How to Dye Your Hair Blonde Without Bleach
Bleach is one of the most important 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, as well as how these products work to ensure you know in advance whether it can work for you based on the condition and color of your own hair.
How to Lighten Hair Without Bleach
Depending on how dark your hair is, and how much lighter you want it to be, the process of dyeing it blonde can be either a one-step process, or a two-step process. It is for this reason that you can generally determine pretty quickly whether you can avoid using bleach on your hair or if it is the only option available for a successful color treatment.
- 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, with high lift differing by having additional boosters and ammonia (though still significantly less than bleach). These dyes lighten your hair and deposit new color at the same time, allowing them to lift and tone.
- A two-step process on the other hand, entails lightening the hair separately to the toning process that gives it its final color. This is generally with the use of hair bleach, followed by a demi-permanent or permanent dye to neutralise unwanted tones like orange and yellow that arise from the lightening process. You'll get more lightening with this kind of treatment because the product used is stronger, and left on longer before toning is finally performed when the hair is visually where it should be.
For a simple rule of thumb, hair dyes 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 you can achieve using a specific product and what where this will take you from your initial color. Keep in mind that the darker the initial color, the less effective the products will be, so estimate lower in that situation.
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.
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 it to work. 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
Whilst 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, which in this situation means orange hair that will never look blonde even with sufficient toning.
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 present to help open the hair cuticles up and catalyze the chemical lightening process occurring inside the hair.
Basically, it has more oomph than other blonde dyes but 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. Whilst the product will technically lighten hair of any depth, the pigment in the dye is generally anywhere from light blonde to a darker blonde so it will lighten but not tone properly in darker hair, necessitating a separate toner afterwards which can be a mild semi or demi-permanent dye.
Choosing a High Lift Dye
The high lift blonde dye you choose needs to 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. The ash tone is required to neutralize all the orange and/or yellow pigment that appears as it lightens. If you use a warmer shade, you will end up with orange or yellow hair because there will be nothing to deal with the warm tones that appear. You have been warned.
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 from a superior product. If you're a bit lost wading through brands, I would recommend for an ash-toned high lift dye with reliable results. I'd be happy to discuss any particular brand of product to make recommendations though. Igora Royal 12-11
- 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 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 unfortunately.
When choosing a dye for this, the same rule goes as for 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, 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 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. In reality, whilst this rule will work for most people, factors like your hair porosity can make your hair absorb more or less of any dye so knowing how your own hair tends to react to dye is helpful beforehand. If your hair tends to absolutely soak up color, go another shade lighter. If it's pretty resistant you may need to go with a darker shade but the amount of ammonia present in blonde dyes generally makes the hair pretty receptive to color so this is less likely than the first potential problem. Adjust accordingly.
What Is Your Favorite Shade of Blonde?
What About Other Alternatives?
Options for lightening hair are appreciably limited because the natural melanin pigments in your hair are pretty resilient molecules. Bleach and dyes work through a chemical process called oxidation which degrades the melanin in your hair into colorless molecules.
Whilst oxidation is beneficial for lightening hair, it has an unwanted side effect of also gradually damaging hair over time. This is because the keratin protein that your hair is made out of is also susceptible to the reaction. Given that lightening hair and damage go hand in hand, it's tempting to find another route, but unfortunately, anything that achieves and appreciable amount of lightening carries at least a small amount of damage with it because the 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, including:
- Lemon Juice: This just doesn't work, an acid pH actually seals the hair shaft shut tighter to external chemical reactions and reduces oxidation. Conditioners are actually acidic for this reason to close the hair back up after washing and make it feel silky smooth.
- Honey: Do you want ants? Pretty sure that's how you get ants.
- 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 or smell good as a rinse if you like that kind of thing.
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 it, 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. Sun light contains UV radiation which wreaks havoc on hair, skin, and textiles alike. Whilst it functions slightly different to peroxide, there is a common theme 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.
- 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!
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.
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.