See what happened when celeb-loved colorist Tracey Cunningham transformed one editor's color-free strands

By Colleen Kratofil
Updated January 06, 2017 10:08 PM

Getty; Colleen Kratofil

What It Is: Lily Aldridge’s ombré highlights are colorist Tracey Cunningham‘s most requested look. So I decided to let Cunningham take my hair color V card to achieve the same Victoria’s Secret bombshell look.

Who Tried It: Colleen Kratofil, Style Writer-Reporter

Level of Difficulty: 10 to book an appointment with the color guru, but once you’re set, the difficulty drops to a 3. The most effort I had to put-forth was just mentally preparing for my first-time coloring session.

Why I Did It: I’m very emotionally attached to my hair. A slightly shorter trim can send me into a full panic. But when an opportunity to get highlights by the star-love Tracey Cunningham popped up, the only thing that popped into my head was “YOLO.” If there was anyone I could trust to color it properly, it would be Cunningham. Plus, summer is the perfect excuse to lighten my strands and channel my inner beach babe.

Getty; Colleen Kratofil

When I say I’m attached to my hair, I mean it. The most dramatic change I’ve made in the past 20 + years is adding a few long layers. So it should come as no surprise that I’ve never, ever colored my hair. Not even a drop of temporary wash-out color has touched these strands. I’ve never had the money or patience for it and just regarded color as something I didn’t desperately need. But when a color session with Cunningham came about, I was both psyched and hesitant. On one hand I knew I’d be with the best in the business, but on the other all I really wanted to know was, ‘Will this ruin my hair forever?!’

After much reassurance from friends and colleagues (I got a lot of “hair grows out” and “live a little.”) I was convinced. Then I couldn’t stop looking up photos of Aldridge’s hair to get myself psyched.

Cunningham first created the highlights five years ago when Aldridge needed some help lightening her look. “Lily did a project where they made her really dark, so we brought back her natural hair color with light [color] on the ends,” Cunningham tells PeopleStyle.

And ever since, she’s been asked to recreate it “a lot!” According to Cunningham it’s because “Brunettes want to stay a brunette. You don’t all of a sudden want to become someone you’re not.” (And yes, Aldridge knows she’s a sensation — she sends Cunningham photos of people who are rocking her look!)

Getty; Colleen Kratofil

I brought three photos of Aldridge’s best highlight moments with me to my appointment. I thought the coloring looked the same on each, but Cunningham wanted me to pick one specific photo to base my look on. And that’s because the process is rarely tweaked between Aldridge’s look and the client.

“I just do it the same exact way that I do Lily’s. Then I’m going to match your base color, because I don’t think you need to be darker at your root, I feel like we can do Lily’s version on you and make it for you.”

Usually in Lily’s process, Cunningham tweaks the roots. “With nothing permanent, I gloss the roots to blend it in so it grows out naturally and doesn’t look stripey.”

And keeping the highlights and my base in sync is great for a newbie so I don’t need to get constant touch-ups. “If I were to make your roots really dark that would be kind of mean of me, because then you’d have to do your roots every month, which you don’t want to do.”

Getty; Colleen Kratofil

Feeling in good hands, Cunningham and Co. started the transformation process. She sectioned off my hair into very tiny strands and started painting away.

Getty; Colleen Kratofil

When I asked how she knew where to apply the color and how far apart to space each lightened strand she replied: “I’m just eyeing it. It’s like being an Italian cook, you just do a little bit of this and a little bit of that.” (Spoken like the pro she is!)

Getty; Colleen Kratofil

As we got into the swing of things I felt relaxed and at ease, but I have to admit seeing my hair look so yellow for the first time was a bit jarring.

Getty; Colleen Kratofil

But Cunningham and her team assured me once they add a gloss throughout my entire head, the color would tone down. And they were right.

Getty; Colleen Kratofil

After a little over three hours, a few rinses and lots of stories about Cunningham’s celeb clients, the transformation was complete!

Getty; Colleen Kratofil

The Verdict: I love it. Scratch that — I’m obsessed. I’m happy that the results look so natural, which is a perfect move for a first-timer. My hair actually reminds me of when I was younger and my strands would lighten up in the summer.

The only thing I’m trying to adjust to is my hair’s new texture. It doesn’t feel as soft and silky as before, but tweaking my styling products for a more heavy-duty smoothing serum has helped.

So, if you’re thinking about turning in your hair color V card, here’s a list of all of my first-time concerns, answered by Cunningham herself.

How long does it last? “Until your next haircut when you cut it off.” (Aldridge goes months between highlights.)

Do I need to change my shampoo and conditioner? “Yes, to keep the gloss on your hair switch to sulfate-free products.”

Does anything happen differently in the hair-dyeing process for first-timers? “No.”

Do I have to wait a certain amount of time before washing my hair after the dyeing process? “No, that’s an old wives’ tale.”

Will it matter which way I part my hair with my new highlights? “No, we’re going to blend the roots all in so it’s all going to be about the frame of your face.”