If you've never put strong chemicals on your hair by yourself before, it can feel pretty scary. Bleach definitely doesn't have the best smell! But I, a very normal person with no professional cosmetology training, have learned how to lighten my own hair. And you can too.
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Most of what I know about hair comes from my wonderful hair stylist, Joe, who talks me through every single thing he does when I'm at an appointment. I've always been fascinated by how he takes me from sad, drowning rat to runway ready in just a few hours. And he originally studied chemistry and biology in college, so he is able to break it down even more specifically for me.
Now that knowledge has come in handy because I had to try bleaching my own hair while my salon is closed. And it turned out great—not just "good enough!" More importantly, my hair is still as healthy as ever, and my scalp did not suffer any damage in the process. I think Joe would be proud.
Ready to learn how to do it too?
Note: This guide is for moderately healthy hair. Only you can assess the condition of your hair and decide if it's a good idea to apply bleach. I knew I would be putting it mostly on new growth that was healthy and hadn't been through a lot of hair treatments. If you have gone back and forth with a lot of colors in the last few years and are bleaching the same hair that has had all of those processes done to it, you will be at a higher risk for breakage.
Pick a Product
If you have never bleached your hair before, go the simplest route possible. Don't buy the ingredients individually and try to figure out how much developer to mix with the bleach on your own. That's where things can get dangerous. Try a simple kit that has everything you need with easy-to-follow steps.
I used the L'Oreal Paris Colorista Bleach: All Over, and I found it at the CVS across the street from me. I chose it because I have naturally dark brown hair, and Joe had originally done an all over bleach on my hair and added a shadow root afterward. So, I still had a lot of blonde on the length of my hair and just needed an all over color to completely cover my roots that had grown out quite a bit.
If your goal is to bleach all of your hair or lighten all of your roots to match the rest of your blonde, this is a great product for you. If you have dark hair and are trying to do highlights all throughout the length, you'll want to find something specifically for that. You could try the L'Oreal Paris Colorista Bleach for highlights or ombre. I saw them next to my box on the shelf, so you should find them at your drug store easily too or order online.
Gather All Supplies
My L'Oreal hair kit came with one pair of gloves, but I found that it was useful to have a few more pairs because I wanted to take them off while my hair was processing and put a new pair on when rinsing it out. I also had a mini disaster with the bottle overflowing, so I had to clean it up quickly and change my gloves before applying it to my hair. I was very thankful that I had thought ahead! So here is everything you will want to have on-hand
- Extra gloves
- Hair comb
- Hair clips for dividing sections
- Timer (I bought a little plastic timer so I wouldn't have to touch my phone with my gloves)
- Salon cape or big towel to secure over over your shoulders to catch any drips
- Disposable plastic shower cap (I'll explain this one later)
- Mixing bowl (optional, to avoid the bottle overflowing situation)
- Applicator brush
Do the Dang Thing
You'll want to do this when your hair is dry and relatively clean, but not freshly washed right before. If you washed your hair in the morning or the day before and are doing it in the evening, you'll be just fine.
My L'Oreal kit had me first add a powder to a bottle and shake it, and then add a cream to the bottle and shake it again. This didn't go very well for me because after the first shake, my bottle started overflowing. Luckily, I had a mixing bowl off to the side, so I dumped everything in there and stirred it up really well until it was creamy with no clumps. I did end up wasting a little bit of product and had to clean up what spilled, but I have short hair, so I had enough.
Note: If you have longer hair and are bleaching all over your hair, you will probably want two boxes. Have the second one readily available so you can quickly mix it up if you run out.
For just lightening your roots:
You can either start from the bottom or the top. It's up to you and what you think is easiest. I started from the bottom so that I could let down small sections of hair at a time and paint the bleach on with my applicator brush all around my head in between layers. Make sure you use a hand mirror to see the back of your head and make sure you aren't missing an sections and that the bleach is going all the way up to your scalp.
If you'd rather start from the top, you'll start with all of your hair down and parted the way you usually part your hair. Pick a side to do first and apply bleach to just the roots on the top of your head. After you apply the bleach, flip that top section of hair to the other side of your head and keep working your way down on the same side. Then flip it all back over and repeat that process on the other side.
For lightening all of your hair:
Start with the length of your hair and apply the product all over, making sure that every individual strand is covered. Work your way up and keep applying until you get to your where the hair touches your scalp. Then you can follow the process for lightening your roots.
Wait for It
You'll want to put a disposable shower cap over all of your hair and your ears to lock the moisture in. Joe taught me that a common mistake when people try to lighten their own hair is letting the product dry out. As soon as it dries, it stops developing, and that's how brunettes can end up with a brassy, orange color. The shower cap will prevent it from drying so it will continue to process the entire time that you want it to.
Set your timer for 30 minutes (or whatever your kit says to do). If you feel your scalp starting to burn, please wash the bleach out early. Your scalp health is your top priority because even if your hair gets to your desired shade, if your scalp is blistering, it will not look pretty, and it won't feel pretty either. You can always try the process again in a week or so if you don't get to the shade you wanted the first time.
Wash it Out
I washed my hair out right at 30 minutes, but for me, I think I should have left it a little longer since my roots did not end up as light as the rest of my hair. My scalp wasn't even tingling, and knowing my own hair health, it could have gone longer. I'm going to buy another box and do it again in a little bit to get to my desired shade. And I'll probably go ahead and mix everything in the bowl next time instead of the bottle since that turned out to be easier for me.
To rinse it all out, I just hopped in the shower and did a weird backbend to avoid having the bleach get in contact with my skin. You could also stick your head in your sink and rinse it out that way. Without someone helping you, it's a little difficult either way. But just keep rinsing until you don't see any more white product running down with the water.
Your kit should include a conditioning treatment, but it it doesn't, you can use one of your own. Any kind of hair mask works. Let that sit for at least five minutes before rinsing it out. If you have any leftover, continue to use it every time you wash your hair to help build back the strength of your precious strands.
If your plan was to bleach your hair in order to do an all over color afterward, I'd recommend spacing it out and not doing both processes back to back. This is for both your scalp and your hair health.
If your hair looks dry or damaged after the process, it may be a good idea to give the ends a little trim. You can follow this guide on How to Cut Your Own Hair + Not Mess Up .
You can see how my hair turned out and stay updated with the continuing process on Instagram @hayhyer. Be sure to tag me in your pictures if you try this! And please remember that you are beautiful no matter what, and your value comes from so much more than your hair.