Ah, the early 2000s – the era of boy bands, Myspace, mirror selfies and hair that was colored in your basement sink with a bottle of bleach and peroxide, à laand Beyoncé. (Hey, hindsight is 20/20, right?)
Thankfully, most of those questionable times are behind us, and our adult hair is now — or seriously should be — dyed in the safety of a salon, with skilled, non-angsty hands. Still, even though your colourist isn’t dousing your hair with straight bleach like you did in 2003, the damage from lightening it can be pretty severe, especially if you don’t know what to ask for, how to prep your hair, or how to take care of it afterwards.
To help you out, I chatted with celebrity hairstylist and all-around hair guru Kristin Ess to find out exactly what you need to know before bleaching your hair.
1. Be realistic
No matter what, going platinum blonde will damage your hair to an extent. Sorry. Lightening your hair to white-blonde levels requires the use of either hydrogen peroxide or bleach to create an irreversible chemical reaction in your hair cuticle, explains Kristin. And although the formulas used in salons are gentler than what you’d find under your sink, they’re still going to leave your hair somewhat dry and damaged, especially if you’re starting with dark or coarse hair.
‘The darker your natural hair colour is, the more pigment you’ll need to remove to get to a platinum level, which requires a harsher process,’ says Kristin. ‘It’s also harder to remove pigment from coarse strands than fine strands, so know that there’s only so much you can do to prevent damage if you have dark, coarse hair.’
2. Step away from Google
That R300 bottle of ‘non-damaging’ and ‘magical’ bleach you found on the internet? Run. Fast. ‘When it comes to bleaches, you 100% get what you pay for,’ says Kristin. ‘Not all formulas are the same. You want to use higher-quality, less-damaging bleaches that have nourishing additives, like Brazilian Bond Builder, to help preserve the health of the hair.’
These formulas are going to cost you more, sure, ‘but if you want to keep your hair strong and healthy, it’s all very, very necessary,’ Kristin adds, especially if you’re not cool with hardcore breakage, dryness, frizz, and flyaways. Though prices can vary greatly per salon and location, you should expect to pay upwards of R2 000 for a good bleach job. Hey, beauty doesn’t come cheap.
3. Find a really good colourist
If you’re a dye virgin, Kristin strongly recommends splurging for the best colourist you can find — (even via word of mouth) — rather than trying to find the salon with the cheapest price (since cheaper usually means harsher formulas).
‘Find a hair colourist you trust implicitly to give you the best of the best,’ says Kristin. Or, at the very least, find a colourist with good enough reviews (and pretty enough Instagram photos), that you feel confident in their abilities. ‘He or she is probably going to be more expensive, but that’s because it costs colourists more to get you the good stuff. Platinum blonde hair is an investment if you want it done correctly.’
4. Build a bond with your hair
‘The darker, coarser, or curlier your natural hair is, the more conditioning you’re going to need both before and after bleaching it,’ says Kristin. To help mitigate the damage, she recommends slathering on a deep-conditioning mask, like the Wella Enrich Moisturizing Treatment or her own Kristin Ess Strand Strengthening Moisture Mask (trust me; it’s genuinely a good mask), over your dry hair every night for the week before and after your appointment, in addition to a using a weekly bond-repairing treatment.
‘If you’re going platinum blonde, you need to use a product that helps repair and strengthen the bonds in your hair fibres,’ she says. Yes, that all sounds like marketing jargon, but these salon-level treatments, like the cult-favorite Olaplex Hair Perfector No. 3, really do help toughen up and protect your hair.
To use it at home, just comb a palmful of cream through your damp hair, leave it on for as long as possible (overnight with a shower cap is best, but at least 30 minutes, if that’s all you have time for), then shampoo as usual. You’ll notice softer, shinier hair after one use, and significantly less breakage with consistent use.
5. Mark your calendar
If lightening your hair damages it, you should probably wait as long as possible between touch-ups, right? Wrong. ‘In order to keep your hair color perfectly even and consistent, you want fairly minimal root grow-out—ideally less than an inch,’ says Kristin. ‘If you wait too long between touch-ups, you risk getting a ‘band’ of slightly different shades of blonde around your head, which will require a full-on, all-over bleach job to correct.’ And that is severely damaging.
‘If you’re getting a bleach and tone — aka going platinum — make an appointment before you leave the salon for a touch-up in four-to-six weeks so you don’t forget,’ recommends Kristin.
6. Keep it up
Considering you’ll have already sunk a ton of time and money into your hair by the time you walk out of the salon, I’m guessing you’ll want to keep your colour as bright and shiny as possible, right? Enter: purple products – ie shampoos and conditioners infused with purple pigments that help counteract the brassy tones that naturally develop in blonde hair. Once a week, use them in place of your usual shampoo and conditioner to keep your colour rich and clear.
Hey, nobody said platinum was a low-maintenance or cheap hairstyle, but if you want your gloriously blonde hair to look less like a walking early-naughts Myspace photo and more like a Blake Lively hair commercial, then I suggest following all of the above to a T, without cutting corners. Your hair will thank you.