Lightening Your Hair Without Bleach Has Its Perks

Here's what you need to know before booking your next hair color appointment.

woman in sunglasses and black tank top with bleached blonde hair
Photo: Edward Berthelot/Getty Images

Changing up the color of your hair is one of the easiest ways to feel like a new version of yourself. However, if you constantly dye your hair lighter with bleach, it may cause damage. So, while it's the easiest way to lift color and lighten strands, it's always a good idea to have alternative options should you want them.

To understand how to lighten hair without bleach, we tapped three celebrity colorists to ask them if it's possible, what to expect from it, when to look for an alternative, and who is a good candidate.

Is It Actually Possible To Lighten Hair Without Bleach?

"Yes, you can use color to get lift," says celebrity colorist and Matrix brand ambassador, Rachel Bodt. "The biggest question/issue is if you have previous color in your hair, which can change how much lift you get out of it."

She goes on to say that when using color to lighten hair, there's a wide range of levels you can use to get it lighter. And, apart from previous dye in your hair, there are other factors to consider.

"Firstly, how much lighter do you want your hair? If you desire a color that is more than five shades lighter, then you will have to go in with bleach. If it is under five levels of lift, then you can bypass bleach and go in with a high lift blonde shade," says Ian Michael Black, the Global Artistic Director at Aveda. "These typically lighten up to five shades, so if you are a medium brown color, they can take you to a soft golden blonde. Or if you have dark hair naturally, they will lift to a nice caramel color, which is a good choice when working on darker hair as it will not give too much stark contrast and look blended if doing it in pieces."

Why Would Someone Lighten Their Hair Without Bleach?

If you're looking to prevent damage, or want to reduce existing damage while still lightening your hair, it could be time to make a change. Celebrity colorist and Wella Professionals ambassador, Briana Cisneros, says that using color to lighten hair can actually leave hair with a much softer outcome than if bleached.

However, be realistic and manage your expectations. "If you want to look platinum blonde and you have darker hair, it is not going to happen without a bleach product, but what you can have is a multitude of different tones that can look equally as beautiful," says Black.

What Non-Bleach Formulas Should People Look For When Lightening Their Hair?

For the best results, Bodt recommends looking for a formula with low peroxide. "The higher the volume, the more stress it may leave on your hair," she explains. Additionally, she says to look for color that has bonding properties to help with hair health. Michael Black likes the Aveda Botanical Repair Hair Strengthening Additive, a professional-only treatment that rebuilds and multiplies bonds in the hair as you lift. And Cisneros recommends Wella's Professional Koleston Perfect, saying that the entire line can lighten hair depending on how you formulate your color. Top it off with the brand's SHINEFINITY Color Glaze to make hair look extra glossy and healthy.

Can Lightening Your Hair Without Bleach be Done at Home?

While you may find hair hacks on TikTok and consider doing it yourself, Bodt says your best bet will be to go to a professional, as they'll know how to best cater to your particular hair needs. "When lightening the hair, you are always at risk of creating unnecessary damage and unwanted tones throughout the hair if you are not well versed in color theory and specific application techniques," explains Cisneros.

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