Sporting a platinum ‘do is, hands down, one of the hottest hair looks. When it comes to men with bleached blond locks, every generation can boast at least one icon, from Billy Idol and Spike on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” to Jaden Smith and Troye Sivan. As much a style as a statement of self-expression, the key to rocking bleached hair is making sure it’s done right—and that’s where things can get a bit complex. There’s way more to it than slapping on some store-bought peroxide solution. But there is good news: for most guys seeking bleached hair, there is a slew of both in-salon and at-home options to choose from nowadays.
Whether platinum blond is your final destination or you plan to move on to something more colorful, the ideal way to bleach your hair—especially if you’ve never done it before—is to go to a salon, where a trained colorist can make a professional assessment on exactly what it’ll take to turn your particular hair color, with its overtones and undertones, bleached blond with minimal follicular damage.
But as that can be costly, we reached out to two of the industry’s foremost authorities on all things hair—Alex Brownsell, co-founder of Bleach London, and colorist Aaron Bradford—to get the full picture of what it takes to bleach your hair on your own. Read on for what they had to say.
A quick note before we jump in: While bleaching your hair at home can be done safely and successfully if you follow the directions stated on the products you use, this guide by no means guarantees any results. Bleaching products come with plenty of risks, from hair breakage to scalp burns and permanent scalp damage. If you have any doubts, please consult a qualified colorist before taking any chances.
The Benefits of DIY Bleaching
The benefits of bleaching your hair at home are fairly obvious: less expensive, easier to maintain, more convenient, etc. But if you’re one of the many who’ve tried it and ended up with something akin to an orange Brillo pad, you may be more familiar with the disadvantages.
Nowadays, at-home hair color has gotten easier and more foolproof than ever. While going to a salon can be a treat, there’s nothing wrong with coloring in the comfort of home, Brownsell says. “You just need to familiarize yourself with the process and the products you need.”
Questions to Ask Yourself
Bradford says there are four things you should consider before touching the peroxide:
- Can you commit to maintenance? To prevent random banding, retouches are required no less than every four weeks, which could be a lifestyle change for some.
- Is your hair virgin? Both experts agree that bleaching hair that is not virgin (meaning hair that has previously been colored or processed) may result in irreversible damage. Don’t do it.
- How long is your hair? Bradford advises against bleaching hair that’s longer than six inches at home. Retouches take precision and speed, and if you aren’t precise and quick at applying, you may do unnecessary harm to your hair.
- What is your hair texture? Like relaxers or other chemical straighteners, bleach has an alkaline pH, which may loosen your curl pattern and could even change your texture altogether. This means hair that’s naturally springy may be less so after bleaching. Also, because bleach expands the cuticle of your hair, thick, dense hair will be even more so post-bleach.
- Poor planning and application: Bradford advises planning ahead. “Make sure that you have all the necessary products readily available and know what look you are trying to achieve and how to get there. Bleach-out applications need to be quick and precise, and most commonly found videos show hair that simply isn’t light enough for the desired result.”
- Skipping toner: “One of the most common mistakes is skipping the toning stage,” Brownsell explains. “When you use bleach, the raw color will have a yellow or brassy undertone, and this is normal. This is where you use a toning kit to neutralize and correct to a blonde.”
- Repeating: “A lot of people assume the bleach wasn’t left on long enough so they go in with a second bleach hoping to achieve a platinum shade,” Brownsell says. Instead of reaching for a toner they just reapply more bleach, which is a definite no-no, as too much bleaching can overprocess your hair and lead to permanent damage.
- Don’t go it alone: Since you’ll likely need multiple applications, Bradford recommends having someone on hand who can help ensure your application is even, to avoid both missing hair (which could cause uneven color) and overlapping hair (which could cause breakage).
How to Bleach Your Hair at Home
Practice and prepare: “Get used to sectioning your hair before you start applying lightener,” Bradford says. “You can practice with conditioner first so that you can get the hang of it. Sections should about 1/4 inch for proper saturation.” When it comes to products, do your research and read reviews to ensure you end up with quality. For lighteners, Bradford recommends L’Oréal’s Multi Techniques Powder or Redken’s Flash Lift ($40). For developers, he suggests L’Oréal’s Majicreme 15/20 vol. or Redken’s Pro-Oxide 20 vol. ($25).
If you’re after an all-in-one box kit, check out Bleach London’s Total Bleach ($33). For toners, look at the label: The first number corresponds to how light or dark the color of the hair is, and the second number or letter is the desired tone you’re after. For example, levels 2-6 are the darkest to lightest brown, while levels 7-10 are the darkest to lightest blond.
Then gather your tools. You’ll need:
- A brush and a bowl
- Plastic wrap or a shower cap
- Cotton rope
- Long hair clips (for sectioning)
- A robe or cape
One thing to know before you begin is that the bleach is applied in two stages: first from the mid-length of your hair to the ends, after which it’s rinsed, followed by an all-over bleach with a lighter volume lightener that will include the roots. Bradford says this is because the inch of hair closest to the scalp will become significantly lighter much quicker than the rest of the hair.
Step 1: Bleach mid-length to ends
- Apply 20 vol. bleach and plan to let process for 30-45 minutes, depending on how light your natural base color is. Darker hair may need the full 45 minutes. Be sure to stop applying one inch from the scalp.
- Wrap your head in plastic wrap or a shower cap, as body heat helps strengthen the lightener.
- After 30-45 minutes, rinse using cool or lukewarm water and lightly shampoo. Follow with a conditioning mask for 10 minutes, then rinse and dry hair.
Your hair is supposed to be on the yellowish side at this point, Bradford says. If it’s not, that means you either need to apply more product or let it sit for longer.
Step 2: Bleach roots, mid-lengths, and ends
- Apply 15 vol. bleach all over this time, starting at the front quadrants. Work quickly, aiming to thoroughly cover your head within 10 minutes. Double-check that your roots are properly saturated before moving to the ends.
- Wrap your head in plastic wrap or a shower cap again and let process for 25 minutes.
- After 25 minutes, check to see if your hair is light enough. It should look like the inside of a banana peel near the roots. If not, let the bleach sit for longer, however, Bradford says to avoid leaving it on for longer than 35 minutes.
- Rinse with cool water and apply a conditioning mask for 10 minutes. If you plan on following with a toner, dry hair after rinsing.
Step 3: Tone
- Apply the toner to dry hair to allow for deeper penetration and longer-lasting results; however, if your hair is already the desired color before you apply the toner, you can apply it to damp hair. Bradford recommends applying toner with a clear processing solution to slow the process down and prevent overprocessing. (If your hair turns violet that means it’s overprocessed, but it will rinse out.) Leave on for the recommended time, then rinse.
After a successful bleaching session, Bradford gave us a few tips to keep your newly-lightened locks in tip-top shape:
- When washing hair, always using cool or lukewarm water to keep the cuticle sealed.
- Shampoo weekly with a blond toning shampoo, like Fanola’s No Yellow Shampoo ($15), to maintain a crisp, white tone.
- Forgo conditioner and try hair masks instead, to boost hydration and keep hair silky soft.
- Avoid brushing your hair when it’s wet, as wet hair is twice as elastic and prone to breakage.