Breathtaking rainbow colored hair has definitely been tickling our color fancy as of late. But while unicorn and mermaid colored hues may look irresistible on social media (just look at the rainbow hair tag on Instagram!) it's sadly a little challenging to achieve that dramatic finish on brown hair in real life — especially if you're trying to DIY it.
Like all dramatic hair colors, achieving that jaw-dropping rainbow look on darker strands takes work and patience. Not only does the whole dye job take extreme dedication (you’ll definitely want to look up what a double process is) but you'll also want to consider upkeep and color fade.
If you are absolutely determined to make this style your own though, know that getting the rainbow look on brown hair is definitely possible — if you leave it to the pros. While it may be tempting to mix up some bleach and dye at home, most experts feel that a complicated (and extremely damaging) job like this is best left to your friends at the salon. Yes folks, that means that this is no job for coloring newbies to attempt at home.
But before you go grab some photos online or book that consultation with your stylist, here are seven things experts want brunettes to do before making the rainbow transformation.
1. Assess Your Risk For Damage
Going from brown to rainbow tends is a dramatic change, so if this is a look you definitely have your eye on, colorists like the Color Lounge’s Grace Ilasco recommend considering the damage first, before you actually go through with the job.
"Stop and think about this very carefully,” Ilasco tells me over email. “It's a radical change, which requires very frequent upkeep, and can be very damaging.”
Since looks like this usually require high lift to get you blonde enough to go rainbow, so mizu New York Salon master colorist Moran Gallagher states that considering your hair health and history is crucial, as it can determine how much damage your hair will actually experience.
“You’ll have to asses what condition is the brown hair to begin with, and if your color is virgin hair or color treated,” says Gallagher, through email. “There are products like Olaplex, which help the hair keep its integrity through the bleaching process, but the job itself is long and damaging, and can be very hard to maintain.”
2. Determine What Kind Of Rainbow You’re Going For
While all rainbow looks deliver that stunning finish, there are variations of the look which can more difficult to maintain. Pastel looks definitely give off that playful vibe, but can fade pretty quickly. And while deeper and darker tones instantly turn heads, bleaching is still involved in the process. To determine what kind of rainbow look is right for you, colorist Moran Gallagher says try to consider the amount of bleaching that comes with each finish.
“The main question to ask yourself is what kind of rainbow,” says Gallagher. “Pastel colors need to be lightened to pale blonde, while other gem tones don't have to be quite as light, but also requires bleach.”
3. Get A Consultation If You Are Heading To The Salon
Before heading off to the salon, chances are you'll have to book a consultation first, as these types of appointments can help both the stylist and the client come to a mutual understanding. This step comes extremely important in regards to rainbow hair, as it’s a tricky job which requires lots of skill and bleach.
“You should always meet with a colorist for a consultation before deciding on this big color step,” says celebrity colorist Heather Cie through email. “A colorist’s job is to know the color wheel like the back of their hand."
Consultation appointments also ensure the reality of achieving any desired look, as online photos can often create unrealistic expectations. An open dialogue (be sure to ask lots of questions!) through your consultation is beneficial, as it can help steer you in the right direction.
“A good consult helps both me and the client fully understand each other and set expectations,” says color stylist Paul Labrecque, owner of Paul Labrecque Salon and Spa via email. “For example, we would discuss where we want the rainbow to sit — is it in a section or over the entire hair — and how we want it to fall.”
4. Collect Inspiration Photos
Bringing in photos to your consult can help illustrate your color goals, but colorists warn against relying on visuals too much, as they can create false expectations. Truthfully speaking, your hair won’t often turn out to look just like the super awesome photo you found on Pinterest, so it’s important to keep this mind before you actually dye.
“Bring in photographs of the type of rainbow shades you are hoping to achieve,” explains colorist Grace Ilasco. “But don't expect your hair to turn out exactly like the photograph.” You never know what sort of editing the photo went through before it hit the internet.
5. Prepare To Bleach
When it finally comes time to color, you definitely expect for the process to involve lots of bleach. Getting your hair rainbow color definitely requires lift, so Schwarzkopf Professional's North American Color Director, Rossa Jurenas says you may have to bleach twice in order to get that gorgeous result.
“The first step is to remove the existing color on the hair,” says Jurenas through email. “To create rainbow hair, you need a beautiful light palate to work on. Lighten the hair to at least a pale yellow (even more depending on how vibrant you want the color)."
Once your hair is finally stripped to white, colorists will begin to apply color to your locks. But keep in mind that it's important to know what colors you want in your rainbow, as colorists often use a blending technique to give hair a rainbow effect.
"If the client wants the rainbow to be vertical root to ends, for example, red and yellow panels would be applied and then blended to form orange in between," says DePasquale Salon and Spa colorist Rachel through email. "I recommend using one of these blending techniques, pulling down the color with fingers to blend or "feather" down color with brush.
6. ...And Bleach Again
Going from brown to rainbow requires lots of work, so it’s very possible that you might have to bleach twice depending on your desired rainbow finish. Dark hair tones may not lift as well, so it may take a few appointments to get the color just right.
“Often on very dark hair a second bleach is needed to get the lift of the bleach to its optimum power,” says master colorist Paul Labrecque. “The darker the virgin hair the longer we keep bleach on because it is progressive. For a safer bleaching product, I suggest Olaplex, a lifting stabilizer to keep hair healthy.”
And while you may be eager to get that color all in one shot, HARPER Co-Founder and Celebrity Stylist Nicole Hartmann says that this usually isn’t the case. To save both the health of your hair and get that amazing color you crave, Hartmann recommends scheduling multiple appointments to help minimize damage associated with frequent bleachings.
“Give hair a break in between coloring sessions by scheduling multiple appointments to prevent the hair from being compromised and porous,” says Hartmann through email. “Don’t forget all rainbow colors are temporary, so the less you shampoo, the longer the color will last.
7. Or Go Rainbow Without The Bleach
I know I got scary with all that bleach talk, but there are ways to get that rainbow look without lightening first. It just won't be as permanent. Colored extensions for example, are a great way to get that dramatic rainbow style, as they can easily be applied (and removed) to the hair without any damage.
“Every hair needs a pop of color,” says RPZL co-founder Lisa Richards, via email. “With a super simple click, you will look fun and gorgeous with candy-colored rainbow, 100 percent Virgin Remy Hair extensions that are totally on trend.”
But if you prefer to use actual dye, you can still add some really beautiful subtle color to your brunette strands. If you want to try the look without any bleach, Maegan Scarlett of oVertone haircolor states that it’s best to stick to warmer tones such as orange, red and pink, as these types of colors flatter the warm tones usually found in brown hair.
“Stay on the warm side of the color spectrum — that means orange, red, pink,” says Scarlett. “Brown hair is basically a very dark yellow, so cool tones like blue and purple will come out looking swampy and gross [if you don't bleach first].”
In addition, Scarlett advises to add color with caution. Darker hair tones in particular might need a lot of dye to actually give hair that gorgeous subtle effect, so feel free to add as much color as needed in order for it to show up.
“The darker your hair is, the more pigmented the color you add will have to be in order for it to show up,’ she says. “That gorgeous subtle pink auburn requires a LOT of pink, so don't be shy. Think of using color on your hair as a magic marker over construction paper. A color that would be electric on white paper might be just enough to show up in the sunlight on medium brown.”
It's a lot of work, but I'm pretty sure the pretty rainbow result is well worth all the effort.