Why? Because bleaching hair is risky business.
From blistering scalps to hair damage that feels like chewing gum, there are a lot of things that can go wrong when reaching for the bleach.
But do it right and the results can be amazing.
To find out how to bleach hair safely, we asked a colourist everything you need to know about bleach… and yes, how to bleach hair at home. Even though she really, really wishes you wouldn’t.
Why bleach your hair?
“If you’ve got artificial colour in your hair from a box dye at home, if you’re dark and want to go lighter, or if you want to go an on-trend shade, your hair will need to be bleached first before you can pop the lighter tone over the top,” Alannah told Mamamia.
“Bleaching is usually the only way to achieve a pastel tone – grey, silver, rose gold, amber – because your hair has to be as white as it can possibly be before you add another tone.”
Opal hair is one of the biggest hair trends of 2018, how pretty is it? Post continues after video.
How does bleach work?
In the same way household bleach can be used to remove stains (or leaves you with a big white patch if you accidentally spill some on your clothes), hair bleach works to remove your hair’s natural pigment (colour), as well as any artificial buildup of colour from previous dying.
“Bleach breaks down the keratin bonds found in the hair and removes the natural melanin or artificial pigment so you can ‘lift’ your hair to a lighter level,” Alannah said.
“A powder lightener is mixed with a developer or ‘activator’, and the level or strength of the developer will determine the amount of lift (lifting colour out of the hair) you’ll get.”
As Matrix SoColor education manager Keira Doyle also told Refinery29, “these agents [in the developer] penetrate the hair’s cortex and dissolve the natural pigments and various stages of underlying pigment, depending on your desired results and natural level of pigment.”
How to bleach hair.
Choosing how to bleach your hair comes down to two options – in-salon or DIY at home.
Regardless of whether you do it at home or under the experienced eye of a colourist in-salon, there a couple of factors that will affect the result you can achieve.
“If people are bleaching at home or in-salon, there’s no one-size-fits-all scenario in terms of bleaching or colouring, it’s done on a case by case basis,” Alannah said.
“Texture of the hair, build up of artificial colour, your natural hair colour and also the condition of the hair come into play and will affect the result you can achieve.”
Alannah also explained that, especially when bleaching your hair at home, one box of colour or bleach a person buys can turn out completely different on another person.
“Be mindful that your hair might not come out like the white blonde shade on the front of the packet, the result will depend on what you’re mixing it with, your hair history and if you’re applying it properly.”
“Social media plays such a huge role here because, if a hairdresser puts up a transformation photo, you’ll get five women wanting the same thing, but it might not work like that for their hair type.”
Bleaching hair in-salon.
Booking in with a colourist at your hair salon is the safest way to bleach your hair and guarantee results.
Probably the biggest advantage to having your hair professionally bleached is your stylist will be able to tell you, realistically, what kind of outcome you can expect to achieve.
“Just because someone put a photo of their hair transformation on Instagram saying it took one salon visit, that doesn’t mean the same will be an option for you,” Alannah said.
“Your hairdresser will be able to assess your hair on an individual level and come up with a plan to move forward.”
How to bleach hair at home.
This is the bit most colourists would rather curl up into the fetal position in the middle of a busy freeway than talk about, because bleaching hair at home can go really wrong.
Alannah agreed, saying “You need to know what you’re doing before you go ahead and bleach your hair.”
There are a lot of different brands of bleaches and powder lighteners – anything that’s done in salon is of a better quality – but you can find bleaching powders and developers at most chemists.
Generally speaking, here’s how to bleach hair at home:
- Prep your hair in the weeks leading up to bleaching by using a deep conditioning or repair mask to get your hair in the best shape possible.
- Purchase your bleaching powder (Hi Lift bleaching powders are popular) and developer (peroxide).
- Developers come in different strengths (volumes) depending on how much lift you want to achieve.
- According to Refinery29, 10 vol will lift one to two levels, 20 vol two to three levels and 30 vol three to four levels.
- It’s not recommended to use 40 vol at home as the risk of damage is quite high.
- Section your hair like your would if you were straightening it to ensure you can cover all your hair with the bleaching products.
- Follow the instructions and mix the powder and developer in a non-metallic bowl until the products reach a yoghurt-like consistency (yum).
- Wearing gloves and using a tinting brush, apply the bleach as quickly as possible to your hair, working from front to back (you might need a friend to help with this part).
- Bellatory also suggests leaving your roots until last as the colour often develops faster the closer it is to your scalp.
- Leave on for between 30 – 45 mins (again, read the instructions) before rinsing, then lightly shampooing.
- Apply a toner to the hair and let sit for around 20 mins (John Frieda Colour Refreshing Toner Blondes, $9.99, and Schwarzkopf Nordic Blonde Toner, $8.49 are good options) before rinsing to avoid a brassy, yellow finish.
The above is only a guide and Alannah warned you must always ALWAYS read the safety instructions on the products. Not doing so can result in a burnt, blistered scalp and stringy hair like chewing gum, she said.
If you experience any of the above, you’ll need to go to a hairdresser to fix the damage, which will cost more than if you went and had the bleach done professionally in the first place.
“As a colourist, I’m never going to be able to stop people from experimenting at home, and not everybody has a budget to spend on their hair, but we always see people coming into the salon wanting us to correct the bleach they’ve done at home,” she said.
“If not done properly, you can lose a lot of length… sometimes the hair is beyond repair and all we can do is cut the dead hair away.”
Haircare for coloured/bleached hair.
Once you’ve bleached and toned your hair, you’ll need to care for it if you want to maintain the results.
“Once you are that light, as with the ashy tones, it’s an artificial tone, meaning there’s no pigment left in the hair. If you’re using a cheap shampoo and conditioner, you’re essentially just washing the tone out with each wash, whereas products designed for coloured hair will re-tone the hair each time,” Alannah said.
“A good quality shampoo and conditioner, a repairing mask and regular cuts are what you should be investing your money in if you’re adamant about bleaching your hair at home.”
For blondes, this can mean a toning or ‘purple’ shampoo, but Alannah also said choosing salon quality repairing shampoos and conditioners will also help keep your hair healthy, which will in turn enhance the lifetime of your colour.
Below are some of our favourite at-home salon quality products:
Fanola No Yellow Shampoo & Mask, $76.99
Olaplex Hair Perfector Home Treatment, $32.95
Olaplex Stand Alone Professional Treatment 3-Piece Kit, $59.99
Kérastase Resistance Masque Force Architecte, $49.99
Matrix Biolage ColorLast Shampoo & Conditioner, $32.99
Whether you're going to bleach your hair in-salon or brave it alone at home, the main thing to remember is everyone's hair will react to bleach differently, Alannah said.
"The main point to stress is, bleaching isn't a one size fist all. Go and chat with your hairdresser if you have any doubts, your hair is something you wear everyday."
Have you ever tried bleaching your hair at home? Tell us in the comments.