We’re suckers for a transformational journey, whether a rags-to-riches tale or a three-part cinematic saga. Don’t be mistaken into thinking that all changes have to be large in scale, though. Some of our favorite magic happens in the salon chair daily, like transitioning from brunette to blonde hair!
Have you been contemplating whether or not you should take your brunette mane from dark and rich to a light, buttery blonde? We tapped celebrity colorists George Papanikolas of Matrix and Min Kim of L’Oréal Professionnel to dish out everything you need to know if you’re considering a stunning brunette to blonde metamorphosis.
Can you go from brunette to blonde?
When executed by a skilled professional, you’ll likely have no problem transitioning from brunette to blonde hair. However, it’s worth noting that the outcome will look a bit different for everyone.
“It all depends on the shade you want to achieve,” says Papanikolas. “The lighter the shade you wish to achieve and the darker your hair, the longer it may take.”
The Matrix professional explains a few of the most common things to take into consideration if you’re pondering lightening up dark hair:
- Previously colored hair cannot be lightened without bleach.
- Virgin hair can be lightened with permanent color or high lift tint, but the maximum amount of lift is four shades.
- Darker hair always has warm undertones when you lighten it, so lifting it to a dark blonde will almost always result in a dark golden blonde.
- An ash shade helps neutralize some warmth, but its overall result will be on the warmer side.
- If you want a cooler dark blonde, lift the hair to a yellow shade first, then apply the dark blonde shade over it to have a cooler dark blonde effect.
- The lighter you try to take dark hair with color, the more gold and copper tones it pulls. If you prefer a cooler, ashy tone, use a bleach lightener to lift past the orange and apply a dark blonde gloss.
Can I dye my brunette hair blonde at home?
Lightening your dark hair can be a fun and exciting way to switch up your look, but the chemicals required to lift your base can leave your hair damaged, weak, or straw-like when misused. We always recommend letting a professional handle significant hair changes since they have years of training behind them that’ll help you score your dream color while reducing potential harm to your locks.
How long does it take to transition from brunette to blonde?
So you’ve officially decided you want to go blonde, but as far as appointments go, you now ask yourself, “How many times does it take to go from brunette to blonde?”
According to Papanikolas, virgin hair tends to lift more quickly and may only need one or two sessions to achieve your desired result. On the flip side, previously dyed hair may have to transition in stages since the hair is already compromised and more fragile. As such, you may have to schedule your salon visits in intervals over a few months to a year.
If you’re aiming for a final hair color that’ll require multiple appointments (think light ash or platinum blonde), one common misconception is that you’ll leave the salon with hair that looks, well, unfinished. Kim is quick to bust that myth!
"I would never let anyone leave looking crazy," Kim assures. "When you come into a hair salon, the purpose is to see a professional who will give you the best advice and steer you in a way where you can achieve your goal but still keep the hair you want.”
Now, here are four common steps you should know about before embarking on your brunette-to-blonde hair transformation.
Step 1: The Consultation
You wouldn’t let a tattoo artist ink a new design on your arm before you see the initial sketch, right? A consultation period ahead of your service is just as necessary for a drastic hair color transformation to help you and your hairdresser align on your goals.
“A consultation is important at a big color change [appointment] because it’s the opportunity to find out exactly what is going on with the hair, which 100 percent affects the way that the lightener will lift and how to manage the results that I’m going to have,” Kim explains.
Your colorist will comb through your strands to understand their health and strength and to look for any evidence of past color that could impact your new shade. A strand test may also be needed to show how well your brunette mane lightens (or not), ultimately informing your stylist whether your aspirational brunette to blonde shade is actually realistic.
What’s more, a consultation can also help ensure your wires don’t get crossed and you end up leaving the salon with a different look than you had envisioned; therefore, bringing a few inspirational photos for your technician is always a good idea.
“Providing visuals is a great way to show your stylist exactly what you are looking for,” agrees Papanikolas. “Finding the right shade that compliments your skin tone is important, as well.”
So while you may adore honey blonde on your favorite TikTok influencer, you may discover that it doesn’t suit your cooler undertones. Your colorist will help guide you in the right direction during your consultation so that your new hue enhances and illuminates your complexion like a light bulb lights up a dark room.
"Managing expectations and delivering what is requested is a fine line,” says Kim. “That's when, as a professional, it's [key] to voice your opinion and explain why something is good or not the best idea, and perhaps you should take another moment to reconsider the option.”
Step 2: Lightening Up
After the initial consultation, it’s time to make your brunette to blonde dreams a reality. First, your colorist will need to decide whether they choose to lighten your hair with bleach or peroxide. Bleach is suitable for more dramatic levels of lifts, while peroxide is best if you’re going for a subtler change.
In cases where hair has been previously lightened, Kim prefers to take it slow, noting how it reacts to lightener to create the prettiest—and most natural-looking—shade. But there’s also another reason Kim prefers to proceed with caution, she says, and that’s when you’re relatively new to color.
"A lot of times, I find that people fall in love with the color before they get to what they think they want,” she says. Read: fewer appointments and bleach for you!
If you prefer going brunette to blonde gradually instead of diving head-first into an all-over color, you can opt for blonde balayage, highlights, or ombré and have your technician go a bit more extreme at your next appointment.
Step 3: Toning
Aftering lightening your brunette hair, your salon will use a toning gloss to balance or neutralize unwanted tones in the hair or to enhance the overall result. Toners can only sharpen your color or make it darker, never lighter.
“As a colorist, it's important to use toners for anyone with color-treated hair,” says Papanikolas. “When you color or highlight your hair, the color oxidizes and changes over time.” That’s when you’ll notice brassiness creeping in.
Professionals have access to the best-in-class demi-permanent toners, such as Matrix Tonal Control, to help tone hair that has been lightened. Tonal Control is a no-lift formula that gives real-time visible oxidation when applied to your hair, so your colorist knows exactly when your desired tone is achieved and is ready to be rinsed out. Papanikolas points out that these formulas can be big time savers when going from brunette to blonde hair color since hairdressers no longer have to worry about toners going too dark, too quickly. Plus, the acidic formula gives maximum shine, so your mane looks lustrous and healthy post-service.
Step 4: Going Brighter
As mentioned earlier, certain shades of blonde will inevitably require multiple appointments. Everyone’s journey will be different, so it’s essential to chat with your pro to determine what your hair coloring schedule looks like so they can strive to lighten you up as safely and healthily as possible.
How do you care for brunette to blonde hair color?
Maintenance can be as intense or relaxed as you’d like, depending on the blonding technique used and your new shade compared to your natural one. If your dream hair has bright blonde right at the root, you’ll need to come back in regularly, unless you’re comfortable with the color growing out a bit. However, more feathery applications (as seen with balayage) mean there will be no visible line of demarcation as your hair grows.
“If you are naturally very dark or very light, then it will need to be touched up and refreshed [in the salon] about every four to eight weeks,” says Papanikolas. “If it’s close to your natural color, then the upkeep is minimal.”
The frequency of your salon visits will also be influenced by how well you care for your newly-lightened locks at home.
“Any time you are making a change to the hair, especially lighter, you are compromising its integrity,” notes Papanikolas. “Keeping your hair hydrated and strong is key since bleach forces open the outer cuticle, stripping the hair's natural oil. This can cause your hair to be dry and brittle and weaker and more porous.”
No need to fret about the look and feel of your strands, though, because investing in professional haircare products can make all the difference. For strength, hydration, and nourishment, he swears by Matrix’s Food For Soft Hydrating Shampoo and Detangling Conditioner and the Rich Hydrating Treatment Mask a few times a week, especially as we head into the warmer weather. The Food For Soft range is made with popular skincare ingredients like hyaluronic acid and avocado oil, so you know it has to be good!
“For added shine, finish off with the Food For Soft Multi-Use Hair Oil Serum on your ends,” says Papanikolas.
When going from dark to light, brassiness can often rear its annoying head as your toner fades. A purple leave-in treatment such as Shu Uemura Art of Hair’s YūBi Blonde Anti-Brass Purple Heat Protecting Hair Serum can neutralize unwanted undertones in blonde hair while adding instant radiance, shine, smoothness, and heat protection. Prefer a conditioning mask? Papanikolas specifically recommends Matrix’s So Silver Triple Power Mask or Brass Off Custom Neutralization Hair Mask to combat orange and yellow tones.
Adds Kim: "Blondifier by L'Oréal Professionnel is a shampoo and conditioner line [you] can use, and there's also the Color Corrector, which is a purple conditioner that you can supplement your daily shampoo and conditioner routine with. In between [appointments], if you ever feel like you need to have something to neutralize [the brass], a gloss appointment is something that takes anywhere from five to 10 minutes."
Unsure if a gloss is suitable for you? Check out our hair gloss guide for everything you need to know about glosses, including getting one at the salon and stocking them in your shower at home.
Find more expert-backed hair care tips, professional products, and trending colors on Hair.com.