5 Ways To Add Colour To Naturally Dark And Black Hair

Would you love beautiful pastel highlights and jewel tones, but want to avoid bleached, porous, split ends?

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With a huge range of at-home hair dye and DIY colour treatments available, changing the colour of our hair is as ingrained in our beauty routine as painting our nails.

Colouring really dark hair, however, is not always as easy as it is for our fair-haired sisters. There are enough bleaching horror stories out there to put anyone off trying.

But fear not, because beautiful, pastel-toned highlights are not a million miles out of reach.

We spoke to some top hair experts to understand the different ways to colour your hair and how they can work for you.

First of all, a few questions answered:

Why is it so difficult to colour dark hair?

Ivan Iovlev, Creative Director at Colournation salon explains that Asian hair is far more resistant to product than western hair. "The cuticle layer is stronger on Asian hair and it is one of the only hair types where the true colour black is found."

Hair texture also poses a challenge when it comes to colour. Many view Afro Caribbean hair as coarse and thick, but it is actually one of the most fragile hair types to work with. The hair shaft is different to western and eastern hair, in that it is not the same thickness from root to end. Afro hair has undulations along the length of the hair which causes weak points and is easily prone to breakage.

Why won't my hair look like it does on the box?

Even without the challenges of inherently stubborn or damaged hair, there's still the matter of depositing a visible colour into the hair. Dark haired girls will know the feeling when your hair is definitely the colour of the "before" picture, but the "after" is never as vibrant as it looks on the box.

"Hair has a base colour that is only revealed when you lighten it," reveals Tiff from 3Thirty salon. "If you strip the tone out of black hair, you initially end up with a deep red brown colour, but bright colours will not show up. As you bleach dark hair, it will progressively move from red, to copper, to golden, and finally to yellow - where you can then dye it blonde or vibrant colours."

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1 Try tinting your hair

If you're looking for a more subtle wash of colour, rather than a bold colour, a tint could be your first port of call.

Whilst bleach works by stripping pigment out of the hair, a tint works by lifting the hair and depositing tone into the hair shaft to achieve the desired result. A tint will lift the hair for 50 minutes and deposit tone for the last 10 minutes of the process. This makes it less damaging compared to bleach, which continues to work until it's washed out.

Tinting the hair is suitable for going few shades lighter, even a high lift tint will only bring up to 5 levels of lift. It's also important to consider your hair colour history as tint cannot lift existing tint within the hair.

2 Reach for the bleach

If you're set on having bright, unadulterated colour or a shade that is several levels lighter, then you'll have to opt for a bleaching treatment. Experts at Limoz Logli say: "Bleaching the hair removes the natural pigments in the hair shaft, making the hair colour lighter. Lighter hair is a lot easier to bleach as it has less pigments in it and the pigments in darker hair are much stronger"

The bleaching process itself will differ depending on the condition and colour history of your hair. "If it's virgin hair, it may be easier to lift whereas previously coloured hair is a much longer process as you're lifting old colours that are still in the hair - even though you thought they had washed out."

Bear in mind it might not be instantaneous. It could take two applications to achieve the colour you want and your stylist may also recommend you have a break in between applications. However, once the right level of blonde is reached, you can then apply any colour you choose.

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3 Coloured hair extensions

With quality hair extensions becoming ever more accessible, experienced hairdressers can now create custom colour blends to suit your desired look. And we're not just talking about natural looking colours any more.

Darren Scott, at Darren Scott Salon, says "Celebrities such as Katy Perry, Jennifer Lopez, Ariana Grande and The Kardashians constantly switch up their hair colour with extensions, one day they have blonde highlights or caramel lo-lights and the next, rainbow bright hair. Hair extensions give you such a multitude of colour options. Whether it's something natural or bold, there is an extension to match it."

The advantage of colouring extensions or using pre-coloured extensions is not only the limitless styling possibilities it facilitates, it also stops your own hair being irreversibly damaged from hair colouring.

Extensions come in various lengths, colours and textures and will vary from real human hair or synthetic hair. To experiment at home you can even buy clip-ins, clip on buns, fringes and wrap around pony-tails.

For more permanent extensions, it is important to get them done professionally. Poorly installed extensions can cause traction alopecia or bald spots and, if placed too close to the hairline or parting, the attachment will be in full view.

4 Change your colour tone

You don't have to dye your whole head and you don't have to go for permanent colour every time. Having dark hair doesn't mean you can't have commitment-free colour.

If you've already got lighter pieces through your hair, you can even have pastel shades. These Schwarzkopf Pastel Sprays (£4.29) get sealed into hair with a blow dry but wash out over time for an easy (and easily reversible) change of tone. They're good for refreshing your colour tone or revamping an old ombré look without having to opt for a full new 'do.

If you have coloured your dark hair in the past, you may notice that the original orange undertones can start to show as it fades. Lyndell Mansfield, Schwarzkopf LIVE Colour Ambassador says "Try the Icy Blue shade to tone down the ends if you feel like they look too brassy. The Apricot Sunrise shade looks really great in highlights that may be a little too pale against your natural dark hair, as it gives a softer sun-kissed tone and revives the depth and warmth to flat browns."

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5 Trial a temporary colour

Hair mascara has been around for decades, but it's better for covering greys rather than adding vibrant colour to hair. For those of you looking for a quick and damage-free burst of colour, try hair chalks or colour sprays. 

Chalks allow you to add all sorts of colour to dark hair just by running the chalk down slightly-damp hair. Whilst they have been known to stain light hair, dark hair won't have this issue and the chalks will wash out within a few washes. 

Perfect for colouring newbies, using hair chalks also gives you a lot more control over the end result. We recommend running splashes of colour across the ends of your hair, or colouring a large piece under the top layers.

Du Hair Chalk £6 

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