How to Use High Lift Hair Color
In recent years, the hairdressing industry has seen a marked increase in the number of clients who want to go blonde but don't want to use bleach. For a long time, there was simply no way to cater to these clients and you couldn't dye dark hair blonde without the use of bleach.
That changed with the advent of high lift hair color, making it possible to dye your hair blonde without the bleach powder. Or at least, in certain circumstances.
What Is High Lift Dye?
Many people are afraid of bleach because of the horror stories they've heard about it potentially melting hair or causing scalp burns. This is a problem perpetuated through the use of bleach by people who don't know what they're doing and haven't taken the time to learn about the product before they go ahead and bleach their hair.
Combine a lack of direction, making the bleach too strong, and using bleach on hair that is already highly damaged and you end up with a widespread fear of bleach. Bleach is not the enemy though, and is actually a highly useful and necessary product in all salons, but more and more people are being lead to believe it is too harmful to use, and in some cases, it can be.
Due to the need for an alternative, high lift dye was created to offer an alternative and allow hair dye manufacturers to corner a new market. Whilst the product is designed to replace bleach in the right situations, it's important to understand what it is and how to use it first.
High lift color is permanent hair dye, but it works slightly differently to other hair dyes because of its unique composition. These colors contain more ammonia, more dye pigment, and are mixed with a double ratio of 40 vol developer. This leads to a hair dye that lightens your hair more effectively than other blonde dyes yet still tones it during the lightening process.
Generic bleach powder (20 vol)
Generic bleach powder (30 vol)
Igora Vario bleach
3 - 8 levels
Wella Multi Blonde bleach
3 - 7 levels
Indola Rapid Blonde bleach
3 - 7 levels
Indola high lift dye
Wella high lift dye
3 - 4 levels
Igora high lift dye
Matrix high lift dye
3 - 4 levels
High Lift Hair Color vs Bleach
High lift dye was invented to replace the use of bleach for those who didn't want to bleach their hair, but it is not entirely interchangeable with bleach. The uses of this hair color is still constrained to how a dye is used and it can only reliably be used on virgin hair that is already a dark blonde or light brown color.
A regular blonde hair dye mixed with 30 vol developer can lift around 2–3 levels, which is enough to lighten hair from dark blonde to a medium to light blonde color. It does this whilst toning the hair, whereas the use of bleach requires you to tone your hair separately as an additional step. High lift hair color offers a boost to lightening, equivalent to about 1 extra level on top of what a regular blonde dye would achieve.
Although you can lighten your hair up to 4 levels using a this dye, you're constrained to using it on virgin hair for the best result because like other hair dyes, it will not lighten dyed hair. Dye doesn't lift the artificial pigment from a previous dye, so if you've dyed your hair already you will need to use hair dye remover and bleach to lighten it effectively.
This means that you need to already have naturally light, or minimally treated hair to use a high lift blonde dye. If you apply one of these dyes to darker brown hair you will end up with a regrettable shade of orange.
High Lift or Bleach?
High lift or bleach?
Bleach and tone
Hair dye remover and bleach
Natural blonde hair
High lift dye
Natural light brown hair
High lift dye
Natural red hair
Bleach and tone
- How to Bleach Hair
Would you like to know more about bleach? Find out how to prepare and use it to lighten your hair...
Is It Less Damaging?
The most popular misconception surrounding high lift hair color is that it is dramatically less damaging than bleach. This is not completely true though because hair damage is more complex than product choice alone.
The damage of a high lift dye or bleach are roughly equivalent in terms of the lightening effect, whereas the damage from the change to the hair's moisture balance and cuticle layer differs, with less occurring from the use of high lift compared to bleach.
When you lighten your hair with dye or bleach, it is a chemical process called oxidation that affects this change. This reaction affects the melanin pigment that gives your hair its natural color, as well as the keratin protein that form the structure of your hair.
Oxidation of melanin lightens hair color, whilst oxidation of keratin breaks down bonds that give your hair strength. Unfortunately, you can't selectively target only the pigment in your hair with any product, so damage will always occur as a side effect of the lightening process itself. You physically can't lighten your hair without also damaging it to some extent.
From this you can understand that damage to your hair is directly related to the amount of lightening that takes place, which is reflective of the amount of oxidation. If you were to lighten your hair 3 levels with a high lift dye, or 3 levels with bleach, the amount of damage caused by the lightening process itself will be roughly the same. The oxidation lightens your hair, and damages it as a side effect.
There is another factor involved in hair damage during lightening though, which is the disruption to your hair's moisture balance and pH. High lift dye disrupts this less than bleach, making it inherently less damaging from a holistic standpoint. Dryness caused by bleaching weakens the hair structure making it more susceptible to damage from the lightening process, whilst high lift colors are significantly less drying.
They also tone whilst lightening, potentially cutting out the need to perform this step separately with an additional dye, which would increase dryness and damage further.
When Should You Use It?
High lift dye has a specific use and it will generally work very well if you use it properly. This means that you should not be applying it to black or brown hair and expect to end up with blonde hair.
You also shouldn't be using this hair color on hair that has been dyed in the past. Unless your last color has completely grown out of your hair, you can't lighten your hair properly with high lift dye.
They are best used under the following conditions:
- You have virgin hair
- You only require 3 - 4 levels of lift (although up to 5 is possible)
- Your hair is in good condition
- Your hair is already dark blonde or a very light brown
Although these dyes are generally used to dye hair a light blonde without bleach, they can still be used to lighten darker hair. Please note that you won't reach a blonde shade if you do this, and you still must have virgin hair in order for the dye to work.
The darker your hair is, the less lightening that will occur, and you need to tone it afterwards because the blonde dye in the high lift isn't concentrated enough to tone dark hair. In this case, bleach is far superior for reliability.
- How to Dye Your Hair
Need more information about how to prepare and apply hair dye? Read my related article here.
How to Prepare the Hair Dye
High lift hair color is prepared in mostly the same way as other permanent hair dyes. You will need a tinting bowl and brush to mix it in, as well as the appropriate developer to mix with the dye.
In this case, the developer used has to be 40 vol developer. The boxed high lift dyes you can find in supermarkets that use 30 vol developer or less are not high lift dyes at all. Manufacturers can call these products 'high lift' or 'hi color' because there is no set standard for naming a high lift dye. The products that mimic actual high lift dyes are merely regular dye marketed in a way that makes it seem like they lift more than other dye brands because of their name.
The reason you need to use 40 vol developer is two-fold:
- Firstly, high lift dyes are formulated to work optimally with this concentration of peroxide and the lift and deposit balance is changed when you don't use this.
- Secondly, if you don't use 40 vol, the dye loses much of its lightening power and you may as well be using a regular blonde dye as the high lift will be a waste of time. Always mix this hair color with 40 vol developer.
You also need to be aware of what shade you're using and choose an ash shade rather than the shade you want. Even though these dyes are formulated to tone hair as your hair lightens, they don't always live up to expectations here, especially on darker blonde hair.
An ash shade is necessary to counteract the warmth that will be revealed during the lightening process. If anything, even the ash shade might not be enough to counteract the warmth and you will still need to tone your hair anyway.
Once you're ready to prepare the dye, measure it by volume and to each part of hair color, add two parts of 40 vol developer. It's easiest to mix developer into dye by adding a small amount first, then gradually incorporating the rest. Otherwise the dye has a much thicker consistency than the pool of developer surrounding it and you have to go to extra effort to incorporate it all together without making a mess.
How to Apply It to Your Hair
High lift hair color is applied like any other permanent hair dye. You will see the best results by sectioning your hair out into four sections and applying it one section at a time. To do this, part your hair down the middle from your forehead to your neck, then once more from ear to ear and clip each section with a sectioning clip to hold them in place.
It's standard protocol to begin by applying dye to the back left section of your hair, but this isn't set in stone. Start wherever is easiest and quickest for you. You may even prefer to work down in both sections at the back of your hair then switch to the front and finish it off. Where you start and how you progress really just depends on what you feel is easiest and how quickly and evenly you can move.
Work from the top of each section down to the bottom by taking thin layers of hair and applying the high lift color to each side. It is also preferable to apply the dye to your lengths first and then go back and apply the dye to your roots 10 - 15 minutes into application so that the heat from your scalp doesn't lead to lighter roots. This is more of an issue with bleach, but it can also occur sometimes with high lift colors.
Once the dye is completely applied, leave it for up to 50–60 minutes to process, depending on brand. This color has a longer development period than other dyes because the extra time is necessary for it to lighten your hair substantially. You can rinse it out after this time has passed.
If your hair is closer to brown than blonde when you apply the dye, you will most likely still need to tone your hair again after the color is rinsed. This occurs even when using an ash blonde high lift and is typically unavoidable.
Dark hair simply can't be toned by the high lift and it will only lighten your hair. You will need the appropriate toner to complete the color.
What Is a Lift Booster?
Hair dye brands will sometimes produce a lift booster product that is designed to be added to their color, such as Igora Royal's Lightening Extract. Lift booster is essentially an ammonia supplement that boosts the ammonia content in the dye.
Ammonia acts as a catalyst, driving the decomposition of the peroxide in the developer into active oxygen that oxidizes and lightens the melanin in your hair. More ammonia means that more oxidation can take place, and lift booster can provide up to 1 more level of lift when mixed into your high lift color.
Should you wish to use a lift booster, you should only be using it if your hair is in good condition. High lift colors are damaging and lift booster increases the amount of damage caused. The amount you add will also dilute down the toning effect of the dye, so keep that in mind when you add it too.
Igora E-0 is a lift booster that can be added to Igora Royal dyes to add an extra level of lift.
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After you dye your hair with a high lift color, it may be necessary to tone your hair. Like all hair color, this dye will fade with time too, and a regular maintenance routine is the best way to keep your hair looking great and prevent it from becoming brassy.
You will also need to condition your hair thoroughly after using one of these dyes, just like when you bleach your hair. For this purpose, a conditioning treatment or a deep conditioner is all you will need. Add a protein treatment like Redken CAT Reconstructor and your hair will look and feel great long into the future.
Do you have a question about high lift dyes? Are you considering using a one of these dyes and wondering whether it is an option for your hair and the result you want? Leave a comment for tailored advice and share your insight with other readers.
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.
© 2014 Maffew James