Black to Blonde

It Can’t Be Done in a Day

Dear Ask a Stylist, I dyed my hair black about a month ago, then went into to a salon for a consultation to get my hair dyed blonde, and the stylist said I can’t have it done in one day. Is this right?—Lindsay

Dear Lindsay,

Ah, the old black-to-blonde scenario. I see this often, especially if someone has dyed their hair themselves at home. For some reason, when women get bored with their hair color, they often choose to dye it black. Black is an extremely difficult color to get out of the hair, and it is quite a process to get hair light again. Your stylist is absolutely correct in telling you that you may not go from black to blonde in one visit. To do so would be disastrous!

Crescent LoMonaco

Once hair has been dyed dark, the only way to get it lighter is to either strip it with a color remover or bleach it. In the case of hair dyed black, usually both are done. The process of removing a dark color from the hair and then lightening it is called a “color correction.” It is a long, labor intensive (and therefore costly) service.

First, a color stripper is applied to the entire head, which removes enough of the artificial color to take the edge off. After this process, the hair usually ends up in a reddish-orange stage. Once the hair has been lightened by the stripper to a reddish-orange, an all-over (and usually semi-permanent) color is applied to the entire head. This will get the hair to a dark or medium brown which can be either warm or neutral.

After the all-over color is completed, if the hair is strong enough, highlights may be put into the hair, to begin to slowly lighten the hair even further. Highlights are done by taking strands of hair, putting bleach onto them, and incubating the bleached strands in foil. The foil keeps the bleach off of the rest of your hair, and keeps the bleach warm so it can process properly.

More than likely, when the highlights are washed out, there will be one more color step to go: The highlights usually need to be “toned.” Toning is done by putting a color (again, usually semi-permanent) over the highlights to cancel out unwanted tones, even out the whole effect, and add shine.

At the end of your first visit, you can expect your hair to have gone from black to dark or medium brown, possibly with a few highlights in it. But you aren’t blonde yet. At this stage, your hair needs a rest. It also needs several deep conditioning treatments that contain both protein, to rebuild your hair, and moisture, to hydrate it after it has been chemically stripped. Ask your stylist how long you must wait before your hair can withstand another round of lightening. Typically this is never sooner than two to three weeks, and often it is four to six weeks or longer.

Your next several visits will consist of adding more and more highlights to your hair, possibly followed by a toner. Each time your hair is highlighted, it will get lighter and lighter. This doesn’t happen all at once. Patience is imperative. To try and lighten your hair too rapidly could result in what is known in the industry as a “chemical haircut,” meaning your hair breaks off due to the stress of too much chemical damage. All in all, if the job is done correctly, you can expect to go from black to blonde in about three to six months, again depending on how much stress your hair can take and how diligent you are about conditioning it properly.

If you think you are really a blonde at heart, but desperately want to try something different for a while, I suggest that you buy a wig.

Crescent LoMonaco works at Head West in Santa Barbara, CA. She's been a stylist for 10 years and is happy to take your questions, which you can send to

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