Everything you wanted to ask about making your hair blonde
Our definitive Q&A guide to balayage and bleached blonde hair aims to help answer any questions you may have regarding lightening your hair before you make any decisions. It will help you understand everything about the process of bleaching hair and therefore help when you come in for your consultation with one of our expert colourists.
Making hair blonde is something we specialise in as well as being one of the most popular services we provide. There are so many different options to having your hair lightened that it really takes a well trained professional stylist to guide you through these options and advise on what options will complement you and how much they will cost. We will also let you know what it will mean for you in terms of maintenance at home & how often you will need to visit the salon. It is also worth thinking about what if you change your mind in the future and wish to revert back or colour your hair a different shade. All of these are discussed below.
We think of blonding hair services in two main types:
- Hair is bleached all the way up to the scalp, from root to tip
- Think Marilyn Monroe blonde
- Also required as the 1st step if you are wanting a vivid colour like pink, for example
- Hair is bleached selectively and not up to the scalp
- So many different looks are achieved this way, they are aimed at achieving a natural sun-bleached effect like balayage or a very defined look such as an ombre
The main consideration between these two options is the maintenance required to keep your blonde hair looking ‘salon fresh’. In short hair bleached to the scalp typically requires more regular salon visits.
Lightening hair is probably an area of hair colouring where there is often the most misunderstanding about what is happening so we highly recommend you read this guide.
This guide isn’t intended to replace a consultation or talk about what type of blonde look is best for you. We have written it with the aim of answering all the questions you may have and may have been afraid to ask, or not even know to ask!
What is hair bleaching?
Hair bleaching, often called hair lightening or pre-lightening, is a chemical process that removes natural or artificial colour pigment from the hair and reveals the hair’s natural underlying tones or undertones (for example, orange or yellow).
There are several different types of bleaching techniques which are used for different outcomes; for example, balayage (a French word, meaning brush stokes) is often the technique used for those wanting a natural blend of blonde that starts darker at the root & becomes progressively lighter through the mid lengths to ends.
An all over application is for a complete lightening of all of the hair to the same level of blonde, this can sometimes be described as a scalp bleach.
Highlights tends to describe bleach that is applied to weaved sections of hair and wrapped in foil whilst leaving out sections of hair to remain as your natural colour. There are limitless ways in which highlights can be sectioned and applied.
What are undertones in hair?
In simplest terms your hair colour is made up of three main pigments that appear as a red, a yellow and a blue (yes blue!). The relative amount of each of these three pigments determines the colour of your hair. If you are naturally blonde you will hardly have any red or blue pigment. If you are dark haired you will have more red and blue pigment etc.
The pigments are molecules and when we lighten hair we are modifying these molecules permanently through an oxidation reaction which stops them from appearing as red, yellow or blue. The molecule that always reacts the quickest and easiest is the blue one (which is why you never see hair that has been lightened looking blue). The next one to react is the red one but this tends to be more reluctant to react. Finally, the yellow one is the most stubborn to react and there will always tend to be some yellow pigment left when lightening.
Undertones are the colour that your hair turns to as it is being lightened and will typically be a combination of a red and yellow pigment. Often it will be a shade that you will not want your end colour to be so the colourist needs to find ways to avoid you ending up with your natural undertone as you are lightened to your desired level.
When hair is bleached you can see it change colour over time as the reaction takes place. If the hair is naturally dark it will turn to various shades of red and then orange before it gets lighter to a blonde as more and more of the red pigment is oxidised. Sometimes the natural undertone can be very stubborn and so it is necessary to adjust how this undertone appears by a process called toning.
What is Bleach?
Bleach powder is typically a persulphate salt such as ammonia persulphate (NH4)2S2O8 or potassium persulphate K2S2O8
These are strong oxidising agents that can be dissolved in water. An oxidising agent is a substance that helps whatever it is in contact with react with oxygen. This is called an oxidation reaction.
We use bleach along with a peroxide to create an environment in the hair in which the oxidation reaction happens with melanin pigment molecules.
What is peroxide?
Peroxide is short for Hydrogen Peroxide. It is used when bleaching and dyeing hair as it’s a really good source of oxygen. The air is around 21% oxygen so oxidation reactions can happen just by being surrounded by air but it would be very very slow to occur… (you would be waiting days for your colour to develop!) We use hydrogen peroxide to make the reaction happen much faster so that the development times for a hair lightening appointment can be sensible (typically no more than an hour).
There are a range of different strengths of peroxide which are used depending on the depth of the natural hair colour and the level of lightening that is trying to be reached.
What happens to my hair colour when my hair is bleached?
Your hair colour is determined by melanin pigment molecules that are found in the cortex of the hair. These are complex molecules of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen. There are two types of melanin; dark (eumelanin) and light (pheomelanin) and the amount of each type determines the colour of your hair. As you get older your hair follicles produce less and less melanin which is why your hair starts to turn grey or white. When hair is bleached the oxidation reaction changes many of those melanin molecules so that they no longer reflect light and so your hair becomes lighter. The eumelanin (dark brown to brown) is the easiest to change while the pheomelanin (lighter orange to yellow) is much more resistant to change.
To oxidise the melanin in hair the product must be able to penetrate the hair shaft. This is possible because the product creates an alkali environment which causes the hair cuticle to lift, allowing the solution to be absorbed into the hairs internal structure.
In simplest terms the more melanin that is oxidised the lighter the hair. We determine how light your hair result is by controlling how fast the oxidation is happening and for how long. The more oxidation that happens and the lighter your hair is bleached the more damage that can occur.
Why can’t my hair be bleached completely white?
Bleach not only oxidises the melanin but also tries to oxidise every other molecular structure in your hair (it will try to oxidise everything it comes into contact with!).
The consequence of this is the bleach will also start to react with the keratin protein molecular structures that make up your hair. These structures can be thought of as a network of chains all held together a bit like a fishing net. Oxidation of these chains causes them to break and as more of them break the weaker your hair becomes.
The longer bleach is left to oxidise the more it will do so provided there is enough oxygen available. The lightest blonde melanin is the most resistant to being oxidised and so by the time the lightest blonde has been oxidised the keratin structure of the hair will be so weakened that the hair no longer has any structure. When this happens the hair just dissolves in your hands (often described as feeling like chewing gum).
So if you try to bleach your hair to white it will inevitably be badly damaged or may even break off entirely.
Is it safe to bleach my hair?
Bleaching your hair is generally safe as long as your hair and scalp are both healthy, and in a good enough condition to withstand the chemical lightening process.
Bleaching can cause damage to both your hair and your scalp.
There are three ways in which your scalp can be damaged:
- Irritation due to sensitivity
- Allergic reaction
- Chemical burns
Your hair can be damaged in the following ways:
- Damage to di-sulphide bonds and peptide bonds resulting in breakage in the keratin polypeptide chains
- Loss of elasticity, breakage, split ends etc.
- Can lead to hair that is more porous (cuticle damage)
- Swelling of hair shaft (cuticle remains lifted) leaving hair fluffy and difficult to style
There are a wide range of Bleach products available, and the quality of the product used really does make a difference both in terms of the finished hair colour, condition of your hair and risk of damage to your scalp.
Unlike with tint there is no allergy test for bleach. Thankfully, an allergic reaction to bleach is much less common than to tint
High quality Salon Professional Hair Bleach contains a range of ingredients to protect your hair and scalp as much as possible during the service. The best bleach’s contain ingredients to protect the hydro-lipid layer of your scalp which acts as a natural barrier for your skin.
One important step before the service is to not wash your hair for at least 2 days beforehand and preferably longer. This allows natural oils to build up on your scalp and hair follicle that act as a protective barrier between the oxidising reaction and your skin.
It is also very important that the bleaching is carried out by a salon professional to avoid any unnecessary damage.
This should also be followed up with a care routine at home which includes using protein based products and hair treatments.
What are the different ways I can have my hair lightened (bleached)?
There are so many ways we can lighten your hair! Here is a brief summary of the most popular methods:
Full head Lightening: All over lightening of your hair to the same level (of lightness) which can either be for the first time or to lighten your roots if you have had a previous bleach application up to 5 to 7 weeks ago. If it has been longer than 7 weeks the lightening will be a higher price as a more complex application technique is required to avoid banding at the re-growth line and significant hair breakage.
Balayage: Brush strokes of colour as a specialist technique creating a huge range of options
Bespoke colour: From light to dark or dark to light or to correct varying tones
Highlights is a placing of bleach (typically in foils) to achieve a multi-toned look. There are many variations of highlights including the hair is selected (or weaved), the pattern for the placement of the foils, how many foils are used etc. Some looks have specific name like babylights.
What is Balayage?
Balayage is a seamless highlighting technique and a bespoke lightening service. It can be carried out in various ways including freehand painting or using a board. Balayage can be high or low, depending on the amount of blend into the root you desire and it is softer in appearance than highlights as it has a more natural finish, resulting in less maintenance.
Why is it called Balayage?
Balayage (balay pronounced ballet and age like the ending of garage) gets its name from a French word that means to sweep. It is a specialist technique that requires the colourist to freehand paint the product onto the hair in a sweeping motion. The best hair colourist are very much the best artists in terms of a very subtle and delicate painting technique which can take a very long time to master.
Should I bleach my hair?
Whether or not you should bleach your hair depends on your desired outcome and if your hair is suitable for this service.
For example, if you have dark hair but would like to go bright pink, we would need to bleach your hair to a clean pale yellow to ensure the pink colour will be bright and vibrant.
However, if your hair is already damaged, it cannot be bleached. Our stylists will carry out a strand test if they have doubts about your hair’s ability to withstand the chemical process.
Keeping your blonde fresh is another essential factor to consider. The two main factors are how often you may need to be visiting the salon to maintain your blonde and your budget for these appointments.
Some lightening services require more maintenance than others; for example, a scalp bleach would need to be followed up with appointments every 5-7 weeks.
All of these points are discussed during your consultation to make sure you have all of the information to make the correct decision.
Will bleach damage my hair?
Bleach is damaging to your hair but the damage can be managed by a combination of using high quality Salon Professional products, having professionally qualified stylists who have had extensive training and experience in bleaching hair and using the correct hair repair products.
Bleach is a powerful oxidising agent and hence is one of the most damaging products we can use on your hair. The process can damage the keratin matrix which gives your hair structure. Whilst the results can be fantastic, there are risks and so it is important that you have all the facts.
Your hair’s condition is equally as important as achieving the colour you want. The clear downside to lightening your hair (either using bleach or any product that lightens hair) is the damage to the hair structure. This will be seen in two ways:
- Cuticle damage
- Hair gets tangled much more easily due to damage to the outer surface of the hair which makes it less smooth
- Hair can become more porous if the cuticle is significantly damaged
- Hair can lose its shine which makes it look less healthy
- Cuticle damage at the tips can result in split ends
- Damage to the hair structure
- Hair breaks much more easily and frequently during and after the process
We aim to reduce the damage to your hair as a result of lightening in 4 ways:
- We use the highest quality bleach (professional only use) from the leading manufactures of Salon Professional Hair Products; Davines, Redken or Wella depending on the service
- We may perform a pre-test on a strand of your hair to check its ability to withstand bleaching
- Our professional colourists are all qualified (NVQ) hair colourists and are experts in these services. They have had the highest level of professional training with the bleach products and have experience with how much lightening is possible depending on the condition of your hair
- We use the leading hair repair products from Olaplex and K18 to reduce the damage to your hair structure during bleaching
Your colourist will advise on what is possible in your case considering the risk of hair breakage/damage during your colour consultation where we will also perform a skin allergy test for PPD.
How often do I need my bleach roots done?
If you are having all over lightening (scalp bleach) you need to have your roots bleached every 5 to 7 weeks. The reason for this is each of your hair strands grows at a different rate. If you leave your hair longer than 7 weeks you will see that the line of your roots (dark to light) becomes more blurred as some hair has grown faster than others.
Bleach cannot be applied over previously bleached hair that is light blonde for any significant time (we call this overlap). The lighter your hair has been bleached the weaker it will be and the quicker it will break if bleach is reapplied to it.
Roots that are over 7 weeks regrowth will suffer from too much overlap (we cannot practically apply bleach to each individual strand to avoid this!) which will result in really significant hair breakage.
To get the best bleach roots result have your roots done every 6 weeks. This minimises banding, meaning the variation in lightening between the previously bleached hair and the new root growth.
Should I bleach my hair at home?
Bleaching is a very specialist service, requires lots of practice and requires a lot of skill so it is something we would seriously advise against doing at home. Using the wrong products or using the correct products in the wrong way could cause a lot of damage to your hair and your scalp. Furthermore, bleach can be quite harmful when used in an unsafe environment such as an unventilated room (you should never breath in bleach powder), so the safest option is for a trained stylist to bleach your hair in a salon.
Often, when hair bleaching is carried out at home, the desired outcome is not reached and a bleach specialist stylist is then needed to fix it. Bleaching performed at home can go very badly wrong resulting either in really significant hair breakage (its quite possible for all your hair to be irreparably damaged) or serious and potentially permanent scalp damage. At the less serious end you just end up with a very patchy, uneven result which can be very time consuming and costly to fix.
It is much easier to skip the home bleaching and go straight to a stylist as not only is it less hassle, but it’s also safer for the hair and much easier for the stylist, therefore quicker and probably cheaper for you!
Is hair bleaching permanent?
When hair is bleached, the melanin colour pigment molecules are permanently changed. They cannot be reset back to the way they were.
Bleaching is not the same as applying a tint (or dye) where colour is added to hair and may then fade, or a semi-permanent colour, which can be washed out.
Bleaching can be thought of as colour removal whereas tint is applied on top of the existing colour. Some people mistakenly think of bleaching only as going lighter in colour that will then tone down to a darker colour over time or with washing. This is not the case. Bleached hair can change colour over time but it tends to look more warm or brassy which is a result of a toner fading over time. This is fixed either by using a toning hair care product or having a toning service in salon.
Even with the best bleach result and using all of the hair repair products your hair will always have some damage from the bleaching process that can only be fully repaired by growing out your hair.
Should I get my hair professionally bleached?
Bleaching should undoubtedly be carried out by a professional who specialises in this service as the stylist will be able to assess the condition of your hair and may advise against bleaching if there is a chance your hair could snap and break.
If you are unsure whether to bleach your hair, we would recommend booking in a colour consultation with the salon so a stylist can assess the condition of your hair and provide you with an advisory route to your desired outcome.
Will bleached hair go back to normal?
Bleached hair will not return to its natural state as bleaching is a permanent chemical service. Bleach removes natural and artificial colour pigments in the hair so if you wish to go back to your natural hair colour, you will simply need to grow it out. It is possible to use tint to colour your hair back to a very similar colour to your natural colour whilst your hair grows out. To find out more about this read the section below.
Once hair has been bleached, there will always be an amount of damage that is irreversible (until it has grown out). Bond repair products from K18 and Olaplex are excellent at repairing damage but they cannot completely repair damage, particularly cuticle damage that can occur from combining bleaching with hair wear and tear.
How can I get my bleached hair back to natural colour?
You will need to grow your hair out to get it back to its true natural colour. The colour pigment that has been oxidised cannot be returned back to its natural state.
Having said that, we can colour your hair as close to your natural colour as possible. The way that we do this will depend on how your hair has been coloured after is has been bleached.
If you have had a vibrant semi-permanent colour then that colour will need to be removed as much as possible to then allow a clean canvas for a permanent tint to be applied (if this isn’t done you will end up with a noticeable difference between the bleached hair and your natural hair as time passes).
Let’s say your hair is medium brown, you bleached it then coloured it purple.
- The 1st step to return to the medium brown is to remove the purple, as much as possible. This can happen in several ways;
- The purple fading naturally and using specific shampoos and hair cleansers such as Redken Cleansing Cream or Eleven Deep Clean Shampoo
- We also offer a colour removal service which uses a professional product that targets the removal of artificial hair dye
Once this step has been completed, we can begin step two.
- Step 2 is to tone the hair with a pre-pigment to create a more natural base to work with. When bleached hair’s natural undertones are removed, these tones need to be restored to the hair before adding the brown colour back into the hair otherwise the final result will not be achievable.
- Step 3 is to dye the hair as close to the original colour as possible by customising the tint blend to match both the level and tone of your natural hair
- Step 4 is to grow out your natural hair. This is the long part of the process as hair grows at around a 1cm per month and whilst it grows, the rest of the hair needs to be maintained.
- Step 5 is maintenance. As the brown colour naturally fades from the hair, the colour will begin to look warmer as the undertones from the pre-pigment begin to peek through. A top up colour at the salon will be required to keep the hair an even tone and to ensure it matches the root growth. In order to keep the initial colour in the hair for as long as possible, be sure you are washing with the correct products. For example, using products that are colour safe so will preserve the colour that little bit longer & washing your hair less frequently.
What products to use on bleached hair?
The most essential product to use on bleached hair is a hair bond repairing product. The two best ones available in our experience are from K18 and Olaplex. Depending on the condition of your hair you may need to have in salon treatments before your colour appointment and you may also need to do the take home treatments. Your colourist will always advise you based on your hair’s condition and the colour journey you would like to take.
Once your hair has been bleached, we highly recommend using protein and moisture-based products for cleansing, conditioning and treating. We stock a wide selection of products from what we consider to be the best haircare brands with the aim of providing you with the right product to meet your hair needs and your budget. We know its not just the product performance that is important, but what it is made from, how it is made and also how it looks and its scent.
Specifically for bleached hair we recommend in Authentic Beauty Concept to use the Replenish range, this consists of cleanser, conditioner, mask and spray conditioner (to leave-in).
In Eleven Australia we recommend Repair My Hair nourishing shampoo, Repair My Hair nourishing conditioner, plus miracle mask and miracle spray leave-in treatment.
In Redken we recommend Extreme Bleach Recovery Shampoo, Extreme Bleach Recovery Lamellar Treatment and Extreme Bleach Recovery Cica leave-in treatment.
In Pureology we recommend Strength Cure Shampoo, Strength Cure Conditioner, Colour Fanatic Deep Conditioning Mask and Strength Cure Best Blonde Miracle Filler leave-in treatment.
As you will see we recommend a three or four step maintenance routine. In the case of all the masks they offer an extra protein and moisture boost, and you only need to use every third or fourth wash, depending on how delicate your hair is.
Can too much protein be bad for your hair?
It is important to know you can overuse protein from hair products. If too much protein is used it can build up on your hair and this can result in your hair becoming duller as well as brittle and prone to snapping.
So, we recommend using the above routines straight after your bleach service, for the duration of the bottles only – do not buy and use them again. Once finished ask your colourist to re-assess your hair. At that point you should be ready for a solely moisture routine. Also available in our preferred ranges.
How to look after bleached hair
Our top recommendation is to use a course of either Olaplex or K18 treatment for repair after a bleach service.
Be sure to use the appropriate protein or moisture based products (depending on your hair condition) to keep your hair hydrated and less susceptible to breakage or damage.
Brush your hair daily and keep it as detangled as possible; knots will form more easily when hair has been bleached as the outer layers of the hair are damaged and thus more prone to friction with other hair strands. Brush your hair with a manta hairbrush, as this is the most delicate brush available that minimises the strain on your hair. Always brush when your hair has condition in, to protect from breakage.
Try to use minimal heat when drying and styling; too much heat will not only damage the hair but it will also dry it out and cause colour fade, working against any benefits that your moisture based products are providing.
If you are using heat when styling, always use a heat protection spray, such as ghd bodyguard spray. We highly recommend ghd platinum plus stylers as they are designed to regulate their plate temperature to the best temperature (185 degrees) for styling whilst minimising damage due to heat.
We also highly recommend avoiding tying your hair up too often, especially with elastic ties or bands with metal sections; this would result in breakage of the hair, regular headaches, or even traction alopecia. If you need to tie your hair up, make sure your hair is dry, use a soft scrunchie & make sure it is not too tight.
Having your hair cut every 6-8 weeks will keep the ends healthy.
Finally, we would also suggest using products with UV protection in them, particularly during the summer and if you are going on holiday, as this will help to prevent environmental damage. We recommend Davines Su Milk, a fantastic sun cream for your hair and scalp.
How to look after highlighted hair
To keep highlights looking bright, use purple toning shampoo to remove brassiness or yellowness. Avoid shampoos with sulphates listed in the ingredients (sodium lauryl sulphate (SLS) or sodium laureth sulphate (SLES) as these sulphates strip the toner (as well as natural oils) from your hair and leave the underlying tones showing through, meaning you would need to visit the salon more regularly to re-tone the hair.
How do I stop my hair from breaking?
Hair breakage is almost unavoidable but there are ways to maintain optimum hair health.
- Use hair treatments – masks and leave-in treatments will provide your hair with vital nutrients, proteins and hydration.
- Avoid tying it up too tightly and too often – pulling your hair back too tightly can cause breakage in the mid lengths or even traction alopecia.
- Don’t use heat on it too often – heat damages the hair and makes it much more prone to breakage, especially when holding the hair in a heated styler for several seconds.
- Squeeze and scrunch the water out of your hair with a towel after you have washed it rather than rubbing it with a towel – rubbing the hair creates unnecessary friction as the strands rub against each other and this can damage the cuticles.
- When brushing your hair we highly recommend the manta brush, as this is the most gentle brush available
How do I stop split ends?
Split ends are almost unavoidable but you can deal with them by having regular haircuts to stop the ends from splitting further up the strand, and ensuring the hair remains untangled.
Always use a leave-in treatment, for longer hair I recommend Redken’s Anti-snap leave-in cream treatment.
For medium to long hair, I recommend tying up in a soft scrunchie in a pineapple on the top of your head, when sleeping, so the ends are on your pillow and you are not lying on your hair. A silk pillow is also great for keeping your hair moisture in and not damaging the cuticle.
Your hair is most delicate when wet so always treat it more carefully until it is dry. Try to avoid the ends getting caught in your clothes, in your shoulder straps of bags, especially when your hair is wet.
Does chlorine affect bleached hair?
Yes sadly chlorine can affect bleached hair in a number of ways. In fact chlorine is pretty bad for hair in general. Its added to swimming water to control bacteria growth but is also a bleaching and oxidising agent, that dehydrates hair and also reacts with metals to create compounds that can leave a green tinge to your hair. Not great news I’m afraid!
Bleached hair is more susceptible to the affects of Chlorine because it is already likely to have suffered some cuticle damage from bleaching. This makes it more porous and so more likely to lose moisture in the first place and the Chlorine just makes this moisture loss worse.
Chlorine fades natural and artificial hair colour by bonding with the colour pigment molecules and making them no longer appear as they did.
Does chlorine turn bleach hair green?
Yes it can! It’s a combination of chlorine and copper that can be found in chlorinated swimming water that has the blue-green appearance.
Chlorine corrodes copper and given that copper pipe is often used for plumbing, its quite common to have Copper Chloride in swimming water. Copper Chloride has a blue-green appearance and so if you have enough of it on blonde hair it can start to give your hair a green appearance. The more Copper Chloride you have in your hair the more it will look green.
Its more visible on blonde hair rather than darker hair – its often masked on darker hair by the dark hair colour.
How do I protect hair from chlorine?
- Saturate your hair with non-chlorinated water before going into the pool. If you can have your hair absorb as much chlorine free water as possible before going in the pool as it will result in less of the chlorine compounds being absorbed into your hair when you swim.
- Its best to use a swimming cap (like all the pro swimmers do) and if you do then its worth applying a leave-in conditioner to your hair beforehand which will help stop chlorinated water being absorbed into the cortex and your cuticle
- As soon as you have got out of the water wash your hair thoroughly ideally using a chelating or clarifying shampoo.
What is a chelating shampoo?
A chelating shampoo contains ingredients that are good at removing metals from hair. They contain compounds that will bond to metals when they come into contact with them which can then be washed away. This process is called chelation or chelating (and gets its name from how it grabs and bonds to the metal). Ethylene Diamine Tetraacetic Acid (EDTA) is an ingredient that is often used as a chelating agent and is found in shampoos such as Redken Hair Cleansing Cream.