Red hair dye has pigments with the largest molecular sizes, making it more likely to wash out in the shower, making you think that bleach for red hair would be a straightforward affair. Irritatingly, the same red pigments seem to be the last to go when you are trying to bleach your hair to go from red to blonde. Even fixing orange hair after bleaching red hair is often a struggle because the warm tones keep reappearing. But even if it takes a bit extra effort, going from redhead to blonde is perfectly possible, and you can skip the orange stage too!
Flickering between blonde and redhead can be a costly process. If you want to go back to red, you will need to pre-fill the hair with all the orange and yellow pigments you just removed. Hair that has been bleached is often worse at holding on to red dye, so you may need to re-do your red color more often if you decide to go blonde at some point. And if you were a natural redhead, keep in mind that achieving the richness and quality of your virgin hair color is difficult with hair dye. Particularly at home.
If you aren't sure whether blonde is the right color for you or want to explore your options without the expense and damage to your hair, consider borrowing a wig. Or at least try an app to change your hair color. This way, you can see how you would look with blonde hair and see which blonde suits you best.
If you want to go blonde, you will need to bleach your hair unless you are a natural strawberry blonde who can use a high lift dye to go blonde without bleach. Choose a very ashy color or accept that the result will still be warm instead of pale and silvery. To achieve a cool blonde from red hair, you will need to lift to a level 8 or 9 to eliminate all the underlying orange pigments. This can be harsh on hair, and as such, it's a good idea to use Olaplex or a similar bond builder to help retain the integrity of the hair.
Lifting red hair dye is usually quite the challenge, but you can help the process by first washing out as much of the color as possible without using bleach. Hair color removers work by shrinking the pigment molecules so they can be washed out of hair in a process similar to an inverse dye. Once most of the red pigment is gone, you can use a bleach bath to remove the last remnants of red hair dye.
And if you are already blonde and decide to try your hand at being a redhead, remember that even temporary semi-permanent dyes can permanently stain porous blonde hair and leave a patchy result as they wash off. So please think twice before you take that step, as it may be costly to correct.
This video shows a hairdressing removing burgundy red from a client's hair and then toning it to a lovely platinum blonde. As you can see, the process is long and takes multiple bleaching and toning steps, but it's oddly satisfying to watch. During the entire process, the hair has visible warm tones, which must be toned away.
The truth is, at some point during the bleaching process, your hair will turn orange. But you are fixing orange hair after bleaching is not a problem! You can use a toner to remove the brassiness. After bleaching, using a toner allows you to create ashy, sandy, or beige tones in blonde hair.
A toner is a translucent semi-permanent dye with the correct pigments to cancel the unwanted orange and yellow tones. You apply a toner after bleaching your hair, making sure the base level of the hair matches the level of the toner and your desired end shade. Depending on the condition of your hair, you may need to apply different toners to different sections to achieve an overall blonde result without patchiness. This is particularly common if you have previously dyed your hair red, as it doesn't fade evenly, and some sections of your head may be warmer than others. But many natural red-heads will also see this happen, as their hair is not the same darkness and shade of red all over.
You can bleach your hair at home and go from red to blonde, but it may be more challenging than if you started with a less warm brunette, for example. If you are trying to remove red box dye, expect a patchy or uneven result from the first bleach round.
A toner will not lighten hair but just deposit color on top, so the first step when bleaching red hair is to ensure you lift enough to achieve the end result of your dreams. If you want to become a platinum blonde, you will need to lift at the very least to a level 9. Darker and warmer blondes may be OK with a level 7 or 8, provided you are happy to tone away from the warmth.
If you have dyed your hair before, it's good to do a strand test to see which colors are actually in your hair. As the bleach lifts the pigment, you may see banding or patchy areas. Even if you have always used the same red dye, the tips of your hair may have more color deposited than the roots, changing how the bleach performs.
To go from red to blonde hair at home, you must bleach your hair first. To do this, you will need:
Start applying the bleach from the middle to the ends. The hair at the back of the head is often more resistant to lift, so most people apply bleach starting there and working forward to the front of your head. Once you have fully covered the mids and lengths, apply bleach from about an inch from your roots downwards. The bleach will travel up the hair to the scalp, and the heat from the scalp will make it lift faster, which is why you always leave the roots for last.
If your hair has a complicated history, you can always bleach your lengths first and then do your roots after washing, but the critical bit is avoiding overlap. Do not bleach the same bit of hair twice in the same session, or you may have to learn how to repair hair damage in a hurry. Use a 20vol developer for your scalp and a 30vol developer for the lengths of your hair to avoid causing too much scalp irritation. If you don't know how to choose a developer, read our handy guide to hair developer here.
You can learn about this process in more detail in our guide to bleaching hair at home safely. But the most important thing at this point is to keep a constant eye on the bleach. Do not wrap your hair and watch TV or do the dishes or anything that would distract you from your hair. Hair dye can be left alone, but bleach needs monitoring, particularly if you go from red to blonde hair at home. Every 5 or 10 minutes, check your hair and be ready to wash off the bleach as soon as the hair has gone a pale yellow color.
Wash the bleach off after half an hour, even if your hair is still a bit orange. That can be toned afterwards, or you may need to bleach again after a few protein and hydrating treatments. Bleach will keep lifting and irritating your scalp until you wash it off, so make sure you wash it off really well and seriously scrub your hair.
At this point, particularly if you have never bleached your hair before, you will look in the mirror and think something went wrong. Your hair is likely to be a very unflattering shade of pumpkin orange or maybe baby chicken yellow.
A toner is a deposit-only dye that adds a translucent layer of pigment to your hair to cancel unwanted tones. Unlike your regular dye, a toner uses a low peroxide developer to deposit color on the hair without lightening or darkening it. To cancel orange and yellow tones, you need to find a toner with the opposite color in the color wheel. Green cancels orange, and violet/purple cancels yellow.
Choosing the right toner is a bit of an art, but for very light blondes, purple-based toners work best. They cancel the yellow tones, making your hair look cooler and brighter, and are a must if you want to go for snow white or platinum hair.
Darker blondes may have some orange pigment on their hair, so that an ashy toner will work best. Ash is the hairdressing term for green, and lighter ash toners often have a touch of purple for a very cool-toned finish.
Once you have chosen the right toner for your hair, it's time to apply it. After bleaching your hair, apply the toner mixture to dry, clean hair. A common problem with toners is that you can over-tone and end up with green or purple hair instead of a natural-looking bright blonde. So it's essential to keep an eye on the dye and see how it's developing, so you can wash it off as soon as the hair is the desired color. Sometimes hair that has been bleached is very porous and takes to toner very well, which means you will need a shorter application time. Other times you may need to wait longer.
Purple shampoo is a lightweight pigment depositing wash-off toner, so you can use it if your hair is blonde enough to cancel yellow undertones. If you are going from red to blonde, you should stock up on purple shampoo because the natural red tones on your hair will need neutralizing regularly. There are also home remedies to get rid of brassy hair without toner, but purple shampoo is often most effective if you have just bleached your hair.
Follow the instructions and apply the purple shampoo to your hair for about 10 to 15 minutes so that it can deposit color as effectively as possible. Expect to repeat this treatment every few days as the purple shampoo pigments wash away, but try to avoid doing it so often that your hair turns purple.
Redheads often have problems avoiding brassy hair, as their hair has naturally more red and less yellow pigments. The easiest way to get rid of brassiness is using purple shampoo every other wash or when you notice your hair getting orange.
Purple shampoo tends to dry hair, so do not use it on every wash. If you don't like purple shampoo, there are color depositing hair masks that fulfill the same purpose and condition your hair simultaneously. Most people use violet, purple or silver shampoo around once a week, but you should find a routine that works for you. Often you will need to increase the frequency as the time for a root retouch approaches.
If you are a box dye redhead or bleach your hair frequently to achieve colors such as pillar red or fire engine red, your hair may also be extra porous and damaged. Damaged hair has more problems holding on to dye, so the toner may wash off quicker than expected. This will lead to brassy hair making an appearance faster than expected. Having healthy hair is vital to preventing brassy hair, so stock up on deep conditioning treatments and protein masks and be extra kind to your hair.
Another thing that leads to brassy hair is heat damage from styling your hair without using a heat protectant spray. Bleached hair needs baby-ing, so invest in a leave-in conditioner, oil, or heat protectant spray to keep damage and frizz at bay.
Sulfate-free shampoos designed for color-treated hair are critical to keeping blonde hair from going brassy. This is because even if you didn't use a blonde dye, the toner would wash off if you use shampoos that are stripping, such as anti-dandruff shampoo.
If, after all, you decide blonde is not your thing, you may be considering just dying your hair back to red to become a redhead again. The good news is that if you already have bleached blonde hair, you have a blank canvas to add any color you want. If you want a darker, natural-looking red, you may need to work a bit harder to get there.
Fantasy or rainbow red hair usually requires a platinum base to show their best, so if you want that hair, grab a bottle of Manic Panic, Directions, or similar, and make sure to cover your bathroom in newspaper to avoid it looking like a crime scene. Red semi-permanent dyes wash off relatively quickly. Since they don't need a developer, you can top the color up as often as necessary by mixing color and conditioner as a conditioning mask.
It is more complex for a blonde to become a convincing fake redhead, particularly if you want darker reds such as auburn. A strawberry blonde can be achieved with the right toner, but anything darker than two tones under your current base color will need filling. What is filling, exactly? As you lifted the color of your hair with bleach, the pigments that make up hair color were removed by the decolorant. Light blonde hair has mostly yellow pigments, whereas darker red hair has browns, oranges, and reds. To avoid your hair going pink or bright orange, you will need to dye it twice: once with a filler color or protein filler about two levels lower than your current color and once with your desired target color.
It's the same process to go from blonde to brunette, which you can see here:
As you can see, going back to red hair from blonde is not exactly straightforward, so don't decide to go from redhead to blonde on a whim. If you aren't sure about whether going from red to blonde is for you, it's a good idea to consult a professional. Some alternatives to bleach are highlights, balayage, or even a toner to turn your hair from strawberry blonde to something less warm.