Like many other Black women, I was definitely skeptical of bleaching my hair at home at first. I had been told that natural hair is already so frail, and if you bleach it, the consequences could be even more devastating than relaxer damage. However, I felt like I needed a change. Maybe it was the pandemic, or maybe it was my impulse to do something different. Either way, I decided to embark on the hair journey of bleaching my hair, and it turned out pretty fabulous—eventually.
I went from a novice skill level to intermediate knowledge fairly quickly with the help of my best friends Maria, who skillfully dyes her hair frequently. Despite Maria's wonderful help, I had quite a bit of learning to do when it came to the specific needs of natural hair when it came to bleaching, and I learned quite a few things throughout the process that I'm sharing below in case you, too, have the urge to bleach your natural strands.
Start with Healthy Hair
Before bleaching my hair, I had been wearing it in protective styles. I had just taken down my crochet braids and my hair was in need of a good conditioning treatment and some hair masks. I love Sheamoisture, Hi Pro Pac, HASK, Cantu and Organix products—plus, they’re affordable and add a heavy dose of moisture to my hair. Also, my new go-to is the healthy hair and beard oil from Naturals by Naj on Etsy.
I wanted to make sure my hair was as strong as possible, so I also added a rice rinse to my prep, just for good measure.
If you bleach hair that is dry, damaged or brittle, it could lead to a lot of breakage. Redken and Mizani Brand Ambassador, Leysa Carrillo, a colorist with over 12 years of experience, says that it's all about starting with a healthy canvas before adding color. "Healthy texture starts with balance, strength and moisture," she says. "I recommend Mizani Scalp Dry Care Shampoo and Dry Scalp Conditioner for clients who need to add moisture to their scalp and remove buildup before coming to the salon for a color service.”
Keeping your Curls Poppin’
I headed to Sally’s and purchased the L’Oreal Honey Blonde Permanent Hair Color, L’Oreal Quick Blue bleach, a level 40 developer, an Ardell color additive (to get rid of the brassiness) and the Redken purple shampoo. Later on, I learned that this was a little overkill, but the process was successful. Well, successful, that is, for the first application.
Like other hair textures, natural hair typically takes a few applications of bleach before it becomes blonde. So, I quickly became accustomed to deep conditioning my hair for days after a bleach application until I reached my desired color.
Doing so helped me keep my hair moisturized and gave it a break between bleach treatments, but it also brought my curls back. One product in particular revitalized my curls better than the rest: the Ion Effective Care Treatment made my curls very happy. However, experimenting on natural hair isn’t for everyone, as for most of us, the last thing we want to see is our hair to break off.
Carrillo offers a tip in order to protect your curl pattern. "In terms of lightening the hair, it is so important that your colorist uses a lightener with a bonder additive, like Redken Flash Lift Bonder Inside, to keep the curl pattern intact," he says. "Having a built-in bonder in your lightener means extra protection for the hair.”
Getting to your Perfect Shade of Blonde
My goal was to get to a honey blonde, which I thought would go well with my skin tone. At home, I used the L’Oreal Honey Blonde dye with a level 30 developer and the Organix Extra Strength and the Refreshing Scalp + Tea Tree Mint shampoo and conditioner. For the first round of bleaching, I allowed it to process for an hour under a plastic shower cap that I covered with a microwavable thermal deep conditioning cap from Amazon to speed up the lifting process. After my first time bleaching, my hair was brassy. I waited until a week later and decided to use the L’Oreal Quick Blue Powder Bleach and a 30 developer. This time, I used Not Your Mother’s Blonde Moment Purple Treatment Conditioner. I continued until I had the shade of blonde I desired.
However, I eventually went a little too blonde after a few applications in an attempt to color some new growth and had to backtrack. Instead of just coloring the roots, I added an entirely new level of blonde that had me at platinum.
While trying out different shades and tones of blonde is tricky, it worked out well for me and I got my hair back to honey blonde. Thankfully, there wasn’t any burning or drastic shedding. I always followed up with plenty of hair masks and deep conditioners for my hair. I used hair masks from Ion, Sheamoisture, Cantu and Mizani, and Naturals By Naj’s Healthy Hair and Beard Oil.
Sometimes I’d leave masks in for up to two weeks because my hair was very thirsty and a little stringy from the chemicals. I needed to get my curl pattern back and it took some time, but my curls were very happy to have constant moisture. Be mindful of your hair’s porosity level and how much moisture is right for you. For my type 4 curl pattern, I needed all the hydration possible.
If you’re not comfortable with figuring it out by yourself, I don’t blame you. It can be risky and expensive to keep bleaching your hair and then adjusting it. I only wish I had known about the Redken Extreme Bleach Recovery System sooner. I use it now, and it truly does wonders.
Upkeep and Maintenance
The amount of care that your hair will need varies from person to person, but for natural hair, it generally includes a lot of moisturizing and conditioning.
For me, the key was to stick to protective styles, like twists outs. Heat seldom touches my hair, as too much heat and bleached natural hair is a formula for disaster. However, one of the many perks of having natural hair is that it can withstand a lot more than chemically relaxed hair. Unless someone uses Henna or a more natural colorant, bleaching on top of relaxing your hair is a fast way to make it all fall off. Natural hair has a much better chance of bouncing back, with some tender love and care, of course.
“Mizani’s 25 Miracle Leave-In Cream is a must for color treated hair. It is a multi-benefit leave-in cream with UV protection for color-treated hair that defines curls and coils and addresses dryness," Carillo says. "I recommend that my clients with color-treated hair use masks weekly. My favorite mask is Mizani’s True Textures Moroccan Clay Steam Mask, a deep-conditioning hair mask treatment for curls and coils that reduces dryness, enhances softness, improves manageability, and restores moisture.” Carrillo also provides the helpful reminder to trim your split ends regularly, and hire a professional if needed.
I personally love the Cream of Nature hair mask and the SheaMoisture Manuka Honey & Yogurt Hydrate + Repair Protein-Strong Treatment. Be mindful of your hair’s natural porosity when choosing which products will work best. Remember that curl patterns vary and what works for us, may not work for you.
One Final Word
Though I've share what worked for me, Carillo was adamant that if you want to avoid a potential hair emergency, you should always, always turn to a professional. "I believe that everyone should be able to have fun with color and tell all my clients that they can experiment without risking the health of their hair by going to a pro they trust," he says.