Dying brown hair blonde with box dye is not only possible, but also much more convenient than a bleach and tone double-process. If you are new to hair coloring this is a much easier way to getting highlights without bleach at home. As it doesn't use bleach, it's also much kinder on the hair and can give you multi-faceted, reflective blonde hair without damaging it. So how does this highlight without bleach magic work? The key player here is a type of box dye called a high-lift hair dye.
High lift hair dye is a level 10 dye which lightens and deposit color, all in one step. Unlike bleaching your hair at home, high lift box dye doesn't need toning afterwards. All going well, the end result will be the same as you see in the box, no yellow hair on sight. If your hair is naturally light brown, dying brown hair blonde with box dye is much more practical and easy than bleach. No risk of irritating your scalp, or giving yourself a chemical haircut because you left the bleach for too long, and you will only need to process your hair once as you won't need to worry about toner.
If your hair is darker than a medium-light brown you are unlikely to achieve bright blonde hair using this method, but there are vivid dyes that can get you bright red highlights for example. Or you could achieve a dark honey blonde, but the risk of getting orange tones is there so do a patch test first!
Unlike bleach, which just removes pigment, high lift blonde hair dye deposits permanent color at the same time as it lightens. High lift colors contain more ammonia and are mixed with a high volume developer instead of your usual 20vol. They also use a higher amount of developer than bleach.
Unlike bleach, this type of hair dyes won't keep lightening hair until they dry and as such if your hair is very resistant or dark you may end up with unflattering brassy or orange tones instead of the blonde of your dreams.
While high lift hair color is much easier to use than bleach, it can't always replace a double process. Bleach is still the most versatile of the two, and in the hands of a professional can be used to turn the darkest of hair platinum. High lift tints only work on virgin hair that is at least light brown, and will do nothing if your hair has been previously colored unless you use a hair color remover first. High lift box dye will also highlight hair without bleach to blend away greys instead of covering them.
For brunettes and dark brunettes looking to go vivid red without bleach, high lift red dye is also a great alternative. It can lift virgin hair 3 to 4 levels (so from dark brown to dark blonde) which achieves vivid red, copper and magenta colors without brassiness. Often this works better as a highlight color to create eye catching money pieces or chunky highlights, rather than an all over red.
If your hair have been dyed, however, you'll still need to pre-lighten the hair first using bleach and then apply a separate bright red hair dye.
Before you go and buy the dye and get all set to go blonde, you need to know that high lift hair color is not for everybody. So who can use it?
Dye won't lift dye, so if you want to lighten hair that has been color treated before you'll need to bleach.
Forget about black brown to platinum transformations here, you will only go blonde if your hair is not darker than a level 5 or 6. Maybe a level 4 if your hair lifts very well and you are after a dark blonde that is not brassy. Always do a strand test to verify how your hair will react, as porosity and hair health will affect the end result.
Going from brunette to blonde without bleach is still quite the harsh process for your hair, so it needs to start from a healthy place. If you have recently permed your hair, or you heat style often your hair may get too damaged. So before you use a high-lift dye make sure you treat your hair with extra caring moisture preserving shampoos and conditioners, and a protein mask or two a week. This way your hair will be healthy after lightening.
I hear you, you had blonde hair and decided to abandon it for a darker brunette hue. And you are not happy with the result, and wondering, do I need to bleach my hair to go back to blonde?
The bad news is, it is likely that you'll have to involve bleach. But if you are conservative about how light a blonde you want to go, you may get away with a blonde box dye on brown hair. The key is to use a color remover to get rid of the darker pigments on the hair, and then use a high lift blonde dye to even it out and tone away the brass.
A hair color remover works a bit like a reverse hair dye. It opens the cuticle and shrinks the pigment molecules so they escape the hair and are washed away down the drain. It is a long and tedious process that involves a very unpleasant sulphur smell, but at the end of it and if you have done things by the book your hair will be a bit lighter, brassy, and without dye.
Note that if you have been dying your hair darker (or redder) for a while you may need many applications for this to work evenly all over your hair. Since hair dye doesn't lift hair dye, if there are layers or bands of your hair that still have pigment, the end result will be uneven unless your hair is totally free from pigment. This is why this method works best when you have only dyed your hair darker once and want to go back to blonde.
If you are confident that the previous dye has been removed, and your hair is a dark shade of blonde or a light brunette (it will be brassy, that's a side effect of any application of hair developer and dye) you should now be able to apply the blonde box dye.
Always strand test first though!
Usually the recommendation is to wait a few days between using the hair color remover and dying your hair again, because otherwise you risk the invisible pigment molecules to get oxidised again by the dye... and your hair to go darker again. Also your hair will be very dry right after color removal, so it's worth giving it a bit of extra love for a few days, and washing it a couple of times thoroughly.
Unlike bleaching, which is a multi-step process, learning how to dye brown hair blonde at home without bleach is much simpler. You will need to apply the dye as per the box instructions and saturate the hair. Wait the recommended time and wash it off, and your hair should be now blonde.
However, it's not as simple, and being prepared will help you avoid brassiness, damaged hair and unwanted hair color.
While there are dozens of different blonde to brunette box dyes in the market, they are not all made equal. The stronger the lifting effect, the more damaged and brassy your hair can end up. So choose carefully based on your starting color, your desired end color and how quick you want the transformation to be. Unlike bleach, you can't apply high lift dye twice to lighten up even more or even out an uneven application, so make sure you get it right the first time.
Choose an ashy color, particularly if you are going from brunette to blonde without bleach. The darker your natural hair, the more orange and red pigments in your hair that need to be neutralised. So if you choose a golden blonde or a reddish blonde you may end up with bright orange hair. It's better to go a bit ashy and correct it later with a toner than to go too brassy as removing the brassiness may require actual bleaching to bring your hair to the correct lightness level.
High lift blonde and red dye works better if you have naturally light brunette to dark blonde hair, particularly if your goal is actual light nordic blonde. The darker your hair, the more likely orange and red pigments will be too visible to be neutralised by the built-in toner in the dye, and you will have much less control about the degree and speed of lift than with bleach.
If you want to give it a go anyway, always do a strand test to see what the end result would be.
Unless you have short hair, it's better to be safe than sorry and buy two boxes of hair dye. The reason is that you need to fully saturate all your hair in order for the lifting process to be even. Most box dyes are designed for hair that is collarbone length or less, so if your hair is more than a bob or is very thick you really want to err on the side of caution and prepare double the amount of mixture.
When dying brown hair blonde with box dye you need to be thorough and work fast. The back of your head usually has thicker and more color resistant hair than the front, so part your hair in 4 sections and start from the back from the bottom up. Remember to fully saturate your hair with dye.
Unlike with bleach you can't re-apply dye to lighten up sections that didn't lift as well, so evenness is a must. Apply starting from the tips of your hair and moving upwards towards the roots. The roots, being closer to the actual head, are hotter and process faster which is why you don't want to start there and give them too long.
Once the timer is done, rinse your hair and use a neutralising shampoo if provided. This is to stop the dye from lifting and to allow the toner in the dye to work and get your hair to the right shade of blonde. Your hair may feel damaged at this point, possibly quite dry, particularly if you used a very strong high lift color to create blonde highlights. So give it a lot of love with a protein treatment, a bond repairing treatment such as Olaplex or both.
If you just want to blend some greys and achieve a natural, highlighted brunette look, blonde box dye can be the perfect alternative to bleach. You can use higher volume developers (40vol)carefully for an off-scalp application on small sections of hair. For example, Wella High Lift dye can lift up to 3 or 4 levels on virgin hair, which means you can have noticeably lighter highlights that blend away great.
Since this is a single process color, it's more user friendly than traditional bleaching as you'll only need to apply to hair once. But unless you want a stripped look it's better to opt for a balayage style, hand painting small pieces of hair instead of using foils for maximum effect. You can see how it's done in this video.
In case of doubt, it's better to start with a few carefully placed highlights and add more later on, that adding too many and looking messy.
For best results, you should have dirty hair, unwashed the day you color it with box dye. This will protect your scalp. However, sometimes styling products can get on the way so ideally you would treat your hair to a hydrating mask or two the days before dying, and then not apply heavy leave-in products before waiting a day or two to dye your hair.
While high-lift blonde box dye is not bleach, it can be quite damaging so make sure your hair is in tip top condition before you start lifting. Try to avoid heat styling (or use a very good heat protectant) and do not apply dye to hair that has been recently permed or relaxed as you may end up with fried ends or brittle hair.
And if you can get it, Olaplex works great as a bond building during the dying process. Olaplex n1 bond multiplier will reduce the damage caused by the lifting process, but it may slow it down a bit or make the dye slightly less effective. Again, a strand test will tell you better than the Internet what your hair needs and how it will react.
There are two things to keep in mind after dying brown hair blonde with box dye: hair health and unwanted undertones.
On the hair health side, lifting hair is always going to cause some degree of damage so you need to compensate by using products specific for lightened or bleached hair. For example, a protein hair treatment once a week, bond building intensive masks, hydrating treatments and leave-in conditioners. You will know based on how your hair feels, but just give it more love than usual even if technically you didn't use bleach to go blonde. Your hair won't know the difference.
Regarding unwanted brassy undertones on blonde hair, this also requires some maintenance. On initial application, the high lift blonde dye cancelled unwanted orange and yellow undertones (that's why you wanted to go ashy there). But after a while, that layer of dye or toner will start fading and your bright blonde hair may start looking dull and brassy.
If that's not a look you want you will need to use some color depositing products so the unwanted undertones are cancelled. For bright light blondes, the main issue are unwanted yellow tones, and you will want a purple shampoo such as Fanola No Yellow for that. You could also use a color depositing purple mask to refresh your color without having to dye it again.
If you went for a darker blonde and you got orange hair, blue shampoo is your thing. Alternatively, a color depositing blue hair treatment will also cancel unwanted orange tones in hair.
Eventually you'll want to apply a semi-permanent toner to restore the blonde pigments and cancel the brassiness, but this should happen after a few weeks. Even permanent dyes lose pigment after some time and toning for 15 minutes with low volume developer is usually the best way to get it back to looking like new without further lifting the overall color.
All over this article you will have seen two common themes:
If you have black hair, you will need to lift hair 7 to 10 tones to go blonde or platinum blonde. When using bleach this will probably require at least two sittings. It's beyond what the most powerful hi-lift blonde dyes can accomplish, and chances are your hair will end up some unflattering shade of burn orange as the pigments on the dye aren't designed to cancel that.
Even considering how to dye dark brown hair blonde without bleach is often a stretch unless you have hair that lifts very easily, and you are happy to go for a warmish honey blonde at most. Always do a strand test first or start reading about bleaching and toning hair.
If your raven locks came from a dye box, the path to blonde is definitely via bleach. The golden rule of lifting hair color is dye won't lift dye. Only bleach will lift dye. And black hair dye can be particularly stubborn, so if you are set on going back to blonde you may want to try using a color remover first and be ready for a few unflattering
Dying brown hair to blonde with box dye is possible if certain conditions are met, but it's worth considering if your hair is suitable. It offers you less control than bleach, but at the same time it's easier to achieve the desired result without worrying about toning hair after dying or stressing over bleach damage.