Hair Color Too Dark? How to Lighten It (Without Bleach)
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:
- Use color remover.
- See a professional hairstylist.
- Try fixing it up yourself at home with one of several DIY methods.
First, I recommend you try color remover.
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.
- First, apply the remover to the hair much like an all-over color.
- Leave it to sit for 15–20 minutes.
- 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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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© 2011 Rozenwyn