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Haircolor Basics: Hair Lighteners


Lauren Conrad All rights reserved

Lightening the hair is usually a preparatory process for the application of a single-action, penetrating tint or toner.

A lightening product is used to lighten the hair to the desired shade.

Professional hair color lighteners were created with a basic purpose in mind. The actual goal? To lift dark hair to light by diffusing natural melanin present in the hair's cortex.

A good hair color expert will not promise their clients that they can lighten black or dark brown hair to the lightest platinum or white. This is because the underlying pigment may not make it possible.

Some hair color artists may, in some cases be able to take very dark hair to a much lighter color. However, this process may require more than one application of lighteners to achieve appropriate color removal.

Carrie Underwood All rights reserved

When done carefully an expert colorist can minimize hair damage and achieve a superior lightness. The key word is carefully.

My own Dallas hair colorist, Rose Zuniga will not agree to color hair beyond a certain darkness to light blonde because she believe the hair will become extremely damaged in the process due to the level of lightening and chemical required.

If you own professional hair colorist advises you against going too light due to potential damage, appreciate their willingness to look out for the long term health of your hair.

Note: To view more of Carrie Underwood hairstyles visit The Gallery

Professional hair colorists use hair lighteners in a variety of forms.

In essence there are different types of hair lighteners designed to achieve certain hair coloring goals. If you're using pre-formulated box colors you will not need to worry about hair lighteners. If you are a professional hair colorist it would be helpful to know the lightening options.

Categories Of Hair Lighteners

Alison Sweeney All rights reserved

Hair lighteners used by professional hair color experts are classified in the following categories:

1. Oil Lighteners 2. Cream Lighteners 3. Power of Paste Lighteners

Hair consumers that color their hair from a prepackage box formula do not need to worry about lighteners since the lightening agents are already included in the prepackaged formulas.

Oil Hair Lighteners

Oil Lighteners usually consist of the mixture of hydrogen peroxide with a sulfonated oil. Oil based lighteners are most commonly mixed with 20 volume developer and one or more lightening activators.

Many of the lightening activators do contain ammonium persulfate. It is the ammonium persulfate working in harmony with the hydrogen peroxide and the lightener to remove any unwanted red, orange or yellow tones in the hair.

Kylie Bax All rights reserved

Hair lighteners actually remove color. A common misconception is that hair lighteners only minimize the color. In reality, they remove them completely.

Most lighteners work most effectively during the first hour after they are applied to the hair although in some cases they will continue to lighten up to two hours after initial application.

Traditional oil-based hair lighteners have been used very successfully for many years by hair colorist experts who understand that oil hair lighteners can provide maximum control when lightening natural dark hair colors.

Colored oil lighteners add temporary color and highlight tresses while they lighten. The colors contained are usually certified by the professional hair color manufacturers (Goldwell, Clairol Professional and similar) and may be used without a patch test.

Manyprofessional hair colorists may or may not do a patch test depending on a variety of factors.

Colored oil lighteners can remove pigment while adding color tones at the same time.

Basically colored oil lighteners are classified according to the action they provide on the hair and include the following actions:

Pamela Anderson All rights reserved

Gold - lightens the hair while adding red highlights. Silver - lightens the hair while adding silvery highlights to gray or white hair. It also minimizes red and gold tones on other types of hair. Red - lightens the hair and adds red highlights. Drab - lightens and adds ash highlights. Tones down or reduces red and gold tones.

Besides colored oil lighteners there are neutral oil lighteners. Neutral oil lighteners may remove pigment without adding color tones. It may be used to pre-soften hair for tint applications. It might also be used with hair that is resistant to color.

Cream Hair Lighteners

Cream hair lighteners are considered to be the most popular types of lighteners. They're easy to apply and will not run, drip or dry out which can occur with other lighteners.

They are easy to control and contain conditioning agents, bluing and thickeners which provide the following benefits:

  1. Conditioning agents provide protection from the harshness of the chemicals.

  2. Bluing agents are included to "drab" or dull undesirable red, orange or gold tones. Sometimes they are referred to "drabbers".

  3. Thickeners give control when applying the lightener to the hair. It is important that the lightener does not run or else the color application will be uneven and streaky.

Jaime Pressley All rights reserved

Colored oil lighteners add temporary color and high light the hair as they lighten. The colors contained are certified and may be used without a patch test. They remove pigment and add color tones at the same time.

Powder Or Paste Hair Lighteners

Powder or paste lighteners are the fastest type of hair lighteners. These types of hair lighters contain oxygen-releasing boosters and inert substances for quicker and stronger action in lightening.

A professional hair colorist will need to mix the power or paste lighteners before they can be applied.

Paste lighteners will hold well, are not runny but on the down side, may dry out much quicker than cream lighteners. Cream lighteners can be easily controlled to prevent overlapping with previous colored hair.

Powder lighteners do not contain conditioning agents and may dry the hair and irritate the scalp.


There are different types of hair lighteners designed to achieve certain hair coloring goals.

If you are using box colors from the drugstore you will not need to worry about hair lighteners. If you're a professional hair colorist it would be helpful to know the lightening options which includes Oil Lighteners, Cream Lighteners and Powder or Paste Lighteners.

- Revised Publication Date: 12/15/11

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