7 Ways You're Accidentally Turning Your Blonde Hair Yellow Or Brassy

Photographed by David Cortes.
There are certain beauty lessons we all know: Dirty makeup brushes can cause breakouts, retinols and sunbathing don't mix, mascara needs to be replaced regularly, and so on. But the proper care and maintenance of blonde hair can be particularly elusive. Why? Because blonde hair is so damn difficult to take care of.

One of the most common issues? Unwanted brassy and yellow tones. Luckily, you don't need a PhD in chemistry to learn how to keep the color from veering into that territory. For the CliffsNotes, we consulted two color experts: Riawna Capri, owner of L.A.’s Nine Zero One Salon and hairstylist to stars like Julianne Hough and Nina Dobrev, and Joico celebrity colorist Denis De Souza, who’s worked with the likes of Olivia Wilde, Kate Mara, and Jenna Dewan.

“Champagne blondes look more expensive and more natural," Capri tells us. "When your hair is yellow and brassy it looks cheap, like you haven’t been taking care of it — and it might not be your fault!”

Why is blonde hair so prone to discoloration? There are two main reasons. First, understand that rarely is hair lightened to the exact shade that’s desired. Instead, once hair is bleached out, it must then be treated with a toner to create the sought-after shade. Capri explains it like this: Hair color is like leggings, and toner is like pantyhose. Since the toner your colorist applies is super-sheer, it can wear off quickly, leaving unwanted hues behind. That is, unless it's cared for properly.

Second reason: “Because blonde hair tends to be more porous, it ends up discoloring over time,” De Souza says. Which means it's soaking up things that are messing with your blonde, like water and products. However, armed with the right knowledge and tools, you can keep your blonde from going bad.

Click through for the top seven common discoloration culprits to avoid.
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Unless you’re showering in mineral-free bottled water — which would be weird and wasteful — the minerals and metals in your tap water might be to blame for discoloration. “Hard water in our showers penetrates porous, colored hair,” De Souza says. “And over time, it grabs [the minerals and metals], changing the color of the hair.”

Capri agrees. “Hands-down, one of the best things you can do is get a shower filter,” she says. “There's so much shit in tap water, especially in older buildings with outdated plumbing.” Seeing a void in the market, Capri actually created her own brand of filters for her army of blonde clients.

Just like the pitcher in your fridge, your shower filter needs to be changed regularly. But, fret not, they simply screw on and off and work with most showerheads.
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If tap water can cause slight discoloration, then pool water can completely change the color of your hair — and you’re not in the clear in a saltwater pool or the ocean, either. Luckily, there’s an easy fix: Prep the hair with clean water, and lather up right after you swim.

“Your hair is like a sponge. If you allow it to soak up clean water first, it isn’t going to absorb as much pool water,” Capri explains. “Hop in the shower first and saturate your hair, then put a little conditioner on, too.” Or just dump a bottle of water through your locks first!

Then, you need to cleanse the hair as soon as you can. “Think about it: What’s the job of chlorine? To clean the pool,” Capri says. “It can eat the toner off your hair, so don’t let it sit on your hair and do its job; just one time can change the color of your hair.”
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“Hair becomes yellow (lighter blondes) or brassy (darker blondes and brunettes) because of many factors, but it all starts with the frequency of the hair washes,” De Souza says. “The more you wash the hair, the faster it tends to go yellow or brassy, as shampooing tends to strip the color pigments.” Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know dry shampoo is the key to going longer between washes.

If you can’t stand the idea of skipping a day, try rinsing with water and conditioning your strands, which will allow for a refresh — without the color-altering detergents of shampoo.
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Purple shampoo and conditioner may be sold everywhere from the supermarket to high-end salons, but they still require some expertise — and restraint! Overdo it, and instead of lightly toning your hair, you'll end up distributing color that's way worse than anything in tap water, leaving your strands ashy, dull, or even gray-looking.

Capri recommends using purple shampoo or conditioner (not both!) only once per week, and only leaving it on for two or three minutes at first. "Just be sure to comb it through, so it reaches all the hair evenly," she says. You can eventually build up to 10 minutes, but don't apply more frequently or for a longer duration. Longer than 10 minutes will only add pigment to your hair, and you'll need to see your colorist for a toner or gloss afterward.

Capri prefers Unite's version, while De Souza recommends Joico's purple formula for blondes and its blue formula for brunettes with highlights.
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Chances are you’ve heard the buzzword "sulfates" dozens of times, but still don’t fully understand why they’re not great for blonde hair. So we consulted Capri. "Here’s the deal with sulfates: They’re the detergents that create the little bubbles that we all grew up with, so that’s the only way a lot of us feel like we’re getting clean hair. But you need something gentler if you have toner in your hair, which almost all blondes do," she says. To avoid stripping the toner from your 'do, choose a formula designed for color-treated hair and always check the label for the magic words: "sulfate-free."
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This warning is a two-parter: Those who go too blonde (whether too light or over-highlighted) make their hair extra porous. The solution? Lay off the color! If you're committed to your shade of blonde, you can offset it a bit with the right products. "For those whose color has been lifted two levels or more, I suggest...K-PAK Color Therapy shampoo and conditioner," De Souza says. "It protects color, repairs damage, and seals the cuticle."

The second reason? Those lightening products commonly found in the drugstore could be causing discoloration. Yes, the throwback '90s product Sun-In could turn your hair orange, but we're also talking about the shampoos and conditioners marketed to those looking to lighten at home. Why are they bad? "The ingredients in these can counteract the beautiful color that your stylist has created," Capri says. Skip anything labeled "lightening," and stick to sulfate-free formulas designed to preserve, not alter, your color.
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Done all of this and still getting unwanted brassy or yellow tones? “To prevent color from changing — and to keep it looking fresh — I highly recommend a gloss at least once a month,” De Souza says. “The gloss wraps the hair, closing the cuticle, thereby preventing color from fading and stopping the hair from being affected by all those environmental and external aggressors in our showers, pools, etc.” A clear or color gloss protects the hair, adds shine, and can also tone your mane if it looks off between visits.
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