Call it dark blonde, call it dirty blonde… Whatever search term you're using to find hair color inspiration, we know what you're looking for: a pretty in-between blonde-ish shade that isn't as bright as platinum, as warm as honey blonde, or as dark as full-on brunette, but has elements of all those things.
New to light hair but don't want to go too extreme? Trying to darken your hair a little to save on cash and color damage? This just might be the perfect color family for you. Dirty blonde is actually a term that stylists have been using since the 1950s, says Jill Buck, senior stylist at Nine Zero One Salon in Los Angeles. Sometimes it’s referred to as dishwater blonde, though that's not the most flattering description. Despite the lackluster name, Buck says this not-light-enough-to-be-blonde, and not-dark-enough-to-be-brunette color has become so popular over the years.
Choosing a Shade: Dirty blonde tends to have a bunch of different colors and tones mixed together. Buck says she keeps her dirty blondes at a level 7 and 8. "Depending on your skin tone that will determine the tones used," she says.
Maintenance Level: Low to medium. Buck says dirty blonde is much easier to maintain than a platinum blonde.
Goes Great With: "Dirty blonde hair color tends to complement cooler skin tones especially if you are going with the cooler side," says MATRIX celebrity colorist George Papanikolas.
Price: According to Papanikolas, dirty blonde is "substantially more expensive for darker hair since you will need to do the pre-lighting and highlighting first."
To help you on your quest—because finding the right dirty blonde for your skin tone is a true quest—pulled together a roundup of top-tier photo inspiration. Keep scrolling here to find the best dirty blonde hair color for you, including all the how-tos and what to avoid with this shade.
Dirty Honey Blonde
There's not an exact definition for dirty blonde hair, but that's the best part. While certain undertones pair well with different shades, the great thing about this color is that it's made to suit you however you want it.
Sunkissed Dirty Blonde
Buck notes it’s important to get an accurate photo of your client’s skin tone. "Are they more tan than normal? Do they always wear this color foundation? Will they keep their tan up? I like to look at someone’s eye color as the natural highlight in their eye is generally a good tone for their hair," she says.
Cool Toned Blonde
If you're going for less of a highlighted look and more of a single-process allover dirty blonde, consider showing your stylist this cool-tone shade.
Buck warns single process colors, while beautiful, require more maintenance than highlights because of the growing out process. "As the hair grows it creates a solid line for the color," she says.
Grown Out Bronde
The overall outcome is determined by the foil placement, Buck says. If a client is hoping for more of a rooted, grown-out look with little maintenance, like this curly effect featuring golden babylights on a dark base, she says a "feathered diagonal shape foil placement is needed."
Light Framing Color
To brighten and warm up the skin, ask your colorist to focus the lightest highlights around your face. This technique will create the impression of overall lighter hair even if you have a dark base.
Like Laverne Cox's golden blonde, a darker root adds depth to the lighter dirty blonde color. It's a stunning, complementary option, especially on darker skin tones.
We're living for this beautifully blended balayage, which incorporates honey highlights to warm up a dark, ashier base.
Fluid Natural Curls
"The only time I see the texture really changing my application is in very curly hair," Buck says. Because of the difference in density, she says curly hair has a tendency to have fine ends, creating new growth that looks heavily colored, while the ends are darker. To counteract this, she simply tips out all the ends in order to keep the color looking fluid.
This super-warm bronde would look exceedingly flattering on medium-to-dark skin tones, especially when paired with a shag haircut like Halle Berry's.
Jessica Alba was one of the celebs to help put the "lived-in color" concept on the map. This incredible blonde sombré is perfect for natural brunettes who want to lighten their strands up a bit without too much maintenance.
Swipe to check out the amazing color correction on this client, who went from a brassy, chunky grow-out to a cooler, more natural dirty blonde.
Cara Delevingne's neutral-toned dirty blonde would work on a variety of skin tones. Buck says a natural blonde base is the perfect starting color for dirty blonde hair. "This is my favorite blonde to create and will create the least amount of upkeep," she says.
"For a more overall color or brighter look, a client will need a heavier foil placement closer to the scalp," Buck says. Taylor Swift, who has kept a pretty consistent dirty blonde shade since the start of her career, is a perfect example.
Ciara's cooler-toned sombré blonde is such a head turner—and would definitely require a purple shampoo.
Midlight for Darker Blondes
Beverly Hills colorist Matt Rez is an expert in darker blondes. Using his trade-marked midlight color technique to blend neutral, warm, and cool tones without lifting the base color, he creates balanced dirty blondes like this one.
Shiny Dirty Blonde
This easy to maintain color looks absolutely killer on beauty influencer Natalie Rose Vella's naturally wavy hair texture and medium skin.
A Dark Base
Getting a darker base to dirty blonde is a similar process to naturally blonde hair, Buck says, however, the brunette will be lifted more levels than the blonde.
"It's all about the melt," says L.A. colorist Erin McKay of this low-maintenance color job.
Fashion designer Anine Bing has a great honeyed bronde, plus, her shoulder-length cut is absolute goals.
Tipping out the ends of the hair, like with this amazing blend by hairstylist and makeup artist Frances, is a great add on for the dirty blonde, Buck says. Going one level lighter at the ends, rather than a traditional highlight, gives a beautiful pop of color to finish it off, she says.
Color-specialist Andrea Peterman at the Ramirez Tran Salon managed to create this neutral blonde hue that looks amazingly natural, with to-die-for buttery tones.
The highlights on this textured lob are seriously stunning. Anja Burton at the Ramirez Tran Salon expertly blended these tones for a sunkissed style we're seriously coveting.
Lucy Liu's hair here is a great mix of caramel tones. In terms of maintaining this golden hue, Buck says it depends on the type of service originally provided to the client but recommends toner application by the stylist between 6-8 weeks.
Currently, Bucks dirty blonde inspirations include client Julianne Hough’s hair, which has always been a bright blonde but has finally moved into the dirty blonde phase. To avoid having the color actually looking dirty, Buck says, she always adds a drop of warmth to her toners even when going for an ash finish.
This look manages to find a perfect balance between dirty and blonde that seems like it'd be universally flattering. As far as upkeep goes, Buck loves Joico’s Blonde Life Shampoo ($19) for brightening dulled out hair, Color Balance Purple Shampoo ($17) for blonde clients, and Color Balance Blue Shampoo ($17) for brunettes to help maintain hair health while leaving it looking shiny and toned.
Rooted Dirty Blonde
Don't discount this majorly trendy short crop. The lighter blonde, highlighted style here is so pretty and dimensional.
Warm and Bright Blonde
Oh, to have this warm and bright hair! The colorist blended various shades to get this dimensional dirty blonde shag.
Light Dirty Blonde
Not only do we love the relaxed low-pony Owen Gold created here, but Soo Joon's low-maintenance blonde looks so natural.