Bleach… The Good, The Bad, The Ugly, and The Oh-So-Pretty 

We have all heard people’s horror stories about “bleaching” hair. But, have we ever stopped and thought about exactly what was behind the horror in these stories?For instance, who or what was the one behind the “bleaching” , or were they actually educated in the results that could be achieved. And believe me, those are only a 2 of many questions that should be running through one’s mind.

First, let us stop using the word bleach. In the professional world, we use the term lightener. So from here on out in this blog, I will be referring to this “bleach” thing as lightener.

Now, let us educate ourselves as to what lightener is, how it works, and why it is needed.

Powder Lightener is mixed with hydrogen peroxide, activating it and creating an oxidizing environment when applied to hair. The oxidation acts on the pigment already present in your hair to disperse it and lightens the hair color. It is much easier to lighten “virgin,” or never-have-been-colored hair, than it is previously colored hair, especially box colored hair.

Rule #1: Color Does Not Lift Color. Meaning, if you have previously colored hair and wish to go lighter, lightener must be used.

The concentration of peroxide used is the major factor that determines the strength of the penetration and lift.

If you are going to lighten your hair, an understanding of hair depth and underlying pigments will lead to better results and allow you to understand what can actually be realistic in the results.

There is a level system that determines the darkness or lightness of the hair. Black being a level 1 then going the whole way down to level 10, pastel blonde which is the closest to white. In addition to all colors’ levels or depth, all hair colors have an underlying base pigment that contributes. In blonde hair, this base pigment is anything from pale yellow to golden orange. Black hair has a deep, dark red base. When you lighten your hair, the color is stripped away to reveal this base pigment. You can then estimate how much lightening has occurred by looking at the underlying pigment color you have arrived at.

Now, why should one receive lightening services by a professional (besides the obvious)? First, please refer to my past blog Say No to the Box if you are even considering buying your own. JUST SAY NO! And secondandly, do your research on even a professional stylist’s work. Do it right the first time and you will save yourself from the horror… And an empty wallet. You think you have saved money until you have to undergo a huge color correction.

Rule #2: Be Honest! Confess your sins. You may think that a fun splash of Manic Panic several months ago won’t affect your coloring because the semi-permanent formula is all washed out. But believe me when I tell you that nothing will resurrect that Bad Boy Blue or Hot Stinkin’ Pink like the introduction of bleach. And even if you had dark hair color on your hair 10 years ago, but you haven’t had a haircut since then, that color at the ends will come rearing its ugly head.

Lightener, at most, can lift 7 levels. Normally, to lift an entire 7 levels takes the almost-always-rare, perfect environment. For example, Suzy Q is a natural dirty blonde, putting her at a level 7. And when I say natural, she’s the unicorn that has never colored her hair in her life. She only has to be lifted 2 levels to become a platinum blonde. Now, Jane has box colored her hair black for 10 years and now wants Suzy Q’s newly fabulous platinum hair. Jane is a level 1. Even in the best of circumstances, one can only lift Jane to about a level 8 and even that is a Hail Mary Pass. Jane has layers upon layers upon layers of hair color that the lightener has to penetrate or eat through. More realistically, Jane walks out with a gorgeous mahogany and scheduled her next lightening appointment for two weeks later.

I am not saying that the platinum blonde, silver, or unicorn-colored hair looks you have seen on your social media feeds or Pinterest are unachievable, but believe you me, it takes great pains to achieve that color. That goes for all the offshoot color trends too — opal, metallic, and rose gold as well. It is a long road to dreamscape shades. That road will have you clearing your schedule the day of your hair coloring appointment for a double-process and even multiple appointments. Patience is a virtue.

Lightener isn’t as scary as one may think, once you are educated. It can cause some serious issues that should be rather rare but of course uneducated or over zellous people make these horror stories happen more often that one would like.

We hear the word “fried” a whole heck of a lot when discussing going lighter. Lightener blows open the cuticle or the outer layer of the hair when it penetrates the hair shaft also robbing it of its moisture and proteins. When you do lightening services with professional products and with an elite professional doing the task, damage can be limited to little or none. Professional powder lighteners are formulated with conditioners to eliminate or decrease the chances of damage. A professional stylist will also be able to determine the percent of developer used as well as the processing time of the product. Whether or not your hair has damage after the lightening service, it is essential to “feed” your hair with protein to revive its strength. Think of it as Gatorade after a Hair Workout. A conditioning treatment and take-home products are not optional but essential and a requirement

Another horrific term we also hear when so-called “bleaching” hair, is “gummy” or hair that is so over-processed that it feels like mush or ABC gum. When we constantly overlap lightener on top of previously lightened hair, it becomes so weak, nearly to the point of no return. This is why slow and steady wins the race. One must have intense patience with lightener.

There is the shiny brand new savior product called Olaplex that allows us to push the envelope a little farther while protecting the integrity of the hair. Make sure you ask your highly skilled service provider about upgrading your lightening service to add in Olaplex. A common misconception about Olaplex is that it does all the work. On the contrary, Olaplex is added into the powder lightener and peroxide mixture. And then a second treatment is done before toning. This 2-step process is essentially insurance for your hair.

Rule #3: Your Stylist is Doing You Know Justice NOT Toning. Let’s discuss…

We as stylist spend countless hours and not to mention money learning Basic Colot Theory. So why isn’t everyone utilizing the information we have received is a question I will never have the answer to. Thousands of clients are leaving salons looking more like Garfield than they are like Elsa or like a lightening bug zapped by one of those bug zapping things. It’s sad and is an injustice to those stylists who pride themselves in their quality of work.

After a lightening service, we have come to the underlying pigment color. Normally, 9 times out of 10, is it not a pretty tone nor is it desired by you or our clients. So this brings us to the Basic Color Wheel and essentially the Holy Book of Basic Color Theory.

Let’s go back to Suzy Q and Jane.

We were able to lift Suzy Q to a level 10, palest blonde. However, at a level 10, the underlying tone is yellow. Suzy Q wants to be a cool white blonde. To neutralize the yellow, one must use a pale violet toner. The toner is let on until desired tone is reached.

Now, poor Jane on the other hand, requires a little more love, attention, and brainpower. We were able to get Jane miracously to a level 6, revealing an orange-red undertone. But of course, she had 2 inches of regrowth that had never been colored and lifted farther down the scale to a level 9. Some stylists would let Jane walk out the door with a plethora of randomn, not to mention yucky colors in her hair. And heaven forbid you did this yourself! A well-educated stylist would tone out the orange-red with a blue-green to neutralize and then tone the lighter regrowth with the correct color to match.

Toners not only counteract the unwanted tones, but they also seal and condition the cuticle of the hair. Think of toners as the top coat over nail polish.

Rule #5: Condition and Take Home

I cannot stress this enough! If you are not doing or receiving conditioning treatments nor using high end professional grade take home products in conjunction with the treatments, you can say “buh-bye” to that gorgeous color you just spend countless hours and pennies on, and you can definitely say “see ya later” to the integrity of it.

Please refer to my past blog What Your Stylist Wants You to Know and Understand to better understand when I say buying Drugstore Products is a Big NO Go.

But what why does my hair turn golden, brassy, even straight up orange? Again, refer to my previous blog The Dreaded Brass.

So before this blog becomes a whole damn book, let us review:

  1. Do Your Research! Please pick a stylist who is beyond reputable and proficiently skilled in lightening services and color corrections.
  2. Be realistic. Let’s get real here. Please go in to the hair salon with realistic expectations. I am not saying give up on the dream of having silver hair with pastel pink ends, but is that a realistic expectation at first appointment?
  3. Do NOT lie. You cannot blame your stylist for what she did not know.
  4. We only work as hard as a lightener. Please do not blame the stylist for not being able to take you white from black in an hour and a half. There is only so much we can do.
  5. Condition. Condition. CONDITION. Spend the extra few dollars for a professional conditioning treatment. Your hair won’t be so angry with you.
  6. You better take home products. Enough said.

Lightener or “bleach” can lead to beautiful things! It may seem overwhelming or scary even, but don’t get mad when I say this… It’s only scary when you put the gun in the hand of a killer. 

Please feel free to comment below with questions or comments. But besides that…



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