A Stylist’s Secrets to Hair Lightening

The most popular salon service in the beauty industry is, by far, blonding services (like balayage, bleach retouches and highlights). Balayage and double process colors are among the most in demand. If you’ve had your hair lightened, you’ve probably heard your stylist ask a ton of questions before giving you a realistic expectation for your hair. So what’s the deal with lightning, and why is it so challenging to go blonde?


Lightning Services Explained

To break it down a bit: creating a high lift blonde requires all pigment (artificial or otherwise  removed from the hair. The most common and effective product to achieve this is lightener (bleach).  The active ingredient in most lighteners (bleaches) is a persulfate. When persulfate is mixed with the activator (peroxide) it creates a strong chemical reaction. This reaction removes all pigment from the cortex of the hair strand – which  is essentially where the color lives. While the color is oxidizing the hair goes through many stages of decolorization. Especially if the hair is extremely dark. The hair color shows what pheomelanin is underneath the hair. It is up to the stylist to decide how far to take the lightening process. This often depends on how well the clients hair can handle the chemical and how the hair feels during the chemical process.

Why Does It Take So Long to Go Blonde or Lighten Hair?

Hair can ultimately only be pushed so far in one session. When the hair becomes too compromised it won’t matter what color the hair is and may ultimately end in chemical breakage or damage. To ensure that does not happen the stylist must make sure the hair reacts well at all times. They must also  be sure the lightener is not left on too long or is overlapping with previous lightened pieces that is compromised already.  Clients that have had perms or relaxing treatments should under no circumstances have a stylist lighten their hair. This will result in an adverse chemical reaction and extreme breakage of the hair. 


Why Do Stylists Need to Know Your Hair History?

To perfect the process of blonding it is crucial to know the clients hair history for the past 3 years. This is crucial. Whenever a chemical service is performed on the hair it permanently alters its form. For example, Sally went to the salon 3 years ago for her first highlight. Sally loved the result for the first six months but then didn’t want the upkeep. She also didn’t want to see the line of demarcation from the previous Hi light. So, Sally went to her local drugstore and  bought a box of color that would match her natural color and cover her previous highlight service. Now, Sally is sitting in a new stylist’s chair 3 years later. 

What Happens If You’re Not Honest?

Now, Sally wants to be platinum blonde in one session and is saying that her hair is “natural”. This is not correct. Sally’s hair is not “natural” (because her “natural color”  has been chemically altered twice). Unless Sally has cut off all of her previous color services, her hair is still chemically altered underneath and this needs to be taken into consideration when lightening. Because of the previous color service her hair on the ends will react to the bleach in a completely different way than her non colored or “virgin hair”. Sally’s ends may end up a warmer tone or more brittle than the rest. Especially if her stylist does not receive a full and accurate hair history. The hair that has not been chemically altered will most likely require small sections and appropriate saturation of product to lift to the desired level of lightness.  

What are the Essential Things to Consider Before a Blonding or Lightning Session?

  • Previous hair history (spanning 3 years at a minimum)
  • Budget (blonding services need to be performed more regularly to ensure less color banding and breakage) 
  • Can your hair handle it? Simply put, can your hair handle the chemicals needed to make and keep you the blonde tone that you desire?

How Can You Tell if Your Hair Can Handle the Service?

If you’re unsure about the answer to number 3 I have a simple and effective way to check. TEST STRAND. Bleach does not lie. If your hair can handle the chemicals and get to the desired blonde it will show! 

What Aftercare Will I Need To Do?

After the hair is lightened it will need to be treated with TLC. After the service is performed it is completely normal for the hair to feel drier and more coarse. An Aftercare regimen that is high in moisture is just what the hair needs to return to its normal state. A Bond repair treatment is also a great addition to any arsenal, especially a blonde one. Good quality shampoo and conditioners are an absolute must have. Remember that a $7 drugstore shampoo, no matter how organic and sulfate free it claims, is not going to maintain your $200 balayage service.

The Importance of Good Product

Without proper at home maintenance you are quite frankly washing your money down the drain. Harsh sulfates and parabens are rough on the hair and raises hairs PH. This opens the hairs cuticle and as a result creates an environment for color and toner to wash out very fast.  Heat protectants are also essential. Blonde hair is delicate and needs to be treated as such. When your hair is blow dried you are evaporating the water out of the hair strand. Blonde hair is always more porous and therefore holds 2x more water than non colored hair. This means that the blow dryer needs to be used for longer periods of time and makes the hair more damaged from the process. Heat protectants will encapsulate the hair strands, lessen drying time and reduce damage up to 50%. 

Have questions?




(585) 704-9793
(585) 244-3324 [email protected]
MB Studio
1344 University Ave
Rochester, NY 14607