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Can you put color on dark hair?

Yes, it is possible to put color on dark hair. However, it can be more challenging compared to coloring lighter hair. The main considerations when coloring dark hair are:

Lightening first

Most vivid hair colors require the hair to be lightened first in order to show up properly. Dark hair has a lot of underlying pigment. If you put a lighter color directly on top of darker hair, the color molecules won’t be able to fully penetrate the cuticle and cortex of the strand. This can lead to lackluster results.

To prepare dark hair for color, a process called lightening or bleaching is done first. This uses chemicals to strip out the hair’s natural pigment and makes the strands lighter and more porous. Once lightened, the hair can then absorb and hold onto the new color better.

Color won’t be as bright

Even after lightening, hair that was originally very dark won’t be able to achieve the same vivid shades as naturally lighter hair. The underlying pigment acts as a barrier, muting and dulling brighter hair colors. For example, vibrant candy apple red may end up looking more like auburn on previously black hair.

The darker your natural hair color, the more challenging it is to get bright, intense colors to show true to tone. Managing expectations is important. While you can absolutely add color to dark hair, it may need to be several shades darker or more muted than what you envisioned.

Gradual lightening

To reach the lightest shades possible, dark hair needs to be lightened gradually over multiple sessions. Trying to go too drastically lighter all at once can damage the hair or cause chemical burn. As a general rule, hair should not be lightened more than 2-3 levels at a time.

Breaking the lightening process up into several smaller steps is gentler on the hair’s structure and keeps it healthier. This also reduces the possibility of brassiness or orange tones developing as side effects of lightening.

Color fading

Hair color washes out and fades faster on hair that has been recently or repeatedly lightened. The lightening process makes the hair more porous, so the color molecules escape quicker when shampooing or exposure to sun and heat styling. To keep vivid colors looking freshly done on previously dark hair, more frequent touch up appointments are needed.

Damage risk

The combination of lightening and coloring puts dark hair at a higher risk for damage. Overprocessing causes dryness, brittleness, splitting, and breakage. This risk increases with the amount of lightening needed and the vibrancy of color chosen. Proper conditioning and bond-building treatments can help combat damage and keep hair healthy.


Coloring dark hair is achievable but requires more considerations compared to lighter hair. Pre-lightening, realistic color expectations, gradual lightening, frequent refreshing, and diligent conditioning makes coloring dark hair successfully possible. Working closely with a skilled colorist is recommended to ensure the hair integrity is protected while still getting the desired results.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best way to lighten dark hair before coloring?

Gradual lightening with bleach or color remover over multiple sessions is gentler than trying to drastically lighten in one step. Breaking it up into smaller lifts spaced 4-6 weeks apart minimizes damage. Olaplex or similar bond-building treatments during lightening also help strengthen and protect the hair.

How long does vivid color last on previously dark hair?

Around 4-6 weeks, compared to 6-8 weeks on lighter hair. The increased porosity from lightening causes the color to fade faster. Using color-depositing shampoos and conditioners can help extend the vibrancy between full refresher appointments.

Should I color my own hair at home if it’s dark?

Coloring dark hair is complicated and the margin of error is greater. Visiting a professional colorist is highly recommended, as they have the proper knowledge, tools, and techniques to lighten dark hair safely and achieve the intended color results.

What if the color looks too bright once my dark hair is lightened?

If the test strands or sections look lighter or more vibrant than desired, a toner can be applied to knock down some of the brightness before applying your color. Wella Color Charm Toners are great for this. Choose a toner shade close to your natural level to mute excessive brightness.

Will my curls or waves straighten if I lighten my dark curly hair?

No, lightening and coloring does not change the hair’s texture or natural curl pattern. However, use extra conditioning treatments before and after to combat potential dryness from the lifting process which can cause curls to lack definition.


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This covers the key considerations, tips, and process for successfully coloring dark hair. Let me know if you need any clarification or have additional questions!