Why A Celebrity Hair Colorist Wants You To Embrace Your ‘True Color’

Tracey Cunningham is the mastermind behind some of Hollywood's most desired hair colors (Lily Aldridge's enviable ombre, anyone?). In her new book, she makes the case for returning to your roots.
Expert Opinion
Written by Meg Storm
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Why A Celebrity Hair Colorist Wants You To Embrace Your ‘True Color’Tamara Bellis/Unsplash

“I am a very less-is-more kind of colorist,” says celebrity hair colorist Tracey Cunningham of the philosophy behind her decades-long career tending to some of Hollywood’s most famous manes (think: Jennifer Lopez, Charlize Theron, and Khloe Kardashian to name a few). It may sound counterintuitive to hear a legendary hair colorist advocate for minimalism, but that is precisely the impetus behind her new book, True Color: The Essential Hair Color Handbook. “I wanted to explain why you shouldn’t do so much,” she shares.

As it turns out, not doing “so much” amounts to embracing what Cunningham has deemed your “true color” — the hue you were naturally gifted with as a child before age and trends and dye took over. We had a chance to chat with Cunningham about her new book, the “true color” theory, and tips she wants everyone (colorists and clients alike!) to know.

What Is Your ‘True’ Hair Color?

Your hair can (obviously) be whatever color you want it to be, but Cunningham has found that, depending on how much time and effort you wish to spend on getting ready on any given day, certain hues can make life simpler. “I have clients who are so good with their makeup and fixing up their hair that they can really do anything,” she says. In the book, she explains how someone like, say, Emma Stone (another client of hers) can go from platinum to auburn to mocha and back again because she updates the rest of her beauty look accordingly.

True Color By Tracey Cunningham Cover

If, however, you don’t have access to a celebrity glam squad and are in search of a look that requires minimal effort to pull together, Cunningham maintains that your childhood shade — which almost certainly complements your skin tone and eye color — is your best bet. “Clients will bring their kids in and say that they just want their hair to look like them or how it did when they were younger,” she shares. Whether you have previously colored your hair or not, your locks, like the rest of your body, age. “The truth is, our hair does get darker as we get older,” Cunningham explains. “And I feel like a lot of people are always chasing that rainbow.”

In putting pen to paper, Cunningham hopes to change that. “I thought it would be a fun book to show celebrity photos of them when they were younger and then what they chose to do when they got older,” she says. The tome features childhood pictures of stars like Jessica Biel, Minka Kelly, Maria Sharapova, and more to give you a sense of how the colorist has been able to honor their, well, roots. “Not everyone follows the recipe, but it is a good idea,” she says. “Most of the time, it works.”

How to Achieve Your True Color

Intrigued by the prospect of returning to your roots? “Bring in a picture because a picture says a thousand words,” Cunningham suggests. Showing your colorist photos of yourself growing up will allow them to see your hair in its original state — before hair dye or, simply, time took its toll.

In addition to taking a trip down memory lane with your baby photos, you can also flip through hundreds of inspiration images in Cunningham’s book. Broken up into four sections (blondes, brunettes, redheads, and silvers), you are able to get a sense of how hair color changes over time and the steps you can take to return yours to its natural glory — with the help of some strategic coloring, of course.

And since even the best dye job in the world can’t make up for damaged tresses or an unhealthy lifestyle, Cunningham devotes an entire section of the book to hair health. And it’s not just about products (though she is a big fan of and advisor for Olaplex). “If you hold back on nutrients, it’s bad and I can see it in the chair,” she says. “There is something to taking your vitamins and eating your vegetables.”

The Takeaway

As COVID-19 lockdown restrictions lifted, Cunningham started to see many of her clients for the first time in many, many months. For those who hadn’t been bitten by the DIY bug, she was pleasantly surprised by what she saw. “For a lot of people, I liked their hair better without them coloring it so much,” she admits. While that may sound blasphemous coming from a professional hair colorist, it all goes back to her less-is-more approach. “I tried to talk them into staying gray or keeping their natural color,” she says. At the very least, she can extol the virtues of embracing your roots. For Cunningham, the end game is always the same: “I love shiny, healthy hair,” she says.

All products featured are independently selected by our editors, however, AEDIT may receive a commission on items purchased through our links.

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MEG STORMis the editorial & content director at AEDIT.

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