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Brassy Hair: What Is It, How To Correct It, and Prevention

Bye, Bye Brass: Pro Tips To Keep Lightened Hair Vibrant and Bright

Brassy hair is a common concern among those with bleached or lightened strands. Discover what causes brassiness and learn how to manage unwanted undertones.

Lightening up dark hair can be quite impactful if you’re after a dramatic hair transformation. But depending on how light you go, you may face a concern you've never had before: brassiness. While many are familiar with the concept of brassy hair (there is an entire market dedicated to toning products, after all), few understand why it happens in the first place. Knowing what causes brassy color is the best way to manage it and keep your salon looking hue bright. We asked Matrix colorist and global brand ambassador George Papanikolas to explain exactly what brassy hair is, how to address it, and how to keep your strands vibrant well after leaving the salon. Enlightenment awaits, so keep scrolling.

What Is Brassy Hair?

Brassiness refers to the unwanted warmth that can develop in hair color over time. Lightened hair is the most susceptible to brassiness, but virgin hair color is prone to it, too. On brunettes, brassy tones often look orange or red, while brass in blonde, gray, and platinum hair typically appears yellow.

Good hair day by @hairbylisamathews.

What Causes Brassy Hair?

Brassy hair can occur when your hair color begins to fade and reveal the hair’s underlying warmth. As Papanikolas explains, lightening your hair with bleach or peroxide strips hair’s natural pigment and reveals its naturally warm undertones—and the darker your base, the warmer your hair’s undertones will be. Your chosen hair dye or gloss can temporarily balance these undertones to help you reach your final color, but these formulas (even permanent ones) fade over time. As your color fades—a process that can be hastened by exposure to the elements—those underlying warm tones can reappear.

As mentioned, even virgin hair is susceptible to brassiness. Papanikolas notes that “sun exposure can cause some virgin hair to lighten,” which may make those inherent warm tones appear more prominent. When spending extended periods outdoors, be sure to throw on a hat or use hair products that offer sun protection.

Good hair day by @jordanwilliamshair.

How Do I Know if My Hair Is Brassy?

You can tell if your hair is brassy by looking at it closely. If your color appears more yellow or orange than when you first dyed it, you're likely dealing with brassiness–and it’s easier to see on cool or ashy hair colors vs. warm-toned ones. It’s worth noting that many tend to confuse warm-toned hair with brass, but the two are not the same. The former is often a deliberate hair coloring choice that uses golden shades to add vibrancy and dimension to the hair. As for the latter, it’s an unintentional—and usually unwanted—occurrence of warmth. Brass can gradually give hair an unnaturally yellow or orange glow, making your mane appear dull or even “dirty.”

Good hair day by @redken.

How Do You Fix Brassy Hair?

While you’re probably here to learn how to get rid of brassy hair, the truth is that there’s no permanent fix. However, using at-home toning products and visiting the salon for a brass-neutralizing treatment can help minimize the appearance of brass. Your best hair toner for brassiness depends on whether you prefer to address brass at home, head to the salon, or try a combination of both.

Good hair day by @matrix.

Use pigmented toning products

Using a toning shampoo and conditioner can help neutralize the appearance of brassy tones. These tinted products deposit vivid pigments (usually blue or purple) onto the surface of hair to cool down unwanted warmth. Their efficacy all goes back to color theory: Colors positioned opposite on the color wheel effectively cancel each other out when combined.

If you’re wondering what color gets rid of brassy hair, consider your base color and the tint of your brassiness and reach for a formula in the contrasting shade. For lightened dark brown hair, Papanikolas recommends the Brass Off collection from Matrix. These blue products cool down orange brass in one wash while moisturizing hair and protecting it from breakage. The range consists of a shampoo, conditioner, mask, and leave-in to help you customize every step of your routine. Those with gray, silver, or brassy blonde hair, on the other hand, will fare best with Matrix So Silver. The lineup is similar to Brass Off (shampoo, conditioner, mask, and spray), except they all contain purple pigments to address yellowing on blonde, gray, and platinum strands.

Papanikolas recommends using colored shampoo and conditioner every third or fourth wash or as needed; overuse can actually stain your hair and dull your color since the toning effects last up to a few washes. On days when your hair is only slightly brassy, use your favorite shampoo, followed by the Brass Off or So Silver Toning Conditioner for a more moderate toning effect that also restores moisture, nourishment, and shine.

Good hair day by @mart.menard.

Get a hair gloss

If you want a professional toner for brassy hair, head to the salon for a color-refreshing hair gloss. These demi-permanent hair toners contain “sheer pigment[s] that act like pantyhose over hair, typically to balance out and neutralize unwanted tones or enhance your desired result,” says Papanikolas. (They can also add shine and help refresh your salon color). He swears by Matrix Tonal Control to help tone lightened hair. The formulas provide your colorist with real-time visible oxidation so they know exactly when to wash it out and reveal your ideal hue.

Redken Shades EQ is another popular in-salon glossing treatment. The ammonia-free, acidic formulas help tone your hair and restore shine in just 20 minutes while providing intense conditioning benefits. Plus, they gradually fade without a harsh line of demarcation, so you can test the waters of a new hue without committing. Use Redken’s salon locator to try a Shades EQ gloss in your area.

How Do You Prevent Brassy Hair?

While it may not be possible to avoid brass completely, there are some things you can do to keep it at bay. We have some ideas for you to consider ahead.

Good hair day by @matrix.

Go to a seasoned colorist

Some things are best left to the pros, and hair color is one of them. At-home box dyes are typically one-size-fits-all and don’t consider unique characteristics like hair type, texture, or damage level. Such universal formulas can end up being either ineffective or too harsh on your strands, causing damage, uneven hair color distribution, and, you guessed it—excess brassiness.

Pros, meanwhile, have exclusive access to salon-grade coloring formulas that help strengthen and preserve the integrity of your hair while preventing unwanted undertones from emerging. Take Redken’s Flash Lift Power 9 Bonder Inside, for instance: This lightening innovation breaks through red, orange, and yellow undertones for a clean, even lift with the added benefits of a built-in bonder. It can help reduce breakage, promote elasticity, and enhance the shine and softness of your locks while helping you achieve a new color.

Remember, bleaching and lightening your hair will always cause some degree of damage, but heading to a pro can significantly reduce the severity.

Good hair day by @desireealyssahair.

Consider your new hair hue

Papanikolas notes that the level of your lightened hair color can make all the difference in how brassy or cool-toned your hair is. The reason being is that 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 your heart is set on a lighter look, he suggests opting for highlights instead of all-over color since they can be easier to maintain.

For a deeper dive into hair levels and how they can impact your final look, head over to our article What Are Hair Levels and What Do They Mean for Hair Color?

Good hair day by @redken.

Use color-safe haircare

Using the appropriate haircare products is vital for all hair types, but it's particularly important for those with color-treated strands. Applying products that don't safeguard your hue could lead to premature fading. Products tailored to colored hair usually incorporate gentler and more nourishing ingredients into their formulas and are sulfate-free to help prevent color breakdown. We love Redken’s Acidic Color Gloss Sulfate-Free Shampoo and Acidic Color Gloss Conditioner. When used together, the duo helps promote color vibrancy for up to 32 washes while adding extreme shine.

Don’t forget the SPF when you step outside, either—give your hair a generous spritz of Pureology’s Color Fanatic Multi-Tasking Leave-In Spray. This multi-tasker boasts 21 essential benefits for color-treated hair, including the brand’s patented AntiFade Complex. The formula, which is infused with sunflower seed, a UV filter, and Vitamin E, helps fight color-depleting environmental effects while ensuring lasting shine.

Knowing how to get rid of brassy hair can help you feel empowered to try a new hue with less fear of unflattering color changes. Now, what’s stopping you? Use our salon locator to book an appointment with a colorist in your area.

Next Up: How to Transition from Brunette to Blonde Hair

Header photo credit (middle): @jordanwilliamshair

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