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Let's Talk About Lightening Hair

Let’s talk about Lightening hair:

Bleaching products have changed DRAMATICALLY in the past 10 years. With the demand from US STYLISTS to have bleaches that can take level 1's to level 10's in under an hour, with open air painting and no damage has caused manufacturers to produce bleaches and lightening products that are very, very strong.

With products that help build bonds and repair polypeptide chains, most stylist use these products as insurance agents with these bleaches that are extremely potent.

Nothing wrong with these products or these bleaches, the issue is that most of us are pushing the boundaries with bleaching and in turn, causing some catastrophic damage.

Understanding all about the lightening products we have at our disposal will give us a clearer idea of what to use and when to use it. You do not need to use the strongest, fastest, 1000 level lift bleach for every situation. So let's break it down.

The first topic I should cover is the different products we have in our arsenal to lighten hair:

  • High Lift Color

  • Oil Bleach

  • Powder Bleach


High lift colors are the gateway between traditional permanent color and bleach. High lifts typically have more ammonia or alkalizers than permanent color, but don't have the power, per-sulfates or pH of lightener.

High lift colors will typically create a warmer result, and are usually recommended to be mixed with double 40 volume to achieve maximum lifting of melanin. There are scenarios when high lifts can be the perfect solution.

So, who is a good candidate for a high lift color?

-A client who is level 7 and above

-Hair texture is fine to medium

-Client is in the BLONDE category for client categories (I teach about this in The FUNdamentals)

-Client prefers a neutral to warm result

-Brunette clients who want light brown or caramel tones

High lifts can generally give 2-4 levels of lift, sometimes more, so definitely a good option in certain situations.


Oil bleaches are a bit more gentle than traditional powder bleaches and have a tendency to be less aggressive. These are the types of lighteners that come in a tube or a tub and are typically a cream consistency that requires mixing with any strength developer of your choice. Think of oil bleach as a step-up from high lift, but not as quite as potent as powder. Oil bleaches are produced as a liquid, and during the manufacturing process a thickener is added to create a more viscous gel when mixed with developer.

When would you opt for an oil bleach?

-On scalp lightening, even at the darkest levels. (the first 1/4" on new growth isn't fully keratinized and will lift beautifully with an oil bleach). This can prevent chemical burns on scalp, especially with a lower volume.

-Brightening up dull ends on high lights

-When a client is only needing a few levels of lift, and high lift is not strong enough.

-Breaking through old color on mid-shafts and ends.


Powder bleach is the most potent option to get hair as light as possible.

Ingredients in different powder bleaches vary, but generally most of the 9 levels+ lighteners on the market use:

  • Persulfate salts: Inorganic salt that has the ability to break DOWN an organic substance- HAIR!

  • Ammonium Persulfate

  • Potassium Persulfate

  • Sodium Persulfate

Powdered bleach typically has a very high pH and has a greater ability to lighten the hair. These bleaching agents have the ability to enter the hair's cortical fibers and reach the melanin in order to change its chemical composition. Changing the composition of melanin and breaking it down is what gives us a lighter result. Bleach diffuses melanin creating undertone.

Along with these salts, an alkaline solution is used to help soften and swell the hair in order for the oxidizing agents to reach the cortical fibers of the hair.

The alkaline pH products- by mixing alkali with oxidizing agents has 2 effects:

1- causes hair to soften and swell which helps the oxygen released by the oxidizing agents to penetrate into the cortical fibers and help break up melanin- causing the hair to lighten.

2- neutralize the acids added to hydrogen peroxide which makes the chemical break down rapidly, releasing oxygen.

ALSO, ammonium hydroxide acts as a catalyst and accelerates the breakdown of hydrogen peroxide.

Tips on bleach:

-Not all bleach is created equal. You have to KNOW your product- its speed, gentleness and performance.

-When choosing your lightener, always make sure to check the ingredients. Bleaches with sodium hydroxide or potassium hydroxide are the most damaging ingredients, so tread lightly and be mindful.

-Lightener usually is the strongest and most potent the first 30 minutes after mixing and will slowly start to diminish in strength.

-When doing a foiling application that will take longer than 30 minutes, remix your bleach at the 30 minute mark and up your developer in order to have a hair process at a similar rate. Using the same bowl of lightener for a 1.5 hour application will cause delays in lift for your last sections.

-If the lightener dries out, it will stop working.

-If the lightener is still wet or moist, it will continue to lighten the hair. If you leave moist lightener on past pale yellow, the hair fiber will begin to deteriorate causing catastrophic damage.

-Lifting to "white" or completely decolorizing the hair should never happen. Hair bleached to white will have no internal structure to support itself let alone any toner. Leave supporting pigment in the hair for the toner to attach to and to give strength to the hair.

-Powdered lighteners are typically de-dusted so making sure you mix up and massage the bag or use a comb to stir the lightener is very important. Active ingredients can settle causing your bleach to perform erratically.

-Heat is NEVER suggested with any lightener. The active ingredients in both the powder and the developer are unstable and exposure to heat could cause undesired results.

-Always use the manufacturer's recommended developer with the lightener for best results.

-Be responsible when using a lightener and don't count on bond builders to push the hair to the breaking point. A matter of minutes can be life or death to the hair when working with strong bleaches so be mindful.

-Always keep your eyes on the bleach. Check often to see the progress the hair is making and make sure to wipe off your product from the hair when the desired result has been reached.

-Always make sure to shampoo bleach out of the hair, especially if you are planning on toning after. Any bleach remaining in the hair will re activate with the application of toner and will degrade the tonal value of the toner.

-Make sure you use an acidifying conditioning treatment after you shampoo the hair. This will help eliminate residual peroxide and ammonia and can help the hair constrict and infuse cationic charges to help accept the toner more evenly. This is also known as equalizing the porosity.

Hope this was insightful and helpful for you!

Happy Haircoloring!