They say that blondes have more fun. What they don’t mention is that the lightening process can be
pretty painful at times—even for the most experienced colourists! It can take hours and even multiple
sessions—scheduled over weeks, and sometimes months—to achieve that perfect lift. To help make the
process as easy as possible, we spoke with four industry experts and compiled their best tips and tricks
for achieving the right tones.
Cool-toned platinum blonde hair is always in high-demand, but be warned: If done incorrectly, the
lightening process can result in breakage, uneven levelling, or yellow undertones. Here are a few tips
to get the most neutral and even results.
1. Have a Plan
As you likely know, clients who are levels one to six will require a more thorough consultation to make
sure they have reasonable expectations regarding application and processing time, along with the cost
and their end result.
“Having everything in writing helps hairstylists avoid being in situations where clients are unhappy
with the process and their final look,” says Dana Lyseng, owner of Supernova Salon in North Vancouver
and a Top Stylist for Wella Professionals. She adds that in some cases, especially for more dramatic
transformations, a written contract may be necessary and should cover everything from colour goals, to
time commitment and estimated costs, which can differ from stylist to stylist. Ramsey Sayah, owner of
Texture Hair Salon in Ottawa and an artist for L’Oréal Professionnel, says he prefers to work with a
client for four hours at a time—and over a few appointments—rather than dedicate a whole day to one
client. One of the main benefits to this approach? There’s less of a chance there will be the need for
many follow-ups. “As a colourist, it would always be my first choice to do [a service] all at once,”
says Lyseng. “My thought is, let’s just sit down for 10 hours and get this done, but not everybody can
dedicate that amount of time and not everybody wants to pay that price all at once. You have to plan for
what works for the client, but they have to also understand that it’s not magic. Even though you can
make your hair six levels darker in 20 minutes, I can’t always make it six levels lighter in 20
Expert Tip: In terms of pricing, a common pricing structure is the sum of
labour/time and product costs.
2. Test It Out
Since hair can sometimes have unexpected reactions to developers and colour, it’s important to do a
strand test before fully diving in. Sayah will often cut off a small strand of his prospective client’s
hair to lighten on his own time. By doing this, it helps him see how long it would take to lift to their
desired level— and to determine if it’s even possible. “That’s when you can give them a proper price
breakdown to set the expectation—you’ll have a much more loyal client after that and the whole process
will just be smoother,” says Sayah, adding that for clients with high expectations (often stemming from
looks seen on a celebrity or on social media) a test run is a good way to bring them back to reality.
3. Slow and Steady
Many stylists think that the best way to achieve a high level of lift in a short period of time is to
use a developer with a very high volume. However, doing so can lead to more damage, patchiness and warm
undertones, which would then need to be corrected. Josie Vilay, owner of Winnipeg-based Hairology Studio
and a member of the Schwarzkopf Professional artistic team, says that some colourists are shocked that
she uses a lower developer, between seven to 13 volume, but never higher than a 20 volume. “When using a
lower developer, you’re letting it sit for a longer time, which helps the cuticle break a little
slower,” she says. “That allows everything to process a little bit more evenly.”
4. Know When to Say No
When you’re working with a harsh band or overly damaged hair, don’t let a client pressure you to lighten it anyway. If you think it will only cause more damage or
breakage, especially if you’re working within the band area—or as Vilay calls it: The danger zone—trust your judgment and just say no. “I recently went through this
experience and told my client to grow out her natural hair and I’d reassess later on,” she says, adding that this client had gone from brown to box-dye black and now wanted to go platinum. “Between her platinum and box colour and her virgin hair, I knew I couldn’t lighten the band because it would definitely break. Sometimes people aren’t meant to be blonde.”
To achieve the perfect ashy blonde (which tends to have more of a grey hue), the most important factors
to consider are toning and proper colour distribution. Here’s how to get it right.
1. Tone Up
You first need to have a neutral base before going in with a darker toner. Vilay recommends lightening
the hair (using a lower developer) to one level higher than your target so that once you add in your
darker toner, it’s exactly what you and your client envisioned. “You need that extra level to deposit
ash,” she says. For example, if you want to reach a level eight ash, she advises first lifting it to a
level nine before adding in your neutralizing toner.
2. Break the Base
For clients who want an ashy look but don’t need to lighten their hair (or aren’t able to because their
root growth isn’t enough), a natural- looking fix is to “break the base.” This involves lifting their
roots one or one-and-a-half levels before toning the ends to give them a cooler and more neutral finish.
It’s also a great solution for clients who want a lower- maintenance colour because it will naturally
grow out similar to a balayage. Vilay also recommends root smudging for clients who don’t want to commit
to root touch-ups every few months. “For root smudging, you’d only want to go two levels darker so you
don’t have a band to deal with during your next touch-up,” she says.
If you want even results, it’s important to make sure your sections are thin and that you’re providing enough tension when foiling. In doing this, you’re making sure that the lightener or colour is properly saturated on all strands. “When stylists use less tension, their application looks sloppier,” says Vilay. “Hair will be out of place and some sections will be thicker than others. That will result in certain patches lifting higher than others and won’t end with a clean and even look.”
There’s been a recent resurgence of warmer shades like honey blonde. It’s important to note, however, that there’s a fine line between honey and brassy, so here’s how to achieve it.
1. Consultation is Everything
Though working with warmer blondes like honey or golden may seem more straightforward—especially in comparison to platinum—consultations are still just as vital. Depending on your clients’ tastes, complexion and overall vision, you need to figure out the best tone within the honey range that would suit them. If it’s going to take multiple appointments to achieve it, you also need to discuss which wearable transition shade they would be happiest with.
Expert Tip: For darker bases that can’t be fully lightened in one session, Vilay recommends toning it warmer to make it easier to lift the second time around, while ensuring it’s wearable for your client between appointments.
2. Neutralize Warm Undertones
Just because you’re working with a warmer blonde shade doesn’t mean you want warm undertones. While you don’t need to lift off as much pigment as you would for a platinum look, neutralizing underlying yellow tones will give you a cleaner canvas to work with, and therefore more control when depositing colour. “I don’t want a lot of yellow underlying pigment because that will give me more of a brassy warmth,” says
Lyseng. “[When creating honey blonde tones], I’m really looking more for that polished warmth.”
3. Zone Toning
When it’s time to tone hair, Vicky Filiatrault, a technical manager and educator for Revlon
Professional, says she comes across many colourists using one toner from root to end. Her advice? Break
it up into zones to ensure the final look is balanced, even, and has some depth. “It’s really about
analyzing the hair and figuring out where your toner needs to sit the longest, or if you should just use
different shades through the roots, mid-shaft and ends,” she says. Keep in mind that if the ends are
more porous, the toner will develop fastest there.
From Blake Lively to Reese Witherspoon, golden blonde hair can be absolutely stunning and luminescent if done right. Here are a few things to keep in
mind when creating these looks.
1. Avoid Over-Lightening
When trying to achieve a true golden blonde, be careful not to over-lighten the hair and remove all of its warmth. Focus on neutralizing any yellow undertones, and if your client already has a naturally gold undertone, use that to your advantage and amplify it, says Lyseng. “I’ll use Wella’s Illumina to achieve a warmer look because it gives me a little bit of a base break. I can mix it with a developer that allows it to be strictly a deposit, or have a little or more lift, depending on what the hair needs.”
“I really like that warmer tones are back and on trend because not everyone can pull off a platinum look.”
—Vicky Filiatrault, Techincal Manager and Educator for Revlon Professional
2. Get Even
When it comes to producing evenly distributed colour results, Lyseng says these two factors are crucial: The volume of your developer and your application technique. For developers, she recommends starting with a lower volume and moving up as you finish each quadrant of hair to make sure that your lightener is processing evenly. This will help prevent certain sections from processing quicker than others, and will keep hair from looking brassy if you use a developer that’s too high. Once it’s time to apply the lightener, Lyseng recommends modifying your application depending on the section of hair you’re working with. One example she recalls was with a client who wanted her warm ginger hair to be corrected and lightened to a rich golden blonde. Lyseng sectioned the hair and first started with babylights, which she used a weaving technique for, while bringing the lightener all the way to the scalp. For the next two sections, she used a slicing technique and only applied the lightener to the demarcation line, using a soft feathering technique to avoid any strong, noticeable lines.
Wella Blondor Base
as an express base-breaking
service to neutralize unwanted
warmth on natural and
L’Oréal Professionnel Blond Studio Sunkissed Lightening
An ammonia-free alternative for creating luminous, natural-looking blonde
Schwarzkopf BlondMe Bond Enforcing Premium Clay
Ideal for balayage to keep hair protected while achieving up
to seven levels
Revlon Professional Blonderful 5’ Soft
Get a softer transition between the base and
highlights with this lightening cream.