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High Lift Color versus Bleach - Which is Better for Me?


In this blog tutorial, we go through the advantages of using High Lift Colors versus Bleach and recommend when you need to use which product.

What is High Lift Color? 

  • High lift hair color is basically a version of permanent color with much much more lift than a regular color.
  • The key difference is that high lift colors have higher concentrations of ammonia.
  • Ugly Duckling high lifts, for example, which are some of the most powerful on the market, typically contain around 3.5% ammonia.
  • That may not sound like much, but it is around double what a regular color contains.
  • The ammonia is a key activator which helps swell open the hair cuticle to allow the natural melanin of your hair to get taken out.
  • This is what causes the hair to go significantly lighter.
  • High Lift Colors also contain pigments to neutralize unwanted reflects. So they will tone or color the hair as well as lift it.

How much can High Lift Colors lift?

  • Used correctly you can get as much as 5 levels lift using an Ugly Duckling High Lift Color.
  • Maybe even more if you use foils, heat and you leave on for 10 extra minutes.
  • See below for a use of high lift color on dark virgin hair.

2 Examples of how to use High Lift Color on Dark Hair

Let's now look at 2 ways in which you can use High Lift Color usefully.

First Case: Lifting Dark Hair to get Medium Blonde Highlights.


High Lift Color: Natural Virgin Level 3.

Before High Lift Color Level 3


Ugly Duckling High Lift Color: Level 6/8

Final Result on Dark Hair - High Lift Color

Watch Video Tutorial For Process & Recipe.

Hair by Elona Taki.

Second Case: Use on a Blonde Client's Regrowth Level 7 in place of bleach


Roots are Level 7 Before High Lift Color. Lengths are level 9.

Level 7 Roots


Roots successfully lifted. Lengths also toned. The whole hair is equalized at level 9 and consistent.

Lifted with High Lift Color

Watch Video Tutorial For Process & Recipe.

Hair by Elona Taki.

Will a High Lift Color Work on Dyed Hair?

  • In the case above, we applied High Lift Color on the natural re-growth area. Then we extended onto the lengths to tone.
  • But if you are trying to achieve lift on already dyed hair, then the answer is - no, high lift color will not work.
  • You will need to use bleach to lighten the artificially colored hair melanin inside your hair cortex.

So How do I Use High Lift Color?

  • Use Ugly Duckling High Lift Colors with 30 Vol developer, in a 1+2 mix.
  • The stronger developer also plays its part at significantly increasing lifting capability.
  • Increase processing time to around 50 minutes for maximum lift.
  • You can use heat to help the lifting process. A hair dryer will also work if you are an at-home stylist. Or place the client under a hood dryer for a few minutes - not too hot, please!
  • You can also use foils. This also helps to preserve the heat coming off the scalp. 
  • If you are doing a full head application on long hair, you may consider applying on the root area at a later stage. It will process faster there because of the heat from the scalp, and you need to avoid the "hot root" syndrome - roots over-processed relative to ends.

Which High Lift Colors Should I Use?

    • We would recommend you use high lift colors with ash built in.
    • This helps to tone hair as you lift it & prevent it from going too brassy.
    • The shades of Ugly Duckling High Lift Color given below are intensely pigmented with ash.
    • They are widely used by stylists in America and we would recommend them.
    High Lift Ash Blonde 100.10 High Lift Deep Ash Blonde 100.11

    How does this compare to a Bleach?

    • A bleach is a combination of any of the following ingredients:
      • Potassium persulfate
      • Ammonium persulfate
      • Sodium persulfate
    • Bleach, when combined with developer, penetrates the hair cuticle and lightens the natural melanin inside the hair.
    • A bleach is the most effective hair lightening process there is.
    • If you are trying to get to a really white blonde result, rather than just lift by a couple of levels, we would recommend that you use bleach followed by a toner.
    • Typically, this is what a stylist would do.

    But doesn't a Bleach damage the hair?

    • It all depends on what products you use and how you use them.
    • Contrary to popular belief, all bleaches are not identical.
    • Some of them have imperfect lift. Meaning you have to use extra strong developers with them, and multiple applications as well.
    • We would recommend you use Ugly Duckling's Brilliant Blondexx.
    • It produces a creamy white mix when mixed with developer, and thanks to Bond Protect, its is very gentle.
    • At the same time, it produces amazing lift.

    Watch Video Below:

    Hair by Elona Taki.

    So which Bleach Should I Use?

    • Contrary to popular belief, all bleaches are not identical.
    • The single best thing a stylist can do to achieve great results is to use a good quality bleach.
    • We would recommend Brilliant Blondexx. It has Bond Protect built in - one of the few bleaches on the market which does.
    • Brilliant Blondexx lifts by up to 7 levels.
    • It is generally used with 20 Vol and 30 Vol developer. It can be used safely near the root area.
    • But if you have very dark hair (level 3 and darker) or if you have colored hair darker and have a lot of color build-up, then it would be better to use our 8 level lift bleach Brilliant Blonde.
    • It is a 8 level bleach designed for very dark, stubborn hair.
    • Its lifting properties are truly excellent and it acts very fast, minimizing the time your bleach mix needs to stay in contact with the hair.
    • It is generally used with 20 and 30 Vol developer.

    In general, we do not advice stylists to use 40 Vol with bleach. It literally blows apart the hair and is better avoided.

    Brilliant BlondexxBrilliant Blonde

    When do I use High Lift and When do I Use Bleach (& Toner) ?

    • If you need to lift by more than 3-4 levels, we would recommend you use a bleach & tone. You will get better results that way.
    • If your hair client's hair is dark brown and she is looking to get that hair lighter, it is totally possible as we showed above to do so without using bleach.
    • And if your hair has fairly light hair, for example level 7, it is totally possible when using high lifting blonding products to get her to blonde just by using high lift color.
    • But for all other cases, bleaching (followed by toning) is the best thing to do.

    How to Go White Blonde

    • The most reliable, damage-free way to achieve stunning white blonde results is to bleach and then tone.
    • This process is what stylists call a "double-process blonding" and it is safe, effective and produces the best results.
    • In most cases, we would recommend this process for those looking to go seriously blonde or taking their clients seriously blonde.
    • A typical combination of products is given below:
    • Click on this link to learn more: https://www.uglyducklingcolor.com/brilliant-blondexx-/196-bleach-developer-toner.html

    Brilliant Blondexx & Toner

    How do I Choose a Toner After Bleaching?

    • As we discussed above, bleaching should be followed by toning in most cases for best results.
    • Use one of Ugly Duckling's toners with 20 Vol developer for 10-15 minutes.
    • For more information on Ugly Duckling toners, go here.

    Bottom line: High Lift or Bleach?

    • So conclusion time! High Lift or Bleach? Which should you use?
    • If your client is looking for a nice amount of lift on dark hair as in the image and video above, use Ugly Duckling's high lift colors.
    • If you are only looking to lift by a couple of levels, then you can also use High Lift.
    • But for serious blonding, use bleach followed by a toner. 
    • This will give you consistent blonding results. 
    • Lastly, when bleaching and toning, use quality products. That way you will not be compromising hair integrity.

    About the author

    Sally has been a hair colorist and trainer for many years in both the US & Europe. She currently does hair color training for Ugly Duckling. She also helps develop new & awesome products for the brand.