What Is the Difference Between Pre-Lightener & Bleach?

Pre-lighteners strip color from hair so you can lighten.

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Dark hair needs a little extra help getting honey, blonde or cinnamon tones. A pre-lightening product strips the natural color from dark hair, so you can safely dye hair the color you crave. If you've heard of bleach, but not pre-lightener, don't fret. They're synonyms. These products remove the guesswork from lightening, so you can dye happy.


Typically, pre-lighteners are part one of a two-process hair color. They remove the natural color from your hair, lifting your darker tones to lighten hair hue. After a pre-lightening, the hair looks pale yellow. To get the right shade of blonde after pre-lightening, apply a second color or a hair toner to adjust the yellow to the color you want. Since powdered bleach is a pre-lightener, the term "bleach" is used as a synonym for pre-lightener.

How it Works

Hair bleaches and pre-lighteners contain ammonia, which swells the hair cuticle so that the bleach can penetrate. When combined with hydrogen peroxide, the ammonia oxidized the hair. This lifts out the natural color, so your hair lightens. The strength of the peroxide determines the level of lift you get. The color change lasts until your hair grows out.


Wear gloves when working with bleach, and do not inhale the fumes. Apply the mixed bleach using an applicator brush. Some pre-lighteners are safe to use on the scalp; others are not. Set the timer once you begin applying the bleach. Scrape bleach off with a gloved finger to check on the color while the hair processes. Once you've gone as light as you need to go -- or after the maximum processing time -- rinse the hair with cool water. Once you've removed all the bleach, shampoo with a product for color-treated hair.


Toning is the second stage in two-process hair color, and it deposits color pigments back into pre-lightened hair. Look for a semi-permanent toner that contains no ammonia, since you need to pamper the hair. Ash or light golden toners neutralize brassy hues in blonde hair. Violet toners help you turn blonde hair to platinum so you can go Gaga with your 'do. Because these are semi-permanent colors, you will need to reapply when the toner fades.

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