Call it dark blonde, call it "bronde," 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, brown-ish shade that isn't as bright as platinum, as warm as honey blonde, or as dark as full-on brunette, but has nice elements of all those things. Going dirty blonde is a great option for so many reasons.
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, Jill Buck from Nine Zero One Salon says. Sometimes it’s referred to as dishwater blonde, though that's not the most flattering description. Despite the lackluster name, Jill says this not-light-enough-to-be-blonde, and not-dark-enough-to-be-brunette color has become so popular over the years.
To help you on your quest, because finding the right dirty blonde for your skin tone is a true quest, we spoke to blonde hair experts and pulled together a roundup of top-tier photo inspiration—because we really don't recommend searching for #dirtyblonde on Instagram, because, well, it's not what you're looking for. Instead, 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.
Like with Kristin Cavallari, 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.
Though 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. It’s not better or worse it’s just something to remind your client," 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 bronde effect, which L.A. colorist Chad Kenyon created incorporating golden babylights on a dark base, she says a "feathered diagonal shape foil placement is needed."
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.
Halley Berry's Warm Bronde
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's Lived-in Color
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's Neutral Base
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, due to the fact that the highlight will look as natural as the sun highlighting the hair itself. "This is my favorite blonde to create and will create the least amount of upkeep as well," she says.
Natural Blonde like Taylor
"For a more overall color or brighter look, a client will need a heavier foil placement closer to the scalp," Buck says. Like Swift, who has kept a pretty consistent dirty blonde shade since the start of her career—aside from the 2016 Bleachella Era. We're loving this false lob she wore to the 2020 Sundance red carpet for her film premiere of Miss Americana.
Ciara's Cool-toned Sombré
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.
Maintaining the Color like Vella
Buck says dirty blonde is much easier to maintain than a platinum blonde "
"because if the toner fades out slightly it’s still ok and can be maintained with purple and blue shampoos." Not to worry, she says dirty blonde "will still be shiny because of the underlining gold tones from the lightening process."
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 like Mary J. Blige
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. "For example, a blonde level 7 will only be lifted with lighter by 1-2 levels,"
she says. "A brunette will require more lifting to power to get 4 levels of lift."
"It's all about the melt," says L.A. colorist Erin McKay of this low-maintenance color job.
Tipping Out Dimensional Blonde
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. It's definitely not required though!
Not So Basic Neutrals
Color-specialist Andrea Peterman at the Ramirez Tran Salon managed to create this neutral blonde hue that's just incredible. Not only does it look amazingly natural, but the buttery tones are to die for.
Sarah Jessica Parker's Warm Mix
It’s important to avoid having the color actually looking dirty, Buck says. By that, she means it should still sparkle, look healthy, and intentional, much like SJP's iconic dirty blonde.
In hair color terms the word muddy or dingy is often used when we use a toner with too much green base or blue base, Buck says, which is why she always adds a drop of warmth to her toners even when going for an ash finish.
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 Honey Hue
Liu has managed to achieve this wonderful, honey tinged dirty blonde. It's such a great mix of caramel tones that shine bright. In terms of maintaining this golden hue, Buck says it depends on the type of service originally provided to the client but recommends:
1. Purple and Blue shampoos for in between appointments
2. Toner application by the stylist between 6-8 weeks
3. Color retouch application at 4-6 weeks if an all-over color
Julianne Hough's Going Darker
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.
This look manages to find a perfect balance between dirty and blonde that seems like I'd be universally flattering.
As far as upkeep goes, Buck loves Joico’s Blonde Life Shampoo ($19) for brightening dulled out hair. She likes their Color Balance Purple Shampoo ($17) for blonde clients and their Color Balance Blue Shampoo ($17) for brunettes! She says these products help maintain hair health while leaving it looking shiny and toned.
Soo Joon's Light Take
Not only do we love the relaxed low-pony Owen Gold created here, but Soo Joon's low-maintenance blonde looks so natural.
There's not an exact definition for dirty blonde hair, but that's kind of 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. Looking for a sunkissed streak, or a honey-hued tint? It all works here. Any dirty blonde color, whether it's natural or from hours in the salon, usually tends to have a bunch of different colors and tones mixed together either way. While there's not an exact or perfect example of dirty blonde hair to show you, odds are you'll know dirty blonde when you see it. That's the fun of it all—it's in the creation.