How to Bleach Your Hair Without Damaging It, According to Stylists

A good routine can make for healthy, shiny strands even after bleaching.

Here’s the thing about bleaching your hair: By the very nature of how it works, it’s inevitably going to cause at least some damage. 

“Bleach contains chemicals that break down the protein bonds in hair, which lifts pigment and lightens the hair,” explains Sasha Faye, a hairstylist and colorist at Michele Holmes Studio in California. “If improperly processed, it can damage the hair cuticle resulting in dry, brittle, and sometimes broken hair strands.” 

Ultimately, the goal is to control the damage and minimize it as much as possible. Keep reading for colorist pro tips on how to bleach your hair without causing too much damage, and how to keep it shiny and gorgeous between appointments.  


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Prep Your Hair in Advance

Hair that’s already in great condition is going to handle bleaching better than thirsty, unhealthy strands. Avoid habits that can potentially damage your hair, such as excess heat styling and sun exposure. At the same time, go above and beyond to give your strands some TLC leading up to the big bleach day. “Moisture masks pre-lightening can help prep the hair to handle the bleaching process more graciously," says celebrity colorist Matt Rez.

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Be Cautious of the DIY Job

We know. It’s so tempting to bleach your hair at home to save money and time, but future you will thank yourself for making an appointment with a professional. Pro colorists are literal chemists, with knowledge of peroxide strength, heat requirements, and processing time required for your specific hair type and condition. 

“There are so many variables you won’t know how to do at home, including choosing the right strength of lightener, processing knowledge, and filling the hair post lightening to help reverse the swollen cuticles during bleaching,” says Rez. A DIY bleach job gone wrong can lead to frizzy, parched, straw-like hair. In severe scenarios, it can even cause your hair to break off.

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Don’t Overprocess

If you do decide to go the at-home bleach route, follow the directions closely and monitor the lightening process with diligence. Whether you’re just highlighting or bleaching all over, Faye says that hair damage from bleach is caused by overprocessing or processing incorrectly.

“Developer percentages matter when mixing bleach. Using too high percent of developer will cause the hair color to lift too fast causing damage to the hair cuticle,” says Faye. Rez adds that leaving the bleach on too long—even with a lower volume processor—can also contribute to damage. 

04 of 08

Consider a Milder Bleaching Approach

If your end goal is to lighten up your strands, you have a few options that don’t involve all-over processing. Baby highlights or money pieces are two approaches that only bleach small portions of your hair. Faye adds, “Balayage is a great technique to consider that uses bleach painting on the surface of the hair, not penetrating as deep into the hair cuticle which creates less opportunity for damage.” 

05 of 08

Take Your Time With a Transformation

You’ll need to practice patience if your goal is to go from very dark to light hair. It can be done, but often involves multiple stages of processing over the course of weeks and months, and a professional hand steering the wheel. “Trying to go from dark hair to light blonde in one service is the biggest mistake I see,” says Guy Tang, celebrity stylist and color expert. “A transformation like this takes time to ensure the hair stays healthy. Doing it too fast will compromise the hair’s integrity.” 

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Take Advantage of Hair Bonding Products

Colorists typically use bond-building products during and after the bleaching process to help fortify hair bonds so hair is shiny, healthy, and strong when you walk out of the salon door. Once home, continue care with bond-building products, which further help to restore cuticle health and nourish hair. “At home care after any type of lightening service is critical to keeping the hair healthy," says Tang.

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Cool It With The Heat Styling

Along with using nourishing haircare products, take care not to put any additional stress on your strands via heat styling following a bleach job. Reduce how often you heat style, or minimize the time you spend heat styling by allowing hair to air dry most of the way. When you do heat style, always use a heat protector. 

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Give Hair Time To Rest

Make sure you’re not scheduling appointments too close to one another. Faye recommends waiting six to eight weeks between any sort of chemical processing appointments. She explains, “Giving the cuticle enough time to rebuild helps your natural oils bring shine back to the hair.” 

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