Bleaching is high impact, and not just in regards to the look itself—your locks take a serious blow any time you take them even a few shades lighter. "Bleaching hair leaves the cuticle layers open," explains hairstylist Danny Jelaca, who boasts a client roster featuring the likes of Jennifer Lopez and Naomi Campbell. "It leaves it compromised and weak, and because the cuticle is open, that's why your hair has that rougher texture."
But with that being said, there's no need to change your mind about an awesome blonde color—it just means that with bleached hair comes greater responsibility. (Hopefully, you already knew there was some extra upkeep involved.) Thankfully, with the right approach, you can lighten your locks and still have them looking healthier than ever.
Dry Shampoo is Crucial
Dry shampoo is particularly key in the first three weeks after your treatment, as the hair is already weak and susceptible to breakage, and shampoo tends to strip the cuticle even more. Stylist Sheridan Ward, who works with Michelle Williams, recommends shampooing every three to four days, tops. Stretch out washes as long as possible with dry shampoo.
Keep up With the Conditioning
This doesn't mean you should abandon your haircare entirely. In fact, make up for your lack of shampoo with hydrating conditioners and masks. "The idea is to fill in the extra porosity of the hair with protein and moisture," says Jelaca. "This helps to rebuild strength." (And shine, too.) The bottom line is that bleach leaves strands very dry, so don't skimp on a color-saving conditioner in the shower.
The addition of a leave-in treatment on damp hair once a week will also help quench thirsty locks.
Have a Contingency Plan
If you absolutely must wash your hair in some form but find yourself reaching for the shampoo bottle way too often, it's time to invest in a natural, essential oil-based cleanser. You might know what we're referring to under the name "no-poo." It won't strip your hair in the same way a shampoo will, instead just balancing out the oils on your head. We particularly like Hairstory's New Wash.
Not all Towels are Created Equal
Investing in a microfiber towel is never a bad idea for any kind of hair (treated or untreated), since the ultra-soft, absorbent feel helps strands maintain their natural texture without frizzing or damage. But when your hair is especially at risk for breakage, it's essential.
Make sure to gently squeeze or scrunch your locks rather than rubbing them with the towel.
Tone it Up
It's important to use a purple shampoo and conditioner so your hair doesn't get brassy, but considering you'll be going days without washing your hair, you might also want to have something else on hand. Enter IGK's Mixed Feelings Drops, which you can add to nearly any hair product to get a little toning help. Put them in your conditioner, your mask, your leave-in treatment—wherever you can think of.
Bet On a Bond Builder
A good bond builder is an absolute necessity for bleached strands, according to experts. "Bond builders help attach the disulfide bonds of your hair together. These bonds are weakened and broken down during the bleaching process," Jeremy Tardo, a celebrity stylist and member of Byrdie's review board says. "Bond builders have forever changed the way we bleach hair and the way we care for bleached hair."
Olaplex is a stylist-approved option for repairing damaged bonds, but there are also other options on the market. "Nearly every major hair color brand has launched a bond building product. These can be added to your bleach mixture in the salon as well as used in your home care routine for bleached hair," Tardo says.
Hair Oil is Your New Best Friend
As both a pre- and post-shower treatment, a great hair oil helps hydrate and protect roughed-up cuticles from the elements—not to mention it'll help make strands shiny again and keep frizz at bay, since dry strands are typically the culprit behind unwanted kinks (and again, bleach tends to leave hair very dry). Experts especially love Shu Uemura's Absolue because it contains camellia oil, which—thanks to its high content of fatty acids—is one of nature's most potent natural conditioners.
Watch Out For Heat
Using a straightener or curling on just-bleached hair is kind of like sunbathing when you already have a bad sunburn—you're exposing dry, vulnerable hair to even more damage. Air-drying is the best way to go, but we understand that's not always realistic. If you must use heat tools, repeat after us: You WILL use a heat protectant. Even if you've used one before and didn't feel like it did much, they've come a long way in the past few years. We like Alterna's Caviar Bond Repair Leave-In Spray.
Invest in a Gloss
Not only will it help seal and protect the color, but it helps feign shine when hair isn't healthy enough to be glossy on its own, by smoothing out rough cuticles and filling in any holes. Typically stylists will add a glossing treatment at the salon (ask to be sure), but Rita Hazan's at-home product is a must-have for in-between visits.
Add a Little Shine
To the same end, you're going to need something on hand to add a little additional sparkle to dull hair. If your hair is on the mend, fake it till you make it.
This story was originally written at an earlier date and has since been updated by Carolyn Hanson.