We've all been there: Bored with our hair color and craving a major change. But going from brunette to blonde is not equal to cutting off three inches, adding layers, or even getting bangs. It's a major transformation. It is definitely doable for (almost) everyone, but you should be armed and ready with all of the information you need before lightening up.
Lucky for you, we did the research and consulted top hair color pros about this big change. Keep reading for the ultimate guide on how to go from brunette to blonde hair — without completely damaging your strands.
So can anyone go from brunette to blonde?
Yes, anyone can, according to Kattia Solano, founder and lead colorist at Butterfly Studio Salon in New York City, as long as you consider a few key factors:
Your hair color history. When you visit the salon, "be clear about your expectations and discuss your desired look, your hair texture, and hair history," Solano advises. Be thorough about your hair’s history in the consultation, even if you think something is irrelevant. "Sometimes old color (even from a year ago or longer) may need to be removed before a service like this or else the hair won’t lift evenly and could potentially cause damage," says Samantha Garrone, colorist at Salon AKS in NYC. Plus, the type of dye you used (in salon or box color at home) can affect the way your hair will take to the lighter color.
Your time. "Your colorist should be transparent about how long and how many visits it will take based on your hair," says Solano. "Do not rush into it: Take your time, especially for those with a long color history, as keeping hair as healthy as possible is always the main priority." The number of salon visits and total time taken will vary depending on your current color, desired shade, and hair length, texture, and history. "It can take one appointment if the hair gods are in your favor, but it typically takes about three to get you to where you really want to be," says Nikki Lee, Garnier consulting hair colorist. That's a time investment you have to consider before making the plunge.
Your budget. "This can be a costly service but it's best not to skimp on price when it comes to a major color change if you are able to. If you’re going to do it, it's best to do it right the first time, so you don't have to then go in for additional 'fixing' appointments. While prices can vary all over the country, I would say this service can range anywhere between $300-$600 or higher in New York City," says Garrone.
Your skin tone and features. "You can have the most beautiful, perfectly done blonde hair, but if it doesn’t work with your skin tone and eye color, it won’t do anything for you," says Garrone. She advises to consult your colorist when it comes to choosing the right shade as they have all gone through serious training to have the ability to determine this. Lee is a big proponent of using your eyes to help choose the right shade. "Take a look at your eye color—if there is more warm or cool tones—and match your hair tone to that. This can be a very helpful guide, as your skin tone can change with the seasons. Your eye color will always be a true indication of what tone you should be."
How long does it take to go blonde?
Set aside at least a few hours. "If you have virgin (uncolored) hair, it will always be easier to go from brunette to blonde," Solano explains. Virgin hair is healthier and stronger than pre-colored/processed hair, and is therefore more able to handle a process like this. It will lift evenly, whereas pre-colored hair can lift to different levels in different places, meaning it can be harder to make the color even. "If you have permanent color in your hair history, it's still possible, but you're going to have to make sure you and your colorist set a plan."
First and foremost, when you get to the salon, "a strand test [where the colorist tests the hair dye on a small hidden strand of hair] is also a must," says Lee. "Depending on your previous color, this will give the stylist an idea if the goal for your hair color can be made a reality." A strand test will tests the porosity and elasticity of hair to show you how easily (or not) your shade of brown will lighten. This usually takes 15 to 30 mins and will help assess what level of lightening your hair can handle.
The actual process for going blonde differs based on many factors: Your initial brunette shade, desired blonde shade, hair history, and more. Hair's natural texture can affect the way it lifts and what it can handle, Garrone adds. "Kinky hair can be more fragile, but may lift really fast, thick or coarse hair can be stronger, but take longer to lift," she says. But generally speaking, "going two shades lighter than your natural brunette color will require you to use bleach," Solano says. And "if you want to do a double process blonde (bright blonde or platinum) you'll likely need two bleach applications back to back, which takes at the very least four hours."
What should you do before your salon appointment?
"Treatments, treatments, treatments," says Lee. "Hair color loves healthy hair, and hair will accept color with open arms when it’s healthy as well; when your hair is damaged and you try to lighten it, it will break." Garrone adds, "Hair that is healthy will usually lift the easiest and quickest." That's why you want your hair to be in its best condition before going blonde. Solano recommends using deep conditioning treatments for a month before, like OGX Extra Strength Hydrate & Repair + Argan Oil of Morocco Hair Mask, and in-salon bonding treatments, like Olaplex, which all three colorists recommend. Also try to minimize heat styling the weeks before going blonde.
Come with hair that's not freshly-washed. No matter what level of blonde you are going for, you should always "come with hair that is not too clean and not too dirty," Garrone explains. "If your hair is washed that day, the product can irritate your freshly cleaned scalp, and if your hair is too dirty, its natural oils can interrupt and stall the lightening process." The happy medium? "Hair that was washed two to four days before your appointment," she says.
Pro tip: Bring pictures to the salon to show your colorist your desired hair color!
How do you go blonde gradually?
Highlights are the best way to go blonde gradually. "Start off slow with a small amount so your hair and eyes can get used to it and slowly add a little more each time until you are at the blonde you’re looking to achieve," Garrone advises. This is a great option for less damage, but requires more time (and patience) to make the change.
Balayage, in which"highlights are hand painted all over your head," Garrone says. "This look will give you more of a pop and a bigger contrast between highlights that also grows out gradually."
Ombré, where "the highlights are focused more on your ends and around your face, leaving your natural brunette color at the top," Garrone explains. "This is a good way to meet in the middle because you get some blonde, but still have your natural color to complement your skin and eye color, and it's also pretty low maintenance and less damaging to hair."
Can you dye brown hair blonde at home?
Not usually, all of our pro colorists agree. There is a lot of room for error and you could end up damaging your hair. "Box dye would be fine for a gradual transition but not brunette to blonde," Solano says. "It's tricky because it tends to cause damage, often leaves brunette shades brassy, and can be hard to work with afterwards."
Instead, use box dye for DIY touch-ups at home, after you've gotten your initial color done in salon. "You can start by adding some lighter pieces throughout your ends," Lee says. "Take small sections and tease them, painting the ends with the lightener so you won't have any harsh lines in your hair." She recommends using Garnier Nutrisse Ultra Color Blondes Balayage Lightening Creme for this look.
Can you go from brunette to blonde without bleaching?
All of our colorists agree: Not easily. "Color (without bleach) can lift your hair, but only a few levels, which will most likely leave your shade looking orange and brassy," Garrone explains.
How can you maintain your blonde hair and keep it healthy?
Cut down on heat styling and let your hair air dry as much as possible.
Lower the temperature on your hot tools to prevent damage and always apply a heat protectant all over strands prior.
Try a shower filter, like Raindrops, to help keep your blonde from getting dull.
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