How to Bleach Your Hair at Home
Experts share the secrets to successfully going lighter at home.
There are times in your life when you need a change—like trying a new lipstick shade—and times when you really need a change. Bleaching your hair falls into the latter, since it doesn’t get any more dramatic than washing all of the pigment out of your hair. But with such a big switch comes some serious hazards—after all, bleaching your hair can weaken and damage it, even in the hands of an expert colorist.
There’s an even bolder move: Bleaching your hair blonde at home. This isn’t for the faint of heart (nor an at-home hair color novice). Even though DIYing the color can save you both time and money, any at-home colorists should proceed at their own risk.
Here’s everything you should know before you hit the box of hair color—whether you even should, what to watch out for, and how to get that bleached blonde hair of your dreams.
If you’re a natural blonde, you’re in luck. “If your hair is naturally blonde or dark blonde and it's in a healthy state, lightening it at home is probably okay,” says Nikki Lee, Garnier celebrity colorist and co-owner of LA’s Nine Zero One salon. Women with darker hair need more processing to lift their color—which means more damage—so you should leave that to an expert. Your hair needs to be in excellent condition to stand up to the bleach, too, so if you consider yours dry or damaged, don’t bleach it—at all. That goes for at home and in the salon.
Even if you have healthy hair, there’s always room for improvement—and, when it comes to bleach, hair can always use a little help. So strengthen your hair before you even open up the treatment box. “Do a deep conditioning mask the night prior,” says Lee. “I would also oil the hair before applying the lightener, which will help keep the hair as healthy as possible.” Try Briogeo Don’t Despair, Repair! Deep Conditioning Mask ($36), which pairs rose hip and almond oils with nourishing B vitamins.
Sorry if we’re repeating a lesson you learned back in grade school, but it bears repeating (after all, this is your hair): Read the directions on the box. One like Garnier Nutrisse Ultra Color in Lightest Platinum ($8) comes with clear instructions that make it especially easy. Then, prepare yourself for the long haul. Here’s a quick hair-science lesson: Hair has 10 different levels of decolorization, according to Clairol Color Director James Corbett. One is the darkest, starting at black, with 10 being a very light pale yellow. So, depending on your hair color, you’ll experience stages of red, orange, and brassy gold before you get to light yellow.
There are a few extra steps you can take to make the bleaching process more effective. First, make sure your hair is saturated with bleach, and then cover it up. “Bleach works best when it’s kept moist and warm, so cover it with plastic wrap or a plastic cap to retain the moisture,” says Corbett. Also, take your time. According to Corbett, it can take anywhere between 20 to 30 minutes to get sufficient lift. Then, once you’ve washed your hair, towel-dry it and layer on a toner or gloss like Clairol’s Natural Instincts. “Bleach just lightens or decolorizes the hair, so it has no toning abilities,” explains Corbett.
Your hair has just sustained a good amount of damage, so it’s best to handle it with care. “A deep-conditioning mask will be your new best friend,” says Lee. “Use this every time you wash, but also try to eliminate how many times you wash per week.” That’s because washing your hair also removes natural oils from your scalp, which help to hydrate and nourish your hair. Corbett also recommends cutting down on heat-styling—and to basically treat your strands as you would a cashmere sweater (read: no tearing an elastic out of your ponytail).