Having brown hair seems easy. Many of us have it naturally and there is a large number of different brown dyes to choose from. Anyone who has tried to dye brown hair has ended up with not-so-satisfying results. Either your brown dye was too dark, or too reddish, too orange, or just wrong. In this article we will focus on brunette shades, considering this shade is the most common choice when you start dyeing your hair. You will learn how not to go too dark, choose the right level and the right shade, cover up unwanted shade, get rid of red pigmentation, and maintain the color.

Brown dye level and shades

You bought brown hair dye expecting to look like the woman on its box and your hair turned out black! Sounds familiar, doesn’t it? Rule number one, never expect the results to be the same as presented on the box. The result depends on your current shade, on the color itself along with many other factors. 

How to read hair coloring numbers?

The first number refers to the LEVEL of the color. This number tells you if the brown dye you’ve chosen is light brown or darker brown. The second number, behind the full stop or slash, determines the hair color shade. It tells you what shade of brown dye you will get – is it reddish, ash or gold.

For example, if the hair dye is marked 6.34 – the number 6 refers to the level – dark blonde, while 34 tells you the color is warm golden-amber. In this case, when you have two numbers marking the shade, the first number shows which shade prevails. You should always carefully study the label before purchasing the dye since your results depend on this information.

Which brunette level is right for you?

When it comes to brown dye levels, here is a warning. This is where all mistakes happen. If you choose the wrong hair dye level and go too dark. There’s no way you can go back easily. 

All shades ranging from 1 to 4 are all very dark, black, or close to black thus very difficult to wash out. We always advise not to go lower than level 6. 6 is usually labeled “dark blonde” but in fact, it is a beautiful shade of medium brown.

Level 6, brown dyed hair


Although hair dyes marked level 8 refer to “light blonde”, these are actually very light brown colors or dark blonde, depending on the starting color. Always refer to the number on the box, not the photo.

Level 8 light brown dyed hair

How to get the perfect shade of brown?

Color shades numbering system differs from brand to brand. The tone is marked with numbers following the full stop or slash in the color enumeration. The most common meaning of the numbers with most brands are as follows:

0 – natural tone

1 – ash

2 – matte (green)

3 – gold (yellow)

4 – copper (orange)

5 – mahogany (orange-red)

6 – red

7 – chocolate/brown

8 – blue

9 – magenta (warm purple)

A few manufacturers’ numbers can be slightly different. Therefore, be sure to consult the color chart. After you learn the color chart scheme, you will know what to expect from each shade. Copper light brown (6.4) will give a medium brown shade with a copper tone, 5.5 will result in deep mahogany color, and with 7.1 you will get medium ash brown hair. You get the picture now.

Choosing the right brown dye for your existing hair color

How your color will turn out depends on your existing hair color. If you are dyeing natural hair color not too dark and not too light, you can be sure your color will turn out as close to as the shade represented in the color chart, without any surprises.

If you already have dyed hair, your battle with the undertone has begun.

This color-wheel is the basic guideline you can rely on.

The rule of thumb is if you wish to neutralize any unwanted tone, choose a tone opposite of your color on the color wheel. So, if you already have a red pigment (not the same as an orange!), choose a green (matte), or an ash tone. If your reflection color is copper, yellowish, choose violet.

The only issue with this is that not all tones are available at all levels. You can solve this by adding specially made toners to the base color.

What volume developer should I use to go darker

This one’s easy I promise. Brown dye never requires a developer stronger than 20 vol (6% hydrogen peroxide). Furthermore, if you don’t have gray hairs, you can use 10 vol developer (3% hydrogen peroxide). In this case, you can also regularly use demi-permanent hair colors, which don’t damage the hair cuticle. If your hair is already colored in the shade close to the one you want, always dye only the roots of the hair first. For toning the rest of the hair choose demi-permanent hair dye to avoid damaging the hair.

Dyeing naturally dark hair to brown

This procedure isn’t complicated as it seems to be.  Contrary to popular belief, naturally long dark brown hair doesn’t always require lightening with bleach to get beautiful brown shade. You just need to use a shade that is one or two levels lighter than the one you wish to achieve, consulting the color chart. 

For example, if your natural color level is 4, and you wish for a 6, it is enough to proceed with a level 7 – or in some cases, a mix of 7 and 8- with corresponding ash or matte shade to avoid red shade rushing out to the surface and making your brow hair mahogany red. Choose ash and matte shades to avoid this and get natural-looking brown hair.


How to dye black hair brown

There are two options for going from black to brown hair. The faster, more invasive way is to use bleach to lighten the hair to the required level and then tone it. The other option is slower but a quality-ensuring process – dyeing your hair slightly lighter every time. This doesn’t mean you dye the whole hair. Each month you only dye the roots with half shade lighter tone. The length is never dyed, therefore the original dark color fades significantly and blends with the dyed brown roots. If the current hair color level is a 3, the next hair coloring appointment you will use the mixture of 3/0 and 4/0, then next time 4/0, etc. In time, your whole hair will become lighter brown without damaging hair with bleaching. During this process, the darkest parts on the ends are cut off after some time, depending on the hair length. The shorter the hair, the faster the process.


Dyeing hair from blonde to brunette 

This isn’t as simple as it sounds. If you’ve ever tried to go from blonde to brunette by dyeing your hair over with the desired brown dye, your hair most likely turned greenish. Moreover, it faded after two washes. The process of transitioning from dyed or bleached hair requires adding artificial red pigmentation. This means that lightened hair is missing red pigmentation, which has to be returned to the hair. For this purpose, we use a warm-toned demi-permanent brown dye with an orange and red undertone. In some cases, it’s sufficient to choose a dye with a brown undertone (for example 7.7), while with extremely porose and white-blonde hair, a pure red undertone is needed to be added to the mix (for example 6.35). For some, it’s enough to use 6.34 where the secondary orange pigment is enough to get a nice natural brown shade.

In these cases, it’s always necessary to mix different brown dyes to get the perfect color. If you don’t wish to have warm brown hair, but do wish the color to be long-lasting, you can use a neutral mix of 6.0 (for example 30g) and a 6.35 of 10 grams.

Usually, it takes about 3-4 coloring appointments to get the color to stick permanently.

Maintaining color and care

Considering that brown is a very low-maintenance hair color, it can easily be both beautifully colored and healthy. The healthiest dyed hair types are brown and darker colors because of the shine that only colored hair has. Brown color doesn’t require frequent toning nor recoloring of any sort if the initial coloring and choosing shade and level is done right. That’s why it’s easy for brunettes to maintain healthy hair while the color stays vibrant and glossy. The longer you keep your hair the same shade, the healthier your hair will be. Dyed hair can be healthy, it only requires good hair care and a smart choice of hair care products.

If your hair is already dry and damaged from the previous coloring, be sure to follow a few simple instructions for making your hair healthy and shiny. But remember, colored brown hair is only beautiful when it’s healthy and shiny. Healthy hair retains more color, reflects more light, so it looks gorgeous and shiny. At the same time, it will require toning less often, thus ensuring less damage.