Bleaching – The Basics

I will guide you through the whole process of getting rainbow hair, but please have a look at the whole series of posts before actually getting started on your hair. The posts are organized by topic rather than true step by step instructions. But first things first:

Do I need to bleach my hair?

There is not an right answer to this question, but probably yes.

If you have really light hair, maybe you can get to your desired color without bleaching first. The darker your desired color is, the more likely you are to get away without bleaching. It is impossible to get to a really bright color if you are not starting with white/bleached hair. Bleaching will almost always make your hair take in dye pigments much better, which means brighter colors that last longer. But as always, I think the easiest way to find out is to test it on a strand.

Bleaching, the Basics

I’m mostly shopping for my hair stuff at ROMA, a chain selling professional grade hair supplies. I’ve always been living close enough to one of their stores, so I have been buying their bleaching products since I started the whole rainbow hair thing.

My hair before bleaching.

And after.

A word of warning: I have bleached hair in the United States once, and how they label bleach volumes there seems to be different from Europe. Not sure why or how (It’s been a while), but they were labeled differently. So if you’re not in Austria (like I am) please be aware that there can be regional differences in how the products are marketed/labelled – So read the instructions of the products you actually want to use first.

This is not to say that bleaching your hair is dangerous or something you need to be afraid of. Just be aware that it is damaging your hair, no matter how gentle your or your helpers or hairdresser are. Bleaching, in the end, is the process of intentionally destroying your natural hair structure.

Bleaching, the Process.

I’m using a two-part product, consisting of hydrogen peroxide (A liquid that is about the consistency of shampoo) and bleaching powder. The peroxide is available in different strengths, or volumes, and the bleaching powder is the same for all of them. Where I shop you get the peroxide in 6%, 9%, and 12% volumes.
When mixed together, the chemicals start reacting: This reaction is what bleaches your hair. The reaction stops at some point, so if you take more than half an hour from combining your chemicals to finish applying the mixture to your hair the reaction time might become a problem. If you think you need more time, just work in batches and take your time.

The first factor to consider is your hair color: Mine is a dark blonde, so I use 6% peroxide for myself. This is the weakest peroxide option one can buy here. For darker hair you need stronger volumes, and you also need to be more careful about damaging your hair and skin.

This is a friend’s hair before bleaching, his hair is almost black.

And after – he uses 12% bleach and his scalp is not particularly happy about that.

If you are not sure about the right product, I would suggest doing a test run. Take a strand of hair and try the bleach on it to see what it does, and if you’re happy with the outcome. Seriously. If you’re bleaching your hair for the first time it’s safer to waste an hour or two on a test run than to potentially fry all your hair. Be aware that a higher volume bleach also means it is more irritating to your skin, so if you have sensitive skin you might want to consider that as well.

You want to use the least aggressive product that gets the job done – and that depends on three factors: The first one is the hair color you’re starting from. The lighter your hair is, the easier it will be. Really dark hair, or hair that already is permanently dyed is harder to bleach.

The second factor is the hair color you want to reach. When bleaching your hair, it will first go orange, then yellow, and then eventually it will become white (actually, it will rather be a really light shade of yellow). If you want to dye your hair hot pink, red, orange or some other color that already has a lot of yellow in it, don’t worry about getting your hair white. For my regular pink and purple shades, I usually don’t bother and just bleach to bright yellow. This is also true for most shades of green, as green is made by mixing blue and yellow, so starting with yellow hair is fine (orange is a problem). If you want light grey or lavender tones, or anything blue, you want to get your hair as white as possible. If you want to go bright orange, on the other hand, you can start from an orange shade just as well.

And third is the structure of your hair. Regardless of the hair color you are starting with, thick, coarse hair is usually a bit harder to bleach – especially if you have a lot of hair.

Just don’t rush it when bleaching your hair for the first time. Take your time to figure out what works for you. Write down what works best, so you remember for the next time.