Changing up your hair color is a fun way to express your personality and stand out. Your haircut, style, and color are often one of the first things a person notices when they meet you, and your choices can make a lasting impression.
It is especially fun to partake in a drastic change like going to a much lighter color. Like bleaching for instance.
Bleaching is and forever will be the gold standard for lightening hair.
Whether you want to look extra edgy with a silver or pastel-colored mane or simply want to trade in your brunette for blonde for the summer, bleaching your locks is the fastest, most effective way to get it done.
Unlike dyeing your hair a darker color, which mainly just deposits color onto your hair; making your hair a lighter color requires you to dissolve the natural color pigment that is already in your hair.
But while you end up with gorgeous, lighter, more reflective tones in your hair, you’ll also notice a few peculiar things.
Your hair will start to feel dry and rough to the touch, maybe even a little frizzy.
This is due to chemical damage to our strands post-bleaching.
Yes, bleach is both a blessing and a curse.
Let me cut to the chase – there’s no way to bleach your hair without incurring some damage.
Do you know how to bleach hair at home without damage?
There are still things you can do to make sure you don’t cause that much damage to your precious tresses.
Bleaching can be an intimidating process, but using this helpful guide should give you all the information you need.
Table of Contents
How Bleaching Works
Most people don’t really understand how bleach works.
Here’s the deal: Bleaching is used to remove the color pigment from your hair and lighten it.
This is one of the ways you can change your hair to a lighter color.
The first step of the process is an alkaline agent which opens up your hair cuticles.
Next, an oxidizing agent strips your hair follicle of the natural melanin which is your natural hair pigment.
Please note that hair that has already been dyed may react differently to the bleach than hair that hasn’t been processed or dyed.
Recommended Post: Can You Bleach Over Permanent Hair Dye?
How Does Bleach Damage Hair?
The unfortunate truth is that quite a number of people just slather their hair with bleach when they want to lighten their color.
They then get surprised when their once healthy and sleek locks start to feel fried and brittle.
So, before I even touch on how to bleach your hair without causing damage, let’s talk about how it damages your hair in the first place.
As mentioned above, bleach is a chemical that strips your natural pigment from your strands.
When applied to your hair, chemicals found in the bleach such as ammonia and peroxide force your cuticles open.
The bleach then penetrates your hair cortex to dissolve the melanin (aka the substance that gives you your natural hair color) and wash it away.
So, the longer you leave bleach in your hair, the lighter your ending shade.
It’s a very effective way of lightening your hair a couple of shades, sure.
But bleach leaves your hair cuticle with lots of tiny gaps and holes, making it difficult to retain moisture in your locks.
It also zaps away the fatty acids and proteins that keep your hair strong and silky smooth.
The result? Dry, rough-textured hair that has little to no elasticity, softness, or bounce.
And because it’s so weak now, your hair will be very prone to breakage and split ends.
Related Post: Does Bleaching Your Hair Damage It Forever?
Prep Your Hair Well Before Bleaching It
Realistically, your hair will incur at least a little bit of damage whenever you bleach it.
But you can never be too careful and thorough when it comes to caring for your hair throughout the process.
And that starts with proper prep.
How damaged your hair will end up after bleaching highly depends on the decisions you make before you sit down and bleach it.
There are two key things here: preparing your hair in the days leading up to bleach day and choosing the right products to lighten your tresses with.
Let’s talk about the first one – how to care for your hair before you bleach it.
One of the most important things to do to your hair the week of your bleaching session is to give it as much moisture as possible.
Bleach strips healthy moisture from your hair, leaving it parched and thirsty.
To compensate for that, use a deep conditioner every time you wash your locks the entire week before bleaching.
This will feed your hair the nourishment it needs to stay hydrated and elastic even when you bleach it.
Plus, the extra moisture will strengthen and fortify your strands, beefing them up to be more resilient against severe damage from the bleach.
Remember to wash the conditioner out with cool water so as to lock in the moisture in your cuticles.
What Bleaching Products Should You Use?
Choosing the right bleach and developer is yet another pertinent task for prepping your hair for bleach.
If you choose one that’s too potent and unforgiving, you may end up with patchy, ultra-dehydrated strands.
First, let’s talk about bleach.
It’s hard to shop for the wrong bleach, since the formulas are generally very similar across brands.
But if you can, opt for a bleaching powder infused with ingredients that can help you preserve your hair’s health.
Picking the right developer is the tricky part.
Developer is the runny, creamy chemical that you mix in with your bleaching powder to activate it.
There are many kinds of developer – ranging from 10 volume to 40 volume.
If you’re not a professional hair stylist and want as little damage as possible to your hair when you bleach, I recommend you use only either 10 or 20 volume developer.
These are the easiest to work with but are also the slowest to process on your hair, keeping damage to a minimum.
What You Will Need
- Unwashed, dry hair
- Plastic or rubber gloves
- Old clothing you won’t mind ruining
- Dye mixing bowls
- Powder or cream hair bleach
- Clips to section your hair
- Dye brushes
- Deep conditioner/hair mask
- Toner (blue for orange hair, purple for yellow)
- Old towels
- Hair foils
- Shower cap
How To Bleach Hair At Home Without Damage
If you are bleaching your hair at home for the first time, please be careful and follow all the instructions.
Once you adhere to all the instructions, you’ll be fine.
Do Not Wash Your Hair
Leave your hair dirty right before bleaching it.
Make sure your last wash day was a day or two before bleaching day.
That way, your natural sebum will have built up to coat your strands.
This will serve as a barrier and extra protection against the impending bleach damage.
Clean hair will not take to color and process as well during bleaching as unwashed hair.
Also, when you wash your hair, you irritate your scalp and can cause tiny scratches.
When color or hair bleach makes contact, it will burn, making the whole process way more painful than it has to be!
Suggested Read: How To Treat Chemical Burns On The Scalp
Put down that shampoo!
Start With Dry Hair
Your hair should be unwashed and dry.
Applying the product to wet hair weakens the product and you might not have the desired end result.
Be sure to comb out any tangles of knots.
Trust me, this will make it much easier to work with.
Section Your Hair
You want to start with four equal sections.
Part your hair directly in the middle and make two parts; one on each side.
Then take each side and make a part from the highest point on your head downward so you have two equal sections for each side.
When applying the bleach you will let down one of your sections.
From there, you will take much smaller sections (about ¼” wide) to brush the bleach on.
Mix Your Bleach And Developer
Those of you who are using box bleach will have everything you need.
Just be sure to follow the directions on the box as closely as possible.
In the other case, you will need to purchase your powder or cream bleach.
I would recommend a purple or blue-tinted bleach because that cancels out the brassiness in your hair that is visible after bleaching.
However, if you are unable to find those, white bleach and good toner will do.
Ultimately you should follow the instructions on your bleach.
Generally, you mix 1 part bleach to 1.5-2 parts developer depending on the brands and desired thickness of the products.
You do not want it to be so runny that it slides off your hair.
You will want to find the right type of developer for both your hair and your desired results.
Here are some general rules to choose the correct developer volume.
If you have:
Blonde hair and want to lighten it 1-2 levels, then you want to use a 20 volume developer.
Either light brown or medium brown hair, then you should use a 30 volume developer.
Dark brown to black hair that hasn’t been overly processed and is strong and healthy, then you want a 40 volume developer.
You should note that a 40 volume gives the most lift, and can cause the most damage to hair, so be sure to follow the directions and take precautions and follow through with aftercare to minimize breakage.
Do not go any higher than a 40 volume developer.
This will be too harsh and can cause a lot of burning on your scalp and it will fry your hair.
Remember, every developer brand is a little different so follow the instructions to get the most consistent results.
Bleaching your hair takes a lot of lightener.
Be sure you are using enough, or you could get a lot of blotches and spots. Be generous.
Applying The Bleach To Your Hair
Okay! So you have all your supplies and your box bleach/bleach and developer are mixed up and ready to go!
Now comes the big moment!
How you apply the bleach is very important.
This can be the difference between orange brassy spots and having a nice consistent overall bleach.
Personally, I like to use a color brush and foil.
However, you can apply the bleach with your hands, as long as you are wearing gloves.
This can seem like a daunting task, but I can assure you, as long as you settle on a strategy before starting, instead of going in blind; this can be a lot simpler than your mind is making it.
Start with one of the back sections, and always work from the bottom up.
NEVER start at your roots. Just don’t. Here’s why:
Your head generates heat, which helps the bleach process faster.
In other words, if you start at your roots, they are going to be A LOT lighter than the rest of your hair.
Always start at the midshaft of your hair and work your way down.
Once you do this for your entire head, it is a good idea to wait 10 minutes, and then apply the bleach to your roots and finish processing.
So start at the back of your head, work bottom to top, and start with the upper middle of your hair section down to the ends, waiting to do the roots last.
Do a test strand first.
This will allow you to make sure you don’t have a reaction to the chemicals, and to see how your hair takes the product.
Choose a small section at the back and bottom of your head and apply the bleach, let it process, and wash it out.
Trust me. It is worth the extra steps.
Foil And Brush Method
The first thing to keep in mind is: Bleach does not work like shampoo.
It will not lather.
Trying to get it to lather can tangle your hair and cause some damage.
You want to use a generous amount of product and cover your hair.
Again, it doesn’t lather!
Okay, you have your first section ready, and you have a section from there that is about a quarter of an inch.
Take a piece of foil and lay that small section on top.
Cover the brush with a good amount of product and start on the upper part of the section and paint your way down to the ends.
Be sure to thoroughly cover the section.
Once finished, you can use a comb handle or your brush handle to pinch in the middle of the foil and help you fold the foil on itself over the covered hair.
Then, I like to also fold the sides in to make sure the heat stays in and the product doesn’t leak out.
Continue these steps with the next ¼” section of hair above the section you just finished.
Do this for the entire head.
Suggested Read: How To Highlight Hair At Home Without Foil
Applying Bleach With Your Hands
You want to take the same approach as I mentioned with the foil and brush.
Start with the sections at the back of the head.
Work in ¼” sections.
Take a good amount of product with your fingers and start as you would with the foil, about the upper to the mid hair shaft.
Use your fingers to work the product down to the ends.
You can use your palms to work the product in.
Your hair will be fragile in this state since you are opening the pores, so be gentle.
Do not use a comb or brush.
Once finished, lay that section down and take the one above it.
It is easier to work from the bottom up because you are just laying the product on top of the product.
This will keep you from having to search for unbleached hair and having blotches.
Again, repeat this until the entire head or desired area is covered.
To help the bleach to process, it is a good idea to grab a plastic bag or a shower cap, spritz a little water in it, and put it on over your hair.
This will keep the heat in and help the lightener to activate, and keep the bleach from drying out, which you do not want.
Set The Timer
Again, I recommend setting a timer for ten minutes and then moving on to cover your roots.
Once you do apply the product to your roots, re-cover your head, and let it process for the amount of time on the directions. (Usually around 35-50 minutes, even an hour)
Do not exceed 60 minutes, at that point your hair won’t really lighten anymore and could take on more damage.
Here’s the important part if you want as little damage as possible: Make sure you check on how your color processes every five minutes.
As long as you see that the bleach has lightened your color to the shade you want, you can hop in the shower to wash it all off.
There’s no use in waiting any longer and risking severe damage when you’re already happy with the result.
Also, you can give a very gentle tug on a few strands to make sure there isn’t a lot of breakage or damage taking place.
If you’re only retouching your grown-out roots, cover your previously bleached hair with coconut oil or conditioner.
This creates a barrier between the bleach and your already-lightened hair to prevent those areas from being overprocessed and severely damaged.
Recommended Post: How To Touch Up Roots On Bleached Hair At Home
Rinse Out The Product
Once processing is finished, go ahead and use lukewarm water to rinse out all the product.
Do not use cold water as this will not be good for it, since the bleach warmed your hair and opened the pores so hitting your hair with cold water can cause it to fall out or break off.
Start with the back since that is where the bleach was first applied and work your way to the front.
Be gentle. Do not scrub your head. Be thorough.
Use the pads of your fingers to gently massage your head.
Your hair is fragile.
Use a sulfate-free shampoo and wash the product out of your head.
This could even take two washes so do not be afraid to do so.
Shampoos with harsh surfactants tend to dry out your hair even more, so gentle formulas will work best for your bleached hair.
Try to look for shampoos infused with hydrating ingredients too.
Condition your hair.
Let the conditioner sit on your head for a few minutes to bring moisture back into your hair.
Gently towel dry by gathering your ends and gently scrunching upwards.
You do not need to frantically rub the towel all over your head.
Assess Your Hair
You want to be asking yourself the following questions:
- Is the hair brittle to the touch?
- Did you obtain your desired lightness?
- Is it stringy?
- Is it falling out?
A yes to any of the above questions means you should not bleach a second time, or at the very least wait for a week or so and then re-evaluate.
One last question: Can it handle another bleaching round?
If it feels healthy, hydrated, soft, and strong, then go for it.
If your hair isn’t as light as you want it to be, don’t feel tempted to bleach it again on the same day.
Wait a week or two before going for round two.
Plus, lightening your hair gradually and slowly will do wonders for keeping your hair healthy over time.
Just because you’re done bleaching your hair, it doesn’t mean you’re done working to keep it healthy.
Even if you’ve done everything to prep and bleach it in the least damaging way possible, you still need to nurse your hair back to health if it’s feeling a little dry and straw-like.
At this point I would encourage you to use either a deep conditioning treatment or a hair mask, to bring some moisture back into your hair and strengthen it.
Treat your hair, and show it how much you love it!
Going forward, you’ll want to pamper your bleached strands with a deep conditioner once a week.
And at least twice a month, use one that’s infused with protein to help rebuild the broken, damaged bonds in your hair.
Toning Your Hair
Hair dye, especially box dye, is not a toner.
Do not try to put a blonde color over your newly-bleached hair.
You will want to get a toner and some toner developer or around a 10 volume developer.
Blue toner will mute an orange brassiness to hair, and purple with mute yellow.
Another thing you can do is look at a color wheel.
Recommended Post: Understanding The Hair Color Wheel
Find the color you want to cancel out that is in your hair and go straight across to the opposite color.
That is the color toner you need.
Your hair will thank you for using a toner with a toner developer.
A 10 volume developer will not cause any further damage to your hair and it can help bring some health back into it.
With a toner you can pick one at the same lightness level your bleached hair is currently, or you can go darker.
Find out which level your hair is, and choose a toner to match your level or darker.
So, if you bleach your hair to a level 7, you’ll want to choose a color that is level 7 or lower.
Note: Purple shampoo is not a toner, and is only used for upkeep with blonde or platinum hair.
Do’s And Don’ts Of Bleaching Your Hair
Have all materials before starting
Make small sections
Apply evenly and quickly
Check your hair
Get a friend
Have realistic expectations
|Bleach clean hair
Skip the instructions
Skip the strand test
Apply to roots first
Go in blind
Bleach over-processed hair
Bleach over bleached hair
Skip the toner
Skip the deep condition
Care For Your New Hair
Congratulations! You have bleached and toned your hair.
It may not be exactly what you were hoping for, or you may be pleasantly surprised!
Now, you put in all that hard work, so make sure you take care of your hair.
Use protective products.
These include heat protection, proper hair sprays, and oil to maintain the color and health of your hair.
Take a break from heat-styling your hair every day.
This will dehydrate and weaken your bleached hair even more, causing the damage you wanted to avoid to begin with.
Instead, air-dry your hair and wear it down naturally.
Purple shampoos and conditioners will maintain the integrity of your color.
It would be worth looking into Olaplex products as they work to repair the bonds in your hair follicles and make your hair less porous.
Wear a leave-in conditioner daily.
This will protect your sensitive hair strands from pollutants and other environmental elements that can damage them.
It also adds extra moisture and shine.
Side Effects Of Bleaching
Since this post was about how to bleach hair at home without damage, it’s only fair to mention some of the side effects that you might experience after bleaching your mane.
The thing is, bleaching can change the texture of your hair.
It can feel less soft, brittle, and you can experience some breakage.
This is because bleaching your hair causes the hair follicles to become more porous and it changes the elasticity of your hair.
When hair follicles are more porous, they need to be treated or they can continue to open and eventually break.
It is important to use hair repairing products like protein treatments, deep conditioners, or hair masks to minimize this breakage.
Avoid bleaching hair that has already been through bleaching processes or other harsh chemical treatments.
Bleach is amazing for giving you that bold, dramatic color.
It’s pretty much the only way you can achieve that chic icy blonde tone or the lilac hue you’ve been dreaming of.
But you can’t forget that bleach will still cause damage to your locks – so you need to be prepared.
Follow my suggestions above to ensure that you’re giving your hair the best chance of coming out unscathed after bleaching it.
You need to be extra thoughtful and diligent from the prepping, to the bleaching process, all the way to aftercare to keep your hair healthy even as you lift it by a few shades.
The rules are simple enough – moisturize and protect your hair before and after you bleach and make sure you keep an eye on the bleach as it processes.
All these will minimize damage and keep your locks as healthy, shiny, and hydrated as possible.