The Right Way To Bleach Your Hair At Home

Photographed by Nina Westervelt.
There are trends, and there are trends: the ones so beloved by celebs and the everywoman alike that they just don’t seem to quit. They pop up over and over again, until they’re no longer just crazes — they’re signs of our times. The hair trend with perhaps the most longevity? Gotta be platinum. Everyone from Kylie Jenner to your own next-door neighbor is rocking the hue. Even our very own Mi-Anne Chan took the plunge and transformed her locks from brunette to blonde to pastel pink. So, why shouldn’t you?
Turns out, you don’t have to sink thousands into creating and maintaining a megawatt blond — it’s totally doable at home. Now, know that this concept will surely worry some. And yes, many pros, like Maria's colorist, Roxie Darling of Hairstory in New York City, will warn against it — but that doesn't stop many of us rebels from doing it successfully. So, if you’re brave, confident, and skilled enough, read on. Tip: Use your best judgment — this is not for everyone.
Click through our slideshow to learn every tip and trick you'll need to go platinum at home.
Edit. Note: A previous version of this story describes using 40 vol. developer in certain circumstances. It has been changed to reflect the dangers that can be associated with using high volume developers without experience. Always seek professional help before bleaching or coloring your hair at home.
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Photographed by Nina Westervelt.
Step 1: Evaluate Your Risk
“The best and lightest results are seen on hair that is virgin — no hair dye at all — and shades that are light brown and [lighter],” says Alex Brownsell, Bleach London founder and celebrity colorist. You can do it on darker hair, but it will require some patience, and the damage will inevitably be greater.
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Step 2: Prep
Bleach can strip your hair of life, so taking a few preemptive steps could mean the difference between silky, white strands and a damaged mop. “I’d advise doing lots of conditioning masks for two weeks before the actual bleaching to build up the strength of the hair,” says Brownsell. “And don’t wash your hair for a couple of days prior, since bleaching freshly washed hair can be slightly irritating to the scalp.”

Looking for a mask to protect and repair before you add more fuel to the fire? There are dozens of A+ hair treatments on the market today. We love the Amika Nourishing Hair Mask, which works for a variety of hair types and serves up a serious dose of hydration.

Amika Nourishing Hair Mask, $28, available at Sephora.
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We're also big fans of Kérastase Masque Elixir Ultime, which deeply moisturizes parched strands while somehow still feeling weightless after you wash it out.

Kérastase Masque Elixir Ultime, $24, available at Kérastase.
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Kristin Ess' formula is also a foolproof option — and it rings in at only $14.

Kristin Ess Strand Strengthening Reconstructive Moisture Mask, $14, available at Target.
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Looking for a great mask to protect your strands? We love this treatment, which is both deeply hydrating and wonderfully lightweight.

Living Proof Restore Mask Treatment, $12, available at Sephora.
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Step 3: Bleach
One of the most trusted bleaches — L’Oréal Quick Blue Powder — is also extremely cost-effective. Mix it in a bowl with some developer, which will lift hair color quickly and drastically, until the formula is about the consistency of yogurt. Darling recommends using a 30-volume developer.

Fair warning about this step in the game: The developer you pick is incredibly important, not only for safety, but for reaching your desired results. This writer has successfully used 40-volume developer for years to lift hair to a dramatic white-blonde sans extreme damage — but that takes major skill and a hair type that happily obliges. (Those with thin, brittle hair or a sensitive scalp should never use a developer that high, even with major experience.)

Moral of the story: Stick to a lower volume developer unless a colorist who knows you and your hair instructs otherwise. Even with this warning, however, we still suggest seeking the advice of a professional when picking your products.

After putting on some rubber gloves, use a tint or dye brush to apply the bleach all over your head, parting hair with the pointy end of the brush to get as close to the roots as possible. Let the bleach sit for 30 to 45 minutes, checking in the mirror periodically until your hair is a consistent light-yellow color.

Full disclosure: If you have darker hair, you'll need to go through the bleaching process a few times in order to see full results. Our pros advise waiting a few weeks between every bleach. If you OD on the stuff, it could damage strands to the point that they'll start to fall out. If a slow transition is not for you, you'll need to visit a salon professional.

L'Oréal Quick Blue High Performance Powder Lightener, $24.99, available at Sally Beauty.
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Photo: Via Bleach London.
Step 4: Tone
After rinsing out the bleach and lightly shampooing, it’s time for the most important step — the one that makes hair a cool white, rather than a brassy yellow. Apply a toner, like Bleach London's, all over damp hair, and let it sit for about 20 to 30 minutes. This step can be a little messy, so relax in the tub while you wait. Rinse thoroughly, and finish with a mask.

Toner kits don't have to be terribly expensive either, so don't worry about quality control. This Bleach & Toner Kit from Sally Beauty is easily available and leaves a bright, frosted 'do behind.

Bleach London White Toner Kit, $10.95, available at Bleach London.
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To keep the color vibrant and lessen the risk of drying out your ends, opt for a product without ammonia like purple shampoo. After bleaching, slather on a healthy dose of the colored formula and leave it for 10 minutes, then rise. Et voilà!

dpHue Cool Blonde Shampoo, $24, available at Ulta Beauty.
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Step 5: Maintain
“Maintain with Bleach Silver Shampoo and Conditioner,” Brownsell advises. These purple products will offset all that gunky brassiness and restore hair to a lustrous white. (Leave in both the shampoo and conditioner for a slight deposit of violet, which will keep your locks an icy shade of platinum.) Continue using a mask treatment once a week to keep hair strong and healthy, and regularly apply a strengthening leave-in oil, like this certified-organic restoring treatment, to your ends.

John Masters Organics Dry Hair Nourishment & Defrizzer, $20, available at Ulta.
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Don't underestimate the power of a leave-in. Danilo, who's done Gwen Stefani's hair for over 20 years, can attest to this. “Leave-in conditioners — that's really the secret," he once told us. "So many people are blow drying and using hot tools, which is where most of the damage happens — so I'm always telling people to learn how to work with leave-in conditioning at every stage of styling. I use the Moisture Leave In Creme from Pantene on almost everyone; it’s a wonderful cream that leaves the hair moisturized. I mist it onto clean, dry hair to start, then I put in my volumizers, and maybe mousse, depending on the hair. I dry them in with a mixed-bristle brush, always blowing in the direction of my style. And then I'll go back in with my tools, using cream on small sections throughout. You can reapply it over and over on set and it doesn’t get greasy."

Pantene Pro-V Smoothing Combing Créme, $5.99, available at Walgreens.
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No matter how well you take care of your newly-bleached hair, there will come a time when it needs some heavy-duty hydration. That’s when you turn to this insanely rich, intense masque, which is packed with oils to deeply moisturize even the driest, most damaged lengths and ends. Yes, it’s expensive — but a little goes a long way and makes a huge difference.

Leonor Greyl Masque Quintessence, $145, available at Nordstrom.

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