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DIY Hair: High Lift Hair Color Guide

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The results of using high lift hair color.

The results of using high lift hair color.

What Is High Lift Hair Color?

High lift hair color is a permanent dye, and when it's combined with double parts 40-volume developer, it will lift some of the existing pigment in your hair. It lightens while also adding color.

This offers an alternative for people who refuse to use bleach on their hair. It's important to note that while bleach can be harmful to your hair, it can also work wonders when used properly. Even still, high lift hair color offers a viable option for lightening your locks. Consider your choices and decide which method of hair lightener will work for you.

People who are unfamiliar with the bleaching and dyeing process don't necessarily know that you can't really "dye" your hair blonde from a dark color. To get light from dark, you have to remove color—meaning you're going to have to bleach your hair or strip the existing color out. The creation of high lift hair color makes it possible to lighten hair without using bleach. This will only work under certain circumstances, which I will get further into below!

Who Can Use It?

Here's where I start to eliminate readers. If you don't already have dark blonde/light brown, virgin (non-dyed) hair, high lift hair color will not work for you. Ladies with dark hair and dyed hair will have to resort to a color stripper, or just use bleach the old-fashioned way—which you can read all about here!

Only those with dark blonde hair would be able to achieve a platinum blonde through the use of high lift. If you're dark-haired with dreams of white, bleach is your best bet.

High lift hair dyes should be used only if your natural color is on the bottom half of this chart.

High lift hair dyes should be used only if your natural color is on the bottom half of this chart.

How Does It Work?

Using certain chemicals, this sort of hair color is able to lift existing pigment from your hair while also depositing dye. This is due to the higher levels of ammonia as well as color pigment that are present in the formula.

It is recommended to mix high lift hair color with a double ratio of 40-volume developer. The developer (in pairing with the ammonia) acts to open your hair cuticle and allow for color to be lifted. Then the extra dose of color pigment can be deposited to tone your hair!

The benefit of using something like this in comparison to bleach is that it's less irritating to your scalp and less damaging to your hair. However, it also achieves less lift than you would get with bleach.

From a natural level 7 to a level 10 using Wella KP Hi-lift 12/89 and 40-volume developer. Allow to process for one hour. NO HEAT.

From a natural level 7 to a level 10 using Wella KP Hi-lift 12/89 and 40-volume developer. Allow to process for one hour. NO HEAT.

Sometimes if you go to a supermarket to purchase your hair dye, you will notice brands advertising themselves as "high lift," when they actually aren't. High lift hair dyes will need to be paired with a 40-volume developer, so make sure you read the box and verify.

Some brand favorites of stylists include Wella, Redken, Kenra, and Igora! They offer different shades of high lift colors that you can check out, and I've included some photos throughout this article.

Steps for Use

For this process, you're going to need a few things. Get to your local Sally's and pick up the following things.


  • High lift hair color
  • 40-volume developer
  • gloves
  • dye brush


  1. Follow the instructions that come with the hair color—they should involve mixing the color and two parts 40-volume developer in a bowl. You're going to have to use the mixture quickly for it to work, so don't leave it sitting out for too long before use.
  2. Section your hair into four quarters, dividing it down your part and then horizontally across the back of your head.
  3. Working with one section at a time, paint the dye on your hair layer by layer, section by section.
  4. Once you're finished applying it, you'll be instructed to let the dye sit for around 45–60 minutes. Check it regularly to make sure you are getting toward your desired results.
  5. After you've let the dye do its work, rinse it out with lukewarm water. I never shampoo after processing my hair—that only dries it out more. Apply conditioner generously, and even put some in your damp hair after you get out of the shower.
Madison Reed's High Lift Anaconda Natural

Madison Reed's High Lift Anaconda Natural

Ammonia Lift Boosters

Some high lift hair color companies will also offer something called a lift booster. I could bore you with the scientific details, or I could just tell you that the booster contains more ammonia. More ammonia means that it's possible for you to get even more lift—hence the name.

Be careful, though, because more chemicals ALSO mean more damage to your hair. Don't use this stuff unless your hair is in really good condition! It can also cause more irritation to your scalp, so if you know your skin is sensitive, it's best to stay away from lift boosters.

Joico high lifts HLN and HLG.

Joico high lifts HLN and HLG.

Taking Care of Lightened Hair

After any sort of processing, it's important to baby your hair back to health. Forty-volume developer is pretty harsh on the scalp and tresses, and it will cause dryness and breakage.

Apply Coconut Oil

To help fight against the damage, it's important to nurture your hair before AND after the lifting. One tip that I've used (and had readers endorse) before is to apply coconut oil before any sort of bleach/dye/toner. I massage it into my hair usually an hour before starting a process, leaving it in even as I apply bleach. It can cause some dilution of the product, which may mean it won't lighten AS much, but when you're done with the process, your hair is left soft instead of crunchy.

I'll also apply coconut oil after processing, especially to my ends, which dry out easily. Use about a pea-sized amount, and let it melt in your hands first. Rub your hands together to spread the oil out before running your fingers through your hair. As your hair dries, the oil should soak into it as a leave-in conditioner would, leaving it soft but not greasy.

Avoid Heat

Try to avoid using heat for at least a week after processing—you've got to give your hair a break, not break your hair! Should you be worried about styling, check out this way to get perfect no-heat curls.

More Hair DIYs

I suspect that many readers have determined themselves unable to use high lift hair color because of prior coloring or having hair that is too dark. If that's the case, check out some of my other hair articles below!

How to Touch Up Roots at Home

What is Developer and How Do You Use It?

How to Remove Red Hair Dye

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.


Kevin on July 15, 2020:

this is really helpful and really easy to understand high-lift vs highlight

thanks a million *!~

Alex Rose (author) from Virginia on April 22, 2020:

I love using Ion Bright White Creme Lightener! If you only want to lighten a little I'd suggest a 10 volume developer. If you're doing this on your own, it's probably better to do in smaller sections and wash out when it's to the lightness you desire. If you try to do your whole head at once by yourself, you may take a long time and cause the first sections to overdevelop.

Kathywilson143 on April 18, 2020:

I am between a 8-7, wishing to get roots to a 6. Can you help with a lifting product selection?



Brandy Robnett on January 26, 2020:

any thoughts on using high lift on a level 5 roots only with goal being lift as much as can with no gold orange

trying to lift her base but more than your avg 2 levels

Saige on December 30, 2019:

"It is recommended to mix high lift hair color with a double ratio of 40-volume developer."

Wat? Can you please clarify what this means for those of us less experienced in hair terms?

Renay on May 16, 2019:

I am a hugh fan of highlift. Sometimes i do get discouraged to use it. Thanks for the article.