Stages of Lightening Dark Hair

By: | Last Updated: April 20, 2022

Lightening your hair through bleaching is one of the most basic processes you’ll find when you try to color dark hair at home. 

It’s the best way to get true to color results, whether you’re using a semi-permanent or permanent dye. 

But with all the stages of lightening dark hair, it can get a bit confusing when you attempt to do it for the first time. 

Plus, with bleach being a pretty potent chemical to use in your hair, there are a lot of other things to consider when bleaching your hair so you don’t cause any unnecessary damage. 

First, let’s talk about how you can assess the current color of your hair, and figure out how much lighter to go for certain colors.

Different stages of hair color 

Different stages of hair color 

Depending on who you ask, there can be 7-10 stages. Just to strip it down to its basics, both scales start at 1 being jet black hair, and the highest number being platinum or very blonde. 

So the higher the number, the lighter your hair is. 

Let’s check out all 10 stages in the meantime, so you get the full spectrum. Then from there, you can figure out where your hair lies, or at least get an approximation.

Dark hair 

Dark hair is assigned around levels 1-5 on a scale of 10. Being the very base of all the stages, 1 is just jet black hair. You would know if you have level 1 hair because your hair shouldn’t have any tinges of brown at all. 

Level 1 hair almost always needs bleaching when you use semi-permanent dyes but some permanent dyes can work on very dark hair. 

Then, colors slowly get lighter as you go up the stages. 

Hair at stage 2 can be considered brown but is more on the deeper black-brown side. Medium brown hair is pegged at stages 3 to 4 while a level 5 is a light-medium shade of brown.  

Oftentimes, you can already start coloring dark hair at stage 3 without the need for any previous lightening or bleaching. But this is still totally dependent on the color and type of product you want to use. 

When using semi-permanent dye on stage 3 hair, it’s best to use darker, richer colors for the best pay-off. 

Light Brown and Dark Blonde

Stages 6 to 7 represent the lighter brown and dark blonde levels. The difference between the two is that in a dark blonde, the red or brown undertone in stage 6 hair is more yellow-based.

It’s also, of course, a bit lighter. 

When coloring level 6 to 7 hair, you can expect subtler pay-off than if you start completely blonde, but at this stage, your hair will definitely be able to take a lot more color. It will also be more noticeable than if you dyed dark hair. 


True blonde colors are stages 8 to 9. Starting at 8, you can already start getting great color all across the board. But with stage 8 hair still having a strong yellow undertone, it’s best to lighten your hair even further when you want to go for pastels. 

Very light, but not platinum blondes are at stage 9. At this point, you can use just about any color, and it will be pretty much true-to-color every time. 

However, stage 9s may still have some yellow in their hair, so it’s best to avoid some colors that react to yellow such as blue. But this can also easily be remedied by canceling out the yellow by mixing in a bit of warm purple to your desired color. 

Level 10s and above are the perfect blank slate for any color under the sun. 

This is the perfect base especially for any pastels or shades of blue that otherwise can be finicky when used on hair with even a touch of a yellow undertone. 

What stage do I lighten my hair to?

What stage do I lighten my hair to

So, in order to get your perfect color, you’ll have to determine where your current hair color lies in the stages of lightening. Then, make sure to check the dye you plan on using. 

There are usually directions, especially on semi-permanent dyes on what stage you’re recommended to start at. This will ensure you get the best color based on what you want it to look like. 

But, as an easy rule of thumb, for darker colors that will act as a tint, you can start at a level 3 and higher. 

For a generally good base across the board, it’s safest to start at an 8. However, when you’re looking for true blues or pastels, it’s best to lighten your hair all the way up to a platinum blonde stage 10. 


How many sessions does it take to lighten dark hair?

Bleaching is a very aggressive process and when rushed it can cause severe damage to your hair. So, it’s always recommended to take bleaching in multiple sessions. 

It depends on your current color and how well your hair takes on bleach. It’s recommended that you do a strand test to see how quickly or slowly your hair lightens with each round of processing. 

The end result you’re seeking also plays a huge part in how many sessions you’ll need to do. 

How many sessions does it take to go from dark brown to blonde?

how many sessions should I dye my dark hair

It’s best to do this in 2 to 3 sessions as it’s such a huge jump to go from stage 2 or 3 hair to stage 10. 

However, if you just want to lift your hair up a level or two in lightness, one session might be enough. It’s always best to ask a colorist first before proceeding. 

How do you start lightening dark brown hair?

Now that you know what level your hair is in, you can finally start lightening your hair! 

It’s time to pick a shade. You can match the shade to your undertone–warm colors like browns reds, maroons, pinks with warm skin tones, and blues, greens, pastels with cooler skin tones. 

But the color really is up to your own taste and style, at the end of the day. The most important part about knowing the color you want is so you can also plan how light you need to go.

Then, once you’re set on a color, for dark brown hair, it’s always best to start with a strand test to make sure of your hair’s reaction to bleaching. Remember to adjust according to your hair’s needs and health before proceeding with any color. 

Once you’ve determined how your hair takes on bleach, you can start gradually lightening your hair.

For each session, try only going a level or two lighter (three max!) than what you began with to prevent too much damage. 

After you’ve reached the right level, you can start coloring to your heart’s delight!

But the most overlooked part of the process perhaps is making sure you take extra care of your hair while you lighten. 

Bleaching strips away a lot of moisture and can make your hair prone to breakage and damage. 

It can even permanently weaken your hair if you don’t maintain it in between lightening sessions. 

So don’t forget to take extra time to deep condition your hair, prevent other sources of damage such as heat styling and other chemical processing so you can have healthy shiny hair as you bleach. 

You can even opt to use hair oils or glosses to give that healthy glow back. 

At the end of the day, lightening your hair is a pretty straightforward process, once you’ve learned the basics and set realistic expectations.

It’s also a great practice of taking your time, and enjoying each step of the process as you transform your hair!

CHECK OUT: How to fix uneven bleached hair

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