how-to-go-darkerIf you want to color your hair(or your clients’ hair) a darker level it’s important that you know the rules of how to go darker before you get started.

Formulating for a darker hair color will be different depending on the current level and how light the hair is.

There are several different situations to consider when going darker, so I’m going to break it down by hair color(the level of the hair that you want to darken) as well as what to do when hair has been colored, lightened, or is naturally gray. Remember- these are basic guidelines on how to formulate when going darker, but every scenario is unique and it is impossible for me to give an exact guide that will work in every case. So…use this information to help you make decisions when formulating, but consider any outliers with your own hair/client.

Here’s what’s in this post:

  • How to go darker when the hair is light/blonde.
  • How to go darker when the hair is natural/brown.
  • How to go darker when the hair is gray.
  • How to go darker when the hair is previously colored.

How to Go Darker

Going darker is fairly easy when you’re only taking the hair color 1-2 levels darker. In this case, your primary concerns will be tones and formulating properly to get the perfect result.

However, if you’re making a more drastic change there are a few things to consider when you formulate. This is especially true with very light hair(natural or previously lightened), so it’s important that you consider how many levels darker you want to go and have time for the extra necessary steps!


How to go darker when the hair is very light/blonde:

When you’re going 3 or more levels darker you need to consider porosity level, so the steps you take and the way you formulate will differ between previously lightened hair and naturally blonde hair.

If the hair has been previously lightened and there is regrowth- you will need to use a different formula on the regrowth/natural hair than you will use on the lightened hair.

The rules in how to go darker in this case are broken down into two basic scenarios: if you’re going 3-5 levels darker or 5-7 or more levels darker. It’s important to remember that this isn’t cut-and-dry. Every situation is different so take your time, consider the laws of color, and don’t take shortcuts or skip steps- it won’t work.

You MUST “fill” the hair with pigment to create a “base” for the darker hair color. If you don’t…then your results will not turn out as expected(not dark enough, uneven, muddy color, etc.)…and/or the color will not stay. In most cases you’re going to fill the hair with orange, orange-red, or red-orange. What you use depends on how light the hair is and how dark you want to go.

Options for going 3-5 levels darker:

  • Add the filler to your color formula. Most stylists feel uneasy with this option, but it works. You should use pure pigment- add it to your color formula, but make sure the pigment added is no more than 25% of your mixed color.
  • Or- fill the hair with a demi-permanent formula, wash and dry, then apply your permanent color formula.

5-7 levels darker:

  • Fill the hair with a demi-permanent formula, wash and dry, then apply your permanent color formula.
  • You may also want to add a line of color pigment to your formula(or you can add that pigment by using the necessary hue in the same level that you want to achieve.


How to go darker when the hair is natural/brown:

This is the easiest hair color situation when you’re trying to figure out how to go darker. If you know what you’re doing there’s literally no way you can mess this up!

In this case, it’s important that you consider underlying tones as well as the desired tones you want to achieve. There’s so much more to going darker than the natural series in any hair color line. If you’re going for basic, that’s fine, but you can also add some violet or gold undertones for a more rich result.

I’m a HUGE FAN of block coloring- especially when you’re coloring natural hair because there are so many possibilities. Block or dimensional hair color is a great way to add depth, movement, or a unique look to what would otherwise be just a basic all-over color.

Peek-a-boos are the easiest and most common option with block coloring. Most people think of a more drastic contrast when it comes to peek-a-boos, but it doesn’t have to be- you can use a different shade of a darker hair color or a slightly different tone within the same level. The options are endless!

If you want to do something a little more interesting than peek-a-boos- there are so many awesome block coloring techniques to try. Paul Mitchell has a lot of great diagrams that you can reference(I like their “Diagonal Straps” design for long hair and “Fish Scales” for adding some spice to short hair/pixies).


How to go darker when the hair is gray:

First, you need to determine the percentage of gray. This is really important when it comes to choosing a developer, and using the wrong volume could result in a lighter color than you expected.

Typically, gray hair can be classified as 100%, 75%, 50%, 25%, etc.(you can get more specific here, but these basic percentages will do). It’s important that you pay attention to whether or not the gray is patterned or consistent all-over.

Here’s a reference for how to determine percentage of gray. You can also purchase your own ABCH Color Consultation Chart here($20). They are very handy and also include actual swatches that show the stages of lightening for each category of hair.

Some people will have 75% gray in the front, and only 25% gray in the back. Experienced haircolorists will mix two different formulas so that the results will be uniform, but not everyone does(and in some cases that’s okay depending on desired results).

For example:

My mom is 100% gray around her hairline, then it goes from about 75% down to 20% in the back and it’s perfectly blended. I color her hair blonde(adding highlights every other time), and I use one color formula. The results are very natural- she has short hair and likes it to be lighter in the front.

It works because her hair(what isn’t gray) is naturally dark blonde/light brown, so keep in mind that this will not work in every situation.


How to go darker when the hair is previously colored:

The biggest thing you need to consider in this case is the regrowth and demarcation line. Hopefully, the hair has been evenly and properly colored up to this point(if not…contact me for more info).

The proper way to color hair in this case is to use two formulas- one for the regrowth and one for the previously colored hair. You will use a permanent hair color formula for the regrowth, and a demi-permanent color for the hair from the demarcation line to the ends(this is also the proper way to color the hair when doing a retouch and refresh).

First, you will apply the permanent color formula on the regrowth. Proper application is key because if you overlap the hair color onto previously colored hair it could cause “banding”, which will most likely result in a noticeable difference of color at the demarcation line. It’s okay to lightly feather or diffuse a little bit of the color through the demarcation line- I usually just turn my color brush sideways and brush down with the tip of the brush to drag some of the color down(you do not want to put color on your brush for this…only diffuse with the color that was applied on the regrowth).

Next, you can apply the demi-permanent formula from the demarcation line to the ends. If you’re quick then the timing should work out perfectly, but don’t worry if it’s not exact!

If you still have questions about how to go darker- feel free to contact me for help! I didn’t include specific formulating instructions in this post because it varies so much depending on the situation and the desired results that you’re trying to achieve.


You can also refer to these posts for help with formulating:

Color Manual Basics

How to Formulate Hair Color

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About The Author


Professional Hairstylist | American Board Certified Haircolorist | Makeup Artist | Beauty Blogger

2 Responses to How to Go Darker

  1. Annie says:


    I have bleached my hair to a level 7.
    If I want to color my hair with 6.21, do I have to fill my hair with a copper shade first? Like a 7.4 or 8.4 or 9.4? (.4 is copper for Loreal)?
    Or is it safe to just put 6.21 right into my bleached level 7 hair?
    I so do not want green or matt/muddy hair color …
    Thanks in advance! / Annie

    • Erika says:

      You’ll want to be careful with the ash color because your hair is more porous than normal and it could really grab those tones. It’s hard for me to say exactly what you should do without seeing your hair, but I would recommend filling your hair with a toner(for example: Redken Shades EQ in 6G). You’ll want to use gold to fill it with!

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