Color Remover vs Bleach: Which Is Safer and What Works Better?

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Been wanting to give your colored hair a reset?

The battle between the power of hair color remover vs bleach is one of the most debated topics when it comes to hair color stripping.

Let’s face it, at least once in our lives you might have wanted to achieve a different look by changing your hair color, and somehow you might have been worried that it wouldn’t look right. 

a young girl wearing white touching her hair strands and confuse between color remover vs bleach

Hair coloring can be one of the greatest risks you’d ever take because you either end up with the hair of your dreams or you end up in a terrible dyeing nightmare. 

But whether you choose a color remover or choose bleach, your hair isn’t safe from chemical treatments that can give it good looks, as many of them won’t do your hair any good.

So let’s get down to business and discuss which one works safer and better — color remover vs bleach.

Color Remover vs Bleach: A Head-to-Head Comparison

 Color RemoverBleach
CostAt home: $10 to $50+At the salon: $100 to $450+

At home: $50 to $200+

Processing TimeAfter application, it takes 10 to 20 minutes depending on the hair situation and product to be usedAfter application, it takes 15 to 30 minutes depending on the hair situation and product to be used (should never go beyond 45 minutes)
Effects
  • Bleach-free
  • Removes artificial hair color pigment from permanent dyes straight from the hair shaft
  • Keeps the natural hair color intact
  • Can be used several times in a row
  • No specific level of expertise or experience is needed
  • Quick, visible effects
  • Easiest way to lighten the hair
  • Transitions the hair into any desired hair color
  • Eliminates all types of hair color and dyes
  • Doesn’t smell as bad as color removers
  • Can add volume to fine hair
Cons
  • Leaves demi or semi-permanent colors
  • Can’t remove natural plant-based or henna dyes as well
  • Sulfur-based and may leave a lasting chemical smell
  • May require multiple sessions due to patchy results depending on the color to be removed
  • Can strip out oil and moisture from the hair making it prone to dryness, breakage, and split ends
  • Chemicals present can be too harsh that they can damage and fry up the hair
  • Drains moisture out of the hair
  • Can be painful to the scalp (during and after the procedure)
  • Requires high maintenance
  • Process time varies
  • Requires necessary techniques and a certain level of expertise
  • Can leave the hair looking brassy

Cost

When compared, the cost of color remover vs bleach is relatively within the same price range.

Salon prices of your treatment are based on different factors like your hair length, the desired result, etc., which may all equate to hundreds of dollars.

When compared to do-it-yourself products that are widely available on the market, salon prices cost significantly more. 

However, if you opt to do it yourself, always remember to research further and take necessary precautions. For better results, it is always recommended to trust the professionals. 

Duration

The overall process time for the two contenders varies depending on the color you want to achieve, the product you choose, and your current hair situation.

Both of them can do impressive color-removing jobs, but they may require multiple sessions before getting to your desired result. 

This is because there are specific colors or prior dyes that need more time to be penetrated and removed by the color remover or bleach.

But in general, each product comes with a manual that tells you how many minutes you should keep the hair saturated in the mixture.

For hair color remover, it usually needs 10 to 20 minutes to penetrate your hair. And for bleach, it takes 15 to 30 minutes. Take note that these are all the recommended process times. 

Both shouldn’t be left for too long and exceed 45 minutes on the head or else your hair and your scalp will be prone to damage and burning. 

Pros

Putting possible damages aside, both color remover and bleach can do a lot especially when it comes to styling your hair.

We’ll give you a rundown of their benefits:

Color Remover

  • Has a bleach-free formula
  • Has a lesser impact or damage to the hair
  • Removes artificial color pigments of permanent hair dyes while leaving your natural hair color untouched
  • Maximum of 3 repetitions can be done in one sitting (but you should have deep-conditioning treatments on stand-by when doing so)
  • An easy DIY procedure — do it as if you’re applying hair dye!

Bleach

  • Can strip off color pigments from any dye
  • Strips off color pigments and lighten the color of your natural or your current hair to make it a good base color or blank slate for new colors/shades
  • Creates a good transition shade, especially for vibrant or pastel colors
  • Fastest and easiest way to lighten hair color
  • Doesn’t have a lingering bad smell

Cons

Color Remover

  • May sometimes end up patchy, depending on what shade you’re trying to remove and how long you’ve had it
  • Has a sulfuric smell that would remain on the hair even after several shampoos
  • Cannot undo bleach or restore hair to its natural color if the permanent dye’s peroxide compounds lightened it
  • May take repeating processes before completely canceling it
  • Grips onto the hair firmly so you might want to give it a really good rinse
  • May not be as harsh as bleach but can still drain the moisture and oil away from your hair

Bleach

  • Has different application techniques and is recommended to be applied by professionals or by those who are experienced in doing so
  • A harsh procedure that involves the use of strong chemicals that may damage and fry the hair if used incorrectly
  • Can also induce a burning sensation on the scalp during and after the procedure
  • Drains out the natural moisture of the hair and makes it hard to balance the hair’s proteins
  • Weakens the bonds and their elasticity, making them prone to breakage, split ends, and unusual texture
  • Requires different process times depending on the current tone and shade of your hair, how it reacts to the bleach, and how light you want it to be
  • Definitely won’t be an overnight process if you have naturally dark hair and want a platinum or icy-white blonde
  • Means accepting the consequences of maintaining it from time to time, needs to be frequently toned to keep hair brass-free and frequently deep-conditioned to restore moisture to the hair

What Is a Color Remover?

Looking for a quick fix isn’t easy, especially when the damage has been done and when you’ve already spent a lot on a salon appointment.

And that’s when hair color removers come to the rescue. 

If this is the first time you’ve heard about this, that’s okay. It wasn’t too long ago before it was made available for in-home uses for the first time. 

The easiest way to explain what color removers do to the hair is that it removes color from permanent hair dyes, without interfering with the natural pigments in your hair.

What Is a Permanent Hair Dye?

If you’re the type who would likely stick with a chosen hair color for a long time, then permanent hair dyes are for you. 

This type of dye doesn’t get easily washed off because it permanently remodifies the hair’s natural color structure. 

It also requires more intricate chemical processing that uses 20 or 30 volume developers to open the cuticles, allowing the dye to settle deep inside before sealing it in.

Aside from a lasting color, it is used in darkening or lightening the hair uniformly and in concealing gray hair. The usual components found in this type of hair dye are stronger like ammonia and 6% hydrogen peroxide.

How Does Hair Color Remover Work?

First of all, let’s get some facts straight. Hair color removal strips off the color from your hair just like bleaching, but they are two entirely different procedures. 

Although it won’t be 100% damage-free, color removers most of the time are bleach-free and are less damaging than bleach. It works by penetrating the hair shafts and directly targeting the color pigment from permanent dyes. 

It binds and breaks down the dye molecules from the hair strands so you can wash it all off while leaving the natural pigments in your hair untouched. 

How to Use a Hair Color Remover

a hair stylist applying color hair remover to her client while wearing black gloves

Having an artificial hair color stripped off after you failed to reach your color expectations may call for another trip to the salon… 

But if that’s too pricey for you or if you just can’t squeeze it into your schedule, you can try using hair color removers at home.

Here’s a step-by-step guide on how to do it.

Step 1: Prep your hair

Our hair produces natural oil and moisture as a protective barrier against further chemical damage. 

To make sure that your scalp and hair cuticles get less damage from the color remover, it is suggested to not wash your hair for at least 24 to 72 hours before the procedure. 

And on the day of the color removal itself, comb through the hair, eliminate all the tangles, and lessen the frizz.

Step 2: Section the hair

Once your hair is tangle-free and manageable, part it into 4 quadrants. You should have 2 sections in the front, and 2 at the back. Secure each one with hair clips

Step 3: Apply hair color remover

Now you’re one step closer to applying the product to your hair. During this step, you need to work as quickly as possible to avoid deactivating the chemicals in the color remover. 

Take small sections or rows from each quadrant starting from those at the top. 

To do this, use the pointy end of your tinting brush and take a vertical row about 1 to 1.5 cm thick from the top quadrants. Do this one at a time. 

Once you have one section on hand, leave the rest of the section behind as you apply the color remover from the roots to the tips of the current row.

Repeat this until you have the entire top section lathered with the remover, then proceed to the bottom layers. But instead of creating vertical rows, do it horizontally this time. 

Step 4: Wait for it to develop

Once all the colored sections of the hair are coated with the color remover, wait for it to develop.

The processing time depends on the instructions that your product comes with. It usually lasts from 10 to 20 minutes. 

Step 5: Rinse and enjoy

When the alarm goes off, give it a good rinse. 

Using a shampoo will do, but we suggest bringing the moisture back to your hair by adding in a conditioner and hair mask to your routine. 

Yes, it isn’t as complicated as you thought it was!

What to Look For in a Hair Color Remover

Formula

At this stage, we already know that hair color removers eliminate oxidative dyes or permanent dyes.

Remember that permanent dyes have large color molecules that have to be broken down in order to be canceled and washed away, and hair color removers are composed of chemicals that can do just that. 

Typically, there’s persulfate and peroxide present, but there are other components for more effective results such as hydrosulfite, ammonium chloride, and sodium lauryl sulfate. 

Inclusions and Application

DIY hair products are made to be applied with no sweat.

From the different solutions, manuals, gloves, and even the aftercare treatment included, everything you need is packed in one box.

Hair color removers are no exception to this. Some brands release them in packets, some are in easy-application bottles, and some come in both to be mixed in a bowl and applied with a tint brush. 

Whichever you choose or use, never forget to read the manuals and verify the exact measurements for the formula. 

Effects

“You’ll never know unless you try” — maybe that’s what you’re thinking. 

If you’re new to color removal, doing extensive research on the internet can give you a glimpse of which products work best in removing specific colors.

This also gives you the chance to choose the gentlest product that can give you the best results without causing too much damage to your hair. 

What Is Hair Bleaching and How Does It Work?

Blonde hair transformation process before and after highlighting hair, three photos in one on a white background in a beauty salon

If your hair has been touched by any dye that’s lighter than your natural hair color, you know by now that bleach is the only way to lighten the hair. 

Bleaching is a method of removing or lightening hair color through the process of oxidation. 

Lightening agents such as hydrogen peroxide and ammonia make your hair’s bonds swell. This opens up the cuticle, allowing the bleaching agents to sneak into the hair fiber and dissolve the natural color pigments called melanin. 

Here, timing is everything, so it requires careful application. This is because the moment the bleach touches the hair is the moment when the oxidation starts. 

The chemicals are like a ticking time bomb leading to the activation of the chemicals in the mixture and to the dissolving of melanin.

The DIY Bleaching Process

Bleaching the hair is one of the hair procedures that need to be done extra carefully and, as much as possible, with the help of professionals. 

It’s a complicated and risky project to do, but if you’re brave enough to try it, this guide can help:

What You’ll Need

  • Old towels and old clothes
  • Plastic bag or shower cap
  • Gloves (nitrile gloves work best)
  • Claw clips for sectioning
  • Mixing bowl
  • Tinting brush
  • Pre-bleaching treatments such as coconut oil
  • Bleaching powder or cream
  • Developer or oxidizing cream

The Process

Yes, the thought of bleaching your own hair calls for great courage for this is one decision that can’t be undone. 

Good thing we have this bleaching guide to help throughout the process. But if you want a more visual guide from a pro, you can also check out this video:

The Dos and Don’ts of Bleaching

Protect yourself at all costs; this is not an ordinary hair procedure.

The harmful chemicals found in hair bleach can also extend the damage to your skin and to your clothes. To keep yourself protected as you go on with the process by yourself, using protective gear is a must.

To protect your hands, it’s best to use nitrile gloves. The kind of rubber used in this type of gloves is resistant to punctures and harsh chemicals such as bleach.

To protect your back and your clothes, wear an old shirt and protective rubber cape or an old towel.

And if you have sensitive skin, you can also apply Vaseline around your hairline and on your ears to give your skin an additional protective barrier.

Quick Tip

Mix Sweet’N Low with your lightener to help keep itching at bay if you have a sensitive scalp.

Take it nice and slow and don’t do it aggressively.

In bleaching hair, patience is a virtue. Unless you’re a professional or an expert in bleaching your hair at home, do not play with the volumes of developers just to speed up the process. 

A gentle approach to bleaching when you’re a newbie is starting with low developer volumes (10 volume to 20 volume) and doing strand tests to give yourself a preview of the exact effect of your mixture after the processing time.

Stronger developers (30 volume) will still do the lightening you desire, but they tend to be more aggressive and more damaging to the hair.

Take note that there are very strong 40 volume developers available, but instances where you actually have to use them are very rare.

Apply heat gently and don’t force it to work quicker.

Notice how bleach causes discomfort to the scalp the more it stays on? Aside from the strong substances in it, hair bleach naturally heats up once it’s been activated. 

Now that we’re talking about heat, it’s known that bleach works quicker once you add a little heat into the process.

Quick Tip

Remember that not all lighteners can be used with heat, so make sure the lightener you have is compatible with heat before doing anything else.

To guarantee you’re inducing an even amount of heat, you can try wrapping the hair with foil or a processing cap. 

What you can also do to forcefully speed up the process is to use heat from hair blowers.

However, overdoing it makes your hair prone to overprocessing, which leads to more damage. This is why strand tests are important! 

Part neatly, apply smartly, and don’t overcrowd.

Parting your hair neatly during your first bleaching makes it helpful to know where the regrowths and the previously treated portions meet when you’re doing touch-ups. 

This allows you to know which parts would take longer to lighten so that you get even results.

If you’re wondering why hairdressers usually bleach mid-portions up to the tips before touching the roots, that’s because the hair closest to the scalp receives more body heat, making it react to bleach faster. 

It’s recommended to leave at least 1 ½ inches from the scalp until you’ve covered the entire mid-to-end sections. 

And whether this is your first time or not, avoid taking big chunks of hair at a time and don’t lather the product starting from the roots.

Be strict with the time and don’t leave it on for too long.

Waiting for your hair to achieve your intended level of lift can take a while, but if the product says to leave it on for a maximum of 40 minutes, make sure to rinse it off once the timer stops.

If you’re thinking of leaving it longer for faster results, you’re just putting your hair closer to the worst possible thing to happen, which is damaging the hair to the point of partial baldness. 

We’re not kidding. Bleach can make you bald if you’re impatient.

Check progress at least every 20 minutes so you know when to add more bleach and to know if there are portions that are reacting faster. 

Regardless of the result, take the bleach off on time and rinse it thoroughly. Follow it up with a deep conditioner as well.

You can always reapply when needed, but make sure to let your hair rest for a month or so.

Color Remover vs Bleach: FAQs

Should I use color remover before bleach?

Using hair color removers alone can already induce damage to your hair, so using color remover with bleach will only make it worse! 

Give your hair at least a week to rest and restore its lost moisture if you want to use color remover then bleach. And for better and safer results, it’s ideal to have it done by a professional.

Can color removers cancel all shades of color from the hair?

This is a case-to-case basis. Doing only one process on shades like black or brown may end up patchy or unevenly faded.

Instances like that may require multiple color removal processes as these shades have a larger amount of artificial pigments.

If you’ve done 3 procedures already and it still looks hopeless, then it’s time to visit a professional. 

Can color removers undo bleach or bring back my natural hair color?

No. The peroxide compounds on hair dyes and bleach developers lighten the natural color of your hair permanently. 

Color removers can only suck the colors that were deposited into the strands; color removers don’t deposit any colors, more so colors already removed by peroxide.

Bottomline, as soon as your hair goes through the process of oxidation using hair coloring treatments, there’s no going back. You just have to grow your hair back and chop off the lightened parts once long enough.

What are the most common bleaching mistakes?

The process of bleaching your hair is no joke. Lucky for you if you’re one of the brave ones who successfully conquered the long bleaching journey.

But some might have these mistakes:

  • Having insufficient knowledge about the product, the procedure, and the effects before doing it
  • Skipping the pre-bleaching preparation and ditching the use of coconut oil to create a protective barrier for the scalp and hair
  • Not using the right tools. Keep in mind, bleach corrodes metals, producing toxic gases and uneven bleaching results.
  • Forgoing a strand and a patch test. The strand test is the most realistic preview of how your hair will react to the bleach, and a patch test on the skin can warn you of any dangerous allergic reactions.
  • Clinging to the idea of having the bleach on for a longer time will hasten the lightening process
  • Not giving the hair enough time to rest before having another bleaching process
  • Not using toners to remove the brassiness

What happens if you don’t use gloves when bleaching your hair?

Bleaching is damaging enough for the hair; you wouldn’t want to damage your skin as well. 

Applying bleach with your bare hands is not ideal because this can cause chalky white discoloration and redness on the skin of your hands. 

And, depending on how long it stayed on the skin and how bad the damage it left is, the affected areas can eventually feel gritty, itchy, dry, and with occasional stinging pain.

The worst that bleach does to hands is chemical burns.

Hair Color Remover or Bleach: The Verdict

Color remover vs bleach — which is best for you right now?

The two have two distinct functions: If you want to remove hair dye, use color removers. But if you want to remove the color and lighten your natural hair color, use bleach.

Generally speaking, color removers contain less harsh chemicals than bleach. But how damaging these two can be is dependent on the condition of your hair before the procedure and how you take care of it afterwards.

Seeking professional services is advised if you want to prevent further damage.

Let’s take better care of our hair, shall we?

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Authors

  • Stephanie Martin

    Stephanie Martin blends her beauty industry background with expertise in communications to lead in the fashion and beauty world. As a fashion and beauty editor, she is known for engaging and informative articles. Her lifelong passion for fashion, makeup, and hair shines through her work, earning her widespread respect among readers and clients. Stephanie's style, a mix of classic and contemporary, makes her a dynamic and influential figure in the industry, inspiring others with her knowledgeable and approachable insights.

  • Jessica Hoelscher

    With thirteen years in cosmetology, Jessica Hoelscher is a seasoned stylist recognized for her modern techniques. A graduate of Paul Mitchell the School in St. Louis, her expertise has been showcased on Fox Two News and in People Magazine. Self-employed at Salon Lofts, her work has graced TV screens, styling for renowned events and Ole Miss cheerleaders.

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