Bleaching hair is more risky than most hair coloring processes. But with that risk comes great reward. This page provides information on mixing, application, and processing times when using bleach.
The bleaching process effectively strips what appears to be our “natural” hair color, exposing the underlying pigment lurking beneath the surface. Depending on how dark your hair is naturally, your underlying pigment could range from rusty orange to pale yellow.
More on underlying pigments and the chemistry of hair color.
Removing those pigments allows for a true neutral, ash or platinum blonde when using hair toner. If you want to lighten hair more than 3 or 4 shades, eliminate brassy blondes, or achieve a bright punk hair color, bleach is the most effective product.
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Mixing and Storing Hair Bleach
Bleach comes in powder form and hydrogen peroxide is added to activate the lightening process. If you get a bleach/highlighting kit from the drugstore, the developer that comes with it will likely be 30 or 40 Volume peroxide.
Add the peroxide to the powder bleach a little at a time, stirring and squishing the lumps out. Your kit may have instructions for measurements. If in doubt, mix the bleach to a thick gravy consistency. Not so thin that it runs off the brush when you hold it above the bowl.
If it’s too runny, add more powder. If bleach is mixed to a thick consistency it tends to dry out faster and not be as effective.
Close your bleach powder up tight for storage. Air causes the powder to oxidize and lose its effectiveness. Double protection inside a plastic bag, then inside a plastic tub is a good idea to keep it fresh and ready for action.
Cautions and Considerations
If you’re lightening virgin (never-colored) hair, you may not need to use bleach at all. A high lift color may do the trick. Especially if you’re starting with a fairly light natural color.
It is possible to remove artificial hair color without using bleach, read these tips for hair color removal before you decide whether you need to bleach your hair.
If you’re doing an all over blonde hair color, you’ll have to apply hair bleach to the scalp, which can cause blistering and chemical burns. That’s an extreme possibility, but could happen if you’re not careful.
For on-scalp lightening processes, never mix bleach with a peroxide stronger than 20 Volume. And keep in mind — bleach just keeps on doin’ it’s thing until it either dries up or gets washed off.
Pay attention to what’s happening on your scalp. A normal hair bleaching process will cause a slightly uncomfortable tingle on the scalp, if the tingle progresses into a burning sensation, rinse the bleach off with cool water.
Bleach will lift existing hair color, especially dark colors more slowly than natural pigment.
Some inexpensive (drugstore brand) hair colors contain metallic salts which can turn your hair to mush if they’re processed with bleach, perm solutions, or chemical straighteners. Check the ingredients if you’ve used a drugstore brand hair color to make sure it doesn’t contain any metallic dye components.
If you aren’t sure whether the existing color on your hair contains these dyes, apply some bleach to a tiny section underneath and process it a little first. If you can pull it apart with your fingers after 10 or 20 minutes in the bleach solution, you’ll know there’s a problem. Darker colors contain more of this ingredient (in those particular brands), and the more you’ve used it, the more metallic salts will have been deposited on/in your hair.
Using hair bleach is not a process to undergo if you value the health of your hair. It may come out feeling like straw and will be in dire need of protein/moisture treatments. This process requires alot of maintenance as the regrowth begins to show within only a few weeks.
If you want a blonde color with a bit less coloring frequency, try foiling hair to add blonde highlights.
Products and Tools for Bleaching Hair
This is a professional quality powder bleach by L’Oreal. Use with no higher than 20 volume peroxide if doing an on-scalp application. For off-scalp, you can look for 30 or 40 volume. Remember though, the higher the volume of peroxide, the wider the hair cuticle opens. This is the biggest factor in the level of damage bleaching hair will do to the hair shaft.
Hair Bleaching Application Tips
Stick with no higher than 20 Volume peroxide for on-scalp bleaching. If you are foiling hair, you can use up to 40 volume peroxide with your bleach powder, but not when it’s coming in direct contact with your skin. For very dark hair, bleach may need to be applied in two separate sittings, with a fresh batch each time.
Getting an unblemished all over blonde hair color can be tricky. Particularly if you’re dealing with existing haircolor from past “experiments”. To get a consistent color, you need to start with an even slate…meaning root to end the hair strand should be near the same color level before you apply the hair color or toner.
Working in small sections will help you control the hair and ensure that the bleach gets only where you want it. Avoid squishing the hair down on top of previously bleached sections to prevent product transfer. If any bleach gets where you don’t want it…even the smallest drip, blot it up with a towel and blast that piece of hair (or skin, clothing, furniture, etc…) with water immediately to stop the bleaching action.
Methods for applying bleach to hair vary widely depending on the existing state of the hair and the desired result. A few rules of thumb that apply in every case are…
- Don’t overlap bleach on previously colored hair. It’ll either cause a banding effect or, worst case scenario a “chemical haircut”.
- Apply to the darkest areas first so they process the longest.
- Clean up any spills promptly, whether on hair, clothing or furniture.
- Have all supplies on hand and ready before you begin.
- Work quickly…but carefully!
Start applying bleach in the back of the head where hair is usually darkest, working you way up to the front in half inch sections. Apply bleach quickly and thoroughly…oh, and carefully too!
If it takes you too long to get through all the hair, let the bleach process until the lightest section is at the right stage, rinse, then re-apply starting from the other side (in the darkest area) and cover only the hair that needs more lightening.
Bleach loses its effectiveness if it dries out, so cover the hair with a plastic cap, and if it’s a particularly difficult head of hair to lighten…apply some heat. If you use a blowdryer to apply heat, add a diffuser attachment to spread that warm air around evenly or you could end up with “hot spots”. Yes, hair bleaching is finicky, but well worth the effort when done correctly!
All bleach processing times differ depending on your desired end result. Successful bleach lightening is a visual thing, watching for the underlying pigment to be lifted high enough that your finished color can be achieved.
If you’re going for a very light blonde color, the underlying pigment must be raised up to a pale-yellow stage. However, if you’re pre-lightening very dark hair to create warm golden highlights, the yellow-orange stage would be the time to rinse off the bleach and tone the hair. If you’re bleaching hair, you must have a good grasp of the chemistry going on behind the scenes.