Written by Amanda Millican, Hairstylist at Urban Betty Salon

“Color won’t lift color.” This is a phrase that I learned to live by in eight years of working as a hairstylist. This concept can be a tough one for clients to grasp at first.

I can recall my high school days where I experienced several awkward, unfortunate “at home” dye jobs. On one such occasion, I colored my hair with a Nice and Easy ash brown permeant box color. I chose this shade based on the beautiful, tan, bohemian Goddess with long, flowing, shiny locks on the cover of the box. Why yes, I would like to look like that! This was a terrible choice because my hair was bleach blonde at the time and would suck up that ash tone looking extremely dark and grey. And it did! Not only was my hair completely black in some places but it had a grey/green hue to it. It was severely uneven, weimaraner grey in some areas and black in others. This was due partly to the horrible application I had done for myself and that my damaged hair could not absorb this dark color without the use of a color-filler, provided by a professional. My dry, murky, shoulder length hair did not resemble much of that sun kissed Goddess. Through tears I had an epiphany. I’ll just go back to blonde! I returned to Eckerd’s and purchased yet another Nice and Easy (I was beginning to resent this name) box of permanent hair color. Only this time I chose the blondest picture I could find. I went home and slapped that puppy on. I even let it process a little extra just for good measure. All I’m going to say is that it did not work. It took years to overcome that mistake(s) and made for very award, brittle, insecure times.

I often talk to clients that are clearly smarter than I was and are not attempting their makeovers at home, but are disappointed when they can’t “go back to blonde today”. Once permanent hair color has been applied to the hair, the only thing that will break through that color is a high lift lightener (aka bleach). In most, if not all cases it would not be a good idea to saturate all of one’s hair with bleach. Depending on the health of the hair and what has been done in the past the results could be anywhere from drying to melting the hair as well as an uneven, undesirable tone. There are cases where a “cleanse” (a mixture of bleach, developer, and shampoo) can be applied to the hair to break through an existing color. This is a bit milder to the hair but would need to be watched closely by a professional, and again would only be successful in certain cases. The best way to lighten colored locks is through highlights. Yes, these highlights would need to contain bleach but only a fraction of the hair would be lightened and susceptible to damage, versus an entire head of hair. To lighten one’s hair overall using highlights may take several sessions, but it is the safest way to go. This method will not only preserve the integrity of the hair but also ensure that it is wearable and presentable while transitioning to a lighter color. While changing up one’s hair color and “going dark for fall” is a lot of fun, I urge my clients to make sure it is something they really want to keep for a while because as I’ve learned the hard way, it can take several tedious appointments to get your hair to a lighter shade.