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Does single process color lighten hair?

When it comes to coloring hair, there are a few key things to keep in mind. Single process hair color applies one uniform color across the entire head. This application technique can lighten or darken hair, depending on the chosen shade. Understanding how it works and the effects it has on hair health is important for achieving your desired look.

What is single process hair color?

Single process hair coloring involves applying one all-over hair color to achieve complete, uniform coverage. This application technique is the most common method used in salons today. It differs from highlights or lowlights, which add shades to particular sections of hair. With single process color, the entire head receives the same mixture of developer and dye.

This application method can cover grey hairs, go darker, go lighter, enhance natural color, or achieve a bold, new hair color. The results depend on the specific color formulation and developer used. For example, to go lighter, the colorist would use a lighter shade than your natural hair and a higher volume developer.

Can single process color lighten your hair?

Yes, single process hair coloring can lighten your hair, provided the proper products and techniques are used. Here’s how it works:

  • The colorist selects a hair dye shade lighter than your current hair color.
  • They mix the dye with a developer or hydrogen peroxide. Developer comes in 10, 20, 30 or 40 volume strengths. The higher the volume, the more lightening occurs.
  • The dye mixture is applied evenly throughout the hair. The developer opens the cuticle and allows the lighter color molecules to penetrate the hair shaft.
  • The lightener removes some underlying pigment, making the hair a lighter shade.

So in short – yes, single process application can definitely lighten hair when a lighter shade and proper developer is used. The degree of lightening depends on your starting shade and developer strength.

How many shades lighter can you go?

Most colorists recommend lightening hair no more than 3 shades at a time when using a single process method. While it may seem tempting to go lighter faster, lightening more than 3 shades in one session can damage hair severely.

Here is a general guide on how many shades lighter single process can take you in one session:

  • From black hair: 1-2 shades lighter
  • From darkest brown: Up to 3 shades lighter
  • From medium brown: Up to 3-4 shades lighter
  • From light brown: Up to 4-5 shades lighter
  • From dark blonde: Up to 5-6 shades lighter
  • From medium blonde: Up to 6-7 shades lighter

Again, these are general estimates. The health of your hair and the exact color formulations used will impact the degree of lightening. Ask your colorist for their professional recommendation based on your specific hair.

Does single process damage hair when lightening?

Lightening hair with single process color does cause some degree of damage, especially when lifting more than a couple shades. Here’s an overview of how it affects hair:

  • The lightener swells and opens the cuticle layer. This damages cuticle structure.
  • The developer removes pigment and breaks melanin bonds. This leaves hair porous and dry.
  • Lightening requires higher volumes of developer (20+), which can be harsh on hair.
  • More drastic lightening increases risk of breakage and frizz.

However, there are ways to minimize the damage:

  • Use the lowest volume developer needed to achieve desired lightening.
  • Select conditioning hair color formulas.
  • Do deep conditioning treatments before and after lightening.
  • Spray hair with leave-in conditioner between washes.
  • Get occasional trims to remove split ends.
  • Use bond building treatments like Olaplex to strengthen strands.

Following healthy hair practices can help combat the drying and damaging effects of single process lightening.

What is the process for lightening with single process?

Here is an overview of the basic single process lightening steps:

  1. Hair analysis – The colorist will examine your hair condition, texture, current color, and desired result. This determines the proper products.
  2. Mix color formulation – The colorist mixes the lightener shade with the needed developer strength. They may also add toners.
  3. Application – The mixture is applied thoroughly from roots to ends. Processing times vary.
  4. Rinsing – Once the desired shade is reached, the color is rinsed from the hair.
  5. Toning – A toner may be applied to neutralize brassiness and ensure even results.
  6. Conditioning – A conditioning treatment is often applied to restore moisture and protect hair.

To get the safest, most natural-looking lightening, have your colorist do a strand test first to analyze how your hair lifts. This minimizes surprises or damage. Patience is also important – slower processes with multiple lighter applications spaced weeks apart often cause less stress to hair.

What level of developer is needed?

The level of developer your colorist uses depends on:

  • Your natural hair color
  • How many shades lighter you want to go
  • The condition and integrity of your hair
  • The formulation of the lightening dye

Here are some general developer guidelines for lightening:

Starting Hair Level Desired Lightening Developer Volume
Dark brown to black 1-2 shades 20 Volume
Medium brown 2-3 shades 20 or 30 Volume
Light brown 3-4 shades 30 Volume
Dark blonde 4-5 shades 30 or 40 Volume

Again, these are just guidelines. The colorist will determine the ideal developer strength for your particular scenario. Maximizing lightening while minimizing damage is the goal.

What are the risks of lightening hair with single process?

While single process application can successfully lighten hair, there are some risks to be aware of:

  • Dryness – Lightening is dehydrating and removes the hair’s natural oils.
  • Damage – Over-lightening can cause severe breakage, texture changes, and chemical cuts.
  • Irritation – Some individuals may experience skin or scalp irritation from the chemicals.
  • Banding – Uneven lightening sometimes occurs, leaving noticeable light and dark bands.
  • Brassiness – Lightening naturally brings out warm, brassy undertones that may be undesired.

Choosing an experienced colorist, using a reputable brand, prepping hair properly, and doing treatments can help minimize risks. Always do a patch and strand test first.

What aftercare is needed?

Proper aftercare is critical for maintaining color results and keeping hair as healthy as possible after lightening services. Here are some tips:

  • Use a sulfate-free, color-safe shampoo and conditioner.
  • Rinse hair with cool water to lock in color.
  • Apply a weekly nourishing hair mask.
  • Use leave-in treatments with UV filters before sun exposure.
  • Get a gloss or glaze treatment done 4-6 weeks after lightening.
  • Use bond-building products like Olaplex No.3 1-2 times per week.
  • Avoid heat styling when possible.
  • Get regular trims to prevent split ends.

Proper at-home care keeps lightened hair looking vibrant and helps combat dryness. Ask your colorist for product recommendations based on your specific hair needs.

How soon can I lighten again after single process?

Hair should be allowed to rest and recover for 4-6 weeks after lightening with single process color before doing it again. Lightening too soon after previous processing can cause:

  • Chemical cuticle damage
  • Over-porosity
  • Breakage
  • Gumminess or texture changes
  • Uneven results

Some general timelines on repeating lightening processes:

  • 4-6 weeks between full head single process
  • 6-8 weeks between partial highlight/balayage sessions
  • 8-12 weeks for more drastic double or triple process blondes

The healthiest approach is to only lighten as needed to maintain your color and avoid excess overlapping chemical services. Be patient – slower, gradual lightening is gentler on your hair.


Overall, yes – single process hair color application can effectively and evenly lighten hair when done properly by a skilled colorist. The stylist selects the appropriate lightener shade and developer strength needed to gently lift your hair to the desired level with minimal damage. Taking proper aftercare steps to nourish hair is also key. While risks like dryness and banding exist, they can be minimized by following your colorist’s recommendations. Single process allows you to gradually brighten your locks for a sun-kissed look.