Activators and liquid lighteners

Q: Dr. Said, What are liquid lighteners and what are activators. Are they bleaches? Antonio, Santa Rosa, CA.

A:  Liquid lighteners are typically liquid color bases without dyes but with a high load of ammonia or other alkalizing agents. When mixed with liquid or crème peroxide developers, they can generate up to four levels of lift. To enhance their action, a powder activator is usually mixed in. A powder activator is a blend of several ingredients, which can provide an extra source of lifting power in the form of activated oxygen. When you mix a liquid lightener and a peroxide developer alone, activated oxygen is generated as well. But the amount of this active oxygen is limited: A 40-volume developer generates twice as much oxygen as a 20-volume developer and that is why it lifts more (it does not lift twice as much). A 60-volume developer will lift even more than a 40-volume developer because it can deliver more oxygen. But developers higher than 40 volumes are scalp burners and irritators and are rarely used. To provide extra sources of oxygen with less irritation, ingredients identical to what is used in typical bleaches are packaged as “activators”. These powder ingredients are ammonium and/or potassium persulfate that act as additional reservoirs of active oxygen to boost the combined action of the liquid lightener and the developer. That’s why they are also referred to as boosters. The reason they are packaged alone in powder form is that they are (like bleaches) unstable when exposed to moisture, and in an alkaline liquid they start to break down quickly releasing their oxygen in the process. Activators can add one additional level of lift to liquid lighteners. All lighteners whether in liquid or powder form are considered bleaches.