Maffew is a hairdresser, marketer, and dabbler in many things who enjoys sharing knowledge about the science of hair coloring and hair care.
Blonde Hair Dye Without Bleach
Bleach is one of the most powerful and useful products at your disposal for achieving blonde hair, but what happens if you're very sensitive to the product or you simply don't want to use it? Bleach does have its drawbacks, but luckily, it's not always necessary to use it.
If your hair is light enough, it is possible to get blonde hair without bleach. You can use a high lift dye or even regular permanent dye in many circumstances. This article will outline the different products available to achieve your dream shade of blonde.
Read on to learn how these products work. This will ensure that you know whether it will be a viable option for you based on the condition and color of your own hair.
How to Lighten Hair Without Bleach
The process of dyeing your hair blonde can be performed in one of two different ways, and the correct method for your hair is dependent on how dark your hair is and how much lighter you want it to be. You can achieve blonde using either:
- One-step process
- Two-step process
You can generally determine whether you need to use bleach or not fairly easily once you understand the differences between these two processes.
A one-step process for lightening your hair to blonde entails the use of permanent hair dye or high lift dye. Technically, both of these products are similar in what they are and how they work. High lift simply contains more ammonia and other added lift boosters that enable it to work more effectively (but still significantly less ammonia than bleach).
Both of these types of dyes lighten your hair and deposit new color at the same time, allowing them to lift and tone your hair in a single step.
A two-step process—on the other hand—entails lightening the hair separately before finally toning it to the desired shade afterward. This is generally achieved by lightening your natural color with hair bleach, then neutralizing unwanted tones like orange and yellow with a demi-permanent or permanent toner to produce a clean and natural-looking result.
This kind of treatment can produce a lot more lightening because the product used is stronger and typically left on longer. Toning is performed only once your hair is visually where it should be for the depth you want, making this the most reliable way to lift really dark hair because it's easy to see the color changing as it occurs and adjust timing and procedures.
As a simple rule of thumb, hair dye can lighten natural hair anywhere from 3–5 levels depending on a variety of factors like the initial darkness. If your hair is a darker shade of brown, expect results on the lower end of that estimate. Lighter hair will get more lift from the same product, and this is true of both dyes and bleach.
Blonde dye - 40 vol developer
3 - 4 levels lighter
Blonde dye - 30 vol developer
2 - 3 levels lighter
Blonde dye - 20 vol developer
1 - 2 levels lighter
High lift dye - 40 vol developer
3 - 5 levels lighter
Using the above table and the following hair level chart you can determine how much lightening will be possible when using a specific product. It will also give you a good estimate of what shade this will take to from your initial color. Keep in mind that the darker your initial color, the less effective the products will be, so estimate lower in that situation.
Read More From Bellatory
If your hair has been previously colored, there will be some information and links to some of my other relevant articles a bit later to help you plan around that because it's a more difficult situation. There are a few additional steps that can help to keep your hair in good condition and make the new color easier to achieve in these situations.
What to Know Before Using a Blonde Dye
You can get blonde hair without bleach by using a high lift color. However, your hair does need to meet certain criteria for this to work properly. If your hair doesn't meet these requirements, the dye will either not work at all or it will not lighten your hair all the way to blonde.
- No permanent dye should be present in your hair.
- It is most effective on hair that is no darker than light brown
While you can potentially use dye to lighten medium brown hair to a dark blonde shade, having a darker initial color puts you more at risk of an unsatisfactory result. It is highly likely that you'll be left with orange hair that will never look blonde even after substantial toning. A double-process is a more reliable option in this case, though not necessarily always mandatory.
Previously dyed hair presents problems of its own too because the color present is not only more resistant to lightening than natural pigment is but also because this dyed color doesn't replace natural pigment–it sits inside the hair cuticle in addition to your natural pigment increasing the amount of pigment present overall!
What Is High Lift Dye?
High lift dye is a somewhat special kind of permanent dye designed to be able to lighten hair more proficiently than regular dye. The main difference is that it has more ammonia and other boosters added to help open the hair cuticles and catalyze the chemical lightening process that occurs inside your hair.
Basically, it has more oomph than other blonde dyes but it is still less damaging than bleach and less likely to require a separate toning step depending on how dark your initial hair color is before application. While the product will technically lighten hair of any depth, it can leave you with an overly warm result if you're not careful.
The pigment in this kind of dye is generally anywhere from light blonde to a darker blonde. If applied to darker hair, it will still lighten properly but may not tone your hair sufficiently, necessitating the use of a separate toner afterward. This is like a less-damaging double process, and your hair can be toned using a mild semi or demi-permanent dye to further reduce the risk of damage.
Choosing a High Lift Dye
The high lift blonde dye you choose should generally be an ash tone. You may not want ash blonde hair, but the color you're using will not be the result at the end because of the way hair coloring works. An ash tone is required to neutralize all the orange and/or yellow pigment that appears as it lightens.
If you use a shade without sufficient cool pigment, you will end up with orange or yellow hair because there is nothing in the dye to deal with the warm tones that appear. You can mix a little of an ash shade into the exact shade you want to reduce its toning power or use ash dye alone for the most intense toning effect. The latter is definitely the best option if you have naturally dark hair or a lot of warmth in your hair color.
It's also important to note that high lift dye is a salon product, and you won't find it at supermarkets. Ideally, I'd recommend you use a high lift dye from a reputable salon brand. The same thing goes for regular blonde dye, too; you get better results when using a superior product. Supermarket box dyes are formulated to be weaker and are more likely to result in insufficiently lightened hair.
If you're a bit lost wading through brands, I would recommend Igora Royal 12-11 for an ash-toned high lift dye with reliable results. There are plenty of other great brands to choose from, though; just know that you get what you pay for to an extent, as with most things.
- How to Use High Lift Hair Color
Need an explanation of how to apply and use high lift dye? Check here!
Choosing Blonde Dye
If you don't need a high lift dye because your hair is already naturally a lighter shade—like dark blonde—you can use regular dye to get great results. This works for darker hair too, but the darker your hair is, the darker the resulting blonde will be. Hair that is too dark won't even reach blonde in one process, though this is true of high lift and sometimes even bleach too, unfortunately.
When choosing a dye for this purpose, the same rule applies to a high lift: use an ash shade to deal with warm tones. You also need to put a bit more work into your choice of shade though because, unlike high lift where the focus is lightening, a regular dye can deposit anything from an unnoticeable amount of pigment to a surprising amount depending on the depth of your hair and the level of dye used.
For a general rule that fits most people, choose a level of dye that is one level lighter than the shade you anticipate to reach and that contains ash tone. Using this rule, if you were planning to go from a dark blonde to a light blonde, you would use a 9A shade to lower the risk of over-toning. For an intense ash result, use the exact level you want to reach instead.
While the one-level-lighter rule will work for most people, other factors like your hair porosity can make your hair absorb more or less of any dye. Knowing how your own hair tends to react to dye is helpful beforehand. If your hair tends to absolutely soak up color, choose a shade that is another level lighter to be on the safe side.
If it's pretty resistant, you may need to go with a darker shade. Still, the amount of ammonia present in blonde dyes generally makes your hair quite receptive to color, and resistance is less likely than the first potential problem. Adjust accordingly, and you'll avoid either of these problems.
What About Other Alternatives?
Options for lightening hair are appreciably limited because the natural melanin pigments in your hair are incredibly resilient molecules. Bleach and dyes use a powerful chemical process called oxidation which alters the physical structure of melanin in your hair, rendering it colorless in the process.
While oxidation is beneficial for lightening hair, it also produces an unwanted side effect by gradually damaging your hair at the same time. This is because the keratin protein that your hair is made out of is also susceptible to the same reaction that lightens your hair.
Given that lightening hair and damage go hand in hand, it's tempting to find another option. Unfortunately, anything that achieves an appreciable amount of lightening carries at least a small amount of damage with it because the only processes capable of harming melanin also harm keratin.
With that said, it's important to address some of the more notorious alternative methods touted as hair lighteners because while some of them may produce a little lightening, none should be used on dark hair. Some of these methods include:
- Lemon Juice: This just doesn't work, creating an acidic environment actually seals the hair shaft shut, rendering it more resistant to oxidation because chemical lighteners have more trouble penetrating your hair. Conditioners are actually acidic for this reason. They act to close the hair back up after shampooing and make it feel silky smooth.
- Honey: Do you want ants? Pretty sure that's how you get ants. Honey does have some very mild lightening properties, but it's not enough to transform dark hair into blonde even if you apply it every day.
- Chamomile: It's thought to be good for sleep, but it's not for hair. Well, to be fair, it might help the condition of your hair and can leave your hair smelling nice if you like the scent of chamomile. Any lightening effect is very mild at best.
None of these things will lighten your hair to blonde because none of them have any appreciable bleaching effect. A good rule of thumb is that if you can safely eat or drink something, it's not going to lighten your hair.
There is one natural product that lightens hair, and just about any other thing exposed to it, though, and that is the sun. Sunlight contains UV radiation which wreaks havoc on hair, skin, and textiles alike.
While it functions slightly differently from peroxide, there is a commonality present in that UV damages the melanin in your hair as well as the keratin, which is why people who spend a lot of time in the sun develop natural highlights but can also experience more dryness and breakages too.
Do you need advice to dye your hair blonde? Leave a question in the comments below for tailored advice and share your insight with other readers.
Related Blonde Articles
- How to Dye Hair Blonde
The process of dyeing hair blonde from any color.
- How to Tone Blonde Hair
If you have blonde hair, it needs to be toned to keep it looking nice. Find out how!
- How to Bleach Hair
If you need to use bleach, you need to use it correctly. Discover the right procedure and safety to properly lighten hair with it!
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.
© 2014 Maffew James
Melinda on May 05, 2020:
I wish to die my dark roots blond I used clairol root touchup and my roots turned red:(
Vanessa from California on May 14, 2019:
My natural hair color is Auburn butbi have been coloring it with Feria R68 and using Artic fox vegan color for about 2 years. The color has gotten very dark and patchy also it doesnt seem to keep the grey patch in the dront of my hair coverd. How do i remove this color back xlosest to my natural color but safely? My hair does not do well with bleach.
Mary Lembi on October 09, 2018:
What do I do with semi white hair and slate greyhair?
MeLeah on July 28, 2018:
I have a semi permanent color on my hair and it's a dark brown wanting to go back to my natural color of dirty blonde
Uday Patel from Jabalpur, MP, India on June 21, 2018:
In India people use Henna a natural herb powder to colour their hair. The result is robust red tone but I do not know if it can be mixed with modern dyes to accord varied shades of colour?
elaine on June 19, 2018:
i habe drak Bowrn hair can i die my hair blound if i do what closer will it trun
Amy Roy on June 06, 2018:
If you have a lightish' darkish natural hair color would the blond hair dye still work with out bleaching your hair ???
Roberta on March 11, 2018:
I recently dyed my hair Carmel blonde that had a reddish tone. I want to get rid of the reddish tone and change it to a lighter shade of blonde. What should I do?
ALHARA on February 25, 2018:
HI, I HAVE DARK BROWN HAIR, NOT WITH RED TONE, NOT BLACK THOUGH. I HAVE BEEN TRYING TO GET TO A LIGHT TO MED BROWN, NO HIGHLIGHTS AN LEARNED THE HARD WAY, USING BLONDE CAUSES ORANGE HAIR. IS THERE ANYTHING HIGH LIFT WISE I CAN USE ON DYED HAIR, LIGHT ASH VROWN NICE/EASY GIVES ME DARK BROWN, THAT WILL GIVE ME A LIGHTER BROWN...MID TO LIGHT WITH NO RED. THANK YOU, ALHARA.
Annamaria on February 16, 2018:
I can not use bleach as each time I have my hair breaks off especially around hairline and falls out!! I now have grey hair and would like a natural looking cream, sandy blonde
Anita on January 04, 2018:
I have a hair color between a 6 and 7 can I use a high lift color
jac on November 19, 2017:
My hair has turned white on the front of my hair like a three inch band right around from ear to ear. It's. A beautiful color. At a salon they were going to color the back platinum to match my white natural color. My hair turned brassy. What can I do. Btw my natural color from my youth is a dark brown. Help.
CJ on September 25, 2017:
Thank you, very useful information for those attempting to lighten their hair with professional quality products.
Amy M. on August 17, 2017:
I recently stripped out my dark brown dye with color oops. I then used wella 9N with 40 vol hoping to make it a nice shade of blonde. It was brassy so I put on wella t28 toner and left it in for 10 mins. It didn't make much of a difference. Would it be okay if I now used a highlift blonde on my already dyed blonde hair. Will it lift it to the shade I'd like or will it still be brassy? I wanted to use Argan one and only in shade highlift cool blonde. Thanks for any help, I'm nervous.
Dee on August 09, 2017:
My hair is normally a medium brown, I recently highlighted my hair a carmel brown which I love, due to having so much grey. My roots are very grey now. I usually do the touch up in between salon visits but I'm wondering since my hair is so grey can I color my roots a dark blond without bleaching or using a high lift dye? I usually schwartskoff 7-0 & 7-4, but I want to go to an 8. Is that possible without bleach?
Chris on July 31, 2017:
Hi there! I need to dye my orange hair again but noticed last time that my highlights were getting damaged. How can I highlight again with out going over highlights??
Samantha on July 01, 2017:
I've used Sun-In, will that effect how well a high lift dye will work?
Jemma Sarah Irons on June 17, 2017:
How do you dye your hair?
Hannah on June 05, 2017:
hey, my hair is naturally auburn, would i still be able to die it blonde in this way?
john on June 04, 2017:
My hair is ashy light brown, my biggest fear doing this is getting my hair golden blond which would be terrible on me. How big is the risk of getting my hair golden and how to reduce risk of it happening?
DoeEyedFaun on May 25, 2017:
Can you use a bleach cap (or a series of bleach caps) to strip any remaining color, and gradually lighten my hair, then go in with a highlift color?
Chrysa Mae Jagualing on April 16, 2017:
How can I achieve ash blonde without using bleach in my hair color now?
Tinkerbell96 on February 27, 2017:
I was wondering how a dish water blonde could achive a white blonde color once they have coloured their hair ultra lite blonde. It turned orange.
Michelle on February 01, 2017:
Do you need bleach to clour grey hair blonde?
Autumn on January 26, 2017:
After reading this article I have a few questions, I know you said you can dye the hair with Matrix SoColor UL-AA or other brands right ? I dyed my hair blond and it came out very light brown but brassy, because I have very dark black asian hair..and I never wanted to bleach it on my own. So can I still use high lift to correct it lighter or should I try purple shampoo?! Please help!
Lucia on January 21, 2017:
I dyed my hair medium burgundy and used high lift but it just didn't make my hair blonde just made the color lighter what should I do lighten it?
Limitia on January 05, 2017:
My hair is black, I used a burgundy treatment around the middle of Nov or Dec it didn't take so today Jan 4 I tried honey blonde did everything right my hair BARELY turned to a semi little brownish color more on my roots that colored. How can I take it to a lighter color that can be seen with out having the light our sun hitting it. Please help I'm African American my hair is thick and no chemicals other than that dye
Emsie on January 03, 2017:
Great article! So my hair has been over processed and damaged with bleach. I don't want to lose my blond - roots are already 4 months long and I'm starting to get restless waiting for the virgin hair to grow out. My question is: could I use a high lift tint on the roots only and kind of merge it in? Or would it be a disaster if any of it hit the top of the bleached parts? Thanks in advance!
Brianna on December 27, 2016:
What if your hair is dyed a brown
Nafisa on December 17, 2016:
Is it safe to think that using blonde dye on black hair without using bleach or high lift, would produce the color light brown? I mean if that's what I want.
Niangboi on December 09, 2016:
I dyed my hair black seven months ago and now I want light blonde. Will I get the perfect light blonde at the first dye? I don't want to use bleach.
Zocara on December 02, 2016:
please help.... I have curly mousy blonde hair with lots of grey in the middle. I have relocated to another country and want to do my own hair at home. I find that my hair goes orange when I have been to an hair salon. Please give me step by step instructions on what to purchase in order to get a nice natural blonde look.
Thank you kindly
Louiee on November 24, 2016:
I bleached my hair and dyed it burgundy. I want to go back to blonde. Will the burgundy prevent me from going blonde?
Cassandra on October 06, 2016:
I've had violet peekaboos put in and now that it's dyed out to a pinky whitish color I want to go with a medium blonde peekaboo. Do I just use the box dye over the old color or do I need to bleach it first? I am a first timer doing this on my own.
gena on September 29, 2016:
Can i put a high lift dye over ALREADY highlighted hair (that has been bleached with 40 Vol./Loreal Quick Blue powder bleach)??
Charlotte on September 05, 2016:
I had my hair dark brown but had res in it from my previous colour before my dark hair. I want to go blonde, I had my hair stripped then bleached or high lifted. Could I go blonde in the same day or would I have to do it in stages? As I and my family thought I would come home blonde but I'm a copper colour ?
Ginger on August 18, 2016:
I've never dyed my gingery, orange, red hair before. I love my hair color but I'm looking for a change in the form of a very light pastel purple. However, I was wondering if I could do this without bleaching and with a semi permanent dye? I have no idea if this exists but I would love to know if it does. I just want to make sure that my natural hair color is not permanently changed.
Ashley on August 09, 2016:
I have put a red rinse does that make my hair able to color without bleach
Shazz on August 03, 2016:
How can I achive level 6 to level 11 with high lift. I always use 10.01(wella, Fuge, or Matrix) with 9% but always comes out yellow or gingery and on there is try to use tone T01 from Fuge but doesn't really work. What can I do any advice please?
zoe on August 03, 2016:
Hi just wondering if you can help My hair is in very bad condition due to long term bleaching ive recently dyed it dark brown want it bk blonde but don't want to bleach it how can i get it back blonde without my hair breaking off anymore
Sara on June 27, 2016:
Hi dear! I have ?? I bleached my hair twice and toned it with wella t18 I wanted to have an ombre look where only my ends r the lightest but the result was not good it turned very orange and brassy lookin I hated to the point I wanted to color it black it looks really nice on me but I didn't wanna give up since I have done all of this. I had someone comin to my house to actually fix it but it turned horribly orange after she bleached it again with 40 volume.. Then I taught bout the black again then I said to my self I'm sure there is something I can do to fix it please help me do I need to just tone it and what's the right toner? Or do I have to bleach it again I have done the bleach 3 times so far !! I just want nice blond not tooo blond I like my ends to be lighter then my roots. I have colored my hair a lot black but my roots r dark brown my ends I guess r black. Please help me correct this I appreciate it sooo much
Paige on June 26, 2016:
Okay, quick question. Everytime i bleach my hair, there are orange spots that come with it. if i use the color lift will it still make that orange tone? I am a natural blonde but have dyed my hair several times & i just want my natura hair color back!
Jeza on June 05, 2016:
I want to color/dye my hair but idk what color will fit my tan skin
Reyna on May 24, 2016:
I have dark brown almost black hair. I did the mistake of only using a hi lift shade UL-PA socolor from matrix thinking i would get ashy hair. Boy was i wrong and i wish i had seen this before! Well my hair is now light orange!!! Please help me what can i do now? I didnt use bleach only the hi lift. I really hope you get back to me.
Reyna on May 24, 2016:
Hello i have a question and need your help
Shelia on May 22, 2016:
I use Socolor HDRV And have been for about 6 yrs . I have I short asymmetrical cut but I have the hardest time getting blonde highlights when I try during the summer months. I know it's bc I use so much red. But I use Wella/40 vol wen I try & suggestions ?