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Read This Before You Bleach Your Hair At Home

by @sabletoothtigre
May 12, 2020


It's been approximately two months now that hair salons have been shut down. Split ends and grown-out roots are expanding like kudzu and what are we to do?

You could, of course, color your hair any creative color you've been meaning to try by dumping a direct dye on your pre-lightened or naturally blondish hair. But if you're going for platinum, highlights or in general any color-stripping, it's going to require bleach.

For the inexperienced, DIY bleaching is a fool's errand. I say this as a person who's gone from pitch black hair to platinum blonde more than once at the hands of experienced professionals — and even they experienced a few conundrums that required some chemical detours that lead to breakage and sustained damage. I have also bleached other people's hair (willing victims) to mixed results and overall, here's what I can tell you from both experiences.

This took 9 HOURS.

This took 9 HOURS.

1. Assess Your Current Hair Condition.

Is your hair virginal and untouched by heat styling? Then it makes the best candidate for at-home bleaching. HOWEVER, this mostly pertains to medium-brown hair and lighter, that's fine-to-medium in texture. Thick or coarse hair is tough for bleach to get through so it takes longer or sometimes multiple rounds of bleach that ultimately will damage it. Well, technically bleach does its job of pigment stripping via damage, but we're trying to mitigate any excess damage that leads to breakage.

2. Get the right chemicals (and gloves)

Bleaching your hair requires bleach (duh) in usually a powder form (you can find at any beauty supply store) and a developer. The developer is the liquid portion and it comes in different volumes that loosely translate to how intense it makes the bleach. 10-20 volume is good for fine blonde-to-brown hair, and you'll need 30-40 volume for thicker or darker hair.

And then you need a toner, which is the next step once you're thoroughly bleached to a pale butter yellow color or lighter (otherwise the toner won't really work if you're trying to veer on the cool, ashy side of platinum blonde).

If you're bleaching to remove pigment and then put on a different vibrant color, you may not need toner, but you will have to bleach to as light as possible, unless you want whatever yellow, brassy color to affect how the color you put on top of it affects it (yellow + blue dye will give you a greenish hue, for example).

3. Prepare for pain.

If you subscribe to the adage that beauty is pain, then bleaching should be the Miss Universe pageant because it is NOT for the wimpy. If you're doing your whole head and your hair is longer than a pixie or buzz cut, you'll have to bleach the lengths first, starting about a hair inch down from the roots. And THEN you must bleach the roots on their own. This is because that root hair that's closest to your scalp processes quicker than the rest of your hair from the heat from your scalp, so you wouldn't leave the bleach on for as long as it takes the process the lengths of your hair.

However, for however long it takes to thoroughly get those roots as pale as possible, it will burn your scalp. Some people get away with just a tingle (how??) and in my experience, it's differed by chemical brands, how much it stings but it almost always does.

The first time I went fully platinum, my hair was long past my shoulders, and it look 9 whole hours to do my whole head fully. The 20-30 or so minutes that my roots were processing were some of the most trying times of my life. It went from a cool tingle, to a zesty sensation, to spicy, and then full on sizzling like a Benihana grill. I was weeping in the salon, just steeling myself. And you bet I had some gnarly chemical burns on my scalp after that. Was it worth it? Yes. But Goddamn if that wasn't a gauntlet.

If I'd done this at home, I would have washed it out as soon as it started stinging to barely-lifted color, but my expert colorist would just nonchalantly chirp "just hang in there for a couple more minutes!" And so I did. And it worked.

And this is a portrait of glory
This is a portrait of pain

4. Space it out if you must

You don't have to do the full Monty in one go. You can actually space it out and gradually bleach your hair until you get the desired lightness. However, the more rounds of bleach you do, the more damage you cause (as opposed to doing one or two rounds with lesser contact with harsh chemicals). This is what I'd recomment for daring newbies.

I've had moments when getting my roots touched-up that they stubbornly wouldn't lift to the degree of lightness I want so I'd go back to the salon the next day for round two, which did the trick (and spared my scalp).

5. Brace for breakage.

This is something rarely mentioned about bleaching your hair. It changes your hair forever. It will never be the same as it was. It's seen some stuff, man.

I actually really liked what bleaching did to my hair texture — it made it really malleable and easy to style. I also only needed to wash it like once a week because it was so porous that it never got greasy or oily. It was like having automatic volume all the time. But all that stylish damage meant my hair was way more fragile and prone to breaking. After a couple months, I was starting to get baby breakage bangs. Looked cute, but still...unexpected. You kind of have to just roll with the breakages.

Ahh breakage bangs

Ahh breakage bangs

In conclusion

I mean, do it if you really want to (and if you've done it before or just don't really care what happens). Bleaching hair is fun, but it is treacherous and absolutely something I would leave to a pro. But since that's not an option, if you're feeling adventurous and you really don't mind the creative direction these chemicals take your hair. It helps to have someone assist you though, so if you've got roommates or family members to help with the back and parts of your hair not easily reached, you're gonna need them.

And if all else fails, buzz cuts are also trending now, so this could very well turn out to be a very choose your own adventure quarantine (or perhaps the adventure chooses you).

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