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Lightening Your Hair At Home - Part One

Updated on December 20, 2010

The Colour Wheel

The first rule of lightening hair colour is that you cannot lighten hair that has been previously coloured without using bleach eg. you can't choose a light ash blonde packet colour and expect that it will remove artificial colour.

The second rule is that most home hair colours will usually only lighten one to two shades or levels of natural colour (excluding bleach products).

The third rule is that when you lighten any hair type, be it natural or artificial, there will be unwanted reflects eg. gold in the final result. The following information will assist you in achieving your goal colour result.

Hair is rated in shades/levels from black to lightest blonde. Black = one, darkest brown = 2, darker brown = 3, dark brown = 4, medium brown = 5, light brown = 6, dark blonde = 7, medium blonde = 8, light blonde = 9, lightest blonde = 10. Note that some companies have labelled their colours in a reverse order but you will be able to identify this on the packet.

When lightening hair, you need to make an accurate decision about what shade/level your hair colour is (natural or coloured). Then you need to make a decision about how light you want your target shade/level to be. Once you have done this, you need to decide on your reflect choice eg. natural (.0 or /0), gold (.3 or /3), copper (.4 or /4), red (.5 or /5), ash (.1 pr /1), beige-pearl-violet (.2 or /2) etc... Once you have done this, you need to look at what underlying pigment you are dealing with.

  • Black (1) /darkest brown (2) /darker brown (3) /dark brown (4) = red underlying pigment.
  • Medium brown (5) / Light Brown (6) = orange underlying pigment.
  • Dark blonde (7) / Blonde (8) = gold underlying pigment.
  • Light blonde (9) / Lightest blonde (10) = yellow underlying pigment.

Lightening Natural Hair: When you have decided what your underlying pigment is, you need to decide how to deal with or counteract (neutralise) it. The colour wheel will give you some indication on how to do that. The colours opposite each other neutralise unwanted pigment eg. to neutralise yellow, you need to use a violet based colour. That is the most simplistic form of reducing unwanted pigment. It can be a little more complex than that but the points below will simplify it for you.

  • If you want a natural result, start by determining your natural shade/level. Remember that you may only be able to lighten up to two shades with store bought colours (bleach is different). If you are a level 6 (light brown) and you want to be a level 8 (blonde) with a natural result, look at what unwanted pigment level 8 will throw (gold). So you would choose a level 8 colour with an ash tone eg. ash blonde. The ash in the colour will counteract the gold and leave you with a true natural 8 level.
  • If you are a level 8 (blonde) and want to be a level 10 (lightest blonde) with a natural result, look at what the unwanted pigment level 10 will throw (yellow). So you would choose a level 10 colour with a violet tone eg. lightest ash blonde. The higher the level, the less counteracting pigment it contains, so even though it may say ash, a level 10 ash is more violet and isn't as strong as a level 8 ash.
  • If you are a level 4 (dark brown) and want to be a level 6 (dark blonde) with a natural result, look at what the unwanted pigment level 6 will throw (orange). So you would choose a level 6 colour with an ash tone. At a level 6, the ash is quite strong and will counteract the unwanted orange tones.
  • * Note - this does not take into consideration any grey hair or highlights in natural hair. When dealing with grey or highlighted hair, the counteracting pigment will grab on this hair. This is only a problem if you have 50% or more. To stop this from occurring, you need to buy two separte colours. One natural and one counteracting. Don't worry, you won't waste colour. You use one bottle of activator and keep the second one unused. Then you mix 1/2 of the natural colour and 1/2 of the counteracting colour together in the activator. Make sure you put the lids back on tightly as you will be able to do the same thing next time you colour your hair.
  • If your target colour is an ash tone, you would use the ash colour but may need to use a violet or ash toner on your hair after you finish colouring it to counteract. These may come in the form of a violet shampoo and conditioner, a semi permanent colour (6-8 washes), or a demi permanent (non ammonia 20 - 30 washes). Do not leave them on for the full amount of time as they will grab more quickly. Do a strand test by wiping off a little of the colour every 5 minutes with a damp towel.
  • When choosing red, copper or gold shades that are lighter than your natural colour, remember to look at the underlying pigment of your target shade/level. If you are a level 3 (darker brown) and want to be a 5 (medium brown), you will throw some extra orange tones. This will mean that your outcome will be more vibrant (copper) than suggested on the packet. You may want to leave it like this or again, you can reduce the vibrancy by either choosing a less bright colour or by adding some natural colour into the mix. Use only one bottle of activator and half each of the bright colour and the natural colour (see above).
  • If you want a natural colour with a little bit of warmth eg. golden brown, golden blonde and you are lightening your hair, you can use a natural shade as it will always throw a bit of warmth. By not counteracting it, you will achieve this result.

I have previously covered the numbering system in How to Choose a Home Hair Colour - have a look at this as it is a prequel to this information and may assist you in your colour choice with more clarity.


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      Phyllis mays 19 months ago

      Want to lift my roots lighter there is a level 4 on my roots niw ret of my hair is higtlighted what should I use to bring it up like 5 w or 6

    • punkmarkgirl profile image

      punkmarkgirl 2 years ago from san francisco

      Great article! It was helpful that you mentioned how using ash tones or neutral tones will prevent orange colors when trying to go blond. It's also important to use blue toned bleach. I accidentally got warm toned bleach once, and the results were hideous. For blond highlights on my dark brown hair, I use the Loreal Quick Blue Bleach + 40 Vol. Then if I color over the bleached sections, I'll use a light ash blond color mixed with Ardell's Un-red additive from Sally's. After years of trial and error with reddish tones, this system finally gives me the platinum blond highlights I want.

    • profile image

      mrs. doubtfire 5 years ago

      shave it first

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      Jenn 5 years ago

      Hi, to cut down on cost I want to touch-up highlights at home with a friend.

      I have naturally Darker Brown Hair -3. Eight weeks ago I had a whole head highlight put in (if was lightened to a 6), and then hair was washed and a light brown toner was put in my wet hair to take away the cooper. To touch up my roots to the same effect, what hair colour company and colours would you recomment. I do not want it to be coopery.

      Also, I have yellow undertone skin, but am half spanish. If I want my whole head lightened one colour (I have %15 gray/white hair at age 28) but I already have highlights from bleach, will i damage my hair, will it fall out? How can I achieve a look to level 6 (a caramel, medium brown) The jennifer lopez look.

      thank YOu.

      dated May 31, 2012

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      melissa 5 years ago

      I have darkest brown hair and want to dye it extra light red. Its been 6 monthes since i last colored my hair.and then i just colored it back to my natural color. what should i use.

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      gina 5 years ago

      I have blonde in the front only and mohogany in the back.I colored it 3 days ago. What color do I need to change it all back to the same color all over?

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      Marlen 5 years ago

      I am a natural level 2, and wanted to get a very light golden auburn. I haven't tried anything yet, too scared if it doesn't come out right do you think you can help me in some advice on how and what I need.

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      Victoria 5 years ago

      I have medium brown hair hair n want to dye it to light golden brown. I don't want it to turn like an orange color. So what do I need to do if I already bought the color