Whether you want to add highlights, go platinum blonde, or try out a trendy pastel hair color, you might be considering bleaching your hair at home. Maybe you’ve wanted to experiment, or perhaps it’s always seemed too complicated to do yourself, but now you’re finally ready to go for it. If you’re up for the challenge and careful about directions, you should be able to end up with the lighter hair of your dreams at a fraction of the cost that a salon would charge.
Before You Bleach Hair at Home
Before you reach for the bleach, there are a few ways you can prepare your hair for the plunge. Alex Brownsell, the founder of Bleach London, advises that the best results come from bleaching “virgin hair” – hair that hasn’t been dyed or lightened before and hair that is naturally a light brown or blonde shade. If you have dark hair, you should plan on using several rounds of bleach to lighten your hair slowly and safely.
Short hair is easier to bleach than long hair, and if you have color-treated hair, very dry hair, or damaged strands, then you may want to consult a professional before moving forward. If you recently got a chemical straightening treatment or a perm, stylists recommend waiting at least two weeks before you bleach your hair, or it can become dangerously over-processed and may even break off.
For about a week leading up to your bleach, try using a hydrating mask on your hair regularly so that you won’t start with dry tresses. It’s also recommended that you avoid washing your hair for at least two days before applying the bleach. Bleach strips the hair of moisture, as well as pigment. It weakens the protein bonds, or keratin, which makes up your hair to change its color. To avoid causing too much damage or scalp irritation, you’ll want to let your hair’s natural oils build-up for a few days in advance.
For the big day, there are a few things you should have ready. You’ll want:
- An old t-shirt
- A towel you don’t mind staining
- Hair clips, to section the hair
- A wide-toothed comb to distribute the bleach
- Bowl and mixing tools
- Disposable gloves
- Shower cap
- A mirror, or a friend
- A bleaching kit
- Gentle shampoo
- Hair conditioning mask
Hair Bleach Kit
Hopefully, this is obvious, but hair bleach is different from Clorox. When you try to lighten your hair at home, you will most likely be using a hair bleach with hydrogen peroxide, which is the most common active ingredient in bleach kits. Most hair kits come with a bleach powder and a developer, which you mix together until the mixture thickens and then apply to your hair.
If you’re planning on using the bleach mixture on your scalp, use a mixture no higher than 20 volume peroxide. For darker hair colors, you may need to use a stronger mixture. The scale goes up to 40, which measures the peroxide developer’s intensity. It’s safest for your hair and scalp to opt for no higher than 30 volume and simply plan on reapplying if you’re not satisfied with your results.
When it comes to the best bleach for hair, favorites vary, but many swear by the classic brand Manic Panic. Made by two sisters in New York City, the brand is vegan and cruelty-free, as well as famously effective.
How to Lighten Hair
To bleach hair, begin by mixing up your bleach and developer according to the instructions on the bleach kit. It’s essential to follow each kit’s directions exactly, as the specifics may differ.
Most experts recommend starting with a strand test. For the strand test, apply the bleach and developer mixture to only one section of the hair, towards the back of your head or behind an ear. Follow the entire process for this test area to ensure you’ll be happy with the results before bleaching your whole head.
If you’re satisfied with the strand test, go ahead and apply the rest of the mixture to your hair, working in sections. You’ll want to move at a steady pace so that the bleach isn’t left sitting in one place on your head for too long. You can use a comb, or clips, to section out your hair and make sure the bleach is evenly distributed. When bleaching hair at home, you may also want to have a friend or roommate around who can help you make sure you haven’t missed any spots on the back of your head.
How Long to Leave Bleach on Hair
Every kit has its own instructions for how long you should leave the bleach on, and it’s important to follow them precisely. Usually, they will recommend bleaching hair for around 15 to 20 minutes before washing the mixture out with gentle shampoo. At maximum, don’t leave the bleach on for more than 45 minutes, the absolute limit.
Wash and Tone
After bleaching, you will want to gently shampoo out the mixture and apply toner (if desired) to reduce brassiness. You may also want to use a conditioning mask on your hair after all it’s been through to maintain the hair shaft’s structural integrity.
If you’re not satisfied with the results, or the color seems too orange, consider waiting a week before re-attempting. Often, the best hair bleach jobs are ones that give the hair time to heal in-between applications, instead of risking breakage just to go lighter right away.
Bleaching hair at home isn’t for the faint of heart, but if you’re willing to take the plunge, you can get amazing results for a low cost. Whether you’re looking to keep up your highlights or become a bottle blonde, learning how to bleach hair at home can change up your look as nothing else can.