Whether you’re opting into the celebrity-approved copper red hair movement or trying out a bolder two-toned style, being a hair color chameleon means you can keep up with the ever changing cycle of beauty trends. If you’re adventurous (or indecisive) when it comes to hair trends, dying your strands constantly can sometimes result in shades that don’t turn out quite like you’d hoped. Maybe your blonde is too yellow, brown too dark, or pink too neon, and now you’re stuck searching for a way to lighten the color. Knowing how to fade your own hair color can save you an expensive visit to the salon — but you’ll definitely want to make sure you’re doing it in a way that won’t destroy your hair.
Experimenting with dye and learning hair color upkeep from the comfort of your bathroom has ballooned in popularity in the past couple of years, and many people have since stuck with the DIY hobby. Especially with the aid of quick explanatory TikToks, taking control of your hairstyle without a visit to the salon has never been more accessible. “I get it — people have been doing doing a ton of home hair color, and it’s fun!” Julie M. Dickson, founder and head stylist of Joon Drop in New York City, tells NYLON. “You just might be stuck with a less than great irreversible result.” And no one wants that. So when it comes to lightening the hue of your hair, in particular, you want to make sure you’re stripping your hair of just color and nothing else.
Below, hair experts weigh in on how to fade your own hair color at home without damaging your locks.
Fading Hair At Home Vs. At The Salon
While going to a see a professional hair stylist is typically the safest bet, you can definitely learn to fade your hair on your own. “If you know what you’re doing, it does save a trip to the salon, especially if you're just going to put another color over it after it’s faded out,” digital creator Jaclyn May tells NYLON. “I have dyed my hair over 200 times, so with the constant changing I would be at the salon twice a month or more. It might take a little extra time, but it definitely saves you some coin.”
In fact, if you have lots of time on your hands, you might even enjoy the process. “It can be fun to play with different techniques,” Lorena M. Valdes, colorist at Maxine Salon in Chicago, tells NYLON. However, it can also be “time-consuming, it may be uneven, you won’t have all the products available all at once, you could miss spots, and it may end up costing more in the long run to fix it.”
Booking an appointment at a salon is pretty much always the best choice if you want to fully remove any color, go back to your natural color, or get the color out ASAP. “If you want a dramatic transformation, or you have a lot of preexisting hair color or any damage, you should always go to a salon,” says Dickson. “And do your research — there are a lot of licensed pros that aren’t experienced. Always check someone’s Insta or get a recommendation from a friend, colleague, or even a stranger whose hair you like.”
Plus, going to a salon generally ensures you access to professional-level, high-quality products that won’t harm your hair. “At-home products are actually stronger than salon products,” Dickson explains. “They usually have higher ammonia contents to account for human error and give less educated consumers a more consistent result. This is at the cost of hair health.”
All this being said, if you’re more of a DIY hair dye person, then fair game. The experts just ask that you know how to do it safely and smartly before you ruin your luscious locks.
How To Fade Natural Hair Color
It’s basically impossible to fade your natural hair color without the help of synthetic products. “Most post-teen hair stops producing warmth, meaning brunettes as kids usually have pretty chestnut or honey pieces and blondes have paler golden bits,” Dickson explains. “Unfortunately that goes away, but it can be nice to use something simple to get those natural ‘kid hair’ highlights to pop back out.”
The sun will naturally lighten your hair, as it essentially bleaches out the melanin that causes pigment. But other than UV rays, you can also get some help from lemons. “Natural color can be lightened a little with your grandmother’s old faithfuls like lemon juice,” Dickson says. “It doesn’t do a lot, but it’s safe! Lemon juice covered with plastic wrap for an hour can create gorgeous sun-kissed pieces.” Although lemon juice is far gentler than hair dyes and bleach, it’s still naturally acidic, which means it can dry out your hair and scalp, leading to dry, brittle locks and potentially hair breakage. However, as long as you don’t keep it on for too long, and follow up with a hair mask as Valdes recommends, your hair should for the most part be fine — but don’t expect dramatic lightening results.
How To Fade Artificial Hair Color
If you’re looking to fade or lighten the hue of your dyed hair color at home, there are a lot of variables that come into play. “Once color is deposited, it is there even if your eye can’t see it,” Valdes says. “So the amount of removal will depend on what you want to do afterward. Some dyes may need something more aggressive up to a color remover, while other colors may need a toner to cancel out some color.”
The first thing to consider is permanent versus temporary, semi-permanent, and demi-permanent color. “Trying to lighten permanent hair color definitely requires a professional,” Dickson says. This is because permanent hair color actually alters the structure of hair by using ammonia to permanently change the melanin in your natural hair color, making it last longer and much harder to lighten without professional products.
If you’re someone who enjoys the freedom of changing your hair color often, more temporary color is a better fit. “Personally, I only use semi-permanent hair dye because I can control the fade,” May says. “Semi-permanent hair dye tends to last ... anywhere from eight washes up to six weeks depending on what color you do. Lighter colors will fade quicker while darker colors will last longer.”
With semi-permanent color, you can definitely lighten it at home. “A gloss or demi-permanent [color] that has gone too dark can usually be lightened a little with a clarifying shampoo, or by mixing baking soda with shampoo or conditioner,” Dickson says. “I personally prefer baking soda with conditioner because it allows for a little more slip.” In addition to good shampoos and conditioners, Dickson says it’s also worthwhile to invest in clips for sectioning, an applicator bottle, tint brush, and wide tooth comb for even product distribution when it comes to all things hair dye.
May’s go-to method is to reach for Mane N’ Tail shampoo, “because it takes out a ton of color,” and then “use a really hydrating conditioner or hair mask just to avoid my hair getting dry.” Another tip May has is to take showers on the warm side. “A big trick is always using hot water when you shower, because it’s opening up the cuticle and getting that dye to fade quicker,” she says. “Most brands and professionals will recommend cold water to keep the color vibrant, but for fading definitely use warm [or] hot water.”
Another hack, especially if it’s summertime, is “going into salt water [and] chlorine pools,” according to Valdes, “but you will need to get clarified right after getting out and need a mask after” in order to protect your hair from dryness and split ends.
The color you’re dealing with also makes a difference in how it fades. Pastel shades, for example, will wash out a lot quicker than vibrant and dark shades. Pinks, oranges, and yellows fade a lot quicker than blues and greens, and red and purples depend on the undertones they have, according to May. “Bleaching out color when there is still a lot of pigment can be an issue,” she says. “If my hair was dark purple and I decided to just bleach it out, my hair is most likely going to turn green. Purple and blue semi-permanent dyes usually have green undertones. Have I done this? Yes (LOL). This led me into a lot more of a process to remove that color.”
As long as you have some foresight and apply a bit of color theory, dealing with fading colors shouldn’t be too much of a headache. “The main thing to do is figure out what color you are trying to achieve next,” May says. “If you have bright orange hair and want to achieve a hot pink, you don’t need to completely fade out or remove the color entirely because they are on the same side of the color wheel, so I always like to fade my hair enough where a new color can successfully cover it.”
The Risks Of Fading Your Own Hair
When done improperly, fading your hair at home can cause a number of problems: “frizz, damage to your scalp or hair, banding, uneven color, split ends, dryness, and increased porosity” are the main ones, according to Valdes. Another downside is cheap-looking color — if that’s not what you’re going for, that is. (“Sometimes this can be pretty rock-n-roll and super cool though!” Dickson says.)
The biggest risk associated with fading your own hair is doing it in a way that not only looks bad, but also damages your hair. “It’s easier than people think,” Dickson says. “What I mean is literally ruining, like cotton candy texture that you can’t apply more color to that you’re stuck with for years.”
Using harsh products like bleach, in particular, to fade hair color can severely damage your hair if done without care. “Remember, hair is just a delicate fiber,” Dickson says. “These products are strong! Hair lightener (or bleach) literally eats at your hair till the pigment falls out. If it’s too strong or left on too long, your hair will absolutely disintegrate.” And as she explains, “other gentler non-bleach products can still be mega-damaging, as they often have ammonia and/or a high pH. Both are designed to weaken your hair fiber to allow for the lightening process.” Even dye products that claim to be ammonia-free likely include ingredients that have a similar pH to ammonia and can be just as damaging.
Overall, as long as you stick to products that won’t destroy your hair and have some patience in the process, fading your hair color at home is a totally doable endeavor. However, if you are scared of ruining your hair health or find that you just aren’t achieving what you want, there’s always the option of visiting a professional at a salon.