If you’ve ever transitioned from rich espresso locks to a golden blonde mane, you may be all too familiar with how difficult it is to protect your new bright hue against brass. Although many of us have faced the battle against brassy hair at some point (after all, there is an entire market dedicated to toning products), few actually know why this phenomenon occurs in the first place—it’s often accepted that it just comes with the territory of lightening up hair.
We asked Matrix colorist and global brand ambassador, George Papanikolas, to explain exactly what brassy hair is, how to get rid of brassy hair, and other advice to help keep your strands looking as vibrant as they did when you stepped out of the salon. Enlightenment abounds, so you’ll want to keep scrolling!
What is brassy hair?
Brassy hair refers to the unwanted warmth that shows up in lightened hair. In brunettes, these pigments will appear orange or red, while brassy blonde hair typically manifests as yellow tones. Brass can be especially frustrating if you prefer cool-toned or ashy hair colors instead of warm-toned ones.
What causes hair brassiness?
Knowing what causes brassy hair in the first place will help you better understand how to manage it.
Lightening up hair using ammonia or peroxide dilutes hair’s dark pigment (called melanin) in a process known as oxidation. After the bleaching step is completed, your chosen hair dye will then deposit artificial pigment onto your stripped strands while removing more of your natural color. If bleaching or lifting doesn’t fully remove all of the original color from your mane, it heightens the hair’s chance of shifting into brassiness over time.
“When you lighten hair with color or bleach, it always brings up warm undertones and the underlying pigments,” says Papanikolas. “With bleach, you can get past the yellow and orange tones, but it usually still requires a toner to balance out any undesired tones. As these toners oxidize and fade from sun, air, and water exposure, you will be left with underlying brassy tones.”
Even if you don’t color your hair, virgin hair can still be susceptible to brassiness, especially in the summer or when spending extended periods of time outdoors. Exposure to oxygen and UV rays can open up the hair’s cuticle and cause the undertones beneath to come to light. When in doubt, throw on a hat or use hair products that offer sun protection.
How do I know if my hair is brassy?
“It depends on what your desired end result is,” notes the Matrix pro. “If your chocolate brown has faded to orange and your cool bronde looks yellow or orange, then it is brassy.”
How do you get rid of brassy hair?
Professional toning products and in-salon services are the most common options when it comes to how to get rid of brassy hair.
Use toning products.
If you aren’t new to the hair-lightening game, you may already be well-versed in how specific pigmented toning products can help neutralize brassy tinges in your hair. Wondering what color gets rid of brassy hair? Look to the color wheel to help you identify your best hair toner for brassiness. The color wheel method says that colors that lie opposite will cancel each other out.
For example, since yellow and purple are complementary on the color wheel, the pigments in purple shampoo help to counteract the yellow tones in blonde hair. The same goes for blue and orange: When brown hair starts to turn brassy, blue shampoos work to offset those orangey undertones that peak through when darker shades are lifted.
For dark brown hair that’s been lightened, Papanikolas recommends a blue-pigmented shampoo, mask, or toning spray from Matrix’s Brass Off Collection.
“The Matrix Brass-Off Custom Neutralization Mask has the most pigment, and the Brass-Off All-In-One Toning Leave-in Spray is a buildable formula, so you can add more until you get your desired toning,” he says.
When it comes to brassy blonde hair, opting for purple products, like Matrix’s Total Results So Silver Set and Toning Spray, is your best bet.
If your lightened strands are dry or lacking in shine, add an at-home gloss like Pureology’s Color Fanatic Top Coat + Tone Blue or Purple to your routine. Unsure how to use these products? Check out our full review here.
Get a professional gloss.
Another way to banish brassy hair is to pop into your colorist’s chair for a professional toning service, like a gloss.
“Your colorist will use demi-permanent toners in the salon that act like pantyhose over your hair,” says Papanikolas. “These balance out unwanted warm tones and can also be used to enhance certain shades. These toners last about 20 washes.”
How do you prevent brassy hair?
Now that you know how to get rid of brassy hair, you may be curious about how to nip brass in the bud in the first place.
Consider your new hair hue.
Papanikolas says that in addition to picking up the right toner for brassy hair, choosing your level of lightened hair color during your salon appointment is just as important. As a general rule of thumb, the closer your newly colored hair is to your natural shade, the less room there will be for your hue to change over time.
“If you keep your base color one to two shades from your natural color, then you will minimize the brassiness,” explains Papanikolas. “Going any lighter will pull a lot of unwanted warm tones, and brassy tones will be more prevalent. If a lighter look is desired, your better option is to use a bleach lightener to highlight.”
Go to a seasoned colorist.
Besides being an expert in helping you select a new hair shade, a skilled colorist also has access to pro-level products during the bleaching process that can reduce brassiness and preserve hair’s integrity. We suggest asking whether your stylist is stocking Redken’s new Flash Lift Power 9 Bonder Inside in their backbar. The formula breaks through red, orange, and yellow undertones for a clean, even lift and allows for up to 9 levels of lift in one application with the added benefits of a built-in bonder.
No matter the color you’re going for, bleaching and lightening your hair will always cause some amount of damage, so going to the right professional is your best chance at inflicting as little harm to your strands as possible.
Protect your color from the elements.
Remember how we said earlier that the sun could play a major role in contributing to brassy hair? We recommend picking up sunscreen-infused hair products for daily use, or at least for those days when you spend a lot of time outdoors.
Matrix Total Results Keep Me Vivid Color Velvetizer Protectant Balm boasts a non-sticky formula that shields your strands from UV rays and heat, helping preserve your hair color and keep your strands feeling healthy. Prefer a spray? We also love Pureology Color Fanatic Multi-Tasking Leave-In Spray, a do-it-all product serving 21 essential benefits for color-treated hair, including UV protection and preserving vibrancy.
Now that you’re armed with everything you need to know about how to get rid of brassy hair, you can make the best lightening decision when trying your hand at a new shade.
Find more professional advice, hair coloring tips, and aftercare products on Hair.com.