The 5 Rules of Ombré Hair

Rachel Krause
olivia wilde ombre The 5 Rules of Ombré Hair

Photo: Brian To/

Hair color trends come and go, but we’d put money on the fact that ombré is here to stay. There’s a reason celebrities and regular people alike flock to the look: It’s subtle and flattering, and there’s a version for every hair type, length, and coloring. As with most dyed hair looks, we’ve seen a lot of good and a lot of bad. Keep these ombré hair tips in mind next time you head to the coloring chair to stay firmly on the good side of the color spectrum.

1. Tone is everything.
One of the biggest mistakes we see with ombré (and we’re sure you’ve noticed, too) is a brassy tint. This is often the result of using bleach on dark hair that has reddish undertones (the lifting process brings them to the surface, and the result is an undesirable orange-y shade). A colorist will generally know to follow up bleaching or highlighting with a corrective toner, but if you’re DIYing, be sure to add a cool or ashy color-depositing hair toner post-lightening to remove the orange and yellow tones.

2. Keep it healthy.
Getting the ombré look involves using bleach to lighten and remove pigment, which is a far more damaging color process than using dye to darken hair. It also focuses on the lengths and ends of hair, which are more easily compromised and sustain more damage than newer growth closer to the roots. It’s often wise to get a trim just before or after going ombré—especially if you have long or dry hair—to avoid new and worsening split ends. Always use a color-safe deep conditioner at least once a week to keep hair nourished and soft to the touch.

3. Avoid harsh lines.
A harsh line of demarcation where the hair goes from dark to light is never a good look. It looks cheesy and fake, whereas ombré should look natural and sun-kissed, rather than an obvious dye job. Many stylists use a hand-painting technique and muss up the strands to evenly distribute and blend the lighter pieces, but a great DIY technique is to use a toothbrush after applying the bleach as desired to rub the color upward into the hair for a subtle gradient effect.

4. Don’t get too drastic.
If you’re thinking about going ombré, consider your natural hair color. If you have super-dark brown or black hair, your ombré shouldn’t go much lighter than a soft medium to light brown, whereas if you have dark blonde or light brown hair to begin with, you can go much lighter towards the ends of hair. As a general rule, the lighter your hair is, the lighter your ombré can go. Going from dark brown to light blonde doesn’t look subtle or sun-kissed, it just looks like your dye job grew out.

5. Trust your stylist.
A good DIY ombré isn’t impossible, but unless you’re unusually skilled with home dyeing (and if you are, we salute you), color processes involving bleach are best left to the professionals. There’s just so much that can go wrong, especially if you’re trying to dramatically lighten very dark hair. A good stylist will also know where to place the highlights for the most flattering look for you, which may not be exactly the same as what’s most flattering on Olivia Wilde or any other famous lady rocking an ombré ‘do that makes us go, “I want that, too!”

Read more: How To Ask For Ombré Hair Color At The Salon