The 7 Hair Bleaching Levels from Dark to Light

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Do you want platinum blonde hair? Or do you dream of fantasy hair colors or mermaid hair?

Unfortunately, if you’re planning to transform your dark hair, you can’t just dye it a lighter color. You need to lighten it first by using bleach.

And this isn’t as simple as bleaching just one time. 

As much as you want to lighten your hair enough in just one sitting, you shouldn’t. Or else, you could end up with fried, damaged hair.

But that doesn’t mean you can’t achieve the hair lightness you need for platinum or colorful hair dye.

a woman in a salon having her hair bleached while selecting vibrant colors on the catalogue

If you lighten your hair correctly, you can achieve the color you want while keeping your hair in good condition. To do that, you must understand the different hair bleaching levels.

Understanding the color stages of bleaching hair allows you to bleach with minimal damage.

You can transform your hair from your current gorgeous dark shade to the beautiful light color you’ve always dreamed of.

What Is Hair Bleach?

Bleaching is the most common and effective way to lighten your hair. But do you actually know what happens when you bleach your hair? 

Let’s take a closer look!

Hair bleaching is the process of stripping the hair of its natural color using chemicals.

Most bleaching formulas use hydrogen peroxide and ammonia to dissolve melanin pigments.

While we don’t want to bombard you with too much scientific jargon, these words are vital in making you understand how hair bleach works.

So let’s learn about the bleaching process.

Melanin

We have to start with melanin if we want to understand the bleaching process. Melanin is the pigment that gives your hair its natural color.

There are two types of melanin pigments:

  • Eumelanin
  • Pheomelanin

Eumelanin causes our strands to be brown or black, while pheomelanin gives hair yellow and red pigments.

When you compare these two, eumelanin is bigger in molecule size.

Oxidization

Unlike coloring hair, where you deposit dye pigments into the hair shaft, bleach removes color by breaking down melanin pigments. This process is called oxidization. 

In the hair styling world, oxidization is also called lifting.

So how does oxidization happen?

First, bleach is mixed with hydrogen peroxide. This mixture softens the outermost layer of the hair shaft, allowing the lightener to pass through.

Once the chemicals are inside the hair shaft, they will start to dissolve the hair’s melanin pigments.

The bigger eumelanin pigments are easier to break down, which is why they are the first colors to be removed.

After the black and brown pigments are gone, the bleach will dissolve the red and yellow pigments.

The bleach will continue to oxidize your hair as long as it’s there. The longer it sits on your hair, the lighter the strands will be.

You can leave it on until you reach your target lift, but do note that bleach is made of harsh chemicals that can damage your hair.

Don’t leave the bleach in your hair for too long.

a hair stylist applying bleach on her client's hair and wrapping with aluminum foil after

10 Levels of Natural Hair

The first step in lightening your hair is determining your starting hair color and your target hair color. This is done before you even buy bleaching products.

Knowing your starting and ending point will help you understand how many levels your hair needs to go through.

Let’s look at the hair level chart to get a better picture of this. This level system comprises 10 numbers that help determine the darkness or lightness of natural hair.

In our version, we also included the undertones or the underlying pigments so you’ll have an idea of how your hair will look after bleaching.

LevelNatural ColorUndertones
1BlackDarkest red
2Darkest brownDark red
3Dark brownRed
4Medium brownRed-orange
5Light brownOrange-red
6Dark blondeOrange
7Medium blondeOrange yellow
8Light blondeYellow-orange
9Very light blondeYellow
10Lightest blondePale Yellow

By looking at the chart, you’ll see that natural blondes find it easier to bleach to almost white hair, but for brunettes, the first bleaching process will likely result in a reddish or orangey hue.

infographic of the natural hair color from level 10 to 1

To determine your natural hair color, get a hair level chart and place some strands near it to see the closest match. You can find these at salons or even some beauty stores.

If you have dyed hair, place the chart near your roots.

7 Stages of Bleaching Hair

Now that you know the natural hair levels, it’s time to talk about the seven stages of bleaching.

As mentioned above, bleach reacts with melanin to remove the natural color of your locks. This process goes through different stages, known as hair bleaching levels.

Knowing these stages helps you understand the realistic stages of lightening hair and how you may need to go through the process more than once.

Stage 1 – Black or Darkest Brown

This is the starting stage for bleaching hair color levels. It may be dark virgin hair or hair that’s been colored dark. Black or darkest brown is the hardest to turn light.

Not all people will start at this stage because some can already have colored or lighter hair from the beginning.

Stage 2 – Reddish Medium Brown

If you start at stage 1, this next stage is probably the color you’ll reach after your first bleaching.

In this stage, the dark pigments are removed, but not the red and yellow pigments.

This is a good base color if you want red or copper hair. You can also neutralize it with blue-based toner for a cool ash-brown shade.

Stage 3 – Red-Orange or Light Brown

At its natural color level, this is considered level 5 or 6. But the hair levels after bleaching will still have a bit of a red undertone.

This stage is the most commonly achieved color when you bleach using a 30-volume developer on dark hair.

If you want to go lighter than this color, you can. But it’s best to wait two weeks for another bleaching session so your tresses can recover.

Stage 4 – Dark Blonde

Stages 3 and 4 can be confusing because light brown can look like dark blonde.

But you can look at the hair’s undertones to determine the correct stage because dark blonde contains yellow pigments.

When bleaching up to level 4, the red pigments are removed from the strands.

You can use this color as a base for a pretty strawberry blonde shade.

Stage 5 – Gold or Medium Blonde

This bleaching level is similar to a level 8 natural hair level. In this stage, the strand is left with lighter yellow pigments.

At this point, bleaching becomes more challenging because the hair is now fragile after the first several bleaching processes. If you wish to go lighter, you can still do another cycle but with a low-volume developer.

Stage 6 – Yellow or Light Blonde

This stage will get you to natural level 9 blonde. This stage is what you need to aim for if you want to have pastel-colored or silver hair.

Understand that it’s hard to reach this stage by bleaching hair at home, as the locks are prone to damage at this level. 

It’s best to let a professional hairdresser bleach your hair to get it this light.

Stage 7 – Pale Yellow

The last stage is the lightest blonde which can turn platinum or icy blonde if you tone it.

If bleaching isn’t done carefully, this can absolutely damage your hair, so it’s best left to the hair professionals.

A woman with long blonde hair is looking away from the camera.

Factors That Affect Bleaching Stages

As much as you want a specific look, you can’t go from black hair to a level 10 blonde in just one beaching session.

You must go through the hair bleaching levels and schedule your bleaching services with at least two-week intervals to prevent ruining your hair.

You want to be sure your hair stays healthy. So take your time when lightening your hair.

Even though the product you use may claim that it can lift to seven levels, in the real world, many factors can change the result of bleaching.

Understanding these different factors can help you get the best possible outcome from bleaching.

Four major factors can impact bleaching:

1. Natural Hair Color

Once you’ve figured out the natural hair color and target level, subtract those two, and you’ll get how many levels you need to lift to achieve your desired result.

For example, if your hair is a natural level 3 (dark brown), and you want to have level 8 (light blonde) hair, you need to lift 5 levels.

This becomes tricky when you have different levels of hair color at the same time, which is common for color-treated hair. Hair may be lightest at the ends and darker at the roots, so it needs to be lightened differently.

Furthermore, the darker the natural hair color, the more melanin it has that needs to be lifted. So it will take longer to lighten.

2. Hair Porosity

a young woman wearing denim jacket with high porosity hair is smiling widely at the camera while touching her hair

Another thing that can affect your hair lightening is hair porosity. Porosity is the hair’s ability to absorb and retain moisture and other cosmetic products.

There are three levels of hair porosity:

When it comes to bleaching, high-porosity hair lightens faster because the mixture can easily penetrate the hair shaft.

The opposite is true for low-porosity hair because the strands are more resistant to hair products.

3. Product Strength

Bleaching products have different qualities. Some can have more lifting strength than others.

There are two types of bleaching powders:

  • Blue-based
  • White-based

If you’re working on dark hair, Asian hair, or hair dyed black, use a blue-based bleach to tone down the orange pigments.

A white powder bleach may be used for other hair types and colors.

Moreover, you can use a 20-volume developer if you plan on lifting two levels. It’s perfect for touching up roots or for taking black hair to brown.

A 30-volume developer can lift to three or more levels, and a 40-volume gives up to eight levels of lift.

The latter may sound the best because it lightens hair fast, but it’s harsh on the strands, so it’s best to leave this highest volume to professionals.

4. Processing Time

How long you leave the bleach on your hair can affect its lifting capacity. Longer time means lighter results.

If you already have blonde hair, 15 to 20 minutes is enough for bleaching.

On the other hand, you can bleach darker hair for up to 30 minutes. Any longer can cause severe damage to your strands. 

Instead of forcing the issue in just one session, you can do another lightening session if you want to go lighter.

Quick Tip

If you are doing an all-over bleach job, make sure that you start with the ends of your hair and leave the roots for last.

This will prevent hot roots and blisters on the scalp.

Caring for Bleached Hair

The bleaching process makes hair rough and frizzy. It can also make the strands brittle and dry.

That’s why you should take good care of your after you bleach it to help return it to a healthy state.

Here are some of the things you can do to maintain bleached hair.

a hair stylist washing the hair of her client with purple shampoo after bleaching in a white riser

1. Wash your hair less.

Since the lightening process has caused your hair to dry out, you need to give your hair a chance to replenish the lost moisture.

One way to do this is by shampooing less to give the scalp some time to produce natural oils and let the oils seep through the hair shaft and seal the lifted cuticles.

2. Alternate between moisturizing and protein-rich shampoo and conditioner.

Bleaching can make the hair lose its elasticity. This happens because the chemicals from bleach strip the hair’s natural moisture and protein.

That said, you can use hair products that help bring back moisture and protein in your hair.

Try the Nexxus Keraphix Damage Healing Shampoo with keratin protein and black rice for your protein shampoo.

And for moisture, you can try Carol’s Daughter Black Vanilla Luscious Moisture shampoo and conditioner.

But why do you need to use them alternately? It’s because you want to avoid over-moisturizing your locks or having protein overload. What you need for healthy hair is a balance of moisture and protein.

3. Avoid hot tools.

Your hair is already brittle from bleaching, and using heat can expose your already fragile hair to more damage.

So cut back on using flat irons, curling wands, and hairdryers as much as possible.

Or if you really can’t help but use heat styling tools, apply a heat protectant like CHI 44 Iron Guard thermal protection spray on your strands first.

4. Use deep conditioning treatments.

Most deep conditioners contain ingredients that moisturize your locks and keep frizz at bay. They penetrate deep into the strands and nourish the hair.

You can do this once a week to help make your hair healthy again. We recommend using Marc Anthony Grow Long Anti-Breakage Mask.

5. Try to rebuild the bonds.

Aside from hair conditioning treatments, you can also invest in bond-building treatments that work inside the hair shaft to reconstruct the broken hair bonds.

For rebuilding, you can use the tried and tested Olaplex Hair Perfector No.3 to repair and strengthen your hair.

6. Get regular trims.

Bleach can cause dryness, and dryness can cause split ends.

An essential part of post-bleach hair care is getting regular trims to remove unwanted split ends. This will prevent further hair breakage.

FAQs About Color Stages of Bleaching Hair

How many bleaches does it take to have platinum hair?

You can achieve Platinum blonde hair by getting to hair color level 9 or level 10.

The process usually takes two rounds of bleaching, but for darker hair colors, it can take three or four rounds.

What volume of a developer is good for bleaching hair?

The ideal developer volume for bleaching is 30. This will be able to lift your hair three to four levels. 

When bleaching roots near the scalp, you can use a 20-volume developer because the scalp produces more heat and can increase the power of the developer.

Get the Color You Want by Understanding the Different Levels of Bleached Hair

Bleaching your hair isn’t as easy as dyeing it. Because it involves harsh chemicals that can damage your hair and scalp, you have to be extra careful.

Understanding the different bleaching levels and your desired hair color outcome can help you plan your bleaching process.

Knowing the bleaching levels will help guide what products you buy, how long you need to leave the bleach in, and how many times you need to do the lightening process.

If you follow the recommendations, you’ll be able to bleach your hair safely to your desired level, maintain it, and help keep it healthy too!

Want to try different hair colors? Check out these hair dye ideas:

Authors

  • Rachelle Velasco

    Rachelle, is a sought-after freelance hair and makeup artist, shines particularly in the world of hair color. From subtle ombres and balayages to vibrant hues and intricate root work, she crafts unique styles tailored to individual preferences. Beyond her artistic talents, Rachelle also holds a Bachelor's degree in Elementary Education, showcasing her diverse skill set and dedication to learning.

  • 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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