How to Lighten Dark Hair Without Tons of Damage, According to Experts


Stocksy / Design by Julie Bang

Not to be incredibly dramatic, but the power of hair color to change up your look is basically unparalleled. And it doesn't need to be a Kylie Jenner-level of hair transformation to make an impact—which is why you're here. You're thinking about dyeing your black hair brown, and you want to know what, exactly, that would entail. Is it possible to do in one session? Does it make a difference if your hair is colored black versus naturally black? Is it necessary to use bleach, even if you're just going a tiny bit lighter?

We asked Nikki Lee and Carolyn Aronson to get their tips for dyeing dark, jet-black hair brown.

Meet the Expert

  • Nikki Lee is a celebrity hair colorist and co-owner of Nine Zero One. Her clients include Charlize Theron, Heidi Klum, and Selena Gomez.
  • Carolyn Aronson is the CEO and founder of It’s a 10 Haircare.

Keep scrolling for some expert tips on how up to lighten up black hair.

Know the Difference Between Coloring Virgin Hair and Dyeing Hair

dying black hair brown

If you have virgin black hair—AKA hair that hasn't ever been dyed—you're going to have a much easier time with dyeing black hair brown than someone who has colored their hair black. "Color will not remove color, meaning you cannot just put a brown color on top of [dyed] black and it will magically turn brown," Lee explains. "You have to use a color remover or lightener first to remove the black then layer on top of a brown color."

However, if your hair is naturally black, you can immediately go into the process of lightening the hair without lifting any previous dye—though, the hair can only lighten so much without bleach, and your colorist will probably recommend you do so in order to get noticeable results. 

Show Your Stylist Inspo Photos

woman at hairdresser

Westend61 / Getty Images

This is just good advice in general for hair appointments. "We may speak different terms but we can all see the same," Lee says. And don't just bring pictures of what you want—Lee recommends showing a couple of photos of what you don't want as well.

"Pictures say a million words. Bring a photo or two of the color you desire," Aronson adds. "It will really help your stylist target your desires."

But be prepared because a dramatic change can take time.

Consider the Current Health and Strength of Your Hair

Laura Harrier long wavy hair with thick black headband

Stefanie Keenan / Getty Images

The healthier the hair, the better chance you'll have of lightening it. "In order to get the hair from black to brown, consider the health and strength of your hair," Aronson says. "You will need to use bleach to lift it and that could be very drying to the hair."

Come In with Clean Hair

Clean hair

Getty Images

When you get ready for your appointment, come in with clean, product-free hair, Aronson says. "Otherwise they may have to wash your hair before they apply the color," she explains. Clean hair is like a clean canvas, allowing the stylist to apply the proper ingredients to get you lightened in a healthy way.

Use a Deep Conditioning Mask Once a Week

It's a 10 Haircare Potion 10 Miracle Repair Hair Mask
It's a 10 Haircare Potion 10 Miracle Repair Hair Mask $39.00

As previously mentioned, dyeing your hair can be taxing on your strands. Aronson recommends using the above mask twice a week to help repair any damage and keep your hair healthy and shiny.

Extend the life of your hair color by opting for a gloss, which can be applied in a salon or at home.

Shop more of our fave deep conditioning masks below.

Garnier Whole Blends Honey Treasures Repairing Mask
Garnier Whole Blends Honey Treasures Repairing Mask $5.00

This mask contains a blend of royal jelly, propolis, and honey meant to nourish and repair hair.

Key Ingredients

Royal jelly is a term used to describe creamy white secretions that come from the throat glands of honeybees. It hydrates, increases collagen production, promotes wound healing, and fights inflammation.

Oribe Gold Lust Transformative Masque
Oribe Gold Lust Transformative Masque $66.00

Like all Oribe products, this mask smells divine. It's also jam-packed with hair silkening ingredients, like baobab, and protects hair from UV damage. (Yes, that's definitely a thing.)

Unite Hair 7 Seconds Masque
Unite Hair 7 Seconds Masque $43.00

Soft, strong hair can be yours after using this shea butter-infused hair treatment. It also contains hydrolyzed keratin, which is a protein that helps repair hair.

Use High-Quality Products

shampoo and conditioner

Juj Winn / Getty Image

Using high quality shampoo, conditioner and (as mentioned above) hair masks will give your stylist the best chance of being able to lighten until you hit exactly the right hue. While high-quality hair oil and conditioners might be a little more pricey, they'll do a better job at moisturizing hair — nad keeping frizz at bay is key to healthy strands.

Be Patient

Hair dye

Fabrice LEROUGE / Getty Images

If you take a peek at the hashtag #hairtransformations on Instagram, you'll get over a million results—many of which feature side-by-side before and afters. But what these comparisons don't always show is the amount of time and work it takes to pull off a change.

Lightening up dark hair—even going from black to brown—is a process. "You might need two or three appointments to get it to your perfect shade," Lee says. This is especially true if your hair is dyed black because removing the dye is going to be damaging to your hair.

Article Sources
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  1. Cleveland Clinic. Best ways to protect your hair from sun damage. Updated July 27, 2020.

  2. Basit A, Asghar F, Sadaf S, Akhtar MW. Health improvement of human hair and their reshaping using recombinant keratin K31Biotechnol Rep (Amst). 2018;20:e00288. doi:10.1016/j.btre.2018.e00288

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