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10 Ways to Remove Hair Colour

13 September 2013

The first thing to consider when attempting to remove or change your hair colour is what colour do you want to achieve? Do you need it to be a very pale and even base for dyeing your hair a pastel colour or you just need to get rid of some unwanted red tones before dyeing your hair blue. Maybe you want to get some colour out of your hair before dyeing it a more natural shade. Whatever the reason, it’s important to choose a technique (or techniques) that will work for you.

Below is a list of methods, in no particular order, which you can use to fade or remove colour from your hair. The methods outlined work with varying effectiveness and cause differing amounts of damage. Always start with the least-damaging method, taking into consideration the effectiveness of the method on the type of dye you’ve used. You should assess the condition of your hair and do strand and sensitivity tests before proceeding with the colour removal techniques below.

#1 Bleaching

When you don’t like your hair colour it’s tempting to reach straight for the bleach. Bleach is probably the most powerful colour removal method but in many cases it’s unnecessarily harsh.

So when should you use bleach? In my opinion, you should only opt for bleach after you’ve tried several other suitable colour removal methods. You probably know that bleaching your hair is damaging so unnecessary bleaching should be avoided. Bleaching already lightened hair risks severe damage so it should be your last resort.

Keep in mind that if you bleach out fresh colour you may encounter an unexpected result. For example, you’ve dyed your hair dark blue like Special Effects Blue Velvet but you decide it’s too dark and you bleach it. The result: bright pink hair. Bleach removes cool tones more quickly than warm so this can happen with a variety of colours. Green may go neon yellow when bleached. Purple can go pink. The best option in this case is to wash out as much colour as possible, try some less damaging methods to remove the colour and if all else fails and you can’t get to a colour you can dye over then use bleach.

Bleaching summary:
Use: On stubborn colour when other methods have failed. Can remove permanent colour (but a colour reducer is a better option).
Damage Risk: Moderate – High (depending on your hair’s condition, developer used and processing time)
Effectiveness: Very effective at lightening natural hair and on semi-permanent dyes. Less effective on demi and permanent colour.
Additional Info: Lower volume peroxide in your bleach mix will make the lightening process slower and give you more control. Leaving strong bleach mixtures on your hair for long periods of time will cause the most damage.

#2 Vitamin C Treatment

This is a really easy treatment that you can knock together with just 2 household ingredients. It works best on semi-permanent colours and can remove 1-2 levels of tone. It will not affect your natural colour.
You will need effervescent Vitamin C tablets (powder is fine but tablets work slightly better) and shampoo. Use 1 or 2 1,000mg tablets or 1-2g of Vitamin C powder. If using tablets crush them between two spoons and collect up the powder in a bowl. Get yourself ready for the treatment because you’ll need to use it immediately after mixing. I recommend you use an old towel to catch any colour run-off and a plastic cap.
Mix your powdered Vitamin C with a large squirt of cheap shampoo. Apply this to your hair immediately and work it through your hair ensuring every strand is covered. Cover your hair with a plastic cap to prevent it from dripping into your eyes.
Check your hair every 5-10 minutes and leave it on your hair for a maximum of 20 minutes before rinsing out. Follow with conditioner.

Vitamin C Treatment Summary
Use: On direct dyes (Manic Panic, Directions, Special Effects etc.) to remove tone.
Damage Risk: Mild. This process will have a drying effect your hair but this can be remedied with a deep conditioner.
Effectiveness: Depends on the colour but usually lightens direct dyes 1-2 shades.
Additional Info: This works particularly well on cool tones. If you experience a burning sensation rinse off immediately.

#3 Colour Remover

Colour removers fall into two categories – colour strippers and colour reducers. Colour strippers are very similar to bleach but colour reducers are a great way of removing permanent colour from your hair with minimal damage. Colour reducers won’t touch your natural colour and only remove artificial pigment.

The instructions vary from one manufacturer to the next, but generally you can use a colour reducer 2-3 times to remove a permanent colour. It reverses the colouring process by shrinking the colour molecules in your hair, allowing them to be washed out. It’s important to follow the manufacturer’s instructions to the letter, both for safety and to ensure you get the most from the product. When the instructions say wash your hair for 20 minutes, do it!

Colour Remover Summary
Use: To remove permanent colour (any permanent colour that was mixed with peroxide).
Damage Risk: Mild-Moderate
Effectiveness: Very effective on permanent and demi permanent colours. Usually ineffective on unnatural colours although some dyes will change colour or fade.
Additional Info: Always do a strand test before you begin. Washing out the colour molecules is the key to achieving a good result. Don’t skimp on the shampooing stage! To check if the colour has been removed, apply 10 volume developer to a strand of hair. If it darkens you’ll need to repeat the process.
If you use a colour reducer on a direct semi-permanent the results will most likely be disappointing. Some shades will change (green to yellow) and others will remain untouched, so it’s not ideal for unnatural colours.

#4 Anti-Dandruff Shampoo

Sounds simple, but anti-dandruff shampoo works like a charm removing pastels and unwanted tones. If your blonde hair has gone too ashy or you still have a slight tint from your last colour hanging around, a few washes with an anti-dandruff shampoo will lighten it up significantly.

Anti-Dandruff Shampoo Summary
Use: Removes unwanted tones, pastel tints, green tones on blonde hair.
Damage Risk: None (although always follow with conditioner).
Effectiveness: Noticeable fading on pastel colours. Speeds up fading on darker, unnatural shades. Not noticeably effective on permanent colour.
Additional Info: Anti-Dandruff shampoo will leave your hair a bit dry if you don’t follow with conditioner.

#5 Bleach Bath

A bleach bath is made up of bleach and shampoo. Simply mix up some bleach powder and 20 volume peroxide in a 1:1 ratio and add the same amount again in shampoo. Apply to your hair immediately and take all the precautions you would when dealing with bleach to protect your skin and clothing. Check your hair every 5 minutes, up to around 30 minutes before washing out the mixture.

A bleach bath will lighten up your existing colour but may also affect your natural colour.

Bleach Bath Summary
Use: To remove staining from your hair and to lift 1-2 levels before re-colouring.
Damage Risk: Moderate. This is still bleaching your hair, but the mixture is not as strong as regular bleach.
Effectiveness: Removes tone and lightens direct dyes by around 3 shades. Removes tone on permanent colour but results are less dramatic.
Additional Info: The same rules apply as with bleaching and you should ensure that your hair will not end up over-processed by doing a strand test first. Expect unnatural colours to change and lighten but not lift out completely unless already very washed out.

#6 High-lift Blonde Dye

The old rule “colour does not lift colour” still applies but a high-lift blonde dye can be a handy addition to your dye stash for minor corrections. In some circumstances you can use a blonde dye to remove leftover tint from your hair, tone it or to even out your colour.

I recommend only doing this when your previous colour has almost washed out leaving a slightly tinted light blondish colour. This is not a suitable method to lighten dark hair.

High-lift Blonde Dye Summary
Use: To even out tone and remove slight staining from hair.
Damage Risk: Mild-moderate (depends on the processing and developer used).
Effectiveness: Removes slight staining and unwanted tone on almost-blonde hair. Not recommended for darker hair.
Additional Info: Only use on hair that’s already light blonde to remove unwanted tones and even the colour. Always do strand and sensitivity tests first.

#7 Swimming

If you need to fade your colour swimming in a chlorinated pool will fade semi-permanent colour, and with repeated exposure can fade permanent colour slightly. Swimming in the sea can also lighten your colour. The effects are subtle but if you’re a regular swimmer you will notice a difference.

Swimming Summary
Use: Fades semi-permanent colour
Damage Risk: Mild
Effectiveness: Can have a noticeable fading effect on direct dyes but is not particularly effective on demi-permanent and permanent colour.
Additional Info: Chlorine can damage your hair with prolonged exposure so always shampoo your hair after swimming. Blonde hair can turn greenish in pool water. This can be corrected with a chelating or “swimmer’s” shampoo, available online or from beauty supply shops.

#8 Sun Exposure

While I don’t want to encourage anyone to expose themselves to sun-damage, most unnatural colours are not particularly photostable. If you can safely give your hair a little bit of sun exposure over a few days you will notice a difference in colour. Always take precautions to avoid sunburn to your skin (don’t forget your scalp).

Sun Exposure Summary
Use: Fades all types of hair colour eventually, but works best on vegetable-based colours
Damage Risk: Mild
Effectiveness: Works well on many unnatural coloured direct dyes, but has little effect on permanent colour.
Additional Info: Cooler shades like blue and purple are especially vulnerable to sunlight. Be sensible and always take precautions to protect your skin when exposed to the sun.

#9 Bath Salts

No, I don’t mean the party drug – I’m talking about the stuff your granny uses to relieve her aches and pains. Bath salts are a mixture of soluble minerals that are added to bath water and usually include Epsom salts and sodium bicarbonate. To use, just run a bath, sprinkle in some bath salts and soak your hair for as long as possible. Colour is drawn out of your hair, and if there’s a lot of pigment in your hair, you’ll see a pool of colour where you’ve been soaking!

Bath Salts Summary
Use: Fades semi-permanent colours
Damage Risk: Negligible
Effectiveness: Good for drawing out excess colour. Does not affect permanent colour.
Additional Info: Blue and purple shades seem most susceptible to this method.

#10 Bleach Powder & Water

To remove tone and light staining you can mix warm water with your usual bleach powder (don’t use peroxide) and apply it to the affected area. Wear gloves and take the same precautions you would when working with bleach (protective clothing, strand tests, sensitivity tests etc.). Rinse, shampoo and condition your hair after 10-15 minutes.

Bleach Powder & Water Summary
Use: To remove tone
Damage Risk: Mild-Moderate
Effectiveness: Good on unnatural colours. Not effective for lightening hair.
Additional Info: This method can lighten a direct dye 1-2 shades and is excellent for removing pastel colours, staining and unwanted tone. For best results use warm, deionised water.

Do you have a technique for fading your colour? Share it in the comments section below!

Comments

  • Baking soda with lemon juice/water also works if you don't have access to vitamin c tablets. :) Report Comment
  • If you can get Dr. Bronner's liquid soap, that will remove a lot of dye, I don't know how much but it removed a lot of excess that would have bled all over when I used it one time. :-) It is also good for removing hair product build up. Report Comment
  • I've heard shaving foam is good, bicarb mixed with water (though that one's drying - condition after), soap (bar or liquid) and clarifying shampoo. Report Comment
  • I have seen a video in where a stylist uses a high ammonia light blonde dye (similar to hilift) with a 40 vol on damp hair. There were layers and layers of built up blue direct dye. I watched this video a million times and looked for a possible fakeout, but nope, before my eyes shot in real time motion, the color lifted from the hair and went back to a pale level 10 in about 1-2 mins. I have been meaning to test this theory myself as the video has since been taken down...maybe I shall do this next Monday and report in :D Report Comment
  • @kitteh, that sounds really interesting. Please keep us updated :) Report Comment
  • I have used blonde dye to remove pink in the past, as kitteh says it just disappears in a couple of minutes. I only did it the once so I don't know how reliable it is and it was a long time ago, I haven't seen that particular dye recently so can't replicate it. Does anyone know if bath salts work as effectively if applied directly to hair? We don't have a bath atm. Report Comment
  • @kitteh do you remember what brand of dye it was? @Wicked_Pixie if i understand correctly, you did this before + it worked? What dye did you use to do it? I am trying to get blue out of my hair + am very curious about this! Report Comment
  • I did, but I don't remember the name of the dye unfortunately, and it was about 20 years ago lol. It removed several years worth of Flamingo Pink almost instantly. It was a shop bought one though, not a fancy salon brand. Report Comment
  • @ksiepierski it was Brocato if I remember correctly. Report Comment
  • @Wicked_Pixie I have tried to use epsom salts in a warm water bath and it didn't really fade it much. I got the idea of using salt because the salt in your sweat tends to make my front hairline fade faster. Report Comment
  • Baking soda with lemon juice worked great for me too. Report Comment
  • You all literally saved my new hair extensions! I bought platinum extensions, took 12 hrs putting them in and when I finally decided to wash them I stupidly followed my usual routine and washed my hair with purple shampoo. My extensions grabbed the color and instantly turned silver. I was devastated. I used dandruff shampoo, baking soda, vinegar , and even tested a strand with a bleach bath. Nothing pulled out that purpley silver. I tried a bath salt soak and BAM! it was a life saver. I soaked for 15_20 min and my bath water turned purple. Thank you so much for this article. Report Comment
  • I recently dyed my hair purple using splat dye, and then bleached it with a Radical bleach kit. I didn't get it all out, and we tried using color stripper and then blach again. I still have pink left in my hair. Tooth paste worked fairly well, and baking soda + dandruff shampoo. Tried dish soap too. Still pink. I'm trying a mix of vinigar, lemon juice, dish soap and baking soda right now. Will update. Report Comment
  • hi ladies, you all are so incredibly helpful with all of your commentary! I was avidly curious tho, I recently cut my hair about 2 months ago, my roots have grown out about 4 inches, half old dyed blonde, half new growth -un touched. I have been soaking it in coconut oil, conditioner and taking extremely great care of it & it looked worlds better! It was looking so great! And then ...For some dumb reason, I dyed my hair bright red this morning, (1 box of gariner nutrise intense auburn red) its bright, but not real dark…Anyways, it looks terrible! And I want to know if there is any way to get the red color out with out bleaching…like in the best way possible? After doing so much work to get it so healthy, I just want to know if there is a way to reverse it with out setting me back in damage. Thank you so much for your suggestions! Report Comment
  • Is bleach the only thing that can remove a brunette boxcolor? Thats what I was told twice in the past from "top" salon people. Ok here is my story and real question, .....I wanted to lighten my hair and the stylist told me the only way to do this was to highlight my whole head. It came out to be a blond look. I did that and then wanted it a shade darker months and months later .... so a salon used a semipermanent and I said I wanted my highlight to come though on the whole crown of my head but underneath darken a shade that won't let them come though, like the lightest light brown they had. Well the stylist left the colors on for at least a half hour on dry hair and now it has been two months and the color never washed out. It came out way way too dark and will not fade! I'm hearing from people that these techniques work well for fake colors (pink purple blue) but not for real colors? Help I'm confused and don't want to re-bleach my long hair. Report Comment
  • Adding this........ but now I'm reading that a permanent color can lighten hair up to 4 shades because it contains peroxide. In the past colorist have done this. Did the two Portland salons give me wrong information when they said they would have to use bleach??? I only want to lighten two shades. Report Comment
  • Does the baking soda & lemon juice/or water damage your hair at all? Report Comment
  • I just tried what kitteh suggested, mine didn't really lift more than any of these other strippers would have done, just thought I'd report for the curious. ^.^ Report Comment
  • I just used washing detergent (the usual powder used to machine wash clothes) on wet hair and washed it out with anti-dandruff shampoo. My bright pink/purple hair has dramatically faded to a pale pink/peach and I'm sure it wont be long until the blonde is back now! :D Report Comment
  • Wow this a article is pretty useful, I'll deffo have a look into some of those methods ;) Report Comment
  • I would love your opinion on this if you see it. Right now my hair color is green. I used pravana green and yellow to get the color I wanted. The other day I was putting regular, wound cleaning, 3% hydrogen peroxide on my face because of some scabs and some of it got into my hair. In just a few minutes my hair turned yellow, and I was like whaaaaaaaat?!? I've looked this up to see if it's happened to anyone else or if anyone recommends using medical peroxide for color remover, to no avail. Thoughts? Report Comment
  • Hi, I accidentally dyed a slight purplish blue over my blonde and i couldnt get it out. nothing worked, of course i didn't want to pull out the bleach yet so i tried what @kitteh suggested and i did not use the same exact stuff but i used Color silk Blonde dye and it covered it up completely and made it the color i desired! Although there were minor problems like my roots lightening because i wasnt being very careful. It also did not cover the pink up just lightened a tad bit, barely noticeable. Thank you!!!! :D I'm very happy with the results in conclusion! Hope this helps someone else! Report Comment
  • Hi, if there's intrest, you can remove hair color with sour milk (Kefir in German). It helped for me. usually removes 1 to 2 tones and conditions hair too! Leave it in for and hour, but cover hair with a bathmask(hat) and a towel, plus, what is a little annoying - shampoo hair after that. You don't want to smell like rotten milk :) Apply on dry hair. Report Comment
  • I had a dark blue aqua colored hair and then wanted to lighten it to go pink, and or purple. I used Bleach Blonde by Feria from L'oreal and it lifted the color to a light mint green. I'm still working on getting the mint out but the color worked amazing and there isn't any bleach in the mix. Report Comment

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