How to Tone Brown Hair to Ash: A Comprehensive Guide
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Brown hair is a beautiful color, but sometimes you want to change it up. Maybe you’re looking for something different or maybe your roots are showing and you need a new look.
Whatever the reason, there are plenty of ways to get your brown hair toned down so that it’s more ash than deep chocolate. Finally, maybe you’re just sick of your everyday look and want to try something new.
The possibilities are endless. I’ll cover all the different methods for how to tone brown hair to ash below.
How to Make Brown Hair Ashy for Very First Time
It is possible to tone brown hair so that it’s ashy without bleaching. I recommend this for those who already have lightened their locks and want to keep the toned-down shade they’re currently sporting but would like a little more grey/silver shine added in.
If you use an ash toner without bleaching, you will mostly maintain your current hair color. However, the new ash pigment will still lighten your overall hue slightly and remove some of the richness from your brown locks.
However, top stylists always recommend that you bleach your hair before using an ash toner if you want to lock in the ash pigment. This will ensure that no light brown patches remain after toning.
One of the best ways to tone brown hair ashy at home is to use a DIY toner. DIY toners tend to be a little safer than giving yourself an all-over bleach job, but they still have the potential to cause damage.
They also carry a risk of staining your skin or clothes if you don’t rinse them off properly post-application. In general, I recommend using a DIY hair colorant that is specifically designed for dark hair.
How to Make Brown Hair Ashy Again
Easy At-Home Option
One of the easiest ways to tone brown hair ashy is with an at-home toning kit.
This typically involves buying a boxed dye that includes both your normal hair color and an ash shade (this way, you don’t need two different boxes).
Then, apply the regular color all over and only use the ash color on the bottom half of your hair. The result will be a very dark brown head of streaks that are slightly lighter and cooler than the rest of your mane—perfect for warming up an all-over brunette look or toning down warmer blonde roots.
Temporary Color Option
If you’re not looking to make a major change to your day-to-day look, you might want a less permanent effect.
A great option for this is temporary hair color—which essentially stains your brown locks and washes out in about five shampoos (or whenever you like).
These products tend to be ammonia-free and cause little damage when they are rinsed out properly. 
This means that you don’t need to bleach your hair before using them—which is especially helpful for those with fragile locks.
At Home Permanent Color Option
If you’re not afraid of bleaching your hair and would like a more intense color change, there are at-home peroxide options out there.
These peroxide-heavy toners can make brown locks as light as a blonde (irrespective of whether your original base color is dark brown or black).
As always, it is best to give yourself a strand test before going full-on bleach.
Sometimes you will need to use a lot of peroxides and bleach your hair multiple times—other times, your locks might lighten in one go.
Inside a Madison Reed Color Box, You Will Find:
- A tube of color
- A tube of developer (i.e., a peroxide that helps the color penetrate your hair)
- A step-by-step instructions booklet for how to dye your hair
- A pair of gloves (you’ll usually need two pairs)
- A plastic cap to help you keep the color off your skin and clothes
Here’s How You Use It:
- Wash Your Hair with Cool Water
- Shampoo and Condition—or Just Condition
- Apply the Product to Damp Hair
- Leave the Product on for 30 Minutes
- Rinse Out and Style as Usual
Ashy Brown Hair Idea
1. Ashy Brown Long Waves
One nice way to dye brown hair ashy is with long waves. This technique works best on medium-long locks that are about chin length or longer to start with.
Start by applying a toner or bleach all over your dark tresses—be sure not to apply the product only to the bottom half of your hair or it will be virtually useless.
Once you have pre-lightened all of your locks, rinse everything out and dry your tresses—making sure they are still damp before you start applying the ash color.
Next, work in a bit of conditioner to help smooth out any knots or tangles.
Take an ash colorant tube and paint the product onto your locks, moving it from root to tip.
You should leave this on for at least 30 minutes before rinsing everything out again. Dry and style as usual.
2. Ashy Brown Afro
One of the easiest ways to take brunette hair to ash is by turning it into an afro.
Start by pre-lightening your hair with bleach until you achieve a pale blonde tone all over.
Once you’ve lighten your locks, turn them into an afro using bobby pins and hairspray. This can be pretty tricky—especially if you’re trying to achieve an even look—but it’s worth the effort.
Once your hair is pinned up, apply a toner or ash dye all over the lengths of your tresses. Wait for at least 30 minutes before rinsing everything out. Dry and style as usual
3. Ashy Brown Bun (Updo)
To create an ash-tinted updo, you need to start by pre-lightening all of your locks. Once they’ve been lightened enough, separate the top section from the bottom and give it a good blast with some hairspray.
Then, using your fingers, twist the top half and pin it upwards in a sort of bun shape. Carefully take the bottom section and start twisting that into a braid (you can also opt to use two smaller braids if you prefer).
Secure your mini plaits with pins and hairspray before you apply any ash color.
Apply some color all over your updo and braid, then leave it on for at least 30 minutes.
Rinse everything out before tousling the top section of hair with your fingers to create more volume. Dry and style as usual.
4. Ashy Brown Long Curls
If you’re looking to change your look, there are few things more dramatic than long ash-brown curls.
If you’re thinking of going red, make sure you get a color match from your stylist first (i.e., take a swatch of hair home and get them to mix the color).
Start by applying bleach all over your hair, making sure you get to the roots and extending down to about an inch or two below.
Once you’ve achieved a good bleach-blonde base, apply color all over and go for at least 30 minutes before rinsing everything out.
Once your locks are dry and looking slightly ashier, curl them with a large barreled curling iron. Dry and style as usual.
5. Ashy Brown Short Waves
Another great option for making brown hair ashy is to dye your locks into short waves.
Start by pre-lightening all of your locks with bleach until you achieve a pale blonde base.
Once you’ve done that, apply ash color all over and go for at least 30 minutes before rinsing everything out.
Blow-dry and style as usual with a curling iron and hairspray if needed.
6. Ashy Brown Long Straight Hair
To dye brown hair ashy, simply add ash color to your locks when straightening them with a curling iron.
Start by pre-lightening all of your hair—extending down around two inches from the roots—with bleach until you achieve a pale blonde base.
Once that’s done, add some ash color all over and leave it on for at least 30 minutes before rinsing everything out.
Blow-dry, curl with a curling iron and tousle to create volume.
7. Ashy Brown Split Ponytail
Another easy way of turning brunette hair into an ashy hue is by tying it up in a high ponytail and creating some color contrast with the top section.
Start by pre-lightening the top half of your hair until it’s pale blonde, then apply ash color all over. Leave everything to develop for at least 30 minutes before rinsing out the dye and applying the conditioner.
Blow-dry, curl with a curling iron and tousle to create as much volume as you can. Use a fine-tooth comb to create a small, high ponytail and secure it with an elastic band.
Using your fingers, tease the hair at the crown of your head to make it look like there’s more volume (some people find this easier if they apply hairspray beforehand).
Then, wrap the top of your hair around the base of your ponytail and secure it with pins.
If you want to turn brunette hair into an ashy hue, there are plenty of at-home and salon options available for you. It’s up to you which one you choose, but hopefully, this guide has given you the knowledge and confidence to decide on your own.
It doesn’t matter if your hair is ash brown, blonde, red, or black—as long as you’re looking for a brighter finish, there are lots of options available.
Remember to protect your hair when coloring it in any way—especially when dyeing it to make it ashy! A little can go a long way in terms of hair damage.
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