Can blonde hair really be achieved without the use of bleach? It’s a question I am asked a lot, and a subject there is a lot of misconception about. The truth is, just as the Meghan Trainor song says, it’s “all about that base”.
How light or dark your natural base shade is will dictate how blonde you can get without needing to resort to bleach. But if you are reading this, I’m guessing you are naturally brunette – as most lucky fair-haired types can simply sit in the sun for five minutes and obtain a perfect blonde!
Here’s everything you need to know about going from brunette to blonde, with and without bleach.
Know Your Lifting Levels and Base Levels
Hair colour bases are numbered according to depth on a scale of one to ten, with ten being pale blonde and one being black. The lighter your base, the higher your base colour number:
However, that depth consists of not only dark pigments of black and brown (known as Eumelanin) but red and gold pigments (known as Pheomelanin). I explain more about this in my article on how to lighten your hair without going orange, but in a nutshell, the darker the hair, the more underlying red and gold pigment – and the less likely you will be able to achieve a clean white blonde without bleach.
Brunette bases are found within the numbers of 1.0 to 6.0 (dark blonde), with bases 1.0, 2.0, 3.0 and 4.0 typically being the hardest to lighten to paler shades, as they contain the most red and gold pigment. To get these shades up to a pale blonde, you need to bleach them by eight levels to remove all underlying pigment – whereas more gentle lighteners and High Lifting Tints (also known as a ‘Lightening Blonde Colourant’ or ‘No Bleach Lightener’ in retail) can be used on bases of 5.0 to 9.0 to obtain a brighter blonde.
So it’s good news for blondes wanting to go blonder, but what about brunettes?
“I don’t want bleach on my hair!” is the phrase hair colourists throughout the world hear when brunette clients tell them they want to be blonde, but they want a High Lift Tint used as the tool to do it. Unfortunately, it really isn’t that simple.
High Lift Tints Will NOT Work on Artificial Colour
First things first: if your current hair colour is not natural, you can forget the High Lift Tint – it won’t work to lift it even by a shade. A colourant cannot lift out artificial depth. If you have previously coloured your hair a darker or tonal shade and want to go blonde, you would need to use a product such as Decolour Remover or Decolour Stripper before attempting to re-colour using a High Lifting Tint.
The High Lift Tint Myth
While High Lift Tints are usually referred to as ‘No Bleach Lighteners’ they do still contain a bleaching agent, along with ammonia, and require 40 volume peroxide to successfully lift. That said, these formulations are far more sophisticated than standard bleach and less volatile – so using 40 volume peroxide is not as risky. However, High Lift Tints are no less damaging than No Ammonia Bleach and 6% peroxide, even though they may be regarded as ‘Bleach Free’.
There is a huge misconception about the purpose of High Lift Tints with the general public. People assume these products offer a kinder alternative to bleach in creating blonde hair. In fact, the purpose of High Lift Tints is to offer a lifting colourant, that also deposits a shade into the hair; as the name says, it lifts, and it tints, so that hair colourists do not have to lift and colour in two separate processes.
High Lift Tints contain pigments which are designed to neutralise or enhance lightening effects and create a ‘blonde shade’. However, while they claim to lighten up to five levels, it’s been my experience they can typically achieve no more than four levels of lift.
So, the results of using a lightest ash blonde High Lift Tint with a 40 volume developer would be as follows:
|7.0, 8.0 & 9.0||Lightest Ash Blonde|
|6.0 & 5.0||Light-Medium Blonde|
|4.0 & 3.0||Light Golden-Auburn Brown|
|2.0 & 1.0||Mahogany Red Brown|
High Lift Tints tend to give the best results when contained within foil packets or for regrowth application, as the heat of the scalp accelerates their lifting ability.
Generally, only those with lightest brown and dark to medium blonde hair types should attempt to go blonde using a High Lift Tint. For those who are naturally brunette, it’s unlikely a High Lift Tint can transform your whole current shade to a dazzling light blonde.
Can a No Bleach High Lift Tint Ever Turn a Brunette Blonde?
Still hoping for a way to lighten your dark hair to blonde without the use of a bleach? Well, there is a minor exception to the High Lift Tint’s capabilities that I’ve outlined above – but it takes work.
If a dark brunette applied a High Lift Tint every ten days to just the half a centimetre of regrowth that appears near the scalp, the heat emitted from that scalp would boost the colourant’s lifting abilities up to the full five levels. This would create a deep copper blonde on that regrowth.
Then, ten days later you would reapply the tint again onto the next new half a centimetre of regrowth – plus on to the half a centimetre of copper blonde you previously lifted. At this point, the new regrowth lifts to deep copper blonde, and the previous copper blonde lifts to a medium golden blonde.
This method of applying a High Lift Tint to regrowth every ten days would start to create a blonde colour result in even the darkest hair, simply because the scalp heat boosts the lifting process while the double application further lifts the depth. Yes, it’s a major commitment to undertake your roots every ten days, but if you truly want to go blonde without the use of a bleach, this is your only option.
It Won’t Be White Blonde, but It Will Be Bleach Free
If you are naturally very dark, don’t expect this method to create a clean white blonde; the only option to go that light is a bleach. Applying the High Lift Tint to your regrowth in this way will result in a deeper blonde shade.
While it may sound high maintenance, be sure to stick to doing the tint every ten days – if you wait too long between applications, those longer roots just won’t lift. You will also have a lot of warmth in the hair that will require neutralising, so use purple shampoos only and a product like Colour Restore Cool Ash to keep any underlying rust tones at bay.
And If You Do Want White Blonde…
This ten day regrowth High Lift Tint cycle for darker bases is a method that’s also deployed on very pale blondes, who do indeed use bleach. However, with this approach the hair can be lifted in bleach foil packets throughout, reducing the risk of damage associated with block bleach lightening.
The regrowth can then be maintained with a High Lift Tint, which means the hair only requires partial bleach every few months, as opposed to a whole head application every four weeks. Your hair will thank you for it!
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