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Bleaching Your Hair

Published on 27th June 2001

You need to bleach your hair but you’re not sure how to go about it? How do you know which bleach to choose? How do you get an even colour? Here are a few pointers on how to achieve a good even bleach job in preparation for dyeing your hair an unnatural colour.

Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Bleach kit (buy 2 for thick hair or if your hair is longer than shoulder length)
  • 30 Sectioning clips (long flat clips hinged at one side)/4 large clips
  • Tint Brush
  • Plastic Wrap
  • Old Towel
  • Plastic/Latex Gloves
  • Tail Comb

Choosing the right bleach

Unless you’re already platinum blond, you’ll need to bleach or lighten your hair. With so many hair lighteners around it’s hard to know which to choose. It really depends on your hair colour. If it’s dark blond, medium blond or strawberry blond you can use a normal blond hair dye in light blond. This is usually easier than bleaching. Just follow the instructions on the box. If your hair is any other colour I wouldn’t advise a blond dye.
There are two other types of hair lightener around – the kind where you mix two liquids together e.g. Clairol Born Blonde, or the bleach powder and liquid peroxide kind (which will be referred to as a bleach kit). Personally I prefer the second, as products like Born Blonde will not get very dark brown hair to a pale blond colour.

Not only that, bleaches come in various strengths. The developer (peroxide) part of a bleach kit comes in 10 volume, 20 volume, 30 volume and 40 volume, with 10 volume being weaker than 20 and so on. You should never use anything stronger than 30 volume on your scalp as it is too strong and could cause burns. In case you’re wondering 40 volume is often used for highlights or tipping very dark hair where the bleach mixture will not touch the scalp. Developer comes in cream or liquid form and if you have a choice I recommend the cream form as it’s easier to work with and drips less.
The powder part of a bleach kit comes in 3 colours; purple, blue or plain white and although this doesn’t make too much difference to the end result purple or blue bleaches may produce a more neutral blond tone.

Really the main thing to look for in a kit is the following:

  • It contains bleaching powder and developer/peroxide.
  • The strength of the peroxide is marked on the box. Use 10 volume if your hair is already blond and you need to remove yellow tones, use 20 volume if your hair is light brown or lighter, use 30 volume if your hair is dark.
  • It contains an instruction leaflet.

Not only will the instruction leaflet give you the correct mixing instructions, it will also instruct you on how to carry out a strand and sensitivity test which are essential to do before applying the bleach to your hair.

Which strength for which colour?

Black Hair

40 volume peroxide is the strongest you should use on your hair. Dark hair has more pigment that needs to be removed so a stronger peroxide is often used. However, this strength is too harsh to use on the scalp as it can cause chemical burns so never let it touch your skin. Black hair may require two 30 volume processes to get to pale blonde but allow several days bewteen bleachings as even 30 volume peroxide can be harsh on your scalp. Hair that has been dyed black will often take at least 2 bleachings before it will be light enough to dye. Bleaching out permanent dyes can be a difficult process as the outcome is usually patches of blond orange and red. If your hair is dyed with a permanent colour try using a colour remover before bleaching, or even better have a professional colour correction.

Dark-Medium Brown, Dark Red

30 volume should get your hair pale blond in one process although sometimes 2 are required. If you find any orange patches after shampooing out the bleach it should be reapplied to these areas only.

Light Brown, Dark Blond, Strawberry Blond, Light Red, Medium Blond

20 volume peroxide with your bleach powder should make your hair pale blond. Be sure to do a strand test to avoid over-bleaching. Light brown may need 30 volume peroxide.

Light Blond, White, Grey

Use a 10 volume peroxide in your bleach mixture or dilute a 20 volume peroxide by half. Use this weak bleach to open up your hair for colouring. Bleach this weak causes little damage if left on the hair for a short period of time. Shampoo off after 10 minutes. If your hair is “salt & pepper” grey you may have problems with this method as the darker hair is going to take much longer to bleach to pale blond. You should try a strand test and if necessary do another strand test using a stronger bleach mixture to lighten the dark hair. Pay attention to the condition of the white hair in your strand test.

Time to Bleach

Before bleaching you MUST do a strand test. Not only will this tell you how long to allow the bleach to process, it will also indicate how much damage has been caused by the bleach. Most people won’t notice too much damage but if you regularly straighten or curl your hair or you have relaxed or permed hair you should consider bleaching carefully as your hair may be severely damaged by the bleaching process.

How to do a strand test

Snip a few strands of hair at the back of your head, as close to the roots as possible, where no one will notice. Tie the hair together with thread or use tape to stick it together. Using a plastic spoon mix one spoonful of bleaching powder with one spoonful of peroxide in a non-metallic bowl. (If you’re using a blond dye there will be instructions for a strand test included, but it’s usually the same quantity of each liquid mixed in a non-metallic bowl.) You only need to mix a small quantity. Bleach and permanent dye will stop working after a while and the mixture shouldn’t be kept, so this is why you should only mix a small quantity for your strand test.
When you have the colour mixed dip your strand of hair into the mixture, making sure it’s completely saturated. Check the hair every five minutes by wiping off a small amount of bleach with an old cloth and reapply if the colour is not light enough. In this way you can estimate the time needed to bleach your hair.

Stages of Bleaching

When removing the natural pigment of your hair, it goes through several colour changes. The first colour change in brown hair will be to orange then yellow then light blond, red hair will turn yellow before pale blond and the first colour change for dark blond will be to pale blond. To get black hair pale blond takes much longer than to get dark blond hair pale blond and therefore more damage occurs (depending on hair type). To turn dark hair white it is best to bleach it to pale blond and use a white toner rather than bleaching it until it’s white.

Bleaching Process

Bleaching is quite a difficult process to do by yourself, so it’s worth doing a lot of preparation to make sure you get it right. If you don’t have really short hair you’ll need someone to help you. If your hair is really short (less than 1 inch) you can apply all the bleach at one time all over your hair.

Start with dry unwashed hair, in fact the greasier the better. Some slight itching when bleaching your hair is normal. If your hair is a bit greasy the itchies are less intense.

You’re going to need to set up two mirrors so that you can see the back of your head in the reflection or even better, get a friend to help you. As well as that you’ll need a tint brush with a long pointed handle, plastic or latex gloves, a non metallic bowl and an old towel.

Take a parting from the middle of your forehead right back to the nape of your neck. The pointed end of the tint brush is good for taking partings. Now make another parting from the tip of one year right over to the next. You should now have your hair split into 4 large sections. Use a clip to hold the hair in these positions.

Mix your bleach up using the tint brush in a non-metallic bowl. Remember, bleach permanently lightens textiles so don’t let it drip onto your clothes or best towels.

Starting with one of the back quarters take a thin section of hair from one parting to the other and apply bleach with the tint brush to the length of the hair leaving 1 centimetre of hair uncovered at the roots. Always brush it on from top to bottom – ie in the direction the hair grows. Flip that section of hair over so that it reveals the unbleached hair on the layer below. Work quickly though – you have to get all of the lengths of your hair covered as soon as possible so that the first section doesn’t lighten before the last section has had bleach applied.
Repeat with another thin section and keep working until all the hair in that quarter is covered (the roots should still be untouched). Now use the same technique to apply bleach to the other back quarter and then to the front two corners.
The first quarter you applied bleach to should now be lightening. When it gets to golden blond repeat the sectioning and bleach to the root area. Keep working until all of the root area in all the quarters has been covered. Continue to monitor your hair until it is pale blond. Shampoo out the bleach and apply conditioner and rinse.

Not sure you can manage that? If you don’t have a competent friend to help you could section your hair before mixing the bleach and keep the sections in place with sectioning clips.

By this stage your hair should be an even pale blond. If that’s not the case you should mix up a new batch of bleach as before. Apply bleach to the darkest spots first. So let’s say you found a patch of dark brown hair. Apply the bleach there first. If you also have a spot of brassy blond apply bleach to that when your dark brown patch has lightened to a similar colour. They should both lighten to pale blond at the same time. Then just shampoo and condition as normal.

So, bleaching doesn’t have to be scary as long as you follow the manufacturer’s instructions and do your strand and sensitivity tests before bleaching. However if you are unsure of your hair colouring skills or your hair has previously been dyed I recommend you have a professional do your first bleaching.

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  • Always follow the manufacturer's instructions
  • Hair that has been previously coloured may be difficult to bleach
  • Do a strand and sensitivity test before use
  • If your hair has been coloured with a dye containing metallic salts do not attempt to bleach it
  • Bleach permanently removes the colour from your hair. It also works on textiles so be careful!
  • Relaxed or permed hair may be too weak to bleach so it's important to do a strand test
  • Bleach contains strong chemicals so avoid contact with eyes
  • Hair bleach is very different to household bleach. Never use household bleach on your hair