Dyeing Brown Hair Blonde Doesn't Have to Cause Damage

The long game is worth it for your hair's health.

keke palmer
(Image credit: Getty Images)

As a woman who has tried nearly every hair color under the sun (think, rosé pink, violet, rust, navy, etc.) there’s just something *extra* alluring about going blonde. Maybe it was my life stage before marriage and baby, but I was definitely having more fun—and obsessed with achieving the iciest hue possible. However, the process of transitioning dark hair to a much lighter tone is no joke—and one best left up to the professionals.

“Don’t be impulsive when it comes to being blonde,” cautions celebrity hairstylist, Barb Thompson. “I tell most clients to give me at least three appointments to get the inspiration for blonde that they have. It’s a marathon not a sprint.” Lifting your natural color to a lighter tone can be damaging (bleach is involved), so it's important to take the coloring process slow.

There are a handful of tips to keep in mind before, during, and after taking your dark hair blonde to ensure a healthy (and vibrant) outcome. Here, top stylists are sharing their tips and tricks.

Does Dyeing Brown Hair Blonde Cause Damage?

Without going too deep into the chemistry of hair color, Creative Director of Aveda Arts & Sciences Institutes, Tatum Neill reminds us that “blonding your hair is a process of opening up the cuticle and removing elements of your hair until it gets to your desired level of yellow tone, and often adding a color to neutralize the tone that remains." If that sounds like that is a lot of stress on your hair, it's because it is.

When the hair is damaged to begin with, dyeing it becomes that much more troublesome. "Coloring damaged hair is about much more than just split ends or straw-like strands, it can affect the color itself and how it is absorbed in the hair," says celebrity hairstylist Tracey Cunningham. As a rule of thumb, wait until your hair is healthy to begin a blonde transformation. Otherwise, you can end up with irreparable damage.

How to Prevent Color Damage

Take It Slow

In order to prevent damage, you'll want to make the transition over the course of a few coloring sessions. How long it takes depends heavily on your current hair color. Founder and creative director of NYC The Team, Michelle Hong explains that those with previous hair colors like dark brown or red might have trouble achieving their ideal blonde in just one session. Individuals with fine hair will also have to be more cautious.

“Ask your colorist what is realistic about the first session with your current hair and how many appointments are needed to achieve what you want,” Hong adds. Sometimes, it can take over a year to achieve the level of lift desired while maintaining hair health.

Incorporate Glosses Between Colorings

Going blonde isn't a one-and-done process. It can be high maintenance. Just remember: The more frequently you add bleach to your hair, the more damage you risk.

“Ask your colorist what the upkeep is. When doing balayage highlights, maintenance can be every two to three months versus a platinum blonde shade where the maintenance may be four to six weeks," Hong says. "Inquire about any necessary glosses or toners in between appointments to keep your new hair color true to tone and healthy.” These also add in a hydration boost to prevent your ends from drying out and breaking.

Neill adds that touch ups really depend on how much lighter you go in comparison to your natural hue. “If you choose a lived in blonde look, then you can probably get away with quarterly maintenance. If your look is more of a transformational blonde, you may want to go back to the salon every six to eight weeks.”

Incorporate Hair Strengthening Products

How you treat your hair post-bleach has a big impact on your damage—or lack thereof. “Hair coloring is all about maintenance. It does take work, but make sure to incorporate a regimen so your locks look the best. Blondes can still be healthy and shiny as long as there is TLC,” notes Hong. 

Naturally, she’s a fan of color-safe shampoos and deep conditioning masks. “[Overall] be gentle with your hair when brushing or detangling and always use a heat protector and aftercare products to keep your hair nourished and moisturized. Plan out a hair care routine and treat it like your skin care routine to keep your hair looking the best it can.”

Reduce Heat Damage

If you want to minimize additional damage, scale down on your heat styling. “I like to put dry shampoo onto the roots immediately after a blow dry, so that any oil that comes out of your pores immediately has a place to go into,” Neill explains. “I relate it to putting sawdust down on your carport before your leaky car gets into the garage. This will give you a 20 percent longer lasting style."

Love to heat style? Make sure your thermal tools are below 400° to minimize damage. “I would dial back the curling iron or flat iron to 350 to make sure you're not stressing the hair.”

How to Pick the Best Blonde

A simple question you can ask yourself is do I look better in silver or gold? If gold is your answer then you are probably more suitable for warmer tones and if silver, then cooler tones are a good bet. “You can also look to your wardrobe for clues as to what colors suit you the best,” adds Neill. “Most hair salons will have a hair color swatch you can reference if you want to get very specific about it, but be sure to reference your face and neck when looking at swatches.”

Meet the Experts

hair stylist
Tatum Neill

After receiving his Bachelors Degree from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in Environmental Policy, Tatum could no longer resist his calling and went to beauty school at the Aveda Institute New York to chart his own path. Upon graduation, he worked with top talent such as Frédéric Fekkai and Nick Arrojo. During his tenure with Arrojo, Tatum added Educator and Platform Artist to his resume. While in New York, Tatum also launched a successful career as a DJ. In 2014, Tatum moved to New Orleans where he now works as Creative Director of Paris Parker Salons and later founded Elevate Hair. He was recently named North American Artistic Director, Social Media for Aveda, where he educates other Aveda stylists on creating and marketing content for social media.

Barbara Thompson
Barb Thompson

Barbara started her career in her hometown of Petaluma, in the beautiful wine country of Northern California. After ten years of working behind the chair, she moved her work to San Francisco. She was featured in 7x7 Magazine as one of San Francisco's top colorists. Barb has extensive training in San Francisco, Los Angeles, Miami, and New York along with experience as an Educator for R+Co. Barb is a specialist in transformation, from cutting to coloring.

Mane Addicts has featured Barb’s razor cutting work as well as an Instagram takeover, and beauty podcast Fat Mascara considers Barb one of their go-to hair expert.

hair stylist
Michelle Hong

With a strong penchant for fashion and style, Michelle's desire to become a colorist began at a very young age. She began her career and her talents were quickly picked up by L'Oreal working on platform and teaching as an educator. With 20 years of experience in the salon industry, she has become one of the most sought after colorists in NYC. Before opening The Team, Michelle worked at Frederic Fekkai's flagship salon on Fifth Ave NY as one of the top colorists specializing in balayage and corrective color. Michelle was one of the educators for Fekkai’s training program, traveling nationally to educate new recruits as well as giving seminars on newest color techniques and trends.

hair stylist
Tracey Cunningham

A Seattle native, Tracey Cunningham—one part of the driving force behind Meche salon—is one of the most in-demand colorists in the world. Over the years, her unmatched ability when it comes to creating gorgeous and sophisticated looks has earned her a massive list of clients, including countless A-list actresses in addition to models and beauty and fashion insiders, each of whom depend on her unparalleled talent and meticulous eye for detail. Tracey held in high regard by the industry’s foremost beauty experts, and she’s frequently quoted and featured in major fashion and beauty publications.

Janell M. Hickman-Kirby

Janell M. Hickman-Kirby is a seasoned writer, editor, and brand expert based in Brooklyn, New York currently working as senior brand copywriter at Sol de Janeiro.

A Minneapolis native, Janell moved to New York to join WWD after earning her degree in Journalism from Hampton University and swiftly made her way up in the city’s fashion-culture world, working at the Victoria's Secret headquarters where she assisted on legendary 2008 and 2009 fashion shows.