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Paramore’s Hayley Williams On the Healing Power of Hair Color

And what she’s learned from her struggle with acne.

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A still from Paramore’s “Hard Times” video Photo: YouTube

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It’s been an emotional few years for Paramore frontwoman Hayley Williams, for better and for worse. Her band dropped its fifth studio album, After Laughter, in May to critical acclaim; just two months later, Williams announced she was separating from her husband, New Found Glory’s Chad Gilbert. After Laughter is Paramore’s first release since founding bassist Jeremy Davis’s dramatic departure from the group in 2015, but it’s also a happy homecoming for drummer Zac Farro, who rejoined the band earlier this year.

Williams’ recent ups and downs are reflected in the music itself: Tracks like “Hard Times” and “Fake Happy” are built on big, buoyant pop hooks, but their lyrics address the depression and uncertainty that’ve plagued her in recent years.

For a more visual indication of where Williams’ head is at right now, look at, well, her head: The singer/songwriter is nearly as famous for her vibrant dye jobs as she is for her music. Her passion for hair color led her to launch goodDYEyoung, a line of screamingly bright vegan dyes, with her longtime hair and makeup artist, Brian O’Connor, in 2016. This month, the duo added Poser Paste, a wear-and-wash styling product, to the lineup.

But Williams’s own signature neon hair, which has been orange, green, and everything in between, is now a subtler shade of blonde — because, to hear her tell it, “I needed to see myself as someone other than the girl in the articles, the girl on the back of the CD.” Below, she discusses how being blonde is helping her healing process, her all-time favorite beauty products, and the reason she’s kind of, sort of thankful to have struggled with acne.

Hayley Williams test-driving green hair in 2014.
Williams test-driving green hair in 2014.
Photo: Andrew Benge/Redferns via Getty Images

How did you first become interested in hair color?

Growing up in Mississippi, I never felt like the other kids I went to school with. I knew I was different; I looked at the people on TRL to see what they were wearing and what they were doing. I loved TLC, Christina Aguilera, Gwen Stefani, Vitamin C — all these women who were taking beauty to the max and expressing themselves with their look. Honestly, Missy Elliott in the trash bag will forever be my moment. I was so young when that video came out that I didn’t understand beauty ideals or standards or the expectations of what women should look like; I couldn’t have told you what the word “sexy” meant, even. All I saw was a women I recognized as powerful, a woman who didn’t give a shit. It impacted me forever.

When my mom and I moved to Nashville, nobody knew me, so I had a fresh start. I told my mom that I wanted to play around with my hair color, and when I was about 12, she took me to have it dyed. I didn’t love the color, though, because it wasn’t fun! [Laughs]

After I met the guys [original Paramore members Josh Farro, Zac Farro, and Jeremy Davis] and started writing music, we would go to Walgreens or CVS or Rite Aid or whatever was around and buy boxed hair dye. One time, we all dyed our hair black; that was a nightmare.

My favorites were always the berry colors, because you never knew how they were going to turn out: sometimes it’d be pink, sometimes it’d be lipstick red. There came a time, though, when I couldn’t find the colors I wanted. So when I was about 17, I walked into this place called Pink Mullet, where Brian was an intern at the time. I told him, “I want to look like a matchstick: red on the top, with yellow-golden ends.” And he did it!

A flame-haired Hayley Williams in 2013.
A flame-haired Williams in 2013.
Photo: Mark Venema/Getty Images

I had that hair for our “Emergency” video, and then we did a sort of comic-book version of it for “Misery Business.” These were the looks that my 10-year-old, TRL-watching self had wanted.

Since then, you’ve tried out countless crazy colors. Why’d do decide to go platinum blonde this year?

More than anything, hair color is about where I’m at emotionally. And [this year,] I desperately needed a reset. Because of where I’m at in my life, I needed to feel like I’ve made some moves and gotten older. I needed to feel and see progress — to see a version of me that was stripped down to nothing so that I could learn myself again.

goodDYEyoung Poser Paste in Riot, $17.99
goodDYEyoung Poser Paste in Riot, $17.99

The blonde’s actually made me realize how much I’ve always dressed for my hair. Like, I love wearing color, but when I was dyeing it all those shades of orange and red, I never really wore red; this album cycle, I’ve worn so much red. I do think that every color has some sort of associated emotion, and red really corresponds with how I feel much of the time — the passion, the intensity. But I never got to wear it before, and I love how it looks with my bleached hair now.

It’s funny, though: I put in the orange Poser Paste this morning and told Brian, “You know what? I kinda miss dyeing my hair!” To me, that’s the only sign I need to know that I’m getting healthy again. It doesn’t mean it’s time yet, but it’s nice to know that that’s still in me.

I know you’re big into natural beauty products. How did you develop an interest in them, and what are some of your favorites?

I began struggling with my skin when I was 20. All through my teenage years, it was fine; I’d even go on camera without makeup some days! But then I went to Japan with the guys, I started to fall in love with makeup — and about two years later, my skin went nuts. Of course, it coincided with [issues within the band]. I started to have random breakouts, and it made me realize that my body was telling me something.

One of the first natural products I tried was RMS concealer, and at that point I didn’t really know much about organic skincare. It’s coconut oil-based, and I remember thinking, “Why am I putting oil on my oily face?” Plus, that summer, I was on the Warped Tour and sweating every day. But you know what? It held better, and it didn’t exacerbate the problem. So I was like, “Okay, there’s something to this!”

When I moved to LA, I met Adina Grigore, who started S.W. Basics. She started it out of her kitchen in Brooklyn; now, she’s at Target and Goop. We met really early on, back when her brand was called Scout. And she taught me a lot: I read her book, and I work her products into my routine. I shop at Citrine Natural Beauty a lot, too.

I also go to an esthetician in Nashville named Karee Hays who has incredible products; I might use her salicylic acid pads once a day or once a week, depending on where my skin’s at. If I break out really badly, I might go to her for a facial or IPL.

Hayley Williams performing with Paramore in 2017.
Williams performing with Paramore in 2017.
Photo: Bill McCay/Getty Images

For haircare, it’s Kevin Murphy, always. Brian introduced me to him eight years ago, and I’ve been using the products ever since. The Repair Me line is great for bleached hair, and the masks are amazing. I also use the Blonde Angel purple shampoo, and it smells so good. I actually can’t use any products with fragrance in them; I get headaches. So we use essential oils in all of our goodDYEyoung products — and the inspiration for that probably came from Kevin Murphy, honestly.

I also like to diffuse essential oils at my house and on our tour bus. We do frankincense a lot. I actually have friends who have autoimmune diseases who both wear frankincense as a fragrance and take it [internally,] too; they say it alleviates a lot of their symptoms. And there’s a company called Ambre Blends that I love — they make five different scents and I can’t remember which one I use the most, but they’re great.

Again, I wouldn’t have known any of this had I not struggled with my skin. Having acne made me ask questions, so I have a lot of knowledge now that I wouldn’t have otherwise. Some days, I’m actually thankful for the fact that I’ve had trouble with my skin — just not every day.