Call it dark blonde, call it dirty blonde… Whatever search term you’re using to find hair color inspiration, we know what you’re looking for: a pretty in-between blonde-ish shade that isn’t as bright as platinum, as warm as honey blonde, or as dark as full-on brunette, but has elements of all those things.
New to light hair but don’t want to go too extreme? Trying to darken your hair a little to save on cash and color damage? This just might be the perfect color family for you. Dirty blonde is actually a term that stylists have been using since the 1950s, says hairstylist Jill Buck. Sometimes it’s referred to as dishwater blonde, though that’s not the nicest-sounding description. Despite the lackluster name, Buck says this not-light-enough-to-be-blonde, and not-dark-enough-to-be-brunette color has become so popular over the years. To help you on your quest—because finding the right dirty blonde for your skin tone is a true quest—we pulled together a roundup of top-tier photo inspiration, along with pro tips from Buck and colorist George Papanikolas.
Keep scrolling here to find the best dirty blonde hair color for you, including all the how-tos and what to avoid with this shade.
CHOOSING A SHADE: Dirty blonde tends to have a bunch of different colors and tones mixed together. Buck says she keeps her dirty blondes at a level 7 and 8. “Depending on your skin tone that will determine the tones used,” she says.
MAINTENANCE LEVEL: Low to medium. Buck says dirty blonde is much easier to maintain than a platinum blonde.
GOES GREAT WITH: “Dirty blonde hair color tends to complement cooler skin tones especially if you are going with the cooler side,” says Papanikolas.
SIMILAR SHADES: Dark blonde, blonde balayage, mushroom blonde, ash blonde
PRICE: According to Papanikolas, dirty blonde is “substantially more expensive for darker hair since you will need to do the pre-lighting and highlighting first.”
Dirty Honey Blonde
There’s not an exact definition for dirty blonde hair, but that’s the best part. While certain undertones pair well with different shades, the great thing about this warmer-toned color is that it’s made to suit you however you want it.
If you’re going for less of a highlighted color and more of a single-process all-over dirty blonde, consider showing your stylist this dark blonde shade. And don’t forget to swipe some gold glitter shadow over your lids like Gigi Hadid to complete the look and add a little more sparkle to your life.
Buck warns single process colors, while beautiful, require more maintenance than highlights because of the growing out process. When deciding whether it’s right for you, keep in mind: “As the hair grows it creates a solid line for the color,” she says.
The overall outcome is determined by the foil placement, Buck says. If a client is hoping for more of a rooted, grown-out look with little maintenance—like this curly effect featuring golden babylights on a dark base—she says a “feathered diagonal shape foil placement is needed.”
Bright Face-Framing Highlights
To brighten and warm up the skin, ask your colorist to focus the lightest highlights around your face. This technique will create the impression of overall lighter hair even if you have a dark base like SJP.
Like Laverne Cox’s caramel blonde, a darker root adds depth to the lighter dirty blonde color. It’s a stunning, complementary option, especially on darker skin tones.
We’re living for Chrissy Teigen’s beautifully blended balayage, which incorporates neutral blonde highlights to warm up a darker base. No matter your skin’s undertones—warm, cool, or neutral—this color is sure to flatter.
Curly hair has a tendency to have fine ends, creating new growth that looks heavily colored, while the ends are darker, Buck tells us. To counteract this, she simply tips out all the ends in order to keep the color looking fluid. The result is something like these gorgeous sunkissed curls.
Haven’t you heard? Everybody is going bronde. The brown-blonde-crossbreed looks amazing on medium-to-dark skin tones, especially when paired with a shag haircut like Halle Berry’s.
Golden Blonde Sombré
Jessica Alba was one of the celebs to help put the “lived-in color” concept on the map. This incredible golden blonde sombré is perfect for natural brunettes who want to lighten their strands up a bit without too much maintenance.
Cara Delevingne’s neutral-toned dirty blonde would work on a variety of skin tones. Buck says a natural blonde base is the perfect starting color for dirty blonde hair. “This is my favorite blonde to create and will create the least amount of upkeep,” she tells us.
Beverly Hills colorist Matt Rez is an expert in darker blondes. Using his trademarked midlight color technique to blend neutral, warm, and cool tones without lifting the base color, he creates balanced dirty blondes like this one.
Grown-Out Honey Blonde
This easy-to-maintain color looks absolutely killer on Rita Ora’s wavy hair texture and olive complexion. For a bold pop of color, pair with a classic red lip, which looks especially flattering on warm blondes.
“For a more overall color or a brighter look, a client will need a heavier foil placement closer to the scalp,” Buck says. Taylor Swift, who has kept a pretty consistent dirty blonde shade since the start of her career, is a perfect example.
Ciara’s dirty blonde sombré is such a head turner—and would definitely require a purple shampoo. To nail her California beach vibes, a no-makeup makeup look is the way to go.
Natural curls and sandy blonde highlights add movement and dimension to Jasmine Sanders’s head of hair. Getting a darker base to dirty blonde is a similar process to naturally blonde hair, Buck says. However, the brunette will be lifted more levels than the blonde.
When creating a low-maintenance look, it comes down to color and technique. Priyanka Chopra’s dirty blonde ombré seamlessly transitions from darker roots to blonde tips. Talk about having a talented colorist.
This look manages to find a perfect balance of dirty blonde that seems like it could work great on just about anyone. As far as upkeep goes, Buck loves Joico’s Blonde Life Shampoo ($22) for brightening dulled-out hair, Color Balance Purple Shampoo ($21) for blonde clients, and Color Balance Blue Shampoo ($21) for brunettes to help maintain hair health while leaving it looking shiny and toned.
Creating a blend of blondes, as seen here on Jennifer Aniston, is a great add-on for the dirty blonde. Strategic highlights make sure your color has a more natural feel.
Lucy Liu’s hair here is a great mix of honey and caramel tones. In terms of maintaining this golden hue, Buck says it depends on the type of service originally provided to the client but recommends toner application by the stylist between six to eight weeks.
Despite being pretty bright, this warm blonde hue looks amazingly natural on Karlie Kloss, with a hint of dark roots and allover buttery tones that are to die for.
Two-Toned Space Buns
Not only do we love the space buns stylist Owen Gold created on Soo Joo Park, but her two-toned color looks just as easygoing. While the model and DJ skews platinum with her color, it gets a subtle dirty blonde feel alongside her natural darker tresses.
Rooted Dirty Blonde
Don’t discount this majorly trendy short crop. The lighter blonde, highlighted style here is so pretty and dimensional. Consider styling with Verb Volume Texture Powder ($20) to create body and lift.
Leona Lewis’s pale blonde curls seem to match the coolness of her blue eyes. We love how subtle highlights brighten her otherwise ash brown mane. Style with a padded headband to add an air of elegance to free-flowing curls.
Currently, Bucks’ dirty blonde inspirations include client Julianne Hough’s hair, which has always been a bright blonde but has finally moved into the dirty blonde phase. To avoid having the color actually looking dirty, Buck says, she always adds a drop of warmth to her toners even when going for an ash finish.
JLo has gone full-blown diva with this look (and we mean that in the best way possible). Hair guru Chris Appleton styled her long, undulating waves which underscore movement. Meanwhile, warm blonde color creates depth and complements her medium skin tone.
What color should eyebrows be if you have dirty blonde hair?
It comes down to personal preference. A slightly darker brow can look bold and dramatic. But if that’s not the look you’re going for you can lighten your brows. The recommendation is to not go more than two shades lighter than your natural color.
Can you go from dark brown to dirty blonde without bleach?
It depends on how dark your brown hair is and how light you want to go. Usually, lightening any more than five shades will require bleach. There are also natural ways to lighten hair, but this will give you less control than if you were to go to the salon. Consult your colorist to get their recommendation.
What skin tone goes with dirty blonde hair?
There is a dirty blonde shade for every skin tone. That being said, you should consider your skin’s undertones before deciding on which shade of blonde to go with. Warmer tones will tend to flatter those with golden, yellow, or peachy undertones while cooler tones complement pink, red, or blueish undertones. If you’ve got neutral undertones, you’ll find nearly every shade of dirty blonde complementary.