Bleach versus Lightener – What you should know

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard the phrase “bleach this hair” throughout my career. Heck, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said it myself before learning more about it.

The Cambridge and American Dictionaries define “bleach” and “bleaching” as “to remove the colour from something or make it lighter, with the use of chemicals or by the effect of light from the sun; to become lighter in this way. A liquid or powder used to clean or make something whiter or lighter in color.”

So, while technically the process can be correctly described as bleaching, we aren’t using bleach on hair. We use lightener when lifting the hair. Not only does it sound better and less scary, lightener has been designed specifically for use on the hair. Another major difference is what powers bleach versus lightener.

Most of the time when we think of bleach we’re thinking of a chlorine-based bleach. When it comes to hair, we use a peroxide-based bleach, or – lightener. This screenshot from Wikipedia breaks down the difference nicely.

  • Talk all the smack you want about Wikipedia but I love that all of the resources are listed for you to followup on your research

Lifting the hair in the salon is also able to be done in a controlled manner. The cool thing with lightener is that the power is in the product and not in the developer, the developer just changes how quickly you get where you’re going initially.

What most people, in my experience, tend to be worried about is the damage associated with lifting the hair. I want you to know, that’s a very valid concern. So what should you look for in a stylist when you’re exploring options for lifting your hair?

  • Ask them about the process. None of us are going to give you the details you need to replicate our services at home or with a friend, but a colorist that won’t explain the general process to you isn’t one I would feel comfortable with personally.
  • Ask them how long it takes. All colorists should be concerned about your hair health when lifting the hair, my experience in nailing down which ones are the most concerned is the ones who like to lift “low and slow.” What that means is that we’re going to start with a lower volume developer and work our way up from there. This will likely result in the process taking longer, but gives your colorist maximum control along the way.
  • Ask them if they pull the lightener through every foil every time. I’m going to preface my reasoning here with a note that if you have a long-term relationship with your colorist and they do this and your hair looks and feels great, then there’s no reason to change anything up. However, in my personal experience behind the chair I have found that if your ends are already as light as we want or need them to be, there’s no reason to pull lightener through on a consistent basis. This specific action has been responsible for a majority of the damaged hair I’ve seen throughout the years. Is it important to make sure that your toner doesn’t build up and affect the end results? Yep. Are there better ways to do that than pulling the lightener through at the time of application? Also yep.

What else would you like to know about? Let me know! Don’t forget to subscribe for more articles delivered right to your inbox, and follow along on social media!

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