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When I first set out on my hair-coloring journey, the plan was to do a full celebrity-inspired makeover. I’ve always wanted to be a blonde, and when a Jennifer Aniston-meets-Gisele Bundchin style was pitched to me, I was more than game. But as B-DAY approached (Blonde-Day, get it?) some butterflies were majorly a’fluttering. I pulled up to Saks Fifth Avenue in Manhattan, and went down to the gorgeous Salon & Spa that’s tucked away underneath New York City’s most iconic fashion establishment. It was there that I met my hair guru, Brad Johns, who promised to take care of me. This is how our exchange went:

“So, Emily, what are we doing today?”

“Well, um, you see, we’re supposed to do a celebrity makeover, a la Jennifer Aniston and Gisele Bundchin, but… I.. uh..”

“Is this your first time?”

“Yes it is”

“OK, that seems way too drastic to me.”

“OMG THANK YOU SO MUCH FOR SAYING THAT I WAS SO SCARED!”

Because this was my first time doing anything drastic to my hair, we decided on going for a “week on a beach vacation” ‘do. Lighter—but not too crazy. It was to look completely natural and wouldn’t require much upkeep. Was I still nervous? You betcha. But I knew I was in good hands.

Brad Johns is a celebrity hair colorist who’s been at it for nearly 40 years. He’s colored everyone from Christie Turlington to Johnny Depp to Jaime King. If you’re contemplating your first go-round with a new hair color, read on for tips and tricks from one of Hollywood’s best colorists:

OK! Magazine: So what exactly are we doing here since I’m a hair-coloring virgin?

Brad Johns: When you’ve never done color before, I like to start it really natural and subtle but still exciting. I like it to look like you’ve been to the beach for a week or a month, instead of here with me. So what I’m doing is highlighting it around the front and the tips and the back, but I’m using color instead of bleach so it doesn’t get too light.

OK!: I’m going to go to the beach this week…do I have to be careful?

BJ: No. When you do subtle color like this, salt water and sun make the color better. The pool will ruin it, but the sun makes the color more excitingly natural.

OK!: For other people who have never colored their hair, do you recommend them going to a specialist first? Or is it something they can do on their own?

BJ: If you do it on your own, you could ruin it, and you’re going to pay triple for corrective work. It’s very hard to do subtle at home. The thing I always recommend is to go to an artist and not a technician. You should go on three consultations with different colorists and whichever one appears like an artist to you, and shows you pictures that you like, is the one you go with. There are millions of hair colorists, but not a lot of artists.

OK!: So for a light, subtle look, what’s the upkeep like?

BJ: Maybe two or three times a year. I usually say do it once every season, because hair color should be four distinct colors…different every season. Warmer in the winter because you’re not tan and brighter and lighter in the summer.

OK!: Should I change my makeup/clothing palette with my new ‘do?

BJ: No, never. Clothing has to do with your hair color, but makeup doesn’t because it’s skin, and it belongs to your head. I always say nudes, candy, and spice colors.  When in doubt, have somebody in the salon do it.

OK!: Can you tell me a little about your process for choosing a hair color for a particular client?

BJ: When somebody comes in I usually ask him or her what color they were when they were one year old. And usually, that’s the color you can start with because that’s the complexion you keep. And when it comes to eyes and skin…the universe and God don’t make mistakes. You were born beautiful, so that’s what you go back to, and it’s not a mistake. This is how you know you have bad hair color: if you do hair color and somebody says to you, “Oh, I’ve seen you’ve done something,” that’s when you know you’ve screwed up. As opposed to, “Oh, did you go on vacation? Oh your hair looks great!”

OK!: Is there anything else you’d like to tell all of the hair-color virgins out there?

BJ: One of my quotes is, “Hair color is the accessory that you never take off, so make sure it’s brilliant.” It shouldn’t look like a mistake, it shouldn’t look like you didn’t have the money to do it right, and it shouldn’t look like your mom’s hair. It should look like yours and not like anybody else’s. You can bring in a celebrity picture, but you should do it for you, not because you want to look like them.

And because Brad says that the cut is the cake to his icing, I also got a fresh, amazing cut from stylist Chris Cusano. Thanks to everyone at the Salon & Spa at Saks Fifth Avenue for an amazing hair day—And now that I know I can handle a little blonde, Jennifer Aniston might not be too far off!

Are you a hair color virgin? What’s holding you back? Share in the comments below, or tweet us @OKMagazine.

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