Spontaneous choices about my appearance aren’t really a thing for me. An idea pops into my head and it either sticks or it doesn’t.
This past September, I had one of those ideas: what if I bleached my dark, rich brown hair to icy platinum blonde?
I researched cost, upkeep, concerns. I read XoVain’s umpteen blonde transformation articles. (I noted what they were missing that I would have liked to read and promised myself that I’d include that info when I wrote my own article about it.) I looked for pictures and inspiration. I weighed the pros and cons. By early November I knew the idea had stuck. I wanted blonde hair for Christmas.
Making The Leap
I got in touch with the colorist, Kelly*, at my regular salon to set up an appointment and get some advice. I shared my blonde inspiration Pinterest board with her so she could get a specific idea of the shade I was going for. I also shared pictures of what I didn’t want as I feel that’s just as important. When she saw the pictures Kelly initially had reservations about how light she could get my hair to be, but the strand test came out beautifully.
I didn’t wash my hair the day of the appointment. Some sites recommend things like soaking your locks in coconut oil but Kelly said that was unnecessary and may hinder the stylist’s ability to apply the bleach.
At the start of the appointment we decided it would be fun if I didn’t look in the mirror till it was all over — I love surprises!
During The Process
The actual process was weirdly lots of fun. I’d read horror stories about scalps feeling like they were on fire; clumps of hair falling out; endless hours of boredom, so I did come prepared with InStyle and snacks, but I ended up barely touching either.
Since the atmosphere of Kelly’s salon is very tight knit and friendly I actually found myself chatting with other customers about the process (they loved the idea of such a dramatic change and were very impressed by my moxie) and caught up with Kelly and the other stylists. The owner who has been doing hair for decades was astonished at how fast my locks lightened. Since all the hair on my head was barely a year old it was extremely healthy and unprocessed which helped the color lift.
The whole process took around three and a half hours for me and I had very very short, healthy hair. If you have longer hair or you’ve dyed it once or twice expect things to take much longer!
The final 30 minutes were the hardest. Kelly shampooed and toned my hair and it was so fried that it took a while for her to brush out the tangles and blow dry it. (I used to be able to slip a brush through my hair straight out of the shower.)
The stylists were buzzing about my noggin positively bursting with compliments. Eventually I’d heard “It’s so perfect!” so many times that I began to wonder if it had turned out really badly. (There is such a thing as too many compliments, people.)
Finally I was whipped around to face the mirror — and I wanted to cry. It was exactly what I didn’t want. My hair was yellower than Kim K’s during Paris Fashion Week.
Luckily I’d been working my butt off on confrontation skills, so I managed to tentatively explain that it looked too yellow and it wasn’t as ashy as I’d wanted.
I regret to say that the reaction to my honesty was a little cold; the whole salon tried to convince me that it was exactly the shade of blonde I’d wanted.
Kelly told me to call back in a few days if I still didn’t like it. Of course I did call back because it was my hair and I know that I didn’t get what I asked for even if the stylist thought I did. Kelly said that in order to get my hair as light as I wanted it she would need to bleach it again. So 7:30 AM the following Saturday found me in the chair again.
I brought pictures (though I wondered whether that would have any influence on the outcome considering the original results) yet again to give visuals of the color I was going for.
This time around Kelly was convinced she knew what I wanted. She was wrong. She bleached all the pigment out of my hair. I looked like Einstein. And this time my deep-seated people pleasing tendencies took over (I was too emotional and disappointed to fight them) and I told her I loved it.
The worst part? My hair was so damaged that I couldn’t wash it for days — I couldn’t even get it wet. Once I finally started showering again (much to my coworkers’ delight) I went through a period of absolute terror, thinking I was going bald. Although it turned out I wasn’t losing all my hair, I now have a patch of one-inch-long hairs at the crown of my head where clumps of it broke off.
A Happy Ending
There is a happy ending: about four days after the second bleach job I felt much better about the reflection in the mirror. Was I getting used to my new Doc Brown look? Nope — turns out that, just like blonde hair, white hair acquires a yellow tint as time goes on (which is why blondes use purple shampoo), meaning that I finally ended up with that gorgeous white-blonde platinum shade that I originally wanted.
I spent the next six weeks rocking bright red lipstick and enjoying the unoriginal nickname my coworkers gave me (yes, it was “Marilyn”), but by mid-January I had scratched the itch. I was done being blonde. The damage was overwhelming and I wanted my healthy hair with its commercial-worthy shine back.
I missed being called “Snow White.” I felt that I’d set out on an adventure and I finished it just as I meant to, but I was ready to move on to the next one — which I did a few weeks ago. My hair is now purple.
I learned a lot from this experience, and I kinda feel like a blonde hair guru now.
Here are the most important tips I can give for going blonde that I wish I saw before I’d taken the plunge:
Color maintenance choices depend on how white you want your hair. I needed a nice balance between a Doc Brown ‘do and banana yellow so I used Clairol Shimmer Lights shampoo once or twice a week. For some reason the most common piece of blonde advice is to use purple conditioner, but that stuff is strong — essentially a dye. If you find that the shampoo doesn’t do the trick then try a conditioner with caution.
Your hair texture may change dramatically. The first time I bleached my natural waves got switched out for incredible volume. The second time around I lost the volume and my hair acquired the texture of straw. If you’re fond of your curls then this is not the process for you.
Your hair will feel drier than the Sahara, but do not go overboard with moisture! Use a deep moisturizing mask once a week and alternate a detangling conditioning leave-in spray with a protein treatment every other day. Too much moisture will cause your hair to fall out. (Trust me. It happened to me.)
Don’t bother busting your dollars on overpriced products. I purchased this shampoo and this leave-in spray from Sephora and found that both products did more harm than good (not to mention the poor packaging quality).
Here’s the basic schedule of hair care that I followed:
Sunday: Rinse with silicone-free conditioner. I used Suave Naturals in Strawberry and it was very gentle on my hair.
Monday: Wash once with Shimmer Lights shampoo. Follow with L’Oreal mask.
Tuesday: Cleansing conditioner. Rinse with Suave Naturals.
Wednesday: Rinse with Suave Naturals.
Thursday: Cleansing conditioner followed by Suave Naturals.
Friday: Wash once with Shimmer Lights shampoo. Rinse with Suave Naturals.
Saturday: Cleansing conditioner followed by Suave Naturals.
Have you ever considered going blonde? What’s stopping you? How do you get along with your stylist? Do you have any hair tips to share?
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