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How to fix yellow hair

Blonde hair looks beautiful, but the original shade can fade after dyeing, leaving you with yellow hair instead. When your hair turns yellow, it needs to be toned to neutralize this unwanted result. With the proper toner and a little time, you can fix yellow hair and return your tresses back to the shade you love.

Why does blonde hair turn yellow?

Hair lightening exposes the underlying pigment in your hair. Depending on how dark your natural color is, this pigment can be anything from a deep red color to a pale yellow color, and it is this underlying base tone that allows your natural shade to look rich and dark.

Generally, whenever you expose the base tone of your hair, the final color is achieved with a toner. This toner adds cool pigment back into your hair to neutralize the appearance of the warm base tone and transform its color into the shade of hair color you actually want. With time, the toner fades, allowing the underlying warmth to become visible again. In blonde shades, this leads to gold or yellow hair.

Getting rid of yellow hair

Understanding why yellow hair occurs in blondes is the key to also understanding how to get rid of yellow hair and rejuvenate your color. To bring your favorite shade back, all you need to do is add cool tone back into your hair to counteract the warmth that has appeared. This requires the use of a toner, and a little knowledge of color theory.

Toners and color correction

Toners can be used to correct unwanted hair color because of the way color theory works. On a standard hair color wheel, any two tones that are opposite each other are complementary colors and will neutralize each other. This allows you to tone out any unwanted shade by adding in the appropriate complementary tone.

In the case of yellow hair, the complementary color to use is violet. Violet and yellow counteract each other. When they are balanced, they produce a neutral result. You can fix yellow hair by toning it with violet, and there are many different types of hair dye that can be used for this. Even a violet shampoo can be used for maintenance or toning of blonde hair.

Ideally, if you have dyed blonde hair, you've likely bleached it to get to that point, and the best toner to use will be a semi-permanent dye because this won't cause any further damage. Demi-permanent hair dyes, or toning shampoos are other options. A permanent dye offers the longest lasting tone, but it does cause more damage than the other options.


Toner depth and shade

When choosing a toner, you need to be aware of both the depth and shade of the dye being used. Toners for correcting yellow hair should be in a violet shade, at the correct depth to match the level of your hair. Choose a product that is a violet, pearl, or ash shade in most brands to guarantee it will tone correctly, but do keep in mind that brands vary and some manufacturers may use more of a violet-blue blend in their ash blonde dyes. If you have any brand specific questions, you can leave a comment for assistance with this.

The depth of a hair dye refers to how dark it is. You can gauge this by looking at the level of the dye, which is the first number of the shade code and ranges from 1, which is black, to 10, which is almost white. The name of the shade will often also denote the level:
  • 6 - Dark blonde
  • 7 - Medium blonde
  • 8 - Light blonde
  • 9 - Very light blonde
  • 10 - Lightest blonde
If you're unsure what level your blonde hair is, you can determine it through use of the chart below. This shows the corresponding natural blonde shade, as well as the base tone present at specific levels to help you approximate how dark your hair is. Once you know the level, choose a toner that is at least 1 level lighter than this. The lighter shade produces a slower change during toner and will allow for more control to get the precise shade you want.

How to apply toner

The way you apply a toner to correct yellow hair depends on the dye you're using. Semi-permanent and temporary toners are applied directly. There is no need to mix the product with anything else because it works straight out of the tube or bottle. Your hair should be shampooed prior to application of these products.

Demi-permanent and permanent toners need to by mixed with developer and applied to unwashed hair, however. Developer is hydrogen peroxide, which is necessary for the chemical reaction that takes place when these dyes are used. You'll need to mix 10 vol developer into a permanent toner, whereas a demi-permanent toner will require a specific developer that varies with brand. This is usually a low strength between 5 - 10 vol. Add this developer in the correct ratio for the brand you're using and you'll be ready to apply the toner.

When you apply your toner, divide your hair into quadrants by parting it from your forehead to the back of your neck, and then again from ear to ear. Work on one quadrant at a time, as quickly as possible by taking small layers of hair and coating both sides. Once you've applied the toner to one quadrant, repeat for the next section until your hair is entirely covered.

At this point, you need to actually watch the toner carefully. It's fine to leave it in for the entire development time recommended by the brand you're using, but you'll generally reach the shade you want sooner than this. If you leave the product too long, you will end up with silver, grey, or even a violet tinge to your hair depending on how intense you let it become.

Rinse as soon as it looks slightly cooler than the result you want. The reason for this is that the product in your hair will make it look more toned than it actually is. You need to take it slightly past the color you actually want to ensure it looks as intended when rinsed. When you do rinse it, shampoo it once and then condition if using permanent dye or a demi. You don't have to shampoo a temporary or semi-permanent toner, but you can apply conditioner if necessary.


Hair color maintenance

After you fix yellow hair, the effect of the toner will last a number of washes before fading becomes evident again and your blonde begins to look yellow. How long this takes depends on the kind of dye that was used, as well as the porosity of your hair. Regular maintenance can keep it looking good without the need to dye it again.

The best way to maintain your blonde hair is to use a violet shampoo. This will prevent fading. The stronger the tone of shampoo you use, the more actively it will tone your hair. Weaker shampoos reduce fading, whilst stronger products prevent it entirely or reverse it. With the right shampoo, you will never need to tone your blonde hair with dye again, except when you touch up any regrowth.

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