Going from a dark brown hair color to a lighter brown shade can seem daunting, but is definitely achievable with some planning and patience. There are a few different methods you can use to lighten your hair gradually without damaging it. The approach you take will depend on your current hair color, how many shades lighter you want to go, and your hair’s condition.
Assess your current hair color and condition
Before lightening your hair, take a close look at your current shade. How dark is it? Does it have red, gold or ash tones? Examine the condition as well. Is your hair healthy or damaged from previous color treatments? Gathering this information will help you determine the safest way to reach your color goals.
If your hair is more than 2-3 shades darker than your desired tone, you’ll likely need to lighten it gradually over a few sessions. Drastic lightening in one step can cause major damage. Space out lightening treatments at least 2 weeks apart to give your hair time to recover.
Use color-depositing products in between lightening
Trying to go directly from dark brown to light brown in one session will require harsh bleach and tone. However, you can get there in a kinder, gentler way by using color-depositing products in between lightening steps. Here’s how:
- Do an initial lightening session with bleach to lift your hair 2-3 shades. Use a lower volume developer and don’t over-process.
- One week later, use a color-depositing product like a glaze or toner in a brown shade close to your target color. This adds back tone while helping camouflage brassiness.
- Wait another 1-2 weeks, then do another round of lightening with bleach to get you 1-2 shades lighter.
- Follow up with another color-depositing treatment in your goal light brown shade.
Repeatedly applying these semi-permanent glossing products helps take you gradually to a lighter brown without having to overly damage your hair with bleach in one appointment. Just be sure to do conditioning treatments in between sessions.
Try highlights or balayage
Another technique is to get subtle highlights or balayage first to help transition your hair towards lighter brown. Here’s how:
- Get fine highlights or balayage painted throughout your hair, concentrating the lightening on the mid-lengths and ends. This eases you into lighter shades without completely covering your whole head.
- Wait 4-6 weeks, then get another round of highlights placed in between the first set to help lighten things gradually.
- You can also use glazes or toners in between highlight sessions to help further lift and neutralize brassiness.
- After 2-3 highlight/balayage appointments, you should be able to successfully do an all-over color to your desired light brown shade.
Use bleach with a lower volume developer
When it’s time to lighten, choose your bleach and developer wisely. opt for:
- A bleach powder with nourishing oils and conditioners formulated for delicate lightening. Avoid max-strength bleaches.
- A lower volume developer like 10 or 20 volume. Higher volumes mean more drastic lightening which can damage hair.
- Thinner sectioning of hair when applying bleach so it processes more evenly.
- Checking every 5 minutes and rinsing when your hair is 2-3 shades lighter than target. Don’t leave on until hair is fully blonde.
Taking it slowly with weaker bleach mixes may require more sessions, but ensures your hair’s health is protected.
Use Olaplex or bonding treatments
Olaplex and other bonding treatments can also help minimize damage from lightening. Here’s how to incorporate into your lightening process:
- Apply Olaplex No. 0 and No. 3 during the lightening process according to product instructions. No. 0 protects bonds during bleaching while No. 3 restores bonds afterwards.
- You can also use a bonding treatment like SmartBond or BondPro+ in the lightener or developer to reinforce bonds.
- Do occasional Olaplex No. 3 or bonding treatments standalone between lightening sessions to maintain integrity.
- Avoid over-lightening in any one session so Olaplex can work most effectively.
Tone and maintain your light brown shade
Once you’ve reached your desired light brown shade, keep it looking its best with:
- Purple shampoo 1-2 times per week to cancel brassiness and keep light brown hues cool and neutral.
- Brown color-depositing masks or conditioners to refresh tone between salon visits.
- Occasional clear or brown semi-permanent glazes to boost shine and vibrancy.
- Salon root touch-ups every 6-8 weeks so your grow-out is seamless.
- Deep conditioning treatments to nourish and prevent fading.
How long it takes to transition from dark to light brown
Have realistic expectations for how long the lightening process will take. Here are approximate timelines:
|Starting Shade||Desired End Shade||Approx. Time Frame|
|Dark brown||Medium brown||8-12 weeks|
|Dark brown||Light brown||12-18 weeks|
|Black||Dark brown||12-16 weeks|
|Black||Medium brown||16-22 weeks|
|Black||Light brown||22-28 weeks|
Transitioning from very dark shades to light browns can take 6 months or longer depending on your hair’s condition and how gradually you lighten it. Have patience and maintain diligent aftercare to reach your goals safely.
Consult a professional colorist
For the most customized advice and careful lightening over time, consult with a professional hair colorist. They can assess your hair and create a tailored multi-step plan to get you to the light brown shade you want while minimizing damage. With a skilled colorist guiding the way, you can feel confident in achieving your desired result.
Lightening your hair from a dark brown to a lighter brown shade takes time, care, and expertise. But choosing gentler lighteners, spacing out highlight sessions, and using reinforcing treatments allows for success and maintains the integrity of your hair. Partnering with a colorist helps ensure proper formulation and timing. With a gradual, cautious approach, you can transition to and maintain a beautiful light brown tone.