Celeb colorist Johnny Ramirez shares the secrets to his success

What It Is: Los Angeles-based colorist Johnny Ramirez has perfected the process of achieving that summery, sun-kissed color — or “lived in color” as he calls it. It’s the look that’s plastered across your Instagram feeds and Pinterest boards on celebrities like Sophia Bush, Jessica Alba, Miranda Kerr and more. Light blonde in the front, darker in the back, as if you’ve just spent the summer surfing in Hawaii. “Women love that beachy, Victoria’s Secret hair color,” he says of his most-requested look.

Who Tried It: Jillian Ruffo, Associate Beauty Editor

Why I Tried It: I’ve been obsessed with Ramirez’s Instagram account for years — so much so that many of his transformations have been my main source of inspiration for all of my color changes since 2013. So when I finally had the chance to go blonder by the master himself, I jumped at it (even though they told me I’d need to bring a book and prepare to Seamless my lunch to the salon!).

Level Of Difficulty: Well, that depends on your ability to sit still for an entire day.

Credit: Getty (2)

Courtesy Johnny Ramirez

When I walk into Johnny Ramirez‘s N.Y.C. annex at 7:00 on a Saturday morning, not only is it still dark outside, but five women are already an hour into their nine-hour hair color transformations. Yes — NINE hours! Ramirez and his team have been there since 5:30 am, ready to color upwards of 25 heads with Ramirez’s signature technique. So what’s the hype behind his method? That’s what I was determined to find out.

As I wait for Ramirez to finish up another client, two women sit talking next to me: “It’s my first time,” one whispers, as if she’s being initiated into a secret society. The other woman, a long-time client, replies proudly, “Once you go to Johnny, you’ll never stop going back.”

Ramirez takes one glance at my hair, which is definitely due for a haircut, and instantly calls over his partner, Buddy Porter, to give me a trim in order for my color to “flow properly.” But first, before photos are a mandatory step. Why?

“About 7 years ago, I started taking photos of my work,” he explains to me after I try desperately to resist the dreaded 7:30 a.m. picture that he’s trying to subject me to. “Instagram wasn’t big yet, so I started a blog, which was just my journal — my way to connect with other hairdressers from all over the world. But I got so much s— for taking photos. Back then, taking pictures of people wasn’t cool. If you took out a camera everybody would run. But I flooded the s— out of the Internet with all of my work. Two years ago, my team clocked my blog and it was at 11 million views, and when they clocked the analytics on Pinterest, my photos were at 733 thousand re-pins a day. So many hairdressers that have reached out to me and said, ‘I just want you to know I’m a hair dresser in Africa and there is a client out here with a picture from Pinterest and it’s yours — they brought it to me for inspiration.'”

Long story short, I let him take the photo before I move on to my cut. Next, I scroll through Ramirez’s Instagram account and show him what I’m after: Blonde to frame my face, with warm tones like Sophia Bush’s hue, which he did a few weeks earlier. And he’s off.

As Ramirez works, I interrupt his concentrated silence to quiz him on his technique — which, he explains, is modeled after the natural highlights in children’s hair. “I was always wanting to make kids’ hair color come to life on real people,” he tells me. “My daughter was so little back then and she had this beachy, surfer hair color. But she hated it when I combed her hair in the bath, so I used to put a bowl of M&M’s in the bath — it was the only way that she would let me analyze her hair color. She probably ate 2 pounds of M&M’s by the time I got the tones down.”

Johnny Ramirez Color

Me during two of Johnny’s steps (that’s him behind me!)

Throughout the day, I’m shuffled from chair to chair, through a series of over 17 steps: Teasing, bleaching, rinsing, heating, washing, detangling, highlighting, washing, blow drying, toning, washing, blow drying again, toning again, washing, blow drying, glazing, blow drying. It feels as if it’ll never end — but I remind myself that I’ll be worth it — I’ll soon have hair like the girls on his Instagram feed that I’ve been admiring for so long, and all of his celebrity clientele.

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Ramirez tells me about the time he landed his first celebrity client. It was very early in his career, when he first moved back to Beverly Hills from Pasadena, California. “I had a job with Chris McMillan [Jennifer Aniston’s hairstylist BFF] that was waiting for me after Pasadena,” he shares. “That was the time when Andy Lecompte and his team, including Jen Atkin, were all working there together. Chris said to me, ‘I’m going to change your life. I’m going to change everything about you.’ He put me on the books at his salon and my very, very first client there was Denise Richards. I came in the following week just for one day and I did Gwyneth Paltrow.”

Johnny Ramirez Color

Before and after my “Lived In Color” (Courtesy Johnny Ramirez)

Exactly nine hours and 15 minutes later, after my fifth and final blowout is through, my royal Ramirez treatment is complete — and I finally understand the hype. My usually-mousey-brown strands are brighter, blonder, and have me looking like an L.A. native planted in N.Y.C.. Leading me to believe that his client that morning was right: Once you go to Johnny, you never leave.

Do you love Ramirez’s signature hair color? Tell us below!

— Jillian Ruffo