Sean Zanni/Getty Images
Rachel Brosnahan, Emilia Clarke, Emma Roberts, Scarlett Johansson, Beyoncé and most recently, Katy Perry: All of these ladies (and countless others) have gone from their naturally brunette locks to various shades of blonde at some point in the last few years (some of them more than once). And as they’ve demonstrated, it’s a pretty major transformation.
If you’re considering making this change for the first time, there are some things you should know beforehand to minimize the amount of damage you do to your hair in the process. Not to worry—we asked celebrity hairstylist and Kérastase consultant Glen Oropeza (he’
Mike Coppola/Getty Images
First of all, what are the different options for turning brown hair blonde?
The most common way to go from brown hair to blonde is to do a double-process, which involves stripping your base or natural color before toning it to your desired shade. Two steps equal double process. Note: If you’re a natural brunette who is trying to go blonde, a single process won’t cut it because you always have to lighten or lift your color first.
Other ways to go blonde involve getting partial or full highlights, balayage or ombré, all of which use bleach to lighten up darker strands, but rather than being applied all over your head from root to tip, it’s only applied to certain sections of your hair.
Paul Archuleta/Getty Images
And what happens during the process?
“Going from brunette to blonde is a challenging task that largely depends on how dark your natural hair color is to start,” says Oropeza. For example, if you have light or medium brown hair, you’ll only need to lift (that’s stylist-speak for lighten with bleach) your color a level or two; on the other hand, if you have dark brown hair that borders on black, you’ll need to lift it several levels.
“Lightening your hair causes the cuticles of each strand to expand, which will definitely weaken the shaft. That’s why it’s especially important that your stylist uses the right products during your appointment. I always recommend using a lightener that has a combination of moisture and protein in it to protect the strength of your hair, so it still looks nice and healthy afterward,” Oropeza explains. “I also prefer to lighten it in a few stages and always use lower volume developers to lift the hair slowly and steadily so we don’t cause too much breakage.”
Paul Bruinooge/Getty Images
What specifically should you ask your stylist for?
Come into the salon with a crystal-clear idea or better yet—a visual (or three)—of the color and tone you’re hoping to achieve rather than a vague description. Your idea of “ashy” or “honey” blonde could be vastly different from your stylist’s and things can easily get lost in translation; a photo leaves little room for misinterpretation.
On that note, when searching for photos to bring in, try to look for examples of people who have similar skin tones (and eye colors) as you do. This will ensure that you end up with a color that flatters your complexion, rather than washes you out or looks super unnatural.
Oropeza also advises that you always ask your stylist, “What can we realistically do in one day?” Again, depending on how dark your hair is and how much you want to lighten it, it can take several appointments to reach your desired shade. “It’s better to go lighter in a few stages to maintain the health of your hair than to blast it with bleach all at once.” (True story: I made the mistake of going blonde in one appointment and ended up with broken spikes of hair in the back of my head that took months to grow out evenly.)
A final note: “Blonde hair requires more
Sean Zanni/Getty Images
How should you prep for your appointment?
“I highly recommend not washing your hair for a minimum of one to two days prior to your appointment,” advises Oropeza. This will allow some time for your hair to form a protective coat of natural oils on the scalp (which you’ll definitely be thankful for once the bleach is applied).
Also, hands off your head. “Everything we do to our scalp—like scratching or rubbing it—causes tiny little micro abrasions that can increase its sensitivity,” says Oropeza.
In the weeks leading up to your appointment, up your moisture game. Lightening your hair—no matter how careful you and your stylist are—will cause some amount of damage. That said, it’s important to start with the healthiest hair possible. Many stylists (and our editors) swear by Olaplex, a bond-repairing treatment that protects and strengthens hair.
Neil Mockford/Getty Images
Are there any red flags to look out for during your appointment?
“I’ve heard a lot of blonding nightmares and I, myself, go blonde once or twice a year, so I’ve experienced my fair share of chemical burns and discoloration throug
This is why communication is key. Though some amount of discomfort is—sorry to say this—expected, “There is a difference between a bit of stinging on your scalp and being in full-on pain,” warns Oropeza. “If it ever gets to a point where it’s unbearable, it’s best to tell your stylist. Always, always speak up, so they can reassess the situation.”
And if the thought of bleach burn absolutely terrifies you, consider getting highlights to lighten up your strands instead. Highlights or balayage are generally applied away from the roots, which will minimize the amount of bleach that comes in contact with your scalp altogether. More blonde, less burn.
Juan Ocampo/Getty Images
What is the best way to take care of your hair afterward?
First things first: You’ll want to get a purple shampoo and keep it in steady rotation. “There are so many great products out there now, but I stand by Kérastase Blond Absolu Ultra Violet shampoo because it deposits just the right amount of purple pigment to counteract any brassiness and keeps your toner from fading too quickly,” says Oropeza. Use it once a week or whenever you start to notice any unwanted yellow or orange tones starting to creep in.
A few other things you might want to stock up on? A sulfate-free shampoo for regular use, a moisturizing mask (which you should use weekly), a daily heat protectant produc
Stefanie Keenan/Getty Images
Is there anything else you should know before going blonde?
“Like anything there’s a trade-off. Being blonde truly is a lot of fun and it’s definitely going to turn some heads, but you will be in the salon a lot more often and you’ll be buying way more conditioner than you’re probably used to,” joked Oropeza.
As a former ex-blonde myself (and I’m talking about a jet black-to-platinum
I’ll just add three things: 1) The scalp burn does lessen with subsequent appointments and 2) The texture of your hair will change (this is particularly helpful if you have fine or slippery strands, as the bleach makes your strands look and feel a bit thicker 3) Bring some snacks and a book to your appointment because it will take longer than you think.