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What does powder lightener do?

Powder lightener, also known as bleach powder, is an important product used by hair stylists and colorists to lighten hair. When mixed with a developer, powder lightener works to remove pigment from the hair shaft, allowing hair to be lifted to a lighter shade. Understanding how powder lightener works and how to use it properly is key for achieving even, consistent lightening results.

How Powder Lightener Works

Powder lightener contains an alkaline base, usually ammonia or amines, which helps open up the cuticle layer of the hair. This allows the active ingredient, persulfate salts, to penetrate into the hair shaft and oxidize the melanin pigments. As the melanin is oxidized, it loses its color and the hair becomes lighter. Hydrogen peroxide is also sometimes included in lightener formulas as an accelerant to speed up the lightening process.

When powder lightener is mixed with an oxidizing developer, also called hydrogen peroxide, a chemical reaction occurs that produces oxygen. This oxygen interacts with the persulfate salts to oxidize the melanin. Developers come in different volumes, such as 10, 20, 30 or 40 volume. The higher the developer volume, the higher the concentration of peroxide it contains and the more lifting power it has.

Factors That Affect Lightening

There are several factors that influence how much and how quickly powder lightener will lighten hair:

  • Hair’s natural pigment level – Hair with a lot of natural pigment, like dark brown or black hair, will require more lightening than hair with less pigment like light brown or blonde hair.
  • Condition of hair – Hair that is damaged or overprocessed requires a gentler approach and may not lighten as fast as healthy hair.
  • Amount of artificial color buildup – Hair with a lot of layers of artificial color will need more lightening to remove the artificial pigment.
  • Strength of developer – As mentioned, higher volume developers speed up the lightening process.
  • Processing time – The longer the lightener is left on, the lighter the result. Stylists watch the hair carefully and remove lightener when the desired level is reached.
  • Heat – Applying heat, for example with a blowdryer, accelerates the lightening process.
  • Sectioning – Proper sectioning ensures even lightening results from root to ends.

How to Use Powder Lightener

To properly use powder lightener, follow these steps:

  1. Start with clean, dry hair. Shampoo hair the day before lightening to remove styling products.
  2. Divide hair into 4 sections – front, back, left, and right sides.
  3. For each section, create 1-2 inch wide subsections starting at the back of the head. Use hair clips to keep hair neatly sectioned.
  4. Mix the powder lightener according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Common mixing ratios are 1 part powder to 2 parts developer.
  5. Wearing gloves, apply mixed lightener quickly starting 1/2 inch away from the scalp first, then apply to the roots. Completely saturate all strands.
  6. Use a tint brush to neatly apply lightener along the hairline and small sections around the face.
  7. Begin timing once all sections are completed. Most lighteners process within 30-45 minutes.
  8. Check every 5-10 minutes for desired lift. Look for pale yellow tones as an indicator to remove lightener.
  9. Once ready, thoroughly rinse lightener until water runs clear. Follow with a toner and conditioner.

Using Lightener Safely

To prevent damage and irritation when using lightener, keep these safety tips in mind:

  • Always wear gloves – Lightener can irritate the skin.
  • Use a plastic cap and towel to protect clothing.
  • Work in a well-ventilated area – Fumes from lightener can cause respiratory irritation.
  • Apply a barrier cream along the hairline and ears.
  • Avoid overlapping lightened hair – Only apply to regrowth.
  • Rinse thoroughly – Leftover lightener continues working if not rinsed out.
  • Do an allergy pre-test if you have sensitivities.
  • Never mix lightener with metal tools or bowls – Use plastic applicator sticks and bowls.
  • Don’t overprocess – Lifting too many levels at once damages hair.
  • Use a weekly conditioning treatment after lightening.

Lightener Results on Different Hair Colors

How many levels you can lift with lightener in one session depends on your starting hair color. Here is a general overview of how much lightening to expect on different shades:

Natural Hair Color Levels Lifted in One Session
Black 2-3 levels
Dark brown 3-4 levels
Medium brown 4-5 levels
Light brown 5-6 levels
Dark blonde 6-7 levels
Light blonde 7-8 levels

As you can see, darker hair has more underlying pigment so lightens more gradually in a single process. Stylists may do multiple lightening sessions over several weeks to gently lift dark hair to lighter blonde shades. It’s always best to take baby steps when lightening to prevent damage.

Using Lightener to Go Blonde

Many clients want to go blonde from a darker brunette or red shade. This requires careful planning and technique. Here are some tips for safely lightening hair to blonde:

  • Do a strand test first to determine how light hair can go in one session.
  • Choose the right toner to neutralize brassiness and create the desired blonde tone.
  • Avoid washing hair too often when light – use a gentle sulfate-free shampoo 1-2 times a week.
  • Use a weekly conditioning mask or treatment to keep lightened hair soft and healthy.
  • Get regular trims to remove dryness from lightened ends.
  • Use a purple shampoo 1-2 times a week to fight brassiness and yellowing.
  • Protect hair from sun exposure with hats or sprays to avoid fading.
  • Get touch up root lightening every 4-6 weeks to prevent a demarcation line.

Types of Powder Lighteners

There are a few different types and forms of powder lightener available:

Dust-Free Lighteners

These contain ingredients that reduce dust so they don’t create as much airborne powder when poured. This helps minimize inhalation.

Non-Ammonia Lighteners

These use milder alkaline agents like amino acids or ethanolamine instead of ammonia to lift the cuticle. They are less irritating for sensitive scalps.

Low-Odor Lighteners

These contain fragrances or neutralizing agents to reduce the strong chemical odor released during the lightening process.

Cream Lighteners

These have a thicker, creamier consistency that adheres well to hair. They are often easier to apply neatly than traditional powder lighteners.

Oil-Infused Lighteners

These contain nourishing oils like argan, coconut or marula oil to condition hair during the lifting process.

Bond-Protecting Lighteners

These integrate active ingredients that help protect and strengthen hair bonds against damage from lightening. Great for extra fragile hair.

Common Lightener Brands

Some top professional lightener powder brands include:

  • Schwarzkopf BlondMe
  • Wella Blondor
  • Redken Flash Lift
  • Clairol Professional Born Blonde
  • Matrix Light Master
  • JOICO PowerLight
  • Kenra Brightening Creme
  • Pravana Pure Light
  • Olaplex Lightening Powder

Using Lightener at Home vs Salon

While lighteners are available for home use, visiting a professional stylist for lightening services is always recommended. Here’s why:

At Home At Salon
  • Less predictable results
  • Higher risk of damage
  • Harder to apply evenly
  • Limited selection of products
  • Expert application
  • Access to professional products
  • Balances lift with hair’s condition
  • Can do multiple sessions safely
  • Even, consistent results

An experienced stylist has the skills to carefully formulate and apply lightener to achieve the perfect tone while minimizing damage. For anyone who wants major lifting, balayage highlights or an overall switch to blonde, seeing a pro is the safest route.

Aftercare for Lightened Hair

Once hair has been lightened, it needs some special care and attention to stay healthy. Follow these aftercare tips:

  • Use a weekly reparative hair mask to nourish and hydrate.
  • Rinse with cool water and limit washing to 2-3 times per week.
  • Apply leave-in conditioner after shampooing.
  • Use a blowdryer with a heat protectant to minimize damage.
  • Get regular trims to prevent split ends.
  • Limit use of hot styling tools like curling irons.
  • Take biotin supplements to support hair growth.
  • Use bond-building and strengthening treatments.
  • Switch to a gentle, sulfate-free shampoo.
  • Protect hair from sun exposure.

Taking good care of hair between lightening services helps maintain its integrity. Be sure to communicate any concerns to your stylist so they can tailor aftercare recommendations.

Common Concerns When Lightening Hair

Some common concerns that can occur with powder lightener include:

Irritated Scalp

This is often caused by leaving lightener on too long or using a formula that is too harsh. Seek a soothing scalp relief treatment. Lower volume developers are gentler.

Damage or Breakage

Overprocessing causes protein and moisture loss. Do conditioning and bond treatments. Avoid heat styling. Trim damaged ends.

Uneven Results

Improper application technique leads to uneven lightening. Have hair assessed by a stylist and use toners to even out porosity differences.

Unwanted Brassy Tones

These warm undertones come from lifting dark pigment. Use blue or violet toners to cancel brassiness and achieve cooler blonde tones.


This striping effect is caused by Poor sectioning. Protective foils prevent overlap. Thin consistent sections and fully saturate hair.


When used properly, powder lightener is an effective and versatile product that allows stylists to safely lift hair to lighter shades. Understanding how it works and taking care to apply it correctly is key to avoiding damage. Lightening dark hair requires more sessions over time to gently coax hairs’ underlying pigment. Any dramatic lift is best left to a trained professional. With the right technique and aftercare, powder lightener lets you achieve beautiful brightened and blonde looks.