We have many things to thank the early aughts for: boy bands, Myspace, mirror selfies (with sepia filters), and bleached hair. But not the beautiful, platinum blonde hair created in a salon with a skilled colorist—no, we’re talkin’ teenage hair that was literally lightened in a basement sink with a bottle of bleach and peroxide, in hopes of looking like either Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, or your favorite scene kid of the month.
Hey, learning experiences, right? Thankfully, most of those times are behind us, and our adult hair is now—or seriously should be—colored in the safety of a salon, with skilled, non-angsty hands.
Still, even though your colorist isn’t dousing your hair with straight bleach like you did in 2003, the damage from lightening it can still be pretty severe, especially if you don’t know what to ask for, how to prep your hair, or how to take care of it afterward. So to help you out, we asked hairstylist and all-around guru Kristin Ess for the five tips you need to know before bleaching your hair.
1. Be realistic.
Yes, this is an actual step in the dyeing process, because no matter what, going platinum blonde will, on some level, damage your hair. Lightening requires the use of either hydrogen peroxide or bleach (albeit gentler, more-elegant formulations) to create an irreversible chemical reaction in your hair cuticle. Translation: expect some lasting dryness and coarseness, especially if you’re starting with dark or coarse hair.
“The darker your natural hair color is, the more pigment you’ll need to remove to get to a platinum level, which is a harsher process,” says Ess. “Additionally, it’s harder to remove pigment from coarse strands than fine strands, so know that there’s only so much you can do to prevent some level damage if you have dark, coarse hair.”
2. Step away from Google.
That $20 bottle of “non-damaging” and “magical” bleach you found on the internet? Run. Fast. “When it comes to bleaches, you 100-percent get what you pay for, since not all formulas are the same,” says Ess. “You want to use higher-quality, less-damaging bleaches that have additives, like Brazilian Bond Builder, to help preserve the health of the hair.”
They’re going to cost you more, sure, “but if you want to keep your hair strong and healthy, they’re all very, very necessary,” adds Ess, especially if you’re not cool with hardcore breakage, dryness, frizz, and flyaways. Though prices can vary greatly, you should expect to pay upwards of $150 at the bare minimum.
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3. Invest in a good colorist.
If you’re a dye virgin, Ess strongly recommends splurging for the best colorist you can find, whether through word of mouth or via Yelp reviews, rather than trying to stick to go at it alone and find the best deal. “You can call a random salon and try to research the bleach brand they use, but if you don’t really know the hair-color world, it may be hard to navigate,” says Ess.
“Honestly, you should never even need to get involved with all of that,” she adds. “Find a hair colorist you trust implicitly to give you the best of the best. He or she is probably going to be more expensive, but that’s because it costs colorists more to get you the good stuff. Platinum blonde hair is an investment if you want it done correctly.”
4. Build a bond with your hair.
“The darker, coarser, or curlier your natural hair color is, the more conditioning you’re going to need both before and after bleaching it,” says Ess, who recommends slathering on a deep-conditioning mask, like the Wella Enrich Moisturizing Treatment, over dry hair every night for a week leading up to your appointment, and for the week after your appointment, in addition to a using a weekly bond-repairing treatment.
“If you’re going platinum blonde, you need to use a product that helps repair and strengthen the bonds in your hair fibers,” she says. Yes, that all sounds like marketing mumbo jumbo, but these salon-level treatments really do work, like the cult-favorite Olaplex Hair Perfector No. 3.
Comb a palmful of the cream through damp hair, leave on for as long as possible (overnight with a shower cap is best, but at least 30 minutes, if that’s all you have time for), then shampoo as usual. You’ll notice softer, shinier hair after one use, with less breakage after continued use.
5. Mark your calendar.
The easiest way to prevent damage is to go as long as possible between touch-ups, right? Surprisingly, nope. “If you’re getting a bleach and tone—AKA going platinum—make an appointment before you leave the salon for a touch-up in four-to-six weeks,” says Ess. “In order to keep the color perfectly consistent, the root grow-out has to be fairly minimal, ideally less than an inch. So if you wait too long, you risk getting a ‘band’ slightly different colors, which will require a full-on, all-over bleach to correct.”
Hey, nobody said platinum was a low-maintenance or cheap hairstyle, but if you want your gloriously blonde hair to look less like a walking Myspace photo from 2003 and more like Blake Lively in a hair commercial, then may we suggest following all of the above to a T, without grumbling or cutting corners? Trust us—your hair will thank you.
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