One of the most common questions I get is how to lighten dark hair to a light blonde color.
For instance, let’s say someone has very dark brown or black hair and they want light blonde hair. The problem is that if you try to drastically change your hair in one process, it is probable that your hair will be very brassy and/or damaged.
There are a series of processes and factors to consider in order to get a desirable end result. Let me fill you in…
How to Lighten Dark Hair:
First and foremost, I have seen a lot of people mess up their own hair while trying to lighten it, due to lack of experience. Ultimately, I recommend having an experienced hair color specialist take your hair through the correct processes. Trust me, you’ll regret it if you damage your hair beyond repair.
Next, I want you to know that to lighten dark hair, it must be done over a series of processes. You cannot go from black to blonde overnight. You can try, but you will probably do a lot of damage to your hair (think: hair melting off, level of damage). It’s probable that you will have very brassy, orange hair.
Next, I have to mention that hair that has been previously colored, reacts different from virgin hair (hair that has never been colored). Virgin hair will be a lot easier to lighten than colored hair. Read more about this from my popular article, “The Golden Rule of Hair Color“.
Lets say, for the sake of this article, that we are talking about someone who has previously colored their hair black and their hair is in pretty decent condition. Also, lets pretend that they have never bleached their hair before.
Step 1: Color Remover
The first thing you should do to lighten dark hair, is get as much black (or dark color) out of your hair as you can.
You may have to do this process a few times. Color remover, like “Color Oops,” works by entering the hair shaft and removing the artificial color molecules.
It does not remove any of the natural pigment in your hair. Because of this, this step will not work on hair that has not been previously colored.
Color remover will not return your hair to the same color it was before dying it.
The end result of using color remover is going to be a brassy color. You can tone this color and live with a more desirable tone of hair for a few weeks. Since the color remover may cause some damage, spend time reconditioning your hair.
Step 2: Highlights
When your hair has recovered from the color remover, it is safe to add a little bit of highlights.
The highlights will help break up the brassiness of the hair, and look more blonde. I would only recommend adding some fine, natural highlights throughout the whole head at first.
Also, using color will not lighten your hair to the desired level of blonde; you need to use bleach.
Step 3: More Highlights
Over the next few months, you can continue adding more and more highlights to your hair over multiple processes. Having someone else do this step is crucial; they can make sure not to bleach the same sections, over and over again.
Do deep conditioning treatments to your hair in between processes.
Step 4: The Final Plunge
After enough rounds of highlights, it should be pretty easy to lighten the rest of your hair to the same level without causing excessive damage.
Remember that this process should occur over many months. You lighten a little bit at a time, and let the hair recover in between processes. That is the best way to lighten your hair without damaging it beyond repair or having bright orange hair.
Your Turn: Did you learn anything new? Have you ever taken your hair from dark to light? I’d love to read your feedback in the comments section below…
Thursday 7th of April 2022
great article, and very clear info! I do have a conceptual question. I always hear that you need to let your hair recover between bleaches. But I don't understand how it "RECOVERS."
Since it's a protein strand that can't heal itself, what exactly happens during the rest. It makes it okay to bleach again?
Thursday 9th of December 2021
How. Did Brad Mondo get to be such a hair guru? I watched so many of his videos in isolation - Im a mix of GNN and 7NN - I add highlights a bit at a time at home. I want it to be a softer blonde and not so Brassy
Saturday 23rd of January 2021
I HAd 2"-3" natural dark "dirty blonde" roots that I tried to color to match the rest of my long, blonde straight hair. I used both light ash brown and very light blonde streaks to create dimension. All of my roots came out brassy orange! I left both colors on for 45 minutes. What color(s) can I use on my roots to match the rest of my hair, a mix of dark and light neutral blondes? I used to use neutral blondes but tried "cool" ash Brown and blonde this last time since my darker hair pulls red at times. Please advise me on the low and HIGHLIGHTs to use to combat the orange. Thank you!
Tuesday 29th of December 2020
I have brown hair that is turning gray. How can I get to gray ?
Wednesday 23rd of December 2020
hi I used oops remover and applied 8N and 8A and it went red I let it grow out then did 9N on my natural roots and it also went red I wanted a blond colour. can u help?
Monday 3rd of April 2023
@Hollee Wood, hey there! My natural color is a 5-7 (dirty blonde, almost light brown) and I have dyed it a dark brown for the last couple years. What might I purchase at Sally’s to lighten it slowly? I very much like my hair dark, but for the health of my hair, want to go back to my natural color. Will a color lifter work to just add highlights, or do I need anything in addition to that? I assume yes, but I want to do this at home to avoid the costly expenses of doing it at a salon.
Sunday 27th of December 2020
It really all depends on what the previous color was, the undertones of your natural color, how many times your hair has been colored, etc. Is your natural color dark? If so, you won't be able to lift more than 4 levels with a color, if using 40v developer.
If you could give me some more details about what developer you used, how many times you've colored your hair and what the starting color was, I can try to offer more advice :)