Blond Hair Coloring and Bleaching

Girl with blonde hair wearing a turtleneck
Q: Is blonde hair coloring and bleaching the same?
A: No. Bleach is basically a very potent chemical that strips hair of natural or artificial pigment. To bleach hair, you mix a cream-based peroxide and powder bleach together. This makes a kind of blue/purple/pink paste that is applied to the hair to lighten it.
One application of bleach can lift the color of hair with up to four or five shades. This is why bleach is often used on very dark hair when the client wants highlights or wants to go platinum blonde.
Bleach is a very powerful and extremely effective product when it is used correctly, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, you can fry your hair within 30 minutes. Trust me. I’ve seen too many teenager girls with hair that snapped off a few inches above their scalp because of over-processing with bleach. Also, bleach does not deposit any color back into the hair. Bleach only strips the hair of its color.
A “high lifter” is basically a hybrid between color and bleach. It’s used to lighten/highlight hair, but it’s not so powerful (and less damaging) as bleach. High lifters are mainly used to highlight or lift naturally blonde hair, or to break down the artificial pigments in colored hair.
Thus, if you’ve colored your hair with black tint, and you want to go brunette, your hairdresser will probably elect to apply a high lifter first to break down the black artificial pigments, and then to color the hair a lighter brunette shade in its stead.
High lifters are not as dangerous as bleach, but it can still do significant damage to over processed hair. High lifters can deposit color to a small extent. For example, the powder of L’Oreal high lifters is tinted in a light pink or purple. The pink/purple bleach has a neutralizing effect to the hair, meaning that it is designed to fight yellow/brassy undertones.
Blonde color can lift the shade of natural hair with only about two shades. Thus, only if you already have very light brown or naturally blonde hair, will you be able to color your hair blonde with blonde color.
Also, you can’t use color to lift already colored hair. So, if you colored your hair brown and want it blonde, you’ll have to bleach/high-light/strip the artificial pigments from the hair before you can color it. Blonde color is much less damaging than bleach, but not nearly as effective if you have dark hair.
Thus the biggest difference between bleach and color is that bleach is designed to only break down color pigments (natural or artificial), while blonde color’s prime function is to lightly lift natural color, and to deposit blonde color pigments to the hair to enhance already light colors.
See also: How to color hair