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What hair color shows up on dark hair?

Deciding to dye your dark hair a lighter color can totally transform your look. However, getting that perfect shade of blonde, red, or other lighter hue to show up vibrantly on brunette hair can take some work. In this comprehensive guide, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know to make lighter colors pop on your dark locks.

How Hair Color Works

To understand what hair colors will show up on dark hair, it’s helpful to first understand how hair color works. Your natural hair color is determined by melanin, which are pigment cells that give hair its color. People with dark hair have more melanin, while those with lighter hair have less.

When you dye your hair, semi-permanent or permanent hair color opens up the hair cuticle layer and deposits new pigment molecules into the hair shaft. For darker hair, more pigment needs to be deposited to create a noticeable color change. The existing melanin in dark hair also mixes with the new color molecules, muting the results.

That’s why to get vibrant color results on dark hair, you need to use hair color that can overcome the natural melanin. Here are some tips:

  • Use permanent hair color rather than semi-permanent, as it contains ammonia and peroxide which lifts underlying pigment and allows deeper color penetration.
  • Choose a shade lighter than your desired result, as the dark hair will tone down the color.
  • Use high volume developer such as 30 or 40 volume, as higher peroxide levels will better lift and deposit color.
  • Apply color to pre-lightened hair for brighter results.

What Color Results Can You Expect?

Now that you know how hair color interacts with dark strands, let’s look at how different shades will show up on brunette hair.

Light Blonde

Achieving platinum or baby blonde likely won’t happen in one session on dark hair. You would need to significantly pre-lighten your hair first to remove underlying pigment. However, medium to lighter blonde shades can work on dark brunette hair, especially if you enhance the color with highlights throughout.

Golden Blonde

For a rich, warm blonde shade, opt for golden blonde. The gold tones will complement the remaining undertones from your natural brunette color. This will create a soft, natural-looking blonde shade on your dark hair.

Ash Blonde

On the other hand, ash blonde on unlightened dark hair will result in a subtle tone-on-tone effect. The ash tones will help cancel out brassy warmth, but the color contrast won’t be extremely noticeable unless you get full highlight placement.


For brunettes wanting to go a bit lighter while maintaining some warmth, caramel is a great option. It will deposit red-gold tones over your darker ones, creating dimension and vibrancy.


Shades of red like coppers and auburns show up beautifully on darker brunettes. The warmth of these reddish shades complements the underlying coolness of the hair. Plus, the dark hair helps retain the red tones longer.


Purple is inherently a deeper, cooler tone which allows it to take well to naturally dark hair. Shades like plum, eggplant, and red-violet will show up boldly and add an exciting pop of color.


Light pastel shades like pink, blue, yellow, or green will be very tough to achieve directly on virgin dark hair. Some pre-lightening will be required first to allow the soft pastel pigments to deposit properly.

Hair Color Result on Dark Hair
Light Blonde Will need pre-lightening first
Golden Blonde Warm, rich blonde
Ash Blonde Subtle tone-on-tone
Caramel Warm, dimensional
Red Vibrant copper, auburn
Violet Bold eggplant, plum
Pastels Requires pre-lightening

Pre-Lightening Dark Hair

As mentioned above, getting extra light colors to show on dark hair will require pre-lightening first. There are a few options for safely lifting your hair before dyeing:


Bleach is the most aggressive way to strip underlying pigment from your strands. With a high volume developer, bleach powder can dramatically lighten your base in one session. However, it can be damaging so deep conditioning treatments are needed.

High Lift Color

High lift hair color contains ammonia and higher levels of peroxide to achieve faster lightening. The results won’t be as drastic as bleach, but high lift color is gentler and leaves hair healthier.

Color Remover

Color removing treatments only remove artificial pigment without lightening your natural base. So this method won’t lighten dark hair much, but can be a first step before bleaching to reduce damage.

Once your hair is pre-lightened, you can then apply any lighter shade you wish. But remember to tone and condition your hair very well post-processing to keep your strands healthy.

Permanent vs. Semi-Permanent Color

With either permanent or semi-permanent color, the results won’t be as vibrant if you apply it directly to untreated, virgin dark hair. However, permanent color will create a more noticeable shift. Here’s a comparison:

Permanent Hair Color

  • Uses ammonia and peroxide to open cuticle and lift underlying pigment
  • Deposits new color molecules that incorporate into hair shaft
  • Longer-lasting results that grow out slowly
  • Can lighten dark hair more than semi-permanent

Semi-Permanent Hair Color

  • Deposits color without ammonia or peroxide
  • Color washes out over several weeks as hair is shampooed
  • Works best for touch-ups in between permanent color
  • Subtler, less dramatic results on dark hair

Again, pre-lightening is recommended to get the most vibrant results from either type of hair color on brunette hair. But permanent color will create a stronger initial shift in shade.

Best Hair Color Brands for Dark Hair

Choosing a high-quality brand of hair color products formulated for dark hair will help you get optimal results.

Here are some top professional brands recommended by stylists:

Brand Key Features
Redken – Rich, dimensional color payoff
– Bonder technology strengthens hair
Wella – Wide range of colors
– Innovative liquid formulas
Matrix – Customizable with mix-ins
– Deep conditioning properties
Schwarzkopf – Pre-lighteners and toners
– Ammonia-free options available
Splat – Vibrant, bold colors
– Conditioners prevent fading
Arctic Fox – Vegan and cruelty-free
– No peroxide or ammonia

No matter which brand you choose, be sure to follow the instructions carefully based on your hair type and desired results. Using professional products can make a big difference in how vivid and long-lasting the color turns out.

Aftercare Tips for Dyed Dark Hair

Maintaining your new lighter hair color requires some adjustments to your usual hair care routine. Here are some tips for keeping dyed dark hair vibrant and healthy:

  • Use sulfate-free shampoo – Sulfates strip color faster, so switch to a gentle, sulfate-free formula.
  • Shampoo less often – Washing less frequently helps retain color. aim for every 2-3 days.
  • Rinse with cool water – Hot water opens the cuticle causing color to fade faster.
  • Use color-protecting products – Look for toning shampoos, conditioners, and styling products to boost color.
  • Get occasional gloss treatments – Refresh color between dye jobs with an all-over semi-permanent gloss.
  • Trim regularly – Get snips every 6-8 weeks to keep color looking vibrant on the ends.
  • Deep condition weekly – Intense hydrating masks replenish moisture and keep hair healthy.

Taking good care of your colored hair will help the results last longer. Be gentle, use color-safe products, and enhance the shade with glosses or toners when needed.

Common Questions

Does light brown hair dye show up on black hair?

Light brown hair dye can create subtle highlights on black hair, but the results won’t be extremely noticeable. Opt for a medium reddish brown shade to see more dimension on jet black hair.

What is the lightest blonde that will show up on brown hair?

Generally, medium beige blonde is the lightest shade that will show up with one process on dark brunette hair. For brighter results, you’d need to pre-lighten first before going icy or platinum blonde.

What color goes good with dark brown hair?

Deep jewel tones like royal blue, violet, magenta, and emerald green will pop beautifully on dark brown hair. Warm shades like auburn, copper, caramel, and golden blonde will also complement and add vibrancy.


Dyeing dark hair lighter can definitely be achieved with the right products and techniques. Assess your base color and desired shade to select the best hair color and method. Pre-lighten as needed, opt for permanent over semi-permanent dye, and provide ongoing care to keep your color luminous.

With some planning and TLC, you can rock gorgeous lighter locks even with naturally dark hair. So go ahead and experiment with blonde, red, pastels or any other shade your heart desires!