Whether your attempt at home hair color went wrong, or you just can't make it into a salon anytime soon, sometimes you just have to take stripping hair dye into your own hands. Luckily, there are expert-approved ways to lift unwanted hair color from home when you're in a pinch.
But note: These methods are tricky and should be turned to as a last resort. "Applying home methods to remove artificial color pigment can be risky, as we can't be sure of the exact chemical components, causing unknown and uneven results," says colorist Michelle Garwood, who warns that natural scalp heat, allergic reactions, hair porosity, and color history are just a few of the factors that need to be analyzed by a professional before properly correcting your hair in a way that upholds its health and integrity. Celebrity stylist Cheryl Bergamy agrees: "I always recommend seeking professional assistance, especially when it comes to hair coloring or any kind of chemical service. If something were to go wrong, a professional will have necessary products to counteract any situation that may arise."
While an at-home attempt to strip unwanted color won't do any heavy lifting, "they can budge your color 1/2-1 shade lighter," says Garwood. With that in mind (along with the aforementioned warnings), below are some stylist-approved tips for lifting the color from your hair at home if you're determined to do so yourself.
Meet the Expert
- Cheryl Bergamy is a celebrity hairstylist who works with John Legend, Demi Lovato and 50 Cent, among others. She is also the founder of Contents hair care.
- Michelle Garwood is a session stylist and colorist based in Perth, Australia. Having spent the last 6 years working in London and New York, she has recently relocated to the salon George and Ivy.
One way to safely attempt stripping your hair color at home is by using vitamin C. "Although vitamin C is a great antioxidant," says Bergamy, "it can also be used to oxidize color." It achieves this oxidization by loosening up hair dye molecules, she claims.
Start by mixing powdered packets or crushed up pills with a small amount of hot water until it forms into a paste, says Bergamy. Once mixed, apply the combination to the hair and put on a plastic cap or shower cap for 45 minutes. Then, rinse it out well using warm to hot water. It may take a few attempts depending on your hair and the color you're trying to remove, but you should begin to see that unwanted color start to fade. "The acid in vitamin C oxidizes the dye and loosens up its hold on your hair," says Bergamy.
We all know that using certain shampoos will help preserve our hair color, so it isn't a big surprise to see this recommended solution on our list for color removal. "Just by washing your hair, you should see a gentle lift of the dye," says Bergamy, "especially if it’s semi-permanent."
"Clarifying shampoos are designed to remove minerals, pollution, and chemical build up on your strands (like chlorine, silicone, etc)," explains Garwood. After doing a regular wash with a clarifying shampoo and wringing it dry to remove excess water, she instructs doing a second clarifying shampoo application, massaging it in until you have a good, heavy lather. Then, contain the hair in a shower cap for 5-10 minutes. "You can also use saran wrap to wrap around your hair like a turban," she says.
Clarifying shampoos safely break down unwanted pigments and slowly begin to remove them from the hair, Garwood explains. "I don't recommend doing this treatment often, as you need your natural oils to be present and over clarifying will remove them, causing your hair and scalp to feel dry," she says. But doing this dual, thorough wash a few times in a row, or every other time you wash your hair, should be a safe bet to getting that color faded enough to discontinue the shampoo treatments. And no matter how many times you perform this at home, "you always want to condition afterwards to close your cuticle back down."
White vinegar is one of those superhero pantry products that can do a lot more than its typically utilized for. According to Bergamy, white vinegar can help bring out the natural shine to the hair and it can help strip unwanted hair color. "Vinegar is going to work the best on semi-permanent colors," she says. "It can fade permanent hair color too, but it will not totally remove it."
Bergamy instructs mixing half a cup of white vinegar with half a cup of warm water and gently pouring the mixture onto your hair. "Cover your head with a shower cap for 15 to 20 minutes before rinsing," she says. "You may need to do this process more than once to see results." If you use this solution for three consecutive days, she highly recommends following up with "a strengthening or bonding treatment to secure the bonds of the hair."
Proceed with caution on this one, Byrdies: Garwood claims dishwashing liquid can be quite damaging if used more than once. "[Dishwashing liquid] isn't designed to wash our hair and has many strong cleansing agents not present in a professional shampoo, so it will strip color for sure!" she says. "Doing it more than once, however, can really dry your hair out."
Garwood instructs lathering the liquid into your hair and leaving it on up to 5 minutes, then rinsing. "Again, always condition afterwards. If you have a protein or repairing hair treatment, I'd advise applying that afterwards to ensure your cuticle closes back down, keeping your hair strong and healthy."
We've seen baking soda used for many hair DIYs, from scalp care to highlights to dry shampoo. "Baking soda works as a scrubbing agent," explains Bergamy. "[It will] gently strip off the color from the surface of the hair without damaging the quality of your strands."
This option is going to work best on hair color that's been freshly applied and is only 1-4 days old. To begin, Bergamy suggests combining 2 tablespoons of baking soda with half a cup of water and applying the mixture to wet hair. "Work the mixture in from roots to ends for about 10 minutes, and then rinse."
Consider Your Hair Type
These at home methods aren't a one-size-fits-all when it comes to hair types. For starters, if you have previously bleached hair, Garwood says the hair has already been compromised by the lightening treatment and is more prone to damage and dryness. "Same goes for finer hair, or anyone who has colored their hair multiple times over a short period."
When it comes to texture, Bergamy notes, "these methods can be damaging for fine hair and curly hair. Curly and coily hair is naturally drier and fine hair is more delicate. 1-3A natural textures can use these suggested methods, as their textures will naturally hold more oil, but textures 3B-4C would have to use more caution. These textures hold less oil and therefore these at-home methods can be extremely drying and damaging to those hair types."
At the end of the day, "remember these methods won't perform miracles," says Garwood. "The only way to lift the hair lighter than the results these methods will give you is to see a professional stylist. If you know your hair is in poor condition already, I would definitely recommend at least speaking to your stylist for advice on how to proceed." When push comes to shove, always be more cautious than not!