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For those of you who have mastered the DIY hair color world, we applaud you. And if you’ve truly nailed the game, you likely already know that using professional-grade hair color (versus the boxed stuff you can get at any drugstore or beauty store) is a game-changer. This holds particularly true when it comes to hair bleach, which is one of the most powerful chemicals colorists can use.
The big caveat? If used incorrectly, it can lead to hair damage, scalp irritation, and more. “Bleaching hair at home is very risky,” cautions Kristen Fleming, color director at 3rd Coast Salon in Chicago. “It’s an especially unpredictable process if you already have color in your hair, in which case it really is best to leave it up to the pros. That being said, if you do feel confident that you know what you’re doing, choosing a quality pro-level product will further help set you up for success.
With the help of Fleming, we rounded up the best professional hair bleaches that offer a little something for every type of hair lightening want and need, while John Pulitano, stylist and creative director of Headcase Hair in Sydney, Australia, answered all of our burning bleach-related questions. Read all about it, below.
Meet the Expert
- Kristin Fleming is the hair color director at 3rd Coast Hair Salon in Chicago. She has over 15 years of professional experience and was named a top colorist in Chicago.
- John Pulitano is a stylist and the co-owner and creative director of Headcase Hair, a salon in Sydney, Australia.
Best Overall: Wella Professionals Blondor Multi-Blonde Lightening Powder
Size: 28.2 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No
No matter whether you’re lightening virgin (AKA never colored) hair or pre-colored strands, this will get the job done, lifting the hair to seven levels. Shoppers love it, consistently giving it five stars and raving about its efficacy, and Fleming also calls it a “fantastic at-home option.” FYI, the powder itself is a bluish-purple, and also contains anti-yellowing pigments, which are great for keeping your new blonde hue fresh and vibrant and warding off any brassiness.
Best Budget: Manic Panic Flash Lightning Hair Bleach Kit
Active Ingredients: Hydrogen peroxide | Size: 4.05 oz (developer), 1.27 oz. (bleach powder) | Cruelty-Free: Yes | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Not only is this pick affordable, but it also comes with everything you need—we’re talking a cream developer, mixing tub, cap, gloves, and even a brush (plus very helpful instructions). Since it only lifts five levels, it won’t get you super blonde, but if you’re looking for a more subtle change—without blowing the bank—this can’t be beaten. We also appreciate that it’s vegan, cruelty-free, and PETA-certified.
Best Ammonia-Free: L’Oréal Blond Studio Platinium Plus Lightening Creme
Size: 1.6 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No
First, a quick chemistry lesson. Generally speaking, ammonia is a key ingredient needed in most hair colors; it causes the hair shaft to swell so the color (or bleach, as it were) can better penetrate. The issue is that it can be irritating for many, and, not to mention, smells bad.
Luckily, new advancements have lead the way to many ammonia-free hair colors—bleach included. While the lightening here isn’t quite as powerful as you’d get with an ammonia-based product, this is a good pick if you’re already blonde and looking to go blonder. Plus, because it’s a cream, it’s easy to use and control. It gets Fleming’s vote, too: “It’s super gentle and works slowly,” she says.
Best Cream: Joico Vero K-PAK Crème Lightener
Size: 10.5 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No
The ingredients in this bleach read more like something you’d find in your face moisturizer. We’re talking fatty acids, vitamin E, shea butter, and jojoba oil, all of which give this its ultra-creamy consistency. As a result, it’s both super easy to use (no worrying about drips) and nourishes your scalp and protects hair, too. Heads up: it works fast.
For safety reasons, it’s imperative to always wear gloves: “The product can start to eat away at your skin and create bubbly white burns if you’re not protected,” warns Fleming. Because ammonia is one of the harshest bleaching ingredients out there, choosing an at-home bleach that’s ammonia-free is also a safer route to go, she adds.
Best for Dark Hair: Clairol Professional BW2 Lightener
Active Ingredients: Ammonium persulfate | Size: 8 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
Specially made to be extra-strength for dark hair, this is choice for those with deep brown or even black strands looking to go lighter. While yes, it may take a few rounds to get to your desired blonde shade, this option is the way to go. Not to mention that one eight-ounce tub contains about eight uses worth, plenty of product to help you achieve your lightest color. Reviewers—with all different hair colors—call out how well and quickly it works, but do say that it has a strong and distinct smell.
Best Powder: Wella Professionals Color Charm Powder Lightener
Active Ingredients: Magnesium Carbonate Hydroxide | Size: 16 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No | Byrdie Clean: Yes
This dust-free powder delivers controlled lightening (up to seven levels), making it ideal for all-over bleaching, highlights, or just to knock out dark root re-growth. Thanks to its protective oil system, it helps lock in moisture, a major win since bleaching can lead to seriously dry strands. Loyal reviewers love it, and repeatedly note how fast it works, too.
Best for Platinum Hair: Schwarzkopf Blonde Me Premium Lift 9
Size: 15.8 oz. | Cruelty-Free: No
Icy, platinum shades are all the rage in the hair color world, and this option makes it easy to achieve those dramatic tones. It offers up to nine levels of lift, the most of any product in this round-up. Since it is so powerful, it can be irritating if you get it on your scalp, and reviewers note that it’s best to use a developer from this same brand for the best results, rather than mixing and matching.
Best for Brows: Jolen Creme Bleach Original Formula
Size: 4 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
If you're bleaching your hair, you might be considering lightening your brows too. Given that hair bleaches are so intense, you definitely don’t want to use any of those on your face or body. Enter this pick. The no-drip formula is specially made for sensitive skin, and it’s infused with aloe so you don’t have to worry about irritation. Use it for your brows or lighten dark hair and make it less noticeable elsewhere on your body, like your arms and legs.
Best for Shine: Pravana PURE LIGHT Ultra Lightener
Size: 16 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Not only does this lift up to nine levels, but it also helps counteract the dullness and dryness that can come with going so light. A unique Reunite Mending Technology touts amino acids (the building blocks of the protein that make up our hair), helping to strengthen strands and seal the cuticle. As a reminder, the cuticle is the outermost layer of the hair (bleaching lifts and opens it) and a closed cuticle means hair looks healthy and super shiny, which is just what this technology helps to do.
Best for Cool Blondes: CHI Blondest Blonde Ionic Lightening System
Size: 8 oz. | Cruelty-Free: Yes
Even though this formula is ammonia-free, it can still lift hair to an impressive eight levels. Thanks to far-infrared, it provides maximum penetration and lightens from the inside-out, with cool-toned pigments that help neutralize the unwanted warm tones that are the bane of any cool blonde’s existence. Also nice: It comes in both cream and powder versions.
For both those who have never colored their hair and those who are coloring and/or bleaching pros, the Wella Professionals Blondor Multi-Blonde Lightening Powder is ideal. It can lighten hair up to seven levels and helps keep your newly bleached hue crisp and vibrant, thanks to the addition of anti-yellowing purple pigments. If you have dark hair, try the Clairol Professional BW2 Lightener. Both of these are powder formulas, so if you prefer a cream, consider the Joico Vero K-PAK Créme Lightener or the L’Oréal Blond Studio Platinum Plus Lightening Creme, the latter of which is also ammonia-free.
What to Look for In a Professional Hair Bleach
According to Fleming, seeking out formulas that have conditioning or hydrating ingredients mixed in directly with the bleach is a good way to help minimize the likelihood of hair damage from the get-go. Even better, she says, are formulas that have a reparative built-in bond builder built-in.
If you really want to play it safe, stick with ammonia-free formulas or any at-home bleach that comes with a developer higher than 20 volume, advises Fleming. This is beneficial both for ensuring safety and that you don’t inadvertently end up over-lightening or completely stripping your hair.
Does bleach damage the hair?
If not done correctly, Pulitano explains that bleaching your hair can absolutely be damaging. “The process of bleaching opens up the hair cuticles to dissolve the melanin that gives your hair its color,” he explains. “If not done carefully, it can leave the hair porous, dry, and brittle. However, a professional colorist will be able to keep your hair healthy using a gentle technique, the right products, and treatments to repair your hair post-bleach.” In short, proceed with caution if you just can’t make it to a salon.
How often should you use bleach?
When it comes to how often you’ll need to bleach your hair, Pulitano says it depends on what look you’re trying to achieve, how the bleach is being used, and your hair type. “It will vary each time, and a professional colorist will let you know how often they need to see you,” he says.
How do you bleach safely at home?
In general, Pulitano (like most professionals, TBH) doesn’t recommend attempting a bleach job at home yourself. “It’s the strongest coloring product we use as professionals, and when used incorrectly, it can cause some serious damage—not to mention mess around with your color,” he says. “Things like breakage, yellow or orange tones, and patchy color are all risks.” He also mentions that getting it professionally fixed post-DIY sesh can sometimes be more more costly than seeing a stylist for the initial job.
Still, we understand the urge to take matters into our own hands, especially if getting to a salon just isn’t possible. If you’re going to take the plunge, we recommend following the package directions closely (especially when it comes to process time) and being sure to apply the bleach one inch from your scalp down to your ends first, going back to apply to the roots once the rest of your hair is saturated. Once you're finished processing, be sure to shampoo your hair thoroughly.
According to our Diversity Pledge, 15% of products in our newly-published market roundups will feature Black-owned and/or Black-founded brands. At the time of publishing, we were not able to find any professional hair bleach from a Black-owned and/or Black-founded business. If you know of one we should consider, please email us at email@example.com and we will evaluate the product ASAP.
Why Trust Byrdie
Byrdie contributor Melanie Rud has over a decade of experience in the beauty industry, writing for some of the biggest magazines and websites out there. Since she doesn’t lighten her own hair at home, she tapped her long-time colorist to provide expert intel for this article.