How To Safely Bleach Your Hair At Home For The White Blonde Look Of Your Dreams
It seems like every celebrity is has bleached their hair to make the leap to platinum blonde at least once: Jennifer Lawrence, Lady Gaga, Jared Leto, Justin Bieber, and possibly Kim Kardashian (again). It's not just the rich and famous doing it either; as expensive and time-consuming as the process is, plenty of regular folks are striving to follow the trend of perfectly white blonde hair. I'm not ashamed to admit that I'm one of them. Hi, my name is Kelly and I love bleaching my hair.
I'm a natural brunette but I've gone blonde twice now. The first time I went to a salon and had a professional do it, and I strongly recommend that despite the high price tag. The second time I went blonde was this past fall and I actually did it myself at home. It turned out fine and I saved a buttload of money! So while I do not recommend doing this if you're a newbie, the truth is it is possible to give yourself platinum blonde hair at home. At the very least, you should be able to save money by touching up your own roots once a professional has done the initial transformation. I'm going to explain how I do this, but with a few caveats, warnings, and disclaimers. Pay close attention, friends.
Like I said, this is honestly one of those things best left to the professionals. If you've never gone blonde before, go to a salon for the first time! This is especially true if you have very dark, very long, and/or very fine hair. In fact going platinum is best if you have very short, coarse hair (like me!).
People with pixie cuts are the best candidates for platinum blonde hair for three reasons:
1. Less hair is easier to work with and requires less bleaching product.
2. Your hair will be damaged by the bleach, and if you damage it enough you'll probably have to cut it short anyway.
3. I think women with short blonde hair are hot. Hello Mia Farrow, Jean Seberg, Michelle Williams, Robin Wright, Rita Ora, Miley Cyrus... even Tinkerbell!
Since I can only share my own experience, I reached out to Carly McInerny of Mezzanine Salon for her professional opinion. She tells me over email that "it is never a bad idea to schedule a consultation with a stylist to discuss your wishes and for them to get their eyes and hands on your hair before you take the leap. Always always, remember to keep your mind open to what is at the end of that bleach and tone rainbow because it is usually a process (and normally it takes a couple appointments) to reach your dream blonde."
McInerny is right: it is a process. It usually takes multiple sessions of bleach and/or toner, and it's recommended you space those sessions out to avoid doing too much damage. So keep in mind the fact that you might end up walking around with orange hair for a few weeks — but the final result will be worth it.
Now let's dive in to what this actual process entails. Even if you do go to a salon, it's good to know what to expect!
- Powder bleach (I usually use L'Oreal bleach)
- 20 or 30 volume developer (I recommend keeping both on hand; 20 for toning, 30 for bleaching. I use Salon Care developer).
- Plastic bowl, plastic measuring spoons, and plastic mixing tool of some sort. Metal and bleach don't mix!
- Brush (optional; it's particularly good for doing roots).
- Toner (I use Wella #T18)
- Hair clips (optional; again, best for when you're doing your roots).
I get all of this from Sally's Beauty Supply; you could also order from Amazon. I usually spend around $40 for supplies (which is cheap compared to the $130 I spent having it done the first time at a salon).
Other things you'll want to have on hand: sulfate-free shampoo for washing out bleach, a deep conditioner for after toner (McInerny recommends Shu Uemura Silk Bloom Mask), and coconut oil which can nourish hair afterwards and possibly even prevent some damage if you apply it before using bleach.
At the time of writing this, half my hair was already blonde. If you want to see what the process looked like this past fall when I was starting out 100 percent brunette, here you go (clockwise from top left):
I've had the blonde for months now but I recently shaved the back and sides down to a brown buzz. I was ready to take it all back to blonde, as well as touch up my roots and tone the whole thing to diminish any brassiness.
Here's the before:
Before I walk you through the two steps of bleaching and toning, I'll let McInerny explain what each thing does:
"A bleach and tone is when a stylist uses bleach to remove pigment (natural or otherwise) from the hair, then uses a toner to add pigment back into the hair to counteract any unwanted tones. Generally with a bleach and tone we are trying to lift the hair to the higher levels of blonde. When bleach removes pigment from hair warm tones are always leftover. In higher levels of blonde orange and yellow are the tones that remain, so those are the tones we are usually fighting when trying to create a beautiful even blonde. To create the optimal blonde we use simple color theory based on just a basic color wheel. We use complementary colors to cancel out unwanted tones. If the hair has more orange in it we will tone with a blue based toner to counteract that orange. If we have more yellow leftover we will tone with a violet based toner to counteract the yellow."
Pretty simple, no? Let's get started.
Step 1: Bleach
I started by bleaching the brunette sides and back, as well as bleaching my roots on the top of my head. I did this by mixing powder bleach (either one capful from the bucket or one entire packet) with an equal amount of volume 30 developer. You can use 20 volume for lighter or finer hair (just know it takes longer) but I don't recommend using 40 because it's very strong.
Also, I usually apply coconut oil to my hair before the bleach because I feel it helps to reduce damage.
I usually leave the bleach on for around 40-50 minutes, but you should check how the color is coming along every 10 minutes or so. If you're touching up roots, take care to avoid putting bleach on hair that's already blonde to avoid damage.
Just know that bleach hurts and can give you chemical burns. If you're in a lot of pain, just wash it off immediately; don't risk hurting yourself. And, obviously, wear old clothes because it can ruin clothing (same goes for toner).
This is what my hair looked like after shampooing out that first round of bleach:
There's lots of orange and yellow, which is to be expected. We'll deal with that later with toner. At this point I wanted to bleach it again to make it as light as possible before moving on to toner. I recommend you wait as long as possible in between bleaching (at least a week if not longer) to avoid damaging your hair.
Here's what my hair looked like after round two of bleach:
As you can see it's much lighter, although still very yellow.
Step 2: Toner
The next step, which I did immediately after shampooing out the bleach (but no conditioner), is toner. If you already have blonde hair, you can skip right to toner to cancel out any warm tones that your blonde hair has.
I mixed one part of Wella Toner in T18 with two parts 20 volume developer, and applied it all over to towel-dried, damp hair.
I left that on for about 40 minutes, then washed it out and used conditioner.
I find that toner somehow hurts even more than bleach. Again, if it's hurting you too much, just wash it off right away rather than risk a chemical burn.
If the toner doesn't get all the brassiness out of your hair, don't worry. Just wait a week or two and try toning it again. You should also use a dark purple shampoo to counteract brass; McInerny recommends Clairol Shimmer Lights.
Here's what my hair looks like now:
There's a bit of yellow left over, but like McInerny said, it's a long process. By using a purple shampoo regularly, toning occasionally with my Wella #T18, and nourishing my hair with hair masks and coconut oil (plus no heat styling ever), I've maintained this pale blonde shade for months.
The key takeaway is to remember to go slow; patience will keep you from damaging your hair too much. And if it's your first time, let a professional like McInerny make your hair blonde for you. After that you can try your hand at the upkeep yourself if you want, and then maybe one day you too will be bleaching your own hair in your bathroom.
This post was originally published in April 2016. It was updated on May 31, 2019.