that's mainly from my clients' husbands. Very rarely will a boyfriend or husband say, "Will you make her a brunette?" Most of them ask, "Can you make her really, really blonde?" An exception is Mariah Carey. Nick Cannon likes her to be on the darker side. And whenever she has downtime, she prefers it, too. But that wasn't always the case. When I first met Mariah, she was a deep brunette, but once she trusted me, she wanted to go lighter—just in time for the launch of her first Def Jam album in 2002. Four years later, right before her Emancipation of Mimi tour, I added some bright blonde pieces around her face so she would have more pop onstage. Without a doubt, the changes in her hair color have followed her career.

That's why I'm so hesitant to make someone darker if they've been blonde for a while. I have to give them a psychological evaluation to make sure they're in it for the right reasons. If they're doing it because they don't want to deal with cost or maintenance, it's criminal—like going to rehab for drugs instead of jail. Sooner or later, they'll be back on the bleach.

Don't get me wrong—dark can be beautiful, sexy, and mysterious. But when you've been fair-haired for a long time, it's hard to see yourself without the brightness around your face. You just feel washed out. If a client is serious about the change, I'll usually do it in stages so it's not so overwhelming.

I learned that lesson early on in my career, when a client came in right after she had a baby. She was convinced she wanted to go back to brunette. So I dyed her hair, and as I was drying it, she took one look in the mirror, grabbed the brush out of my hand, tossed it at the mirror, and said: "How can I leave looking like this? You have to change it back to the way it was!" She was traumatized. I spent all day taking her back to blonde. She apologized in the end, but it goes to prove that hair color is not something you should just jump into on a whim. My advice: Try on a wig with the new color first. If you like the look and are ready to commit, call me!

Kyle White is the senior colorist at Oscar Blandi salon in New York City.