The Science Behind Lightening Hair
Written By: Hannah Sensius
April 16th, 2020
Have you ever wondered why it takes so long to get light hair? Have you ever wondered why you hair lifts so warm when you do lighten it? Well wonder no more. This short read is perfect for someone who wants to better understand how hair lightening works.
So lets start with the basics
Natural hair color is determined on a number scale 1-10. 1 is the darkest black, and 10 is the lightest blonde. These numbers also have underlying pigment stages which I'll explain below.
Your hair contains natural hair color pigments called melanin. Melanin is produced within the matrix of the hair bulb by cells called melanocytes and there are two types; eumelanin and pheomelanin. Eumelanin contains black and brown pigments and pheomelanin contains red and yellow pigments. These two types of melanin are what determine the color of your natural hair; the less eumelanin the lighter the hair is, the more eumelanin the darker the hair is. So if you want to have lighter hair, you must remove these melanin molecules to get it lighter.
So how do I remove the melanin from my hair?
Well, you cannot lift color with color. Artificial hair color deposits color into or onto the cuticle of the hair and is incapable of lifting the hair multiple levels. So if you want to lift the hair multiple levels you must use lightener, or bleach. When you lighten your hair the melanin cells are being broken down or dissolved. Once the lightener reaches inside the hair shaft, it begins to dissolve the hairs melanin, starting with the eumelanin, black and brown pigments, and then pheomelanin, red and yellow pigments. Eumelanin is relatively easy for lightener to break down, but pheomelanin is much harder to dissolve. Since the black and brown pigments are more easily erased, you are left seeing the red, orange, and yellow pigments that are harder to lift out. So when people say "my hair lifts warm" its because everyone's hair lifts warm. Everyone has warm underlying color pigments that show through since lightener cant break through these pigments as easy. That’s why hairstylist use toners to tone again these unwanted warm tones with cool tones. Blue tones counteract orange tones and purple tones counteract yellow tones.
What is Lightner?
Lightener is not a dye. It does not deposit color, it lifts it out. Lighter contains a form of powder bleach and is activated with hydrogen peroxide (developers.) There are four different levels of developer you can use that will give you different results: 10, 20, 30, and 40 volume. The volumes determine how quick and how much melanin it is going to be dissolved. So when using a lower volume, you will get a small amount of lift, and when using a higher volume, you will get lighter results. However, considering your putting harsh chemicals on your hair, you must be careful when using higher volume because there is high risk of damage and breakage. Since the developer is working must faster it can permanently damage the cuticle, and the longer it is left on the hair, the more damage it can do. Manufactures will state that their lightener can get up to seven to eight levels of lift. But this is really only ideal if the hair is virgin, in great condition, and has finer texture. It is harder for lightener to break through previous color, coarse hair, and if the hair is in poor condition you have to use weaker developers and work slowly so the hair doesn’t break. Its also very important to never merge lightener and artificial color. Why? Because lightener contains hydrogen peroxide and permanent color contains ammonia. Mix the two and you created a dangerous chemical that is now living on your hair and is near your scalp and skin.
So why does it take more than one appointment to get so light?
The reason its usually takes more than one appointment to get nice and bright is because its our job as hairstylists to maintain the integrity of your hair. Lightener can only work so fast and can only sit on so long befor it starts to damage the cuticle. . Even if you have virgin level 1 hair, its unrealistic to think you can walk into the salon and lift your hair 10 levels in one process and walk out as a platinum blonde. Yes it is possible to use higher developers, but you run the risk of breakage and having to cut your hair. It is even harder to get lighter when you have previous color on your hair because hair color contains additional dye molecules that the lightener has to dissolve first before it can start to dissolve your natural melanin. Now lets throw box color into the mix, where these dye molecules are highly concentrated and very difficult to get out of the hair. It will more than likely take multiple applications and appointments to break through a dye like that.
Its better to have a little understanding of house lightener works so you and your stylist can come up with a hair plan. Just because you might not be able to get to where you want to be in one day doesn't make or break the deal. You can work with your stylist on how many appointments they think you will need to get to where you want to be, and they can help you budget it out so you don't break the bank. Blondes do have more fun, but make sure you understand that its a journey to get there.
If you have any questions please feel free to shoot me a message, and if you’ve never been in my chair feel free to click here to receive 10% Off your first visit.