Bleaching your hair 101

In order to achieve bright colored hair, you have to bleach. There is no way around it. I’ll be the first to admit, it’s scary. Of course it is, this is what could hurt your hair and leave it damaged. You will need to bleach your hair even if it’s fair to begin with. Bleaching your hair not only makes it lighter but makes it porous so the dye can be absorbed.

This guide was written with a two different types of people in mind – those with hair that is already dyed a “fantasy” color and want to start doing it themselves, and those with light colored hair. If you have dark hair that is either dyed dark, or naturally dark this post may not be for you. My hair is fairly light to begin with so it’s pretty easy to me to achieve a light color. I am not a professional and I can only speak from my own experiences. Just be aware that everyone’s hair is different and will react differently to bleach.

When I first decided I wanted pink hair I had been dyeing my hair black for years and years. I knew nothing about hair so I went to a professional who over the process of a few months lightened my hair slowly to a light enough color that I was able to dye it pink. Because it’s something I’m not personally experienced in I really don’t have much to say about going from black to a bright color except that it’s very rarely possible to do safely in one step. Patience is key, and I would highly recommend going to a professional who is extremely knowledgeable in color. Take your time lightening your hair! Seriously, all the work you did to get from black to pink (or whatever color) won’t be so pretty when your hair is fried, looks like straw, feels gummy when wet, and takes forever to dry.

My bleach of choice is, and always has been, Beyond The Zone Radical Bleach Kit. It works like a charm. By the time I’m done applying it I usually only have to wait seven or eight minutes before my hair is nearly white and ready to rinse. I follow the directions on the package all except for the recommended time which in my opinion is extremely excessive. If you were to follow the time guidelines there is a very good chance your hair would be fried. My best advice is to peek up under the cap every few minutes to keep an eye on how quickly it’s processing.

A few days before.
I recommend bleaching a few days after making the decision to bleach. Not because you’ll change your mind or anything like that but because those few days will give you time to prepare. I use those days before bleaching to deep condition the heck out of my hair (which also helps with fading!) You want your hair to be in tip top shape before bleaching it. Here’s a list of my favorite deep conditioners, and I cannot recommend a boar hair brush enough. Boar hair brushes are great for distributing your scalps natural oils to the rest of your hair and your oils help protect your hair. When I know I’ll be bleaching my hair I try my best to use the boar hair brush every night before bed.

Day of.
I recommend not washing your hair on the day you bleach your hair. Like I mentioned above, oils protect your hair. I like to make sure mine is good and greasy so I’ll use the boar hair brush right before bleaching.

Follow the package’s direction, and get to applying. Not to stress you out or anything, but every minute counts. Don’t dilly dally around. If you have long hair make sure you have enough bleach mixed up before starting. For reference, my hair is on the thin side and at shoulder length one Beyond The Zone Radical Bleach Kit will cover about half of my hair. If I’m only doing my roots, which is usually the case, one pacakge is fine.

Don’t forget to put a shower cap on after applying bleach. You don’t want it dry up.

After bleaching.
You’ve checked in the mirror and your hair looks sufficiently light enough? Rinse it immediately! I try to rinse out bleach in the sink just so I don’t have it running all down my body. I do not use any products when rinsing out. Just make sure to rinse thoroughly. Like I mentioned above, part of the reason we’re bleaching is to make the hair porous enough to hold color. Conditioning your hair at this point would be counterproductive.

Now it’s time to dye your hair. I’ve never found a difference whether I wait until my hair dries or if it’s wet when dyeing it so it’s your preference – just make sure you’re doing it same day. Waiting until the next day will give your hair time to produce new oils that will effect how porous your hair is and how it holds dye.

A few more tips…
It doesn’t have to be white or one even color after bleaching for it look great after dyeing. Just like “normal” hair colors, bright colors look best when they have more than one shade and aren’t a flat color.  I honestly think that’s the biggest factor in whether or not hair color looks good or not.

How light your hair needs to be depends on which color you’re trying to achieve. The blue-ish tint that the bleach left my hair in the photo above was perfectly fine for dyeing my hair pink/purple but probably wouldn’t have been acceptable for a shade of orange. Something to remember is that rules of color blending somewhat apply with hair dye too. The dark blue streaks the bleach left appeared purple when I applied pink dye to my hair.

If possible, only bleach your roots. If your roots are getting long and that’s why you’re working with bleach, only apply the bleach to your new growth. Overlapping bleached hair makes your hair brittle in that spot. I recently shared my two tips for switching hair colors easily which should help eliminate any need to bleach the whole length of your hair if you already have an unnatural color.

Do not double bleach. Meaning don’t rinse your hair after bleaching and start all over again…EVER. Your hair will need a resting period and a handful conditioning treatments before bleaching again. If your hair is dark most likely the easiest option will be to bleach, then dye your hair a color similar to what the bleach left you with and keep doing this over a period of time making sure to condition and baby your hair. Like I said at the beginning of this post, patience is key here.

Have a friend help, if possible. If not, get yourself a few mirrors! The hardest part about bleaching (and dyeing) your own hair is getting the back. It’s super easy to miss pieces unless you can see. If you’ve got a friend willing to help ya, that’s awesome. If not, you’re not outta luck, just pick yourself up a handheld mirror. I do as best as I can then double check my work the handheld mirror. If you’re not confident in your skills find a way to rig your handheld mirror to something so you always be watching what you’re doing in the bathroom mirror.

If you have other any general hair questions, or questions about my hair – let me know. I’d love to share more hair related content on The Dainty Squid but I need to know what you want to learn about. I’m currently working on a hair color troubleshooting post so if you have any issues you keep running into, I’m all ears!
You can find more hair dye tips and guides in my hair master post.


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  • Long time hair experimenter here with a few tips I've learned with my hair. I have dark thick hair, so my experience is probably different than kaylah- but in case a reader is similar to me can't hurt to post right? Sometimes your hair being porous isn't actually a good thing, it can refuse to take dye, depending on your hair type. I normally rest my hair for a few days without washing and then I'm good to go. If you aren't working with dark or previously dyed hair, 40 volume developer can be overkill. 20 volume developer is going to be gentler on your hair, but take a bit longer. For me at least, having naturally dark hair that pulls a bit red- wearing a shower cap is only going to give me really bad hot roots. It concentrates your head heat making your roots develop much faster than the rest of your hair.

    • Arrrrg. I typed a massive comment and my computer ate it.

      ANYWAY. It's kind of hilarious you have had a complete opposite experience to mine. This is all what works perfectly for me. Guess it just goes to show how all hair really is different and different things will work for other people.

  • This is great! I'm loving your hair posts and had your Master Color post up when I went shopping for pink. So glad you did this one because I'm thinking I'll need to do bleach myself soon and it's SCARY!

  • You consistently achieve the most vibrant colors which look so gorgeous! As a dark haired gal I live vicariously through your rainbow of shades. 🙂

  • Hey Kaylah,

    I'm really wanting to bleach my hair so I can have it a lovely purple but I have scalp psoriasis and I'm not sure weather to or not. I dye it dark purple or sometimes black and I never have any problems. I'm just wondering what you would recommend?

  • Re: seeing what you're doing to the back- I have a cheapo full length mirror like you can get at Target or wherever, when I'm dyeing my hair I move it into the bathroom, put it across from the wall mirror and angle it so I can see what I'm doing pretty much the whole time. Super helpful in not discovering an undyed splotch later!

    Also, you can saturate your hair with coconut oil and put the bleach on right over it. It def protects your hair some and doesn't really effect the bleaching action, IMO.

  • I am a long time hair dye experimenter. And just want to say that after I had kids my hair reacted COMPLETELY differently to hair dye. I had to change my entire dying routine.

  • Thanks for this great post: I also have unnatural hair colors for many years now and I always enjoy tips from someone with hair as great as yours! The bleach part used to be scary. Your post on the subject in 2011 (Was it really that long ago?!!) gave me the confidence to try it myself and I never looked back, learning more tricks along the way.

    My hair are the total opposite of yours: very dark, curly and dry to start with, so I'd like to share my experience as well, if that's OK. The funny thing is that since I dye my hair unnatural colors and I can't bear non-shinny unhealthy unconventional hair (those colors are far less forgiving than "regular" ones I think), I take extra care of them and they never have been so healthy in my entire life (even when I was having them in their natural color!).

    I do my root bleaching at home, using Jerome Russel bleach kit (it's cheaper than the Beyond the zone one and, in my hands, works as well). I like to use 30 vol (40 vol works faster, but is harder on your hair) and let it sit for 10-15 min before rinsing. My hair are then orange-y yellow and take dyes like a charm (I found out that even green will work on orange-y yellow bleached hair).
    As my hair are naturally dry (I wash them only twice a week and even then, my roots are not oily yet), I don't think they'd produce enough oil to protect them, so I apply a fair amount of coconut or olive oil on the entire hair. The bleach works the same on my oil covered or regular hair I think, but I find that they benefit from the extra treatment.

  • I've never attempted to bleach my own hair…. good thing, too, because my most recent foray into pink left my hairdresser completely puzzled! Apparently my hair does not take well to bleach. She was using the strongest she had and it sat on my hair for well over forty minutes and my hair still wasn't even close to white. Apparently my hair just wants to be dark!

  • I love your hair posts and I dyed my hair turquoise after reading some of your early posts about it, which lasted SO long without fading and got SO many compliments. One thing I'd love to see featured in one of your hair posts is your technique for having multiple colours at once. You often have the lower layer a different colour and it looks really cool. I'd love to know things like, do you use foil, how do you combat colours bleeding into each other, do you get help from someone else, etc.

  • Hey Kaylah,
    I would like to know if you have troubles with leaving stains on light clothes and pillows. Do you ever got blue ears? I am dyeing my hair with "Directions". The dark blue always produce colored ears… I never had these with a lighter blue… What about you? Do you have this experience, too? When I changed from Direction to Manic Panic and Stargazer (both a dark blue) it was the same? What about your Punky Color?

    • Right? Waiting until it's completely dry is kind of a waste of time.

      I should note that "wet" for me means thoroughly towel dried, not dripping wet or anything.

  • Thanks for this! I need to track down this bleach. I had a Demi-permanent blue in for months and have been trying to fade it out with no luck. I've bleached it four times and it is STILL blue. What a nightmare! Hopefully I have good results with the bleach you use.

  • Do you use bleach to remove all the color when swapping to a new one? Or do you use some kind of remover? You change colors so often, and you can't be just doing the roots when you swap.

  • Is there a way to keep blue hair from turning green? The hair has already been bleached so I don't want to damage it, but the blue always ends up fading to a green/teal look instead of the blue we are trying to achieve.

    • If you're having issues with your blue turning green it's probably because your hair isn't light enough or still has too much of a yellow base. Tone it! …or just learn to love the green. 😉

  • Your hair is gorgeous! Especially the fiery orange shade that you had in your "7 Tips for Maintaining Bright Hair Color" blog post. Your bleach job is clearly flawless and you always have the most magical vibrant hair.

  • I recently made the choice to grow my roots out and go more “natural” only because it was costing me $100-$200 every 4 weeks at the salon…. so I can’t tell you how excited I am to be inspired by your hair posts to start doing it myself! I have been SO bored with my natural hair (it was nice for a change but boy do I miss my orange hair!) so I’m stoked about all the info you’ve provided! I’m going to start collecting some of your hair care recommendations and get started!
    In one of your other posts you recommended coconut oil – do you just put it in your hair and rinse it out??

    • I put it on the ends of my hair before bed, lay a towel down on my pillow, then wash and rinse as normal in the morning! My hair gets greasy pretty easily so I definitely wouldn’t put it up near my roots or I’d be a greasy mess even after washing it out.

      Good luck! 🙂