If you were born with gorgeous golden blonde locks, you may have noticed your hair darkening to a brownish hue over time. You’re not alone. Many natural blondes experience their fair tresses gradually darkening as they age. While genetics play a big role, there are other factors that cause blonde hair to turn brown.
What Percentage of People Are Natural Blondes?
Natural blonde hair is caused by lower levels of eumelanin – the pigment that produces brown and black hues – and higher levels of pheomelanin, which produces red and yellow hues.
True blonde hair is quite rare globally, with only 2% of the world’s population being natural blondes. The highest percentages of natural blondes are found in Northern and Eastern European countries like Finland, Latvia, and Poland, where estimates reach 10-20%.
In the United States, about 2-4% of adults are natural blondes. When broken down by age and gender, the percentage of natural blondes in the US is:
- 5-10% of Caucasian children
- 3-5% of younger women
- 2% or less of adult men
Blonde Hair Darkens with Age
Although blonde is a recessive genetic trait, hair color is also strongly influenced by age. Many natural blondes will experience significant darkening of their hair as they move from childhood into adolescence and adulthood.
50-70% of Caucasian children are born with blonde hair. However, only 10-20% of adults in the same ethnic group are blonde.
So why does blonde hair turn brown? There are several reasons this happens.
Melanin Causes Blonde Hair to Darken
The natural pigments that give hair its color are called melanin. There are two types of melanin:
- Eumelanin – Produces brown and black hues
- Pheomelanin – Produces red and yellow hues
Blonde hair contains mostly pheomelanin. As we age, our hair follicles produce more eumelanin and less pheomelanin. This causes blonde hair to darken over time.
During puberty, hormonal shifts result in increased eumelanin. This accounts for significant darkening from childhood blonde to brown hair in adolescence.
In pregnancy and menopause, hormonal fluctuations also raise eumelanin production, turning blonde hair brown.
Even in non-transitional times, our hair naturally produces more eumelanin as we age. More eumelanin = darker hair. So for many natural blondes, without intervention, blonde hair turns brunette by the late 20s and 30s.
Sun Exposure Darkens Blonde Hair
Sun exposure is another factor that causes blonde hair to turn brown.
The sun’s UV radiation triggers excess production of melanin as the hair follicle’s defense mechanism. This extra melanin is predominantly eumelanin, so excessive sun exposure results in darker blonde hair.
This is why blonde hair tends to darken in the summer then lighten up again in the winter. The more time spent in the sun, the more severe the darkening becomes.
Additionally, the sun’s rays break down hydrogen peroxide levels in hair. Since low hydrogen peroxide allows pheomelanin to form, this destruction causes blonde hair to turn brown.
Heat Styling Causes Oxidation
Heat styling tools like blowdryers, curling irons, and straighteners can cause blonde hair to turn brown.
The high temperatures essentially “cook” the hair cuticles, causing oxidation and free radical damage. This allows the underlying pigment to leach out.
Since eumelanin is darker than pheomelanin, oxidation makes blonde hair appear darker and brassier over time. The more heat styling, the more rapid the damage.
Product, Hard Water, and Pollution
Product buildup, hard water minerals, and environmental pollution can all contribute to darkening of blonde hair.
As these elements coat the outer hair shaft, they create a dingy, dark appearance. This prevents light from reflecting properly off the hair cuticles for that bright blonde look.
Bleaching and Dyeing
Frequent bleaching and dyeing of hair weakens the cuticle layer that holds in color pigment.
Once the cuticle is compromised, the darker underlying pigment more readily leaches out. This causes dyed blonde hair to fade and darken at the roots.
Repeated chemical processing accelerates damage to the cuticle. This makes the hair unable to hold onto artificial color.
How to Prolong Your Blonde Hair
While some subtle darkening of blonde hair is inevitable with age, there are steps you can take to maintain a lighter color for longer:
- Limit heat styling to 1-2 times per week max to prevent oxidation.
- Avoid prolonged sun exposure by wearing protective styles and hats in summer.
- Use clarifying shampoos 1x per week to remove product buildup from hair shaft.
- Apply toners and purple shampoos as needed to counteract brassiness.
- Get highlights, balayage, or babylights to refresh growth around face.
- Use lower volume developer (10 vol instead of 30 or 40) when bleaching hair to limit damage to cuticle.
- Only bleach roots when touching up dyed blonde hair to avoid overlap.
- Give hair a break from chemicals every few months to prevent cuticle overload.
While genetically blonde hair contains lower levels of eumelanin, various lifestyle and environmental factors can trigger increased eumelanin production over time.
As we age, hormonal changes, sun exposure, heat styling, product buildup, and frequent chemical processing can all lead to blonde hair turning brown.
By limiting damaging behaviors and utilizing protective strategies, you can prolong your golden locks. But some subtle darkening is inevitable so embrace those beautiful blonde AND brown locks!
Sophia Rodriguez is the creative force behind IGXO Cosmetics, a popular beauty blog and brand. As a long-time makeup artist and beauty industry insider, Sophia realized there was a lack of authentic, relatable content for the everyday woman. This inspired her to launch IGXO Cosmetics in 2018 as a platform to share her passion for beauty.