How-To Guide For Dying Dark Hair Without Bleach

As a brunette, I have come to accept some facts about life with this hair: I don’t get to use purple shampoo like my lucky blonde friends, every stray gray hair feels like it comes with a giant neon arrow pointing right at it, and paired with my pale skin, no one ever gets bored of comparing my looks to Anne Hathaway. Whatever! I’ve accepted it. What I will never get over is that I cannot play with hair dye at home.

While my light-haired friends get to buy Manic Panic colors and sport a whole new ‘do from one day to the next, I am stuck watching Brad Mondo videos, staring at a box of bleach in the CVS aisles and knowing it’s a bad idea, and that I’ll probably turn my hair orange. But I refuse to believe that there’s nothing I can do with some box dye at home. So naturally, I turned to the experts. Richy Kandasamy, colorist and R+Co Collective Member, was kind enough to lend his wisdom to answer that all-consuming question: Can people with dark hair dye their strands at home without using bleach?

Is it safe to dye dark hair at home?

If you’re skipping bleach, the answer is generally yes. But there are a few exceptions: “You should skip a DIY dye job if you’ve recently relaxed or permed your hair, or if your hair is really light and you want to go three levels darker,” says Kandasamy. “Those processes can cause damage and unwanted color [in the] end result. In these cases, a professional hairdresser might be more appropriate for the first color date, which you can then maintain at home.”

Even for hair that hasn’t been chemically treated, though, safe at-home dyeing is only guaranteed “as long as you follow the manufacture instructions,” according to Kandasamy. So don’t throw out those instructions!

Can brunettes go lighter at home without using bleach?

Sadly, no. “Highlighting dark hair requires bleaching or high lift tint,” says Kandasamy. While you can do your best to DIY those processes, “When highlighting dark hair, always keep in mind your natural underling pigment tends to go warmer or brassy very easy if not maintained with appropriate hair care.” Also, be realistic about your starting point. “The darker your starting shade, the more work it will require to achieve your desired level of lightness.” When in doubt, go to a salon.

Can brunettes still use dye to change their hair color?

Depending on how dark your hair is, yes! “Adding in undertones of fun colors can complement and be eye-catching to change,” says Kandasamy. For lighter-haired brunettes, you could even become a redhead at home. But Kandasamy recommends staying away from yellow, pink, or orange. “If you color your hair bright or extreme color tones, then it can turn into a color correction when you want to change into another color. This will end up with an unpredictable tone or color result.”

If you want to go darker, that’s also something you can do at home. “When going darker, you want to keep in mind that you will need to upkeep and maintain color service regularly to cover regrowth,” notes Kandasamy. “You will need to use color-focused products that care for hair to prolong color longevity. Also, you may need to change or update your makeup, as your complexion color could shift based on hair color.” Even if the change is subtle, though, “Remember, you have to use great products to maintain your color at home.”

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