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Why You Should Never Bleach Your Hair (And what to Do Instead)

Curated by Claudia Shannon / Research Scientist / ishonest

Due to the spread of COVID-19, salons across the country have closed, and many have taken their hair into their own hands at home — literally. And while it may be fine to remove your gel manicure at home or trim your split ends when you're in a pinch, if there's one thing we advise you to not DIY, it's bleaching your own hair.

In terms of bleaching your hair, before we begin, let's get one thing straight: "Bleaching" the hair doesn't actually require literal bleach. According to cosmetic chemist Ginger King, bleach as a household cleaner is way different than hydrogen peroxide that is found in hair lighteners.

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"Hydrogen peroxide in hair coloring kits opens up the hair cuticles and some of the natural pigments in hair will leech out and give a lighter color," says King. "If you apply hair colorant and seal in with a conditioner, then that's how you color hair."

In the salon, the bleaching process entails a very tedious process. According to colorist Rachel Bodt, the method requires sectioning the hair into very small pieces with a precise brush and mixing bonding treatments (like Olaplex) into the hydrogen peroxide to prevent breakage. These types of treatments aren't sold to customers, just licensed professionals. Once the formula is all mixed, it's applied to those small sections and then the hair is covered in foil or plastic, which will then marinate for 30 to 60 minutes.

That said, bleaching at home is considered ill-advised by professionals. According to Bodt, you should never use any type bleach your own hair at home — even if it's just a root touch-up. "I have heard so many horror stories about clients of mine frying their hair by attempting to just touch up their roots," says Bodt. "Bleach is very strong and can go wrong if you aren't careful. The technique for this service is very meticulous, meaning it requires a lot of attention and detail."

Bodt isn't the only one who has this opinion. New York City-based colorist Aura Friedman, who works with celebrities such as Lady Gaga and Sky Ferreira, also suggests skipping an at-home bleach attempt. "When you bleach your own hair, it's almost impossible to not overlap on already bleached hair, which means you could have a lot of breakages, it's just not worth the risk," says Friedman.

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Instead of risking all that damage, she suggests letting it grow. "If you let your hair grow out, allowing it to get healthy and strong, once everything is back to normal, you can go into your salon and allow your colorist to give you the brightest blonde or platinum hair you desire and it will be healthy."

For those who can't wait until they're back in the salon chair, colorist Nikki Ferrara has some advice. Just like Bodt and Friedman, she advises against clients bleaching their own hair — instead, she suggests putting highlights around your face to for the time being.

"If you're fairer-haired — blonde to light brown — I would suggest the DpHUE Blonding Brush. The brush looks like a lush brush and has an easy product to control. It's formulated with lemon juice and peroxide, can lighten gradually, and is designed for face-framing highlights and highlighting the tips of your hair," says Ferrara. The lemon and peroxide in the formula act as lightening agents, according to King.

For darker hair, the Light Works Balayage Kit by Madison Reed is a great option. According to Ferrara, the brush is a wishbone shape that you can dip into the highlighting formula and lightly drag down the surface of your hair, giving it some dimension here and there to blend your roots with the ends of your hair.

Both processes take about 30 minutes and come with everything you need to get the job done. Ferrara suggests purchasing a gloss with both the blonding brush and the balayage kit. "Sometimes you just want a tiny bit of a lift and sometimes it may lift a little too much," she says. "A gloss is there to help with that. Home hair color is always a gamble and until we can all get to our hair colorists, it's always good to have a backup plan. In this case, it's a gloss." We love the Kristin Ess Hair Gloss, it's affordable and makes our hair super shiny, soft, and healthy-looking.

Now, watch someone beach their hair for the first time:

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