Lightening & Colour Theory

By Michelle Ching

I am a hair stylist that specializes in vivids and blonding, I’m a pro when it comes to bleach, aka lighteners. I am Wella trained!

First important point to make: use the lightener on virgin hair. Lightener does NOT help you change from one dyed colour to another. For direct deposit dyes like OPAWZ, the pigment will be driven deeper into the cuticle/cortex. Obviously you can try, but don’t be mad when the colour is even harder to wash out! Clarifying shampoo and slowly transitioning through the colour wheel is your best bet.

e.g. You started with green but you want red now! It’s not impossible but it’ll take time. It’s why colour corrections for humans are $400-800 in the salon. Green, faded to a faded light green, go to a dark blue next. Once that fades, try a blue based purple. Once that fades, try a pink based purple. After that, pink. After THAT, red. Depending on how each colour fades, you may be able to skip one step.

There simply is no shortcut to make it instant!


(Photo by Wella)


I’ll start off with an intro to the level system to help you decide which colour to put over top of the pre-lightened hair! Level refers to DEPTH (how dark or light).

If your dog is NATURALLY apricot OR light grey (level 7-ish) or lighter, don’t use the lightener if you can. It’s too strong, and you will cause more damage to the hair than on darker hair. In the salon, we use different strength of the “activator” (peroxide) depending on the natural level. OPAWZ has ONE strength.

Level 1 is “black”, level 10 is blonde. In order to get to the yellow you need for most colours, you first need to go through the red and orange phases to finally get to yellow.

Level 10 is impossible to get to safely on a dog. Level 8 (yellow) will be the lightest you can get to safely, but in most situations, you will only possibly get a level 6-7 (light orange).

(Photos by Tae Frans)


Pastel colours will not turn out on bleached dog hair, because they are too translucent and not pigmented enough. Trying to attempt a pastel on a naturally black dog is unsafe. Opt to use the permanent dye line, since it always has more coverage/pigment.

NEVER use foil. Only use plastic wrap if you need to wrap it. Foil incubates heat and makes the bleach process faster and harder, which can damage hair and cause discomfort to the pet.

Colours & recommended levels

⬤ PINK: the darker the pink the better! Level 6-8 (apricot or lighter), it’ll turn out. if you have a light brown dog or even lighter, you can probably apply it without lightening. You’re aiming for a medium orange to medium yellow depending on the vibrancy that you want.

⬤ RED: anything above a level 5. EASIEST COLOUR TO COVER PRE-LIGHTENED HAIR. Hair lifts warm always, and the red will just be a little duller/deeper for dark orange hair, brighter for yellow hair.

⬤ ORANGE: again, lift to at least an orange! If it’s a muddy dark orange, your bright orange will not cover it well.

⬤ YELLOW: obviously a yellow won’t cover anything orange, so plan to lift to a yellow to apply the yellow over top to make it an even brighter yellow!

⬤ GREEN: a nice bright green (not lime, think grass green) will cover a level 7. You’re aiming for a light orange to dark yellow. Lime green would need a true yellow base to start with.

⬤ BLUE: no light blues will work without turning turquoise or green. Dark, royal blue is best to cover. If your dog is at the orange (level 6) or darker, even the dark blue will be a little muddy. Best would be lifting to a bright yellow or a slightly lighter yellow if you can get there in two sessions (3 sessions is too many. I know some of you will do it anyways, but I guarantee it is compromising the health of the hair). You’re aiming for a medium to light yellow (level 7-8).

⬤ PURPLE: if you lift warm, use a more indigo purple that is blue based. if you apply a warm purple to a light orange-mid yellow colour, it will pull pink. Aim for a level 7-8 depending on the shade you want. a level 6 (orangey) will be covered by a dark, blue based purple.

  The main takeaway is to use COLOUR THEORY.  

Some extra tidbits will be provided below, since lightener can be dangerous if used incorrectly!

  • “Lightener” is a fancy word for bleach. You are applying hair bleach, that is oil/cream based rather than powder based (which is what you see more salons use). It’s definitely toxic if ingested, so make sure to keep a close eye on the pet during the processing period and rinse immediately and contact a vet if ingested.
  • You should value the health of your dog over your results. I get that we all have visions we are trying to achieve, but if you cannot get your dog’s hair light enough with TWO sessions, at least 1-2 weeks apart, you will need to switch gears and try to pivot to a new idea.
  • It is NOT safe to bleach the same area multiple times. The skin will suffer if you accidentally touch it, and the quality of hair (poodle hair will literally straighten, coarse haired dogs will likely just get even coarser)
  • Do not apply it to the skin when doing the lightening process. Although it won’t kill them if you do obviously, you’re increasing the risk of a chemical burn. As someone who has chemically burned themselves in the past, you won’t know it’s burned until it’s too late. It often only hurts AFTER it’s been rinsed and the weeping skin starts to dry and scab.

Please take the above as a generalized info, there are so many breeds with different colours, so I may not have covered everything! Colour can be approached in many ways, and what works for one person might not work for another. Anything I said “do not do this” to, is to prevent unfixable mistakes. Experienced creative groomers that understand the chemical properties of hair bleach, can be a little more bold in their attempts. With experience, comes learning from your mistakes. Beginners should always try to take the path of least resistance, and don’t set too high of an expectation for the skill level! We learn as we do more and more of these services, so it’s okay to start slow/simple, before moving on to bigger projects. Err on the side of caution always, since we’re dealing with pets and not humans! 🐾

OPAWZ Lightening Value Pack | Dark Haired Dogs Creative Grooming Gallery


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