Beauty 911: Color Correction Crisis

Michelle Combs, a colorist at Manhattan's FourteenJay salon (above), knew just how to approach my color conundrum.

As an editor at a hair trade magazine, I write about color correction all the time. But, it suddenly became a different story when I was the one in desperate need of correcting. Sure, it was equal parts my mistake—I willingly placed my virgin hair in the hands of a fresh-out-of-beauty-school stylist and asked to go “darker” without a reference photo, but I never could have predicted the outcome. 

It wasn’t until I walked into work the following Monday, and came face-to-face with my beauty-guru colleagues, that I’d realized just how bad it was. After analyzing some uncolored strands, nearly jet-black ends and much lighter roots, we put out an APB out to all of our colorist friends. That’s where Michelle Combs came in—and I promise, us having the same name was just a wonderful coincidence. 

Combs is a master colorist and an Aveda Hair Color “Purefessional” at David Adam’s FOURTEENJAY Salon in Manhattan’s Tribeca neighborhood. With nearly 20 years of experience in the field, I had no doubt that I’d come to the right place. 

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“When I met Michelle, I knew right away that there was a saturation challenge with her previous color,” Combs says. “As soon as I felt how long, thick and porous her hair was, I understood how the mistake happened.” But, Combs tries to avoid judging another colorists work. “Hair color is a lifetime of learning, and we all make mistakes,” she says. 

Aside from the much lighter roots seen above, my biggest complaint with my hair color was the lack of dimension. 

After consulting and sharing a few pictures of my desired look, Combs came up with a plan. “Michelle showed me a picture of a girl with a level three neutral new growth and caramel highlighted tips,” Combs says. “Because Michelle’s hair absorbed the permanent color on her ends, I knew I had to correct that first.” Here’s how she did it:


  • I decided to use a level 3 Aveda Full Spectrum Deposit Only Color Treatment and added some warmth to even out her color. Since her ends were darker, I only applied it to the first six inches of her new growth. 
  • While that was processing, I did a test strand with two different shades high lift formula (using Aveda Full Spectrum Deep Extra Lift and Deposit Crème Hair Color for Dark Hair) to a small area in the back to see which one would lift through the previous color on the oversaturated ends. Happy surprise! They both lifted to two pretty shades of gold and caramel, which was exactly what we had discussed in our consultation.
  • After the new growth and test strands were processed, I shampooed the hair with Aveda Color Conserve Shampoo, treated the hair with Aveda Botanical Therapy Moisture Treatment, and dried the hair to prepare it for tipping. 
  • Tipping is a technique that allows additional colors to be blended or melted onto the ends of the hair. It provides a similar effect to Balayage, however, provides a stronger and more precise result, which was perfect for Michelle’s thick hair.

After five hours in the salon, Combs was able to add the subtle dimension that I desired, and blend out the differences in color throughout my hair. 

Comb’s biggest suggestion when approaching color correction situations: Always under promise and over deliver in terms of expectations. “Typically guests are nervous or scared, and maybe even a little embarrassed,” Combs says. “I want them to know that no matter what, I will try my best to have them leave my chair with something that looks and feels better than when they arrived.”

No matter how long you’ve been in the field, Combs says there’s always something to learn. “We’re all constantly learning in this chemistry-filled science lab and you can never judge another’s aesthetic,” she says. “Honor them for teaching you, and honor your client for trusting you. And remember that every guest is a color correction in some way.”