How to Lighten Asian Hair


Asian hair is notoriously difficult to lighten (how many shades of toxic tangerine Asian "blonde" have you witnessed?) and no two textures are the same. “People think that all Asian women have thick, coarse hair, which simply isn’t true,” says Kazumi Morton, a colorist at the Neil George Salon in Los Angeles and caramel blonde Asian herself. "Every hair textures takes in color and bleach differently." So how do you highlight your dark hair without the dreaded orange interval? Kazumi gives her tips for lightening up this fall.

1. Set your expectations.

You can’t go from black to bleach blonde in one visit. The processing alone will kill your hair. Since dark hair typically has natural red pigment in it, it take two or three salon visits to get the color right.

2. Settle for less drama.

Kazumi fixes her share of at-home bleaching mishaps, and it's especially evident on her Asian clients. "When I fix mistakes on my clients, I use a soft ombré technique instead of coloring the whole head. This gently fades a pretty blonde shade into dark roots and fixes harsh lines of demarcation," says Kazumi. “The upkeep is much less than a full head of highlights, and the ombré technique looks more flattering and softer around the face."

3. Avoid planet orange.

When bleached, Asian, or dark hair passes through black, brown, red, orange, brown, yellow, and pale yellow colors. Since red pigment is so hard to lift, most people encounter the orange phase more often than they'd like to. “Hair eventually turns brassy because people don't initially lighten the hair enough, and the bleach naturally oxidizes with time," says Kazumi. When coloring hair, leave the bleach on until your strands are a pale yellow shade. To prevent oxidation for at least two months, apply an ammonia-free toner. 

4. DIY at your own risk.

“As a salon professional, I don’t recommend DIY highlights, especially if it’s your first time,” warns Kazumi. "Highlights get tricky, especially on dark hair, and many clients don’t understand the anatomy of hair color.” If you do it yourself, be sure to lighten very small sections of your hair (no more than a quarter-inch thick), otherwise the bleach won’t saturate properly. Constantly check your hair to see if it's the right color, and don't wash off the bleach prematurely.

5. Support your style.

Asian hair tends to have less of a cuticle protecting each strand, so it's important to keep up a stringent maintenance routine. Get a deep-conditioning treatment every six to eight weeks and use a weekly conditioning formula. Water, hair products, and climate also play a factor in the color and condition of your hair, so make the extra effort and your lightened locks will shine!