The idea of coloring your hair is a seductive one. Those little developer bottles and box dyes sold at beauty stores make the idea of achieving flawless platinum or powder blue in the comfort of your bathroom seem so easy. There’s one aspect of the color process that can make or break the final product, however: Lightener.
Sometimes just called bleach, this complicated chemical compound leaves amateur beauty gurus divided. The reality is that in the hands of a professional, bleaching your hair doesn’t have to be a scary thing and shouldn’t leave your hair fried. Ashley Zajac, L’Oréal Professional brand ambassador and artist, thinks of lighteners as a tool just like any other. When used with expertise and caution, they can be the gateway to the hair color of your dreams.
Before bleaching your hair, read on. This is information you can use.
What is a lightener?
Zajac likes to be very precise with her terminology. That’s partially because the word “bleach” has a negative connotation and makes the idea of lightening hair seem so much scarier than it needs to be.
“In the salon we have this joke. If a guest comes in with beautiful hair that has been lightened, we refer to the product used to lighten her hair by its proper name, which is a lightener,” she says. “When the guest comes in and her hair has been damaged by a lightener, we say, ‘Wow, they’ve been bleached!’”
Jokes aside, Zajac makes a very important point: The name bleach is associated with bleached denim and 1980s hair. It’s the application method that’s at fault there, not the compound. The real definition of a lightener is much more clinical.
“Lighteners are chemical compounds that lighten hair by dispersing both natural and artificial pigment,” thus making the hair lighter,” Zajac explains.
Now that we know what lighteners do, let’s move on to their many uses.
Why lighten hair?
Contrary to popular belief, lighteners aren’t used on every head of hair that comes in the salon. They lift color from the hair when necessary, giving your professional a blank canvas to work with.
Many of the whimsical hair trends we see on social media (pastels, rainbows, and the like) require a bright, light base, which means pre-lightening the strands. On the other hand, basic highlights and balayage often mean lifting some of the color from a medium or dark base. Unless you’re going dark red, black, or blue, it’s likely your stylist will use some sort of lightener on your hair.
There’s no one-size-fits-all bucket of bleach in the back room of the salon, either, which is where the professional expertise and training of your stylist comes into play. He or she has likely been through multiple color technique certifications, which means an understanding of how to mix lighteners of different strengths and consistencies. As a result, you’ll get a consistent color while still maintaining the integrity of your hair.
If you’re trying the technique at home, Zajac notes that it’s the evenness that will likely be lacking. Noticeable bands of lightened hair or spottiness are common side effects of a home bleach, as well as damaged hair caused by overlapping sections.
“There are two common mistakes women make when lightening their own hair at home. Either they do not lighten enough or they over-lighten, causing breakage,” she says.
How often can you lighten hair?
As with many hair techniques, there’s no universal answer as to how frequently you can lift color from the hair. If you regularly see the same hair stylist, he or she will ultimately determine what’s best for the health and longevity of your ‘do.
Zajac echoes this claim.
“Rules on frequency to how often you should use a lightener can vary significantly from case to case due to hair texture, porosity, color history, at-home hot tools and much more,” she says. “My salon guests who receive regular lightening services, I recommend they come back to the salon every eight to 10 weeks. When I am working on a color transformation, I may have my guests come in as soon as four weeks.”
If you’re concerned about the impact of regular lightening on your hair, take those worries to your stylist. You may benefit from an in-salon treatment or a change in at-home routine.
Certainly, no one should leave their color service feeling like they have a head of straw instead of a touchable blonde. For hair that is instantly more resistant, soft, and shiny-looking, apply the L’Oréal Professionnel Absolut Repair Masque for three to five minutes and follow it with the Absolut Repair Leave-In.
The next time your stylist mentions lightening your hair in salon, you won’t feel scared or stressed. Let all that knowledge empower your next hair color move.