Bleaching your hair at home is a huge undertaking. Not only might it endanger your strands, but it's just a complicated process to tackle on your own. Have you ever noticed how so many colorists have at least one, if not two assistants to help move things along smoothly? Having extra hands on board to place foils and pull them out can make a huge difference, because time is of the essence when it comes to lifting and lightening your color. Bleach will swell, so where it's placed and how it's applied will quickly determine the fate of your strands. And your hair history also has a lot to do with it.
In short, bleaching your hair is extremely risky, for both for your hair and your health. We strongly advise that you leave it to the professionals. Ahead, we'll break down why you should err on the side of caution and skip trying to bleach your own hair, plus safer methods to maintain your color in-between appointments.
Meet the Expert
- Cherin Choi is a professional colorist. She has honed in on her skills over the years by working at some of the most renowned salons in Beverly Hills and is now sharing her methods by offering educational courses in cities around the country.
- Guy Tang is a hair stylist, colorist and social media influencer who has created his own line of hair color and styling products called Mydentity with a mission to help others use hair to express themselves.
The Case Against Bleaching Your Hair at Home
When bleaching your hair, things happen fast. "The minute [your bleach solution] touches your hair it will begin to lighten, so timing is extremely important," says Choi. The combination of bleach and peroxide will instantly strip your hair of its current color and begin lifting it out, changing shades from red or orange to yellow, or even white. And unless you continue forward with the appropriate timeline and next steps of toning and conditioning, you could end up with a very unflattering color, or worse, hair that just starts snapping off all over. "Using hair lightener is one of the most delicate things we learn to do as colorists," explains Choi. "The risks are high. Bleaching can easily cause damage that leads to hair loss, or even scalp burns," she warns.
If you have already bleached your hair and are looking to tackle your roots, it's a much riskier situation. Bleach may swell, and if it expands from your untouched roots onto previously bleached hair, crossing over what's called "the line of demarcation," you can run into breakage.
While you may be able to find box lighteners at your local drug store or beauty supply, bleaching your hair simply isn't as straightforward as an all-over dye application. It requires a watchful eye, diligent application, a steady hand and a lot of time. Choi warns that it only takes one minor error or slip up to completely destroy your hair, which could require a lot of work and long hours for your colorist to correct, costing both your hair and your wallet in the long run.
What About At-Home Lightening Kits?
While there are popular at-home bleach kits, we recommend that you steer clear of these and wait until you can see a professional. It's more likely you'll cause serious damage or breakage than it is that you'll be happy with the results.
If you have virgin hair, then there's no sense of urgency to try your hand at this at home. And if you have blonde, highlighted hair with roots that are growing in or tones turning brassy, then there are a number of other (safer) ways to improve and maintain your color at home without an at-home bleach kit. More on that later.
However, if you're determined to try this at home regardless of the risks, be sure to consult your colorist first (even if you're using a kit that's meant for at-home use). Tang notes that there are all sorts of different developers on the market, all of which will react differently with your hair (thus creating a different result). Your colorist will be able to help you determine what kind of developer will best-react with your existing hair, recommend a specific product, and can guide you on proper placement. They might even be willing to guide you through the process over Zoom—just be sure to respectfully compensate them as you would with a normal in-salon appointment.
Alternatives to Bleaching Your Hair at Home
Bleaching isn't the only way to get lighter strands, thankfully. If you can't make it into the salon, there are safer methods you can try at home before resorting to a DIY bleach job. We've rounded up some other options for you that cater to varying color goals. Whether you're looking to get lighter ends, root touch ups, or your current blonde is looking a little too brassy, here are some alternatives to get you through:
For Roots: Try This Blonding Brush
If your base color is naturally lighter (like a dark blonde or light brown) and your roots are looking a little grown-out, this is the tool to get you through. Created with lemon juice and a little hydrogen peroxide, this easy applicator is a lot less intimidating than bleaching your hair from home. Lightly apply the brush against those grown-out roots and seek a spot to sunbathe in the sun and chill (or grab your blow-dryer) since this product is activated by heat.
For Brassy Tones: Try a Cool-Toned Gloss
If your blonde has started to go a bit brassier than you'd like, you can revive your color safely with an at-home gloss. This treatment takes just 15 minutes and is virtually foolproof—just coat hair evenly, let sit, and shampoo-out to effortlessly tone down brassiness and infuse shine.
For Unwanted Yellow-to-Orange Tones: A Purple Conditioning Mask
If you're a cool-toned, silver, or platinum blonde, you may notice that the more time you wait in-between appointments, the more your color errs on the side of yellow (or even orange). Before you take matters into your own hands by trying to touch up your highlights at home, try this easy-to-use conditioning mask. It's basic color theory; the purple pigment in the mask helps cancel out those unwanted yellow tones.
For Gradual Lightening: Try This Honey-Infused Spray
Klorane has given your early 2000s Sun-In spray a glow up in this updated formulation, which features natural ingredients like honey and chamomile. This product gradually lightens hair with each use, and is most effective on light brown to blonde hair. Of note, most of the reviews on Ulta rate this product four or five stars.
Or Go Au Naturale
There are surprisingly quite a few things you can do to naturally lighten your hair up without the use of any bleach or peroxide. Salt water, sunshine, and lemon juice all fall in line with a natural route towards lighter strands. Typically, these methods will work best on naturally lighter base colors, and less so on darker brunettes. They can be applied all over, or you can use them to brighten up your ends and face framing strands, the way highlights would be used. Just note that these natural methods might be stripping or drying to your existing blonde when used in excess (and saltwater, specifically, can make your blonde more brassy).If you're interested in knowing more, we've got the full scoop for you here.
To make a long story short, bleaching your hair at home has a higher likelihood for error than it does for success. There are plenty of alternatives to bleach for you to consider in order to improve and maintain your color at home. When you weigh the risks of improperly bleaching your hair at home (hair breaking off, lines of demarcation, scalp burns, and more) against living with your roots for a while, it's a no-brainer. Stick to one of the safer options above to stay bright and blonde in-between appointments, and leave the bleaching to the professionals.
Jeong MS, Lee CM, Jeong WJ, Kim SJ, Lee KY. Significant damage of the skin and hair following hair bleaching. J Dermatol. 2010;37(10):882-887. doi:10.1111/j.1346-8138.2010.00916.x