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Hair Color Too Dark? How to Lighten It (Without Bleach)

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I've dyed my hair a lot, with both divine and disastrous results. With some experimentation, I've found ways to fix dye-jobs gone wrong.

Dye job gone wrong? Learn how to fix dark hair.

Dye job gone wrong? Learn how to fix dark hair.

Did you dye your hair too dark? Stylist mess up your shade? Don't listen to those who tell you that you have no other option but to bleach it out. Bleach should be used to correct hair color mishaps as a last resort only. There is a better way that won't fry your tresses: color remover (or color eraser, depending on what brand you're looking at).

This article will focus on three options for lightening a too-dark dye job:

  1. Use color remover.
  2. See a professional hairstylist.
  3. Try fixing it up yourself at home with one of several DIY methods.

First, I recommend you try color remover.

Color remover and a rinse might be all you need to get your hair color back to your desired shade.

Color remover and a rinse might be all you need to get your hair color back to your desired shade.

1. Hair Color Too Dark? Use Color Remover!

Color remover, or color eraser, is a chemical that essentially reverses the oxidation of hair color molecules inside the hair shaft. It smells like sulfur, so don't be alarmed—that's just the product working its magic. While it may dry your hair out a bit, it's still very safe and not remotely as damaging as bleach would be. This is one of the most effective methods, especially if it's done at a salon.

Directions

  1. First, apply the remover to the hair much like an all-over color.
  2. Leave it to sit for 15–20 minutes.
  3. Rinse it out thoroughly with cool water and shampoo. (Some stylists may also perform a test to see if it's all out by pouring developer on the hair. This will make the color that's leftover re-oxidize. Don't worry if this happens: They'll just re-apply the color eraser).

Note: Don't freak out if your hair isn't a beautiful color. The goal of this is to remove the dye, so you can re-dye it.

If all the color isn't out, then the color applied after this process could go right back to the first color. To avoid this, after all this has taken place, your next color should be 1–2 shades lighter than the goal color, just to ensure it doesn't just turn super dark again.

Can I Use This?

  • Artificial pigments: Yes. It will come out an orangey-blond color. However, have no fear, because you're going to dye over it.
  • Permanent hair color: No, you cannot use color remover. Permanent colors remove the natural pigment from your hair and replace it with the artificial.
  • Semi-permanent or henna dyes: No. These stain your hair, and the color remover just doesn't work on them.
If a professional messed up the dye job, you don't necessarily have to go back to them to fix it, but they are more likely to be very accommodating.

If a professional messed up the dye job, you don't necessarily have to go back to them to fix it, but they are more likely to be very accommodating.

2. See a Professional to Fix Your Dark Hair Color

If your hair is a complete wreck, and you don't want to even think about doing it yourself, you'll want to visit a professional hairstylist for color correction. This is probably the fastest way to get the color you originally wanted, but it also is the most expensive.

If the stylist is any good at their job, they should ask a few questions before starting.

What Brand of Hair Coloring Was Used?

By knowing the brand used, the stylist can pick a color remover that will work well with the chemistry of what has already been applied to your hair. While hair color brands will usually work with any color remover, the compatibility may also depend on the brand.

Was This a Home Dye Job or Did a Stylist Just Not Get the Correct Color?

If you did the color at home with a drugstore brand, beware! Some of them are classified as "direct dyes," meaning that they may contain metallic ingredients (for shine) that do not cooperate with color remover or bleach. Because of this, it's important that you inform your stylist what kind you used upfront. If you don't, it could lead to even more damaged hair.

How Damaged Was Your Hair Before You Chose to Go Darker?

Your stylist should be able to determine the level of damage by feeling and looking at your hair. In a lot of cases, the color you applied may have been correct, but your hair was too porous from over-processing. Some people, like myself, have naturally porous hair. The same is true for damaged hair. This can be corrected by (after using the color remover) applying a shade that is 1–2 shades lighter than the desired result.

Just remember to suggest using a color remover (eraser) to the stylist handling the correction. Also, if they suggest scalp bleaching—run!

If the stylist is any good at their job, they should ask these questions before starting to color correct your hair.

If the stylist is any good at their job, they should ask these questions before starting to color correct your hair.

Do I Need to Go Back to the Same Stylist?

If a professional messed up the dye job, you don't necessarily have to go back to them to fix it—but a perk is that they'll likely bend over backward to make you happy. At the very least, they might give you a refund if you aren't satisfied with the result.

If you've worked with them for awhile, it might be worth going back since you have developed a good rapport. Trust that they will do everything in their power to try and fix it. Look at it as a collaborative process, not a confrontation.

If you're so upset or disappointed that you never want to return there again, giving them some constructive feedback may be very much appreciated by them. If you don't want to return to your original, offending stylist, look for someone who specializes in color correction.

Fixing a funky dye job doesn't always require a trip to the salon. Here are a few ways to lighten too-dark hair at home.

Fixing a funky dye job doesn't always require a trip to the salon. Here are a few ways to lighten too-dark hair at home.

3. More DIY Fixes (Other Than Color Remover)

If your hair is only a shade or so darker than what you wanted and is not a mess of fried, broken hair, correcting at home is a viable option. Here are some options that you can consider, if so.

1. Use a Clarifying or Lightening Shampoo to Bleed the Color Out

For very mild cases, washing with a clarifying shampoo a few times will usually fade it to a nice color. It may take a bit longer (7-10 days), so be patient if it's not fading right away.

Look for a shampoo that contains sulfates as this will help the color fade. Make sure it's not for color-treated hair! Deep conditioners can sometimes fade a color. Remember, even permanent hair color fades over time.

2. Use Baking Soda

If you find that shampoo is not helping enough, you can try to make your own paste using shampoo, lemon juice, and baking soda. You'll want to generously apply this to your wet hair and wait at least 45 minutes before rinsing it out. Since lemon juice is highly acidic, it can damage your hair, so use it sparingly. Your hair should be 1-2 shades lighter after one use.

3. Use a Color/Dye Remover

As mentioned above, color removers are the way to go. Most beauty stores should have salespeople who are knowledgeable about the product and how to use it. Be sure to follow all of the instructions, or you might end up back in a stylist's chair, paying hundreds to fix your attempt at correction. Remember, this is going to lighten the color, but it won't bring your hair back to its original color.

4. Use Bleach Shampoo

Bleach shampoo is the one exception to bleach use that may work for those of you trying to correct your dark hair color. Make sure you use bleach shampoo only if you used a professional line of hair color (i.e. without metal salts). A bleach shampoo can be great if you just want the color to be a little softer, or you need it to lighten up quickly and intend to use a semi-permanent color after. A permanent color may dry out your hair and is not recommended.

5. Other Solutions

  • Hydrogen peroxide: This is commonly used to lighten hair—either by itself, mixed with other ingredients, or by a professional stylist. It is generally safe, but it could cause damage to hair and skin if not used correctly. It's probably best to have this done in the salon rather than trying it home.
  • Honey and water or apple cider vinegar mixture: This combination may help lighten your hair as well. Use a 4:1 ratio of honey and water or apple cider vinegar. You can also add a little bit of hydrogen peroxide if you feel comfortable using that. Pour the mixture onto your hair, cover it with a shower cap, and let sit for about two hours. Rinse. You should notice a difference after using it one time.
  • Honey, cinnamon, and olive oil: This is another way to naturally lighten your hair. However, it is a very gradual process. You may need to do it 10-15 times to notice a difference. How does this work? Trace amounts of hydrogen peroxide become activated when mixed with cinnamon. The olive oil is a nice way to add some extra hydration.

Note: There are a lot of different DIY solutions out there, including using chamomille tea or coconut oil, but the results have been very hit or miss depending on your hair color.

What Should I Do After the Color Fades?

If you decide to go the DIY route, make sure to treat your hair after the color fades because the shampoo will likely strip your hair of vital oils. Buy a leave-in conditioner or hair mask made for dry hair. Be patient. It may take weeks or months to get back to your original color.

How to Avoid This Situation in the Future

  • Make sure to choose the right color. This is not as simple as you may think. Compare dyes and do some research. Some brands like Garnier and L'Oreal let you virtually test out different shades to find the right one for you. If there's a certain brand you like, check out their site to see if something like this is available.
  • Don't leave the dye on longer than it says.
  • If in doubt, pick a little bit of a lighter shade. You can always darken it in the future.
  • Don't mix brands or colors.
  • Get a consultation from a professional. They can help you find the right color and ensure your hair is dyed correctly.
  • If getting it professionally done, communicate with your stylist. Be as specific as you can be. Bringing in pictures is always a good idea. Don't let them talk you into something you don't want. It's your hair.

Don't Panic Over Your Dye Job

Don't freak out too much over an unwanted color. There are ways to fix it without seriously hurting your hair. I have done it the right way and (to my dismay) the wrong way.

The wrong way resulted in a pixie cut that I'm now trying to grow out along with many nights of sobbing over my lost hair length. But, hair grows, and even before it does, you can fix the color easily! Learn from my mistakes.

Good luck!

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2011 Rozenwyn

Comments

Vi diddit on January 25, 2019:

I picked a colour that was too dark what do i do now

Lori on June 24, 2018:

I colored my hair at home with Ion hair color and developer. The color on the box said medium intense brown. My hair naturally is medium brown so this color sounded pretty. Well it is way to dark. Almost black. What do u recommend to lighten it to a brown without the black in it?

Gerri on May 16, 2018:

Hair by salon coloured my hair dark blond but it turned out quite dark and now my roots (gray) are showing and I want to lighten my hair. I have washed it many times and it did get it a bit lighter by using Age Defy medium blond to soften the dark hair but it didn't take to the roots. What should I do now?

Penelope Fowler on August 22, 2017:

Iwanted light brown my phsco roommate locked me out of bathroom so my haircolor stayed on to long and turned and turned dark auburn so need to change to light brow. Thanks

jeane on March 21, 2017:

I am up late so stressed out because I got a $200 balayage, only for it to turn out to be the worse color job I have ever received. I am a natural level 5n-6n and highlights turn brassy on me very easily. I explained all this to the lady. I asked for root touch up, and highlights in the blonde yellow-ash range. She did my roots a 3 with blue undertones, and my highlights with 7 with green undertones. I look like I have black roots and burn out dry rust colored ends. I am freaking out. I can image spending more money to fix this mess as this was a splurge for me to begin with.

Sondra on June 22, 2016:

I have colored my hair since I was 16. I "thought" I knew hair color pretty well and what brands I could trust WRONG! Loreal has always had dependable products, so I trusted the name. What I didn't know was Loreal Feria was a totally different animal. I had kept my hair red for years and the instructions on the box said do the blond first, then go for the grey, which is what I wanted since I wanted to just let my hair go natural as it grew. Ok, I put the grey on about a month (today) after I did the blond. BTW the blond came out beautiful. Not so with the grey. After putting it on like it said and waiting the proper amount of time I rinsed my now deep purple hair. I wanted to scream. I reshpooed it, nothing. I did it again while searching for what to do. Second shampoo not much better. I found a suggestion to mix shampoo with baking soda. I'm getting ready to rinse that out and see what I've got. I found one other suggestion that had soda in it, but I have to go back and see what the rest are. Wish me luck.

Work in progress

Rozenwyn (author) from Portland, OR on December 28, 2015:

@Steph, oh no! I'm so sorry that happened! I've been right there with you. Unfortunately, color removers, like color b4, only work with permanent colors. A semi-permanent is more of a stain on your strands, so the remover has nothing to reverse. I would be very careful considering how many processes are already on your hair. Unfortunately, my best advice is to get a harsh drugstore clarifying shampoo and use it a few times; you can even suds it up and leave it on your head like a hair mask. That can really help to lighten and soften the color. However, it won't restore it to your blonde hair. Anything else, like a bleach shampoo, I would recommend going to a professional that can assess the state of your hair before attempting to lighten it more. Good luck! Let me know how it turns out.

Steph on December 28, 2015:

I was blonde, but I hated my roots, so I colored my hair with wella medium blond dye that was semi permanent it went way to dark and had green in it! Then I added Loreal medium brown permanent dye and it didn't cover and it went even more green! Went to my stylist and we went dark brown black using Redken shades eq. It was semi permanent plus she added a little red to counter act the green. I hate it and want my light hair back! I have used color b4 and I liked it. But now I am not sure if I can use it on semi permanent hair color. My hair is short so I can not afford to destroy my hair and I do not want to bleach. Not sure what to do.

casey on October 28, 2014:

Omg... so I had to come write here after reading posts about my disastrous night. It's 5 am and I couldn't even sleep due to the monstrosity my hair had become with the dark purple SPLAT. I recently did the blue and was in love with it, I was ready for another color (I have several I purchased to try), and was concerned about the blue /black the was left in my hair. A lil backstory, I did the blue on my natural color then decided to bleach the front strands and a small part of my underhair. The blue hadn't washed out yet so I decided to rebleach the front and under hair, and like an idiot, decided to bleach the rest of my hair for a quick 10 minutes to get the blue out completely. Well I definitely effed up the bleaching all over but was like Screw it! I'll dye it the purple, no1 will notice! Holy hell balls it was horrific! I'm not sure if it was the purple, the bleach job or god telling me your to old to dye your hair, but it was a mess! I wish I had a pic but I was bright purple in the front and underhair and a very strange cranberry pink/purple for the rest! So after trying to go to sleep, failing miserably!, I started looking up how to get this out. .. being that splat is a direct dye, most things don't work. I tried color oops earlier to get the blue out and that did nothing. I figured my only hope was either washing my hair vigorously for days or re bleaching it again... and my hair is thin, I knew it would break off if I did. So ive been researching and what I tried was 

* johnsons baby shampoo

* a little hydrogen peroxide

* some baking soda thrown in

* and I used a tablespoon, maybe more, of the base for the bleach that comes with splat. 

To be more specific, not the packet of bleach, but the bottle of oxide you ADD the packet of bleach to.

I brushed it over the front and under hair for 10 minutes and then did rest of my hair. Put a cap on my head and left it for 15- 20 minutes. 

Lemme tell you folks,,, about 80% of the color came out! !! If not more! ! The front and underhair that i bleached blonde is now a lavenderish color and the rest of my hair is back to the light brown color from when I bleached for ten minutes. .. still a mess.. BUT holy crap what a difference! ! Much better then what I started off with lemme tell you! I really wanna do something with what's left but instead put on a deep intensive conditioner and im leaving it on for a few hours. Hopefully this helps for anyone else with the same issue!

Mel on December 13, 2012:

Hi this was a great read thanks. i have a vague colour correction question some advice would be welcome. While I understand how colour works my salon life is not as a colourist so any experienced advice would be ideal.

My friend who lives quite a distance from me decided stupidly to bleach her below shoulder length medium (5/6) brown hair blonde. Well of course the results were predictable as brown lifted a couple of shades and left her with orange/yellow. Now this is where it gets complicated as I'm unsure to what she had done next. She seems unsure to what the salon used to make her dark, dark brown almost black but now obviously hates this result. I've told her to go back to the salon straight away to have it corrected. However I don't know the salon and am unsure of the correct procedure to help her lift this dark brown a few shades lighter to as close as possible to the original medium brown that she begun with?

If possible please can you explain what the procedure would be if this dark brown was either permanent or a semi permanent colour? For example my alarm bells would be ringing if the salon suggested more bleach (on such long hair) am I correct in this and what's the best directions I can give her?

biancalyne on July 16, 2012:

I did this once, and it's always awful when you go to dark! The first time I went to the salon and they told me they'd have to bleach it out and cut all my hair off.. that was a sad, sad day. After regrowing all my hair I did it again and it came out almost black when I had picked a light brown. I did my reasearch that time as I did NOT want to have my hair bleached and chopped off again, I found this awesome stuff called Color Opps. I applied it like a hair dye and washed after half an hour and the color faded to an awesome lighter brown! I'm suprised more people don't know these products exist and resort to the bleach and cut method. I didn't know they were available until it was suggested to me online and my stylist didn't know about it either! (Or maybe they just make a lot of money from DIY screw ups). Either way, great post! Thanks :)

xxox

B

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