Learning how to bleach hair can be a complicated process, even for a hair stylist. The best results require precision, patience, and a lot of practice.
This makes learning how to bleach hair at home a scary prospect for many people.
And can you blame them?
After all, a small mistake can have huge consequences when bleaching hair, and when you DIY, there’s no one else to blame when things go wrong.
But when done correctly, bleaching hair at home can be a great way to save money and time while controlling your hair color. Plus, you won’t need to spend hours at the salon.
You just need to know what to do and how to do it.
Luckily, we can help you with both.
Before You Bleach
The single best thing you can do if you’re looking to bleach into a lighter color is to prepare your hair with conditioner. And we mean lots of it. Ideally, you would deep condition your hair for weeks before your treatment, as bleach is notorious for stripping your hair of moisture and nutrients.
Keep in mind that despite all we put it through, our hair is very sensitive. Heck, even regular shampooing can do more harm than good if you’re not careful.
When you prepare your hair, the idea is to infuse as much moisture into your locks as possible before the bleach removes it. Think of it like hydrating before a workout; the goal is to add more moisture than you’ll sweat out.
And if we stick with this metaphor, bleached hair has been through one of the most intense workouts imaginable.
Here are some methods you can try at home to make sure your hair has a fighting chance against bleach:
- Get ready to overdo it with your conditioner: If you do nothing else to get your hair ready for bleach, make sure to condition. Then, condition and condition and condition again. Ideally, you’ll have around a week’s worth of conditioning headed into your treatment—and you’ll need every bit of it, especially if the process includes stripping your previous color out.
- Think about your shampoo: A few things: First, think about skipping the shampoo for a few days before your treatment. This will allow your natural oils and scalp sebum to distribute evenly and help trap in the moisture you’ve gained from conditioning. If you must shampoo, consider a gentle, sulfate-free soap.
- Try a high-fat hair mask: Conditioning hair masks are a hot trend right now because it’s difficult to get such a high level of hair nutrition by other means. There are thousands of recipes for DIY hair masks, but look for one high in fatty acids and protein. Some good options include coconut oil, eggs, and avocados. These will reinforce your hair and its strands before the bleach arrives. After all, what good is your new hair color if it doesn’t survive the process?
Bleaching Hair: What You’ll Need
If you’ve ever cooked a meal without adequately preparing the ingredients and utensils, you know that’s a recipe for burnt food. You really don’t want the same to be said for your hair. So, before you reach for the bleach, make sure everything you’ll need is laid out and within arm’s reach. That list should include:
- Hair lightener (bleach)
- Developer (Volume 20 or 30—see Step 2)
- Tinting brush
- Hair clips
- Latex or plastic gloves
- Medium-sized mixing bowl
- Balancing shampoo or purple shampoo
- Protein balancing conditioner
- Toner (optional)
We also recommend wearing clothes you don’t mind getting damaged and picking out two older towels: one to wipe the bleach from your hair and another to lay out underneath you to catch any drippage. The last thing you want to do is tread active bleach all throughout the house (you would have a matching carpet, though).
Step 1: Strip Your Hair
A few important things to note here:
- You only need to do this if your hair is not its original hair color.
- If stripping your hair, make sure you only put your hair through one round of bleach on the same day.
- DO NOT RUSH: Uneven coloring from a bad strip job will be a dead giveaway that your hair was bleached in your bathroom instead of a salon.
Existing dyes can mess up your desired hair color, so stripping them out and starting with a clean slate before you bleach will give you the best results. The chemical agents that strip your hair aren’t that picky though and will take a lot of other things with them, like natural oils and protective layers, further emphasizing the need to properly prepare your hair.
Each brand of hair stripper has its own directions, so you should always refer to those specific steps. But make sure to remember your latex gloves and expect this step to take anywhere from 20 minutes to an hour.
Step 2: How to Bleach Your Hair
If you’ve started by pouring some bleach into a bowl, go ahead and (safely) dispose of it. Hair bleach has been developed and improved into a relatively safe product. While it’s always best to refer to the manufacturer’s instructions, the process usually involves mixing a bleach powder with a developer. This is where you’re able to control just how much your hair color changes.
A developer is basically what gets the bleach to work with your hair. It opens your cuticles and determines just how much color is lifted from your hair. Here’s a quick guide of the different levels and what they do:
- Volume 10: This is the lightest of the levels and really only works as maintenance on hair that’s already light.
- Volume 20: This strength will lift 2–3 levels of color from your hair, so it’s a great starting point for those with light brown hair. For those looking for golden blonde hair color, use this volume with your bleach.
- Volume 30: This is the way to go for platinum, but it’s bordering on too harsh to try at home, at least until you’ve gotten the hang of using hair bleach. Many experts even warn against letting it touch your scalp. It’ll lift 3–4 levels of color at a time, though.
- Volume 40: Nope, don’t even think about it. It’s too harsh on your hair and scalp and should only be used by the pros, and certainly not as a DIY project. It’s healthy to understand your limitations. Especially when it comes to hair bleach.
Mix Up Your Bleach and Developer
Most experts and instruction pamphlets will tell you to use two parts of developer with one part bleach. Some have tried a 1:1 ratio and lived to tell about it. Our advice is to start with the instructions. You can always tweak the process in the future at your own risk. Either way, blend until smooth.
Clip Your Hair Into Sections
Give yourself a clear path. Use clips to separate your hair into sections. This will let you know which sections have already been treated with bleach as you go.
Apply the Bleach to Your Hair
Using a brush, apply the bleach to each section individually. Start at the back and move your way forward so that you bleach the higher sections last. Unclip your hair as you go. Some people suggest starting with just the middle portions of your hair strands, leaving the ends and roots for last.
How Long to Leave in the Bleach
This depends on a lot, including your desired effect and how powerful your developer is. As your developer volume increases, the time you want it to set decreases. Again, always refer to the instructions. If you’re looking for an estimate of how long it’ll be before you can wash your hair, expect anywhere from 30–60 minutes.
Rinse, Then Grab the Right Shampoo
Rinse out the bleach with cool water until it runs clear. Then use either purple shampoo or balancing shampoo to thoroughly wash your hair.
If you’re curious, the purple shampoo contains a violet pigment that will mix with your new color to take away the brassiness that may occur. Balancing shampoo regulates the acidity in your hair, an important step after an abrasive treatment like bleaching.
Dry, Then Decide
Ideally, you’d let your hair air dry instead of subjecting it to heat at this point. Once dry, determine if you need more bleach or if your hair is light enough. If you still need to lift a few levels, repeat the bleaching step above.
Also remember, if you’ve stripped your hair already, wait at least a day to do the process again.
When to Tone
Some people prefer to try a toner first as it’s not as harsh as a bleach, but that also makes it a less effective option, especially for lightening dark hair. Depending on the brand and ingredients, a toner will last in your hair for either eight to ten washings or eight to ten weeks. Some people even swear by toning their hair after rinsing out the bleach for a more thorough, even blonde color.
Step 3: After Care
In many ways, the real work starts after the bleach is rinsed out. Your bleached hair has been through a lot and now needs a little TLC. The best bet is to use a balancing shampoo like the one we mentioned earlier. This will allow the hair to begin the process of regaining its cuticles and oil levels as soon as you wash your hair.
Also be sure to use a protein-balancing conditioner. Giving it as much moisture as possible is key after you’ve bleached your hair. Plus, the protein in this conditioner will fortify your hair strands to make it more flexible and strong.
Here are some more tips to make sure your hair survives your DIY bleaching:
- Go for a cut: The ends of your hair are typically most damaged by bleaching, so make sure to take about ⅛ off to lose some dead weight and stop your ends from splitting even more.
- Start a regular hair mask: For all the same reasons we suggest using a hair mask before you bleach, you should incorporate it into your after-care routine. High-fat, high-oil hair masks are a great way to heal your hair while helping it look soft and natural.
- Stick to sulfate-free shampoo: Harsh sulfates in your shampoo can negate all the other goodness you’re adding. To keep from undoing your conditioning, pick a gentle, sulfate-free shampoo to wash your hair.
- Rinse with apple cider vinegar: This natural antibacterial also is amazing for sealing moisture into your hair. Plus it normalizes your hair and your scalp’s acidity levels, making it a great all-natural way to make sure your newly blonde locks rock.
Bleaching your hair at home isn’t a simple, carefree process. But it’s not impossible either, especially if you prepare, take your time, and have a plan for after you bleach. If you do, you can enjoy a whole new look and still have healthy, strong hair.
Best of all, you can do so without spending a ton of time or money at the salon.
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