Friday, 1 March 2013

DIY Ombre Hair for Dark Brunettes: Step-by-Step

So, this style came in a few years ago and was quickly written off as likely to be a brief fad.  I mean, technically, it just looks like a grown out dye job, right?

But here we are in 2013 and the ombre / 'dip-dye' (although bare in mind these are slightly different) trend is still going strong.

The style is all about a graded change in hair colour, be it from dark to light, light to dark, or natural to neon.
Personally, I think the dark to light ombre looks stunning and flattering, provided its done right.  Which is why, after reading about 50+ 'How To' guides, I did it myself at home and have been rocking the DIY look for almost a year since.

Below are my tips on preparation and making sure you're comfortable giving this a go at home, followed by a step-by-step guide on the process itself, for a dark-to-light ombre dye.

Please note, I'm not a hairdresser by trade, I'm a doctor!  So, I have no professional expertise on this.  I would suggest people who have never dyed their own hair to consider getting a professional to do it for them.  Having said this, I have seen some absolute horror outcomes of salon ombre styles and I would never trust anyone with my hair colour but myself; not to mention the attached price tags of the salon version!  So it's up to you, as long as you're not a newbie to DIY hair dying and you know what you want, I'd say bite the bullet and do it yourself because it really is so simple!  A friend of mine had hers done at the salon after I did my DIY - she paid £150 and couldn't get over how ours both looked exactly the same, except mine cost about £10 in materials.

Top Tips on Prep

1. Google images
This is your number one friend.  Google the words 'ombre hair' and trawl through the 1000s of images, saving the ones you like.  This is essential.  You need a good image of something you want to achieve to be able to look at and copy whilst you're painting your hair.
Look for:

  • Someone with your hair length
  • Someone with shades your're interested in
  • Something you see and think 'Holy shit I want to look like that, even if I don't have her face'
2. Consider yourself
Is this going to work on you?
Most people feel ombre is a style for long haired lovelies.  I agree, it looks great on them, but being a bob-haired beaut does not mean you can't rock this trend (confusing double negatives!). Sure, it might be harder to pull off, but Alexa Chung and Miley Cyrus are great examples of how natural and cute this can be:

One thing to seriously consider though, is how you usually wear your hair. If you like it poker straight, I would have to say you should reconsider.  There's no doubt that the choppy / imprecise nature of this type of colour works way better on tousled and bed-head type hair.  Again, this is not to say it doesn't work on straight hair, but just be aware of it:


3. Buy the kit
I'm sure people will disagree with me on this, but I really don't think it matters what bleach kit you use.  I've used both the "Jerome Russell B-Blonde Hair Lightener" and the "L'Oreal Preference Wild Ombres No 2 Dip Dye Hair Kit" and felt they both worked the same.  The L'Oreal kit claims to be specifically for ombre styles but realistically its just a peroxide lightener like all the rest, with a fancy comb for application.  Each is around £6 for a box.
Just make sure you buy something which will lighten your hair - don't make the mistake of buying a blonde dye kit when your hair is dark brown - it won't take! Sadly, peroxide is pretty essential to get this look.

Remember that bleaching your hair is basically stripping it of red tones.  Because of the method used to create ombre and the amount of red tones in your hair if you are naturally brunette, you're likely going to need to use a toner to counteract the brassy tones that come with bleaching your hair.  I use "Colour Restore Cool Ash Toner" which you can get in Boots.

Additionally, if you have e.g. black hair and want to start from a base of chocolate brown, you need to dye your whole head that colour first.

4. Prep your hair
You're about to bleach your hair, which is the equivalent of waging chemical warfare on yourself.  At this point you need to treat your hair like it belongs on Eva Longoria's head.  Give it an overnight treatment to whack it full of oils and protein.  Hair treatments themselves would take a whole blog post, so I won't go too far into this, but I tend to use "Ojon Restorative Damage Reverse Restorative Hair Treatment" as my go-to product, leaving it in overnight ad washing out in the morning.  Note, this is a conditioner, it isn't a protein treatment.  You should probably also do a protein treatment with something like "Redken Extreme Cat" which I've never actually used myself, but I've heard great (almost unbelievable) things.

Now, after your treatment, try not to wash your hair for maybe 3-4 days. Yeah, I know, gross, but your hair will be grateful for this in the long run.  It locks in natural oils that will help protect your hair from the wafare you're waging.  Try some dry shampoo like "Batiste Dry Shampoo" to get you through work / life in the meantime.

Now, you are good to go.

Ombre Step-by-Step Guide

Now, as I said earlier, picking a good photo to work from is central.  If you're working from something weird and shoddy looking, it will turn out weird and shoddy looking.  Obviously, people have different ideas on what they find attractive or desirable, so there will be variation in opinions on this, but I think its safe to say that most people don't want it to end up looking like this:

Although kudos to Ciara's hair stylist for getting it so damn blonde!  Nonetheless, this is more of a 'grown out roots' look rather than ombre.

The key to making it work is the bit about gradation!  DO NOT FORGET THIS when doing an at home jobby, or going to the salon and asking for the look.  Most people are aiming for something more like this:

1. Open the windows, put down some newspaper, strip down and put on some old PJs that were about to go in the trash - this could get messy.

2. Always work in front of a mirror and with your example picture by your side for reference

3. Dye your base colour: Are you naturally dark brunette, but want the darkest tone to be medium brown? Then you need to dye your whole head your chose colour first.  I'm South-East Asian with brown skin and a yellow undertone, so I dyed my whole head with L'Oreal hair dye in a Chocolate Brown shade first, as per carton instructions.

4. Mix up your peroxide as per instructions and start to bleach

5. Start by dying the tips of your hair first.  Really apply liberally and not too specifically.  You want to avoid creating lines of obvious colour change, so you want to paint on fairly haphazardly.  I started by applying to the last inch of my hair and then waited ten minutes.

6. After your ten minutes are up, wash the dye off and dry it to see what result you have.  If nothings happened, or the result is too subtle, bear this in mind as it means step 9 needs a little longer.  With any luck, it will be just the right level of subtle, indicating the time you'll need to leave for step 9.

7. Reapply the dye mixture over the already dyed tips and work up the hair, an extra inch or so up the shaft.  Depending on the result you got after ten minutes last time, leave it for your desired time.

8. After your second period of ten minutes (or so) is up, just reapply dye to the tips and shafts, again, coming an inch or so higher up the shaft, then waiting a further ten (or so) mintues.  Continue this method until you have reached the highest area where you want your ombre colour fade to start

9. The highest level of application should be:
  • If you have short hair: no higher than your ear-level
  • If you have long hair: no higher than chin-level
And remember what we said in step 6. How subtle was the result of a ten minute wait then?  If it was quite bright, don't leave this last layer on that long.  If it was almost non-existent, leave this last layer on a little longer.  If it was subtle and looks like the beginning of a fade from your base colour, keep to that exact time.
So this bit is very much trial-and-error.  What I would say is, its much better to leave on for too little time as you can easily go back and re-bleach if the fade is not enough, but if you leave it on too long and the colour change comes out too abrupt, you're screwed.  So be sensible here.

10.  Wash out all the hair dye.

11. Look at your guide picture.  Many will have halo-style hilights framing the face, or a few strands of coloured hair peeping through to break things up.  Have a go at doing this yourself with your dye - it is probably the hardest bit, but it will be what gives you the more natural ombre look.  Its much more difficult to do a step-by-step on this as it is very much based on your personal style, but the result will be better if you use a similar layered approach to dying up the shaft for your hilights as well.

12. Apply toner as per instructions

13. Wash and style

Et, voila!
My DIY Ombre (these photos were taken around 4 months after I first dyed it, I never really took a deliberate picture of my hair, so I've had to include a few with vague close ups, but you get the drift!)


I hope this helps anyone looking to try to do this at home.  Obviously, you can see in the pics that the bleach has taken its toll on my hair and I soon learnt the importance of DIY after care!!  Will do a post on that sometime soon too!


  1. I'm going to dye my hair ombre and so glad I found your blog! Such a detailed explanation :) It turned out so gorgeous on your hair! <3

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  3. thanks for blog I love your hair! So pretty ♥ Keep going

  4. Nice Blog thanks to blogger
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