How To Get Highlights & Lighten Hair Without Bleach: 4 Steps For Success

Bleach is a harsh chemical, so it makes sense that there are tons of women out there who want to avoid using it. But what is someone supposed to do when they still want to get highlights but are scared of using such a caustic chemical?

Luckily, there are ways to obtain highlights while still using gentler chemicals for the hair and scalp. They include such methods as selectively using hair color removers, high lift dyes, a little bit of developer, and some base color and toner packages. To find the best one of each of these products, check out the reviews below for the following items!

  • Hair Color Removers
  • High Lift Dye
  • 40 Volume Developers
  • High Lift Red Dye (For Brown Hair)
  • Base Color and Toner

Each one is a necessary component for highlights without bleach, but which is the one users should trust?

Hair Color Removers

A hair color remover is a product designed to remove artificial colors created by dyes, toners, and highlights from hair. This is a valuable tool for individuals who dislike their current hair color or would like to return their hair to a more manageable baseline to add new highlights. In general, hair color removers work well because they are gentle on hair when they lift dye, leaving behind soft locks that can accept new highlights without needing to use bleach.

But which one is the best one? Read on to find out!

Pravana Artificial Hair Color Extractor Combo Set

Click for Price

Specs

  • Contains 10.1 Fluid Oz. of Artificial Color Extractor
  • Contains 7.43 Fluid Oz. of Detox Shampoo
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 2.8 x 8.7 in.

Pros

The Pravana Artificial Hair Color Extractor Combo Set is a color extracting treatment designed to remove unnatural or artificial dyes from hair without damaging the strand or natural color underneath. This particular formula is easy to apply since it comes in a simple two step process of color extractor and shampoo.

This formula works well on oxidated dyes, which are ones where the dye is mixed with a developer. While it won’t return your hair to its natural color, it will eliminate the dye so you can put a new color over it.

This product is not harmful or damaging to hair and should leave the strands shiny and strong when done.

Cons

In order to work properly, the Pravana Artificial Hair Color Extractor Combo Set needs to use sulfur to extract the dye, so it smells strongly of rotten eggs while in use.

Roux Clean Touch Hair Color Stain Remover

Click for Price

Specs

  • Contains 11.8 Fluid Oz.

Pros

The Roux Clean Touch Hair Color Stain Remover is unique from other artificial color extractors because it doesn’t work to strip color from hair so much as it removes unwanted excess. This formula is a great way for individuals to lighten their hair a bit by taking out unnecessary dye that gives their hair an uncomfortable, splotchy, or uneven appearance.

This treatment comes in a single bottle that can be used many times. The formula insides is not harmful to the scalp, skin, or hair, and actually leaves hair looking strong and healthier than before.

Cons

This product will not completely eliminate artificial hair color, and it has a pretty strong smell that can be off-putting for users.

Color Oops Developlus Color Remover

Click for Price

Specs

  • Contains 6.4 Fluid Oz.
  • Product Dimensions: 3.4 x 2.8 x 6.6 in.

Pros

The Color Oops Developlus Color Remover is a maximum strength artificial color remover that takes approximately twenty minutes to strip strands of hair of unwanted dye.

Despite being powerful, this formula is ammonia and bleach free to still be as gentle on the hair and skin as possible while being effective at removing dye.

This product can remove permanent and semi-permanent hair colors and works exceptionally well for individuals attempting to take out unwanted red dye from their hair.

Cons

The product is designed to be as strong as possible, so it naturally has a powerful scent and should not be applied to damaged hair.

The Verdict – Best Hair Color Remover

Out of the hair color removers reviewed here, the best one is the Pravana Artificial Hair Color Extractor Combo Set. Although it does have a powerful smell, it is effective and still soft on hair without being damaging. It strikes a perfect balance, while other products tend to be too gentle or too rough on already dyed hair.

High Lift Dye

A high lift dye is a color that is classified as a ten or higher. This means the dye is extremely bright and light, usually some of the fairest blondes. These dyes are great for individuals who are trying to achieve highlights without bleach because the dye adds much needed brightness to the hair once color has been removed using a hair color remover that eliminates artificial dyes.

Finding the best one depends on the desired color of an individual, but there are some brands and lines that create the greatest highlights. Read on to find the best one!

L’Oreal Paris Superior Preference Color Care System – Hi-Lift

Click for Price

Specs

  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 3.6 x 6.2 in.

Pros

The L’Oreal Paris Superior Preference Color Care System – Hi-Lift comes in a wide variety of colors to help individuals make their dark hair several shades lighter without being forced to resort to bleach.

This particular dye is meant to be gentle on the hair while offering a semi-permanent finish that is fade-defying and good at covering gray hairs.

This is a cream dye, which means it can be applied easily without the runniness of liquid dyes. The color is easy to spread throughout the hair, and the formula also rinses out well without requiring too much scrubbing.

Cons

While the cool colors remain cool, the warmer toned dyes tend to be a little brassy because of the lifting process.

Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Ultra Lift

Click for Price

Specs

  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 3.6 x 6.4 in.

Pros

The Clairol Nice ‘n Easy Ultra Lift is a hair dye designed to help users make their hair several shades lighter without going through the process of bleaching. This cream formula is easy to apply to hair and can be spread easily through all of the locks and strands to avoid splotchy color or poor highlights.

This particular formula is bleach free and avoids using too many chemicals to stop orange undertones and brassiness from coming out in the hair.

Conditioners are built into every step of this formula to keep hair healthy and shiny without needing to use extra products. This is great for people who worry about damaging their hair through using chemicals.

This hair can lighten up to three levels, meaning it can take dark brown to dark blonde.

Cons

This high lift dye does not cover gray hairs well and multiple people reported that their hair looked quite mousy at the end.

The Verdict – Best High Lift Dye

Neither of these dyes is bad, but for people seeking a reliable high lift, the best one is definitely the L’Oreal Paris Superior Preference Color Care System because it creates an even dye that doesn’t look mousy or ashy at the end of the process.

40 Volume Developers

Most highlights and hair dyes require a developer, which activates the chemicals in the dyes and prepares the hair to accept the new color. Almost all developers contain peroxide, which is necessary to brighten and lighten hair. The amount of peroxide is referred to as its volume. To create highlights without using bleach, it’s important to use a 40 volume developer or a product that is 40% peroxide. These developers can be quite harsh, so it’s important to invest in a good one. But which is the best?

Marianna – Super Star Creme Developer

Click for Price

Specs

  • Contains 32 Fluid Oz.

Pros

Creme Developer is an important part of the hair dyeing process because it activates the chemicals within the dye necessary to color hair. 40 volume developers tend to be the most powerful, and the Marianna – Super Star Creme Developer is one of the best because it is smooth, simple, and easy to use.

There is a ton of product in the bottle, meaning individuals can use this creme developer for multiple highlights without needing to go out and purchase more.

This particular formula is designed not to run or drip, so users don’t have to worry about getting the developer everywhere while trying to dye their hair.

Cons

This product is very strong and can burn the skin if left on the surface for too long because of the high peroxide quality.

L’Oreal Oreor Creme 40 Volume Developer

Click for Price

Specs

  • Contains 16 Fluid Oz.

Pros

The L’Oreal Oreor Creme 40 Volume Developer is an extremely creamy and thick developer that mixes well with dyes. The consistency of the formula is great for individuals who worry about their dye dripping when they are trying to color their hair. The fact that it mixes well is also amazing since it means users will get the maximum effect from their dye.

This particular developer is extremely strong, capable of lightening hair by up to four levels. This means, when combined with other products, it can take someone with black hair to medium brown and someone with dark brown to a dark or medium blonde.

Cons

Because this is a 40 volume developer, it contains 40% peroxide and can thus burn the skin if left on the surface for too long. The only other problem with ordering this developer is that L’oreal seems to have poor quality control for this product since many people end receiving bottles that are missing a quarter of their contents.

Clairol Pure White 40 Creme Developer Maximum Lift

Click for Price

Specs

  • Contains 16 Fluid Oz.

Pros

The Clairol Pure White 40 Creme Developer Maximum Lift is yet another powerful developer that contains 40% peroxide, a powerful chemical that activates hair dye to help lighten the hair. This developer is capable of lightening hair about three or four levels, which is a large amount without experimenting too much with bleach or other harsh chemicals.

This is a creme developer that tends to be more runny than thick, but this means that it mixes well with different types of dye and can be applied with a bottle, which many dyes come with. Also, despite being kind of runny, the formula doesn’t drip very much, which is great for individuals who want to avoid dripping dye everywhere.

Cons

As a 40 volume developer, this product contains a lot of peroxide and can burn the skin when it’s left on the surface.

The Verdict – Best 40 Creme Developer

When someone wants to highlight their hair, they need a good creme developer to help. Out of these products, the absolute best one is the Marianna – Super Star Creme Developer because it is easy to use, isn’t too thick or runny, and can be applied with a simple process. Although it contains a ton of peroxide, it also doesn’t smell too bad either!

High Lift Red Dye (For Brown Hair)

Anyone who wants to highlight brown hair is faced with a choice: to go blonde or to go red. While many people view going with blonde highlights as easier, there are always those individuals who long to have beautiful auburn, subtle streaks in their hair. It’s difficult to accurately create red highlights, and certain inexpensive products will create a unique clown color of crimson and scarlet that looks unnatural.

When seeking some of the best high lift red dye for brown hair, check out our personal favorite below.

L’Oreal Excellence HiColor Red

Click for Price

Specs

  • Contains 1.2 Fluid Oz.
  • Product Dimensions: 3 x 3 x 6 in.

Pros

One of the most difficult highlights to do is going from brown to auburn-red without turning out brassy or cartoonishly scarlet. To help with this process, there is the L’oreal Excellence HiColor Red, designed for brunettes who want red highlights in a simple, easy to use tube.

This highlight is pretty basic and easy to apply and requires little training to use properly. The formula is runny enough that it mixes well with a developer but thick enough upon application that it doesn’t drip everywhere and waste product.

Cons

Individuals with light brown hair will have bad luck with this highlight because it can turn the hair very bright red because there isn’t enough dark pigmentation to balance out the product.

The Verdict – High Lift Red Dye for Brunettes

It can be difficult to find a good red dye for highlights for brunettes, but L’Oreal Excellence Hicolor Red is the best because it can add red undertones and highlights to even the darkest of hairs without requiring bleaching or a complicated process.

Base Color and Toner

Depending on how light someone’s hair is, they might be able to add highlights by applying a slightly brighter base color and toner to create the perfect contrast between light and dark. The base color will naturally replace the regular hair color while the toner provides contrast through highlights.

When choosing a base color and toner, it’s important to find a shade that is slightly brighter than the original hair color. But which is the best one?

L’Oréal Paris Excellence Créme Permanent Hair Color

Click for Price

Specs

  • Contains 1.86 Fluid Oz. of Color Creme
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 3.6 x 6.6 in.

Pros

The L’Oréal Paris Excellence Créme Permanent Hair Color is a popular product because its creme formula is simple and easy to use without being too runny or too basic. The box contains everything a user will need to have with them to dye and tone their hair, including the creme dye itself, a developer, a toner, and a bowl and brush to prepare the mix.

This hair dye is great at covering grays and unwanted white hairs, so it works well for individuals whose hair is starting to age.

One great feature about this base color and toner is that it treats red and orange undertones well, so people trying to go from black and dark brown to light brown or blonde will not have to fight brassiness or clown hair colors.

Cons

Unfortunately, while this product is great at handling hair types with warm undertones, it struggles to create ashy highlights, so people who want cool undertones will have trouble with this product.

Clairol Natural Instincts

Click for Price

Specs

  • Product Dimensions: 2.4 x 3.6 x 6.4 in.

Pros

The Clairol Natural Instincts base color and toner is a semi-permanent hair dye that the manufacturer guarantees will last for 28 washes before fading away or washing out of the hair. This style of dye is also fade-resistant, so color and highlights should last without needing subsequent applications or needing to avoid the bathtub.

This dye and toner is made without ammonia, which is great for individuals who want to avoid chemicals. This is where the ‘natural’ part of the name comes into play. The formulas also include nourishing oils and vitamins to help keep hair healthy and shiny throughout the coloring process. Some of these ingredients are coconut oil and aloe.

Cons

This base color, toner, and highlights work well on individuals with lighter hair colors like brunette and blonde but is less effective on black hair.

L’Oreal Excellence Triple Protection Color Creme Haircolor

Click for Price

Specs

  • Contains 1.86 Fluid Oz.
  • Product Dimensions: 2.8 x 3.6 x 6.6 in.

Pros

The L’Oreal Excellence Triple Protection Color Creme Haircolor is designed to offer three different levels of protection for hair while producing desirable color that lasts and includes highlights.

Inside each package are the materials necessary to get base color and highlights. Some of these products include a developer cream, the pre-color serum, the color cream, and a conditioning serum to use afterwards. These products leave hair feeling great after a dye while others can make hair feel like straw.

This product covers gray hair very well, helping people who are experiencing age in their hair return to their desired color.

This formula is designed to be gentle and also non-drip, which means it won’t run too much during application, which is wonderful to avoid wasting product.

Cons

The only real con with this product is that sometimes the color sometimes turns out a bit darker than expected.

The Verdict – Best Base Color and Toner

Finding a base color and toner is a great way to highlight hair without using bleach or other uncomfortable chemicals. Out of the products reviewed here, the best one is definitely the L’Oreal Excellence Triple Protection Color Creme Haircolor because it doesn’t drip, provides extra conditioning and works for people with light and dark hair colors.

What to Do Next

Not everyone wants to put bleach on their heads, so it’s important to know how to do highlights without needing to use bleach. This way, you preserve the health, shine, and luster of your hair while giving it beautiful color and vibrancy. If you would like more tips, tricks, reviews, and guides like this one, be sure to read our guide to achieving your color goals!