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Everything You Should Know Before Bleaching Your Hair At Home
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So You've Decided To Bleach Your Hair
Maybe you’ve made this decision to change your natural color to a lighter one, maybe you’re looking to color your hair a crazy color but it’s not light enough for your hair to hold the color the way you want, or maybe you’ve decided to do this for some other equally valid reason. Whatever the reason is, I don’t want you to fry your hair.
- “But wait! Won’t bleaching damage my hair beyond repair!?? I don’t want to go bald!”
Yes, Bleaching does damage your hair but it’s not beyond repair, with proper prep and with the right set of information, you can bleach your hair at home with as little damage as possible and without worry of frying it and without the worry of going bald. We’ve all heard the horror stories, that’s why I’m here now to arm you with knowledge so that you’re prepared.
The Nitty Gritty About Bleach and How It Takes Color Out
Bleach of course has many chemicals in it to help it remove color from your hair. It’s strong and has a strong smell too. So before we go glopping this stuff onto our heads let’s take a look at how it actually is taking that pigment out of our hair.
- Bleach contains ammonia and peroxides that, when activated and applied to hair, proceed to oxidize with the melanin molecules (the pigment compound that determines your hair color) which then releases and dissolves the pigment making the hair lighter.
- To activate powder bleaches you have to add a liquid base before it can be applied to hair and begin the oxidation process. The Typical activator is a liquid agent known as developer. The Volume number on the developer bottle determines the amount of persulfates used within that developer. The higher number developer, the more persulfates, the more persulfates, the faster the chemical reaction will be, the faster the chemical reaction, the faster your hair lifts. The amount of persulfates is also directly linked to the amount of possible damage it can cause to your hair. Use Higher level developer as minimal as possible or not at all depending on your hair and current health of your hair.
- DON’T LET YOUR BLEACH DRY. Bleach works best in a pasty like state. Make sure you put enough of it on your hair to coat it well enough and to keep it from drying as long as you have it on your hair. If you let bleach dry on your hair (that isn’t meant to dry) then it can cause damage and may not finish lifting as well as dry your hair out. This doesn't mean you have to put a ton of bleach on your hair for it, just a good thorough coat is enough, but don't be sparing, be generous as you apply it to your hair.
Before You Bleach, We Should Get to Know Your Hair a Little Better
When Prepping to bleach your hair, here's a few questions you'll need to answer.
- Have you bleached your hair before?
- Is your hair virgin (never been colored before) or have you used a box dye?
- What color is your natural hair (if you've used a box dye, what is the color of your hair as it grows out, i.e. Root color?)
- Do you use any products at all in your hair on a daily basis (anything that washes out doesn't count)
- How Thin or Thick is your hair?
It's important to know these things because it will help you determine how susceptible your hair is to damaging, and or how much you've already damaged your hair. Knowing these will also help you determine how long you may need to bleach your hair, if at all, before coloring.
1. Have You Bleached Your Hair Before?
- No? You’re good to go to the next question.
- Yes? If you've bleached your hair fairly recently (within the last 6 weeks) I wouldn't recommend you bleach it again anytime soon, give it 6-10-12 weeks before you bleach it again and be sure to check on the integrity. If it is stringy, or breaks off easily, lay off the bleach even longer and use a conditioning treatment to help restore some of your hairs integrity. (You can actually pick up a thing of cholesterol, YES, CHOLESTEROL, at your local beauty supply store and use that as a conditioning treatment to help your hair restore its natural moisture.)
2. Is Your Hair Virgin (Never Been Colored Before) or Have You Used A Box Dye?
- Yes? You’re good to go – but your hair may take the bleach more easily and therefore would need less processing time. Depending on color and thickness you’re processing time maybe between 5 – 30 minutes. Blondes with fine hair would need 5 minutes or so. Hair that is naturally Black or Brown would need 15 – 25 minutes. Natural hair, no matter the color, should be checked on every 5 – 10 minutes while processing.
- No? If you’ve used box dye or any dye beforehand on your hair, then your hair may take longer to lift the color off depending on the color you changed your natural hair to. If you dyed your hair black with a box dye it could take anywhere between 10 – 45 minutes to lift, apply bleach tip to root for best application and for least amount of damage, and be sure to check on the lift every 5-10 minutes. If you dyed your hair from blonde to a blonder blonde, you may not need bleach at all and could even go straight to coloring. Unless you want to dye it white, then you can skip to the section on toning your hair.
3. What Color Is Your Natural Hair (Root Color?)
- Attention: These are just rough estimates, all hair is different and all hair can react differently to bleaching, be aware of how much your hair is lifting at all times and how It is holding up integrity wise.
- Natural hair color impacts how efficiently your hair will lift and hold color. Depending on the natural color you’ll know how often to check your hair as it is being bleached and how long to leave dye on to make sure it holds the color. (Though you should always check the recommended times on the packaging.)
- Blonde: Blonde hair may mean that your hair takes easier to bleach and therefore lifts quicker. Check on this color (if in need of bleaching at all) every 5 – 10 minutes. (Full lift could take 5 – 15 minutes depending on hair thickness)
- Brunette: Brunette hair may hold color longer and therefore would take more time than blondes to lift. Check on this color every 5 – 10 minutes. (Full lift could take 5 – 35 minutes depending on hair thickness)
- Red: Red hair is more delicate and similar to blondes, it depends on the person and thickness of hair on how this color may lift, be sure to check on it periodically (3 – 5 - 10) minutes and be aware of how much it is lifting. (Full lift could take 5 – 25 minutes varying by shade of red and hair thickness)
- Black: Black hair maybe thicker and or hold color longer. This means you may need to bleach your hair for a longer amount of time (10 – 15 minutes) (Full lift may take between 10 – 45 minutes depending on hair thickness)
- Grey: Naturally Grey hair (no matter your age) may mean that the hair is not holding color easily and is a bit weaker an integrity, this hair is more delicate and therefore needs less time to lift. Be sure to check on it ever 3-5 minutes and be aware of how fast it is lifting if in need of lift at all. (Full lift could take between 3 – 15 minutes)
- If you’ve dyed your hair and have no roots showing then your dyed hair will take a longer time to lift, follow the times of your natural hair color and give or take 5 minutes depending on what you’ve dyed your natural hair to. (blondes to blacks will take a while to lift and the best recommendation is to lift according to your bleach packing and then check on every 5 – 10 minutes whereas brunettes who are now blonde should follow the packaging and their natural hair lift timing.)
Hair Colors Chart
4. How Thin or Thick Is Your Hair?
- Thin Hair: Typically, Blondes, Red heads, and some Brunettes have Fine Thin hair, this just means that when you pluck a single hair from your head, it is almost too thin to see, and therefore it takes less time to lift the color out of it. Thin fine hair needs to be watched closely though because it is easier to damage.
- Medium Thick Hair: Typically, Brunettes and some naturally Black haired persons. Takes an average time to lift hair but can be stubborn. Medium thick hair is where you pluck a single hair from your head and it is almost the thickness of sewing thread.
- Thick Hair: Typically, Black hair, some Brunettes and even some Red heads have thick hair (though this is least common hair thickness). Thick hair is where you can pluck a single hair from your head and you can see it very clearly as well as it has a bit of weight to it. Thick hair is slightly thicker than thread. Due to it being thicker and usually a dark color, it takes a bit longer to get this type of hair to lift. Just be sure to check on it every 7-10 minutes while lifting, even though it may have to lift longer.
- Hair thickness doesn’t have a specific color that it is associated with, though there are hair colors that are typically a certain thickness, it’s all determined by genetics and if you’re unsure of the type of hair your hair or how thick your hair is, I’d recommend you visit a local salon and ask a stylist to check this for you, they’d be able to accurately tell you which thickness of hair you have.
5. Do You Use Any Products At All In Your Hair On A Daily Basis?
- Wash out: Products that wash out like Dry Shampoo don’t really affect your hair other than appearance wise and therefore we aren’t worried about these, just wash them out and leave them out a couple days before you bleach your hair.
- Leave in: Products like Leave in Conditioner and Heat protectant spray may affect your hair and the way it bleaches. Using leave in conditioner on a daily base is good for your hair, it helps rebuild or keep up the structural integrity of your hair and therefore helps your hair stay in a healthy condition. If you use products to protect your hair and to keep it healthy then the result when bleaching it will likely be less damage and a more worry free bleaching.
- No Products: If you don’t use any products in your hair other than shampoo and conditioner when you wash it, this is perfectly okay too as it means that your hair is just as healthy as most others, that is so long as you’re using a good shampoo and conditioner for your hair. Though I would recommend adding a leave in conditioner or conditioning treatment to your routine a few weeks before you bleach as it will help you prevent damages.
- Recommended Products: I always recommend a leave in conditioner or even conditioning treatment for just keeping hair healthy or for the weeks leading up to bleaching no matter if you’re getting it done professionally or if you’re doing it yourself. Conditioning treatments provide your follicles with moisture that it needs to stay healthy and when you bleach your hair, you’re pulling the pigment out as well as drying your hair to do so, that’s why it’s good to pack your hair full of conditioning agents before bleaching. If you’re bleaching at home, you can even add a tablespoon of conditioner or a conditioning treatment such as coconut oil or cholesterol to your bleach mixture to give you added protection from damaging as well. I recommend Argon Oil 12 in 1 leave in treatment or even if you’re strapped for cash, a thing of cholesterol applied 1 – 2 times a week for 3 – 4 weeks is a good deep conditioning treatment.
Prep To Do Before You Bleach
The Months Before You Bleach:
- The best thing to do the months before you bleach your hair is to assemble the necessary and maybe even some of the not so necessary items for your bleaching. This is also the step where you choose your color and do most of your research if you're like me and prefer to do research. In the months before your bleaching it's best to start using a leave in conditioner treatment or even just soaking your hair in conditioner for 30 minutes every 2 weeks, this way your hair is prepping and preparing itself before you bleach so that when you do lighten it, it'll have the least amount of damage possible.
- Check the Shopping List before you buy supplies. (ctrl+f / search "Shopping")
A Week Before You Bleach:
- During this time it is best to do your last minute research and prep. Be sure you've consulted the shopping list to make sure you have all the necessary products for what color you're trying to achieve.
- The 3 days before you decide to bleach your hair do a conditioning treatment that night and leave it on for however long the product says or if it is a natural product, such as pure coconut oil, put it in and leave it in all night and rinse it out the following day.
- Check the Shopping List before you buy supplies. (ctrl+f / search "Shopping")
The Day Before You Bleach:
- The day before you have chosen to bleach your hair, be sure to leave your hair dirty. Unwashed and or oily hair gives the natural oils from your scalp the chance to penetrate into each follicle and even down to the tips as an added precaution to prevent damage.
- If you're that afraid of damage or you feel your hair maybe compromised in anyway, you can even do a conditioning treatment (such as coconut oil or cholesterol) the night before as well (don't rinse out the oils) and then bleach your hair over top of it.
- Check the Shopping List before you buy supplies. (ctrl+f / search "Shopping")
The Day Of Your Bleaching:
- Today's the big day! Best thing for you to do today is to make sure your hair has its natural oils in it - just one day unwashed is fine.
- Be sure you have everything you may need for your bleaching, last minute shopping needs to be done before you start the bleaching process.
- Make sure you have a clean place to do this in and you've prepped your area you're doing it in just in case of bleach droppage (I dropped a glob of bleach mixture on my green carpet one time and it turned it orange, so yeah put some old towels down or something?)
- If you did a nightly conditioning treatment last night, leave it in, and put the bleach over it, there's no need to wash it out first as this will help protect from damage.
- If you didn't do a conditioning treatment last night, that's cool too, you can do so now or not at all if you want.
- Check the Shopping List before you buy supplies. (ctrl+f / search "Shopping")
So I've compiled some of the products you may use before, during, and after your bleaching for best results. You can buy these online, Amazon, eBay, or even Sallybeauty.com would work but, they maybe cheaper at your local beauty supply store.
Absolute Needs: These are the Items you will absolutely need to be able to bleach your hair. You don't have to have these exact items (such as a mixing bowl, it doesn't have to be a fancy mixing bowl, it could just be an old bowl you have in the cabinet) But these are things that you will need a version of.
Absolute Must Haves
Developer / Activator
Mixing Bowl & Mixing Utinsel
Moisture Rich Conditoner
Not Necessary but Very Useful to have: These are items that aren't necessary to lighten your hair but are good and or useful to have. I find that it's handier to apply bleach with a bleach brush, but it isn't exactly required, especially since there are people who prefer to apply products to their head with their fingers.
Useful to Have
Crocodile Hair Clips
Rat tail Comb
Nicety: These are not required nor are they even too useful, but they come in handy to have sometimes, not even all the time, that's why they're niceties, because it's nice to have them, but not really of much use.
Recommended: These are products that I recommend you have in preparation for bleaching or for the day of your bleaching.
Leave in Conditioner
Conditioning Treatment/ Cholesterol
Products I Recommend
I only really have a few words for you about Bleach and Developers. Anything else available to you can be substituted or does not need a specific brand such as which gloves to buy or what hair clips to use. These things are pretty self explanatory.
Some people have no idea what bleach to buy and what developer to pair it with and that is also where I've chosen to put in my Two Cents on the subject because it's important to know what bleach you're buying and what uses it has for your situation. With developers, you have all these numbers to choose from and what do they do and why does it matter?! Well, I'm here to help you with that as well.
- There are tons of bleaches available on the market. They even have different colors! "But what bleach? and what color is best for me?" Well. There are only a couple colors Bleaches come in but let's just focus on choosing between a white powder bleach or a blue powder bleach.
- White powder bleaches are for people who aren't trying to do a drastic color change or even for blondes who want to go blonder. These bleaches don't really have a difference in the way they work, it's still going to lighten your hair, but the color maybe important. Blondes who want to go blonder can also use blue powder bleach if they prefer to.
- Blue powder bleaches are for people who are looking to shift their hair color from say black to blonde. The reason I recommend Blue powder bleach is because the blue tint in it provides a slight toning effecting while it's bleaching the color out of your hair. This toning effect takes out some of the brassy orange or bright yellow colors of your hair during the bleaching process. This is useful because if it wasn't already doing this and you ended up with yellow, brassy, or orange hair, you'd have to tone that as well before applying color.
- I recommend Quick Blue Powder Bleach. I've used this product myself in the past and have always been happy with the results. The reason I recommend it is because it is a blue powder bleach and does tone your hair as it bleaches. It is gentle on the skin (as gentle as bleach can be anyway) but very strong and I do recommend it to anybody, beginners and experienced self bleaches, as it has never let me down in the past. This is just my recommendation, of course you're free to choose Whichever bleach you think is best for you.
- There are all different brands and sizes of developer available to suit your needs. Any brand would work just fine, and some even come with oils in it that are good for your hair! Any kind would be fine so long as you get enough developer for your needs.
"But what's this number mean on the front of the bottle!? and which one do I pick?"
- That's what I'm here to explain. The numbers are important! You can pick any size or brand you want, but you need to chose the appropriate number. Developers come in numbers starting at 10 and going up in intervals of 10, so 10 - 20 - 30 - 40 - 50. These numbers indicate how many persulfates are concentrated within the developer. The more persulfates, the higher the number, the higher the number the faster the chemical reaction, the faster the chemical reaction, the faster your hair will lighten. The lower the volume the longer it'll take to lighten your hair but the less damage it'll do. The higher the volume the quicker it'll lighten your hair but it can do more damage.
Just because it will lighten faster does not mean that is the developer you should use! It can cause a lot more damage because it is lightening your hair faster than your hair maybe able to handle!
- 10 - suitable for very fine, thin, or heavily damaged hair (grey, blonde, light red hair)
- 20 - suitable for fine or thin hair or slightly damaged hair (Blonde, Light red hair)
- 30 - suitable for fine or medium thick hair, typical volume used for bleaching (Blonde, Light Brown, Medium Red Hair)
- 40 - suitable for medium thick hair, second most used volume (Dark Brown, Medium Brown, Dark Red/ Auburn, Light Black hair)
- 50 - suitable for Thick/Dark Black Hair, least used volume (Dark Black, Deep Brown hair)
- The above are just suggestions, you can use whichever you feel is best even if your hair type doesn't fall into any of these categories.
I recommend using Volume 30 Developer. I personally just pick up salon care developer from Sally's if you really just wanted to know which one I use, but I always use volume 30. 30 is one of the most commonly used volumes and provides the most average times that it will take for your hair to lighten. It'll do the most average amount of damage and if you've done any research then you've probably seen most people use this volume. If you're weary on choosing a developer, I'd recommend 30 volume or less. Don't worry, so long as you watch your hair as it's bleaching and do a little prep, you'll do the least amount of damage to your hair as possible.
Toning is used to take brassy, yellow, orange, or uneven tones out of your hair. This isn't a necessary step but I highly recommend doing it as it will give you an evenly toned base for whatever color you're about to throw onto your hair.
- Toner is basically another color you put on after bleach but before your final color.
- There are a lot of options out there and some can be damaging to your hair.
- I recommend Wella Color Charm in T18 - provides the most correction with minimal/no damage as it is deposit only color - or you can use Manic Panic Snow White/ Virgin Snow - This is all natural and conditions as it tones.
Bleaching Process and Prep
It's finally time to bleach your hair! If you read the article up to this point, then great! If you skimmed down and skipped over everything, that's fine too. SO in this portion. I'll give you the steps quick and simple as best I can.
- Prep the Area You'll Be Bleaching In. This means, put on clothes you don't mind staining. Put towels down in the bathroom/ your room. Have all your supplies ready to go. Check your list. Have a sink to rinse out in / tub to jump in close by.
- Put on Gloves. Protect your hands.
- Clip Away Hair You Want to Bleach. If you're doing your whole head, this step isn't as important, if you're only doing parts of your hair, section out the parts you want bleached and clip everything else back and away so that it doesn't get bleached.
- Mix your Bleach and Developer. Mix according to package directions in a plastic or ceramic bowl with any plastic or ceramic mixing tool. (avoid metal as it'll interfere with the chemicals in the bleach)
- Apply to Mixture To Your Hair, Tip to Root. We apply tip to root because your roots will process faster, so apply from tip to root. You can apply it however you want, just read the package and apply tip to root for best results.
- Let Mixture Process. If you're doing your whole head, tuck your hair inside a shower cap, if not your whole head, then just clip away the hair that you don't want bleached.
- Check on Your Hair as it Processes. Depending on your hair type, color, thickness, length, and which developer you used, it could take anywhere from 5 minutes to 45 minutes, to even 1 hour to process. Be sure to check on your hair every 5 - 10 minutes to be sure it's lightening correctly and to rinse it out if you feel it is lightening too fast or if you feel it maybe doing too much damage.
- Rinse Your Hair Once You've Lightened Your Hair To The Shade You Want. Pretty self explanatory.
- Apply Toner or Conditioner. If you've chosen to tone your hair, it's best to do it now, if you do not want to tone your hair, go ahead and apply a deep conditioning treatment to your semi damp hair.
- You're Done! At this point, once your hair has dried a bit, you're ready to apply color.
Heat Application and Clarification
In your research, or if you've done no research, you may find that heat causes the the bleach to work faster, this is why we apply bleach tip to root as the roots of your hair are closest to your scalp and therefore lighten faster.
Although heat may cause bleach to lighten faster, I would not recommend it when bleaching at home. The reason being is that you may not be able to equally distribute heat throughout your hair and this will cause your hair to process differently or may even damage it much easier.
Heat does cause bleach to lighten hair faster but the risk for damage is much higher when it isn't applied correctly or evenly throughout your hair. So although it does help the bleach, I don't recommend using it. I recommend you let your hair process for however long it needs naturally.
Hair and After Care
So now that your hair is done processing and you've rinsed it all out with cool water or however your package directions say to wash it out, it's time for the aftercare.
- Your hair after bleaching maybe a bit dryer as it did just undergo a lot of processing. While your hair is slightly damp it is best to put in a conditioner or toner. The reason for this is that after you've bleached your hair it will be craving oils and hydration so we need to give it what it's craving of course.
- Some toners double as conditioning treatments such as Manic Panics Snow White Toner. Since Manic Panic is vegan and all natural you can apply it and leave it on for hours before rinsing it out, so I do recommend their toner as an aftercare product because it tones and conditions.
- If you don't want to use that toner, you can use Wella color charm or any other toner that you think is best. And your hair is still craving that conditioner, so be sure to put cholesterol or a moisturizing conditioner and leave it on for a while (after toner, because some toners are color and color is best put on before conditioner as conditioner sets the color.)
Comments, Questions, Concerns, Emotional Outbursts
If you have questions, concerns, don't understand something or just want to leave a comment you are very welcome to. I want to help you in any way possible if you're worried or concerned about anything. Leave me a comment down below and I will get to it as soon as possible.
Warning & Disclaimer
- I am NOT a licensed beautician.
- This is all information I've gathered over the years.
- I AM a self bleacher and do use these steps myself and have done very little damage to my own hair.
- I have asked licensed beauticians thousands of questions and have gathered as much information as possible.
- This is a compilation of recommendations and is information from personal experience, or gathered over the years.
- You can ask your stylist as many questions as you please before bleaching yourself if you're worried, they may get irritated at you, but they will answer questions.
- Bleaching is damaging to your hair, you can reduce the amount is may damage but your hair will still need time to heal after you do bleach it.