Don’t get us wrong, we love a great pixie cut. In fact, Michelle Williams’s 2011 chop still gives us goosebumps (that cut and that blonde—everything). But in order to pull off a transformation of that caliber, one needs a certain type of confidence that most of us lack. Even if you frequently worship the likes of Cara and Katy from afar, you might not think that a drastic chop is in your future.
My own quest for a dramatic hair transformation did not go as planned, however. Rewind to about four years ago, when, as I sat in one of Minneapolis’s most touted salons, I disbelievingly watched my just-bleached strands quite literally fall from my burning scalp—without any instigation. Panic. Yes, the aftermath of what my friends and I refer to as “the bleach apocalypse of 2013” may have been a traumatizing mess, but thanks to a trusted arsenal of products, rituals, hair goddesses—and, yes, a few healthy trims—my locks are back in tip-top shape.
Meet the Expert
- Chase Kusero is the co-founder of hair care line IGK Hair Care.
- Nikki Lee is a hairstylist and the founder of IN COMMON Beauty.
If you've suffered the same sort of experience, don't fret. We've rounded up 10 steps to take when you suffer a bleached hair disaster.
Seek An Expert's Help
If you've suffered a salon (or self-induced) bleached disaster, the first step is not to panic — then seek another professional's help. Adding more product to your hair, or trying to remedy the disaster yourself, could prove more problematic. "I would recommend calling a professional ASAP," says hairstylist Nikki Lee. "This can be such a fragile and scary process that no one but a professional should touch and there they will be able to take a look at your hair and come up with a game plan to get it back to health."
Don't Try a Quick Fix
When hair is freshly damaged, Lee says to stay away from it in the immediate aftermath. "Don’t touch it again," she says. "And stay away from YouTube tutorials! Do some proper research to get in with the right colorist in your area to help you achieve your hair color goals without compromising your hair texture or length."
It's super important to allow time for your hair to recover. My personal over-bleaching nightmare occurred when I expressed disappointment after a highlight appointment. Wanting to go blonder, the stylist assured me that she could bleach my hair over the highlights and my hair would be blonder — and still healthy. She was wrong. As soon as I she began brushing out the newly-bleached locks, they began to fall out. Worried, she suggested I go home and wait for it to dry before any more brushing. As I drove home, out of the corner of my eye, I could see my hair falling and breaking at an alarmingly fast rate. Crying and struggling, I had no clue where to start. Ultimately, I made an appointment at another nearby salon for the next day. The comforting angel of a receptionist was extremely reassuring, telling me there were a number of things the staff could do to try to salvage my hair. So ever-so-carefully pulling my tangled hair into a scrunchie, I went to sleep hoping for a miracle.
When I arrived at the salon the next day, the owner and about 10 other stylists (no exaggeration—I’m now a legend and learning reference for new employees) surrounded me and my matted, bleached hair. The owner’s concerned and frustrated expression didn’t do much to soothe my once-again rising panic, and after studying my hair for awhile, he told me my hair would take a long, long time to recover. It would need the right balance of protein and moisture, along with frequent trims and cuts to try to balance the breakage (which would create all sorts of funky layers on its own).
Lay Off the Heat
"Every day we see clients that have concerns around hair damage, from every day heat styling, to heavy duty bleaching and highlighting," says IGK co-founder Chase Kusero. It's best to avoid heat — blow-dryers, super-hot showers — until your hair is healthier.
Use an At-Home Repair Kit
Lee points to In Common Beauty's Crystal Cashmere At-Home Kit ($50), a two-step hair repair system formulated with input from trichologists. She suggests looking for similar products, that are effective "on hair suffering extreme damage due to chemical processes, coloring + bleaching services, or on weak, brittle hair." She says any at-home treatment should work to nourish, strengthen and transform the hair's texture, resulting in healthy, beautiful hair. Follow this with consistent hair trims to get your hair back to health. "
Take Your Vitamins
Lee stresses that vitamins on the exterior of the hair (i.e. those that can be applied topically) can do a world of good for damaged hair. "IN COMMON Magic Myst ($35) is your daily dose of vitamins for your hair! It can be sprayed on wet or dry hair," she says. "This product moisturizes, replenishes, hydrates and protects the hair from heat!! Need we say more?! It’s truly magic in a bottle."
Treat With a Serum
Kusero points to IGK's repair collection — including Pay Day Instant Repair Shampoo + Conditioner ($31) and Cash In Instant Repair Serum ($34) – which "works on the most damaged hair types, to help strengthen and repair while boosting moisture and nourishment."
"What’s different is that not only could we demonstrate the results at the salon, we could demonstrate it through the highly rigorous clinical testing to show that, when used as a system, it protects from breakage, softens hair by 11x, seals 88% of split ends and even protects from 450F degree heat," Kusero adds.
Try a Hair Mask and an Oil
Once the bleach is out, and the hair is on the road to being healthy, try to hydrate it as best you can. "My tips for repairing hair are to treat hair weekly to a heavy duty mask in shower, take a break from heat tools, try to go as long as you can between washes to allow natural oils to produce, and always protect ends of hair with a moisturizer/serum/oil," says Kusero. We rounded up some of our favorites, below.
Treat With Protein
Another important step in my own hair health journey? An intensive protein treatment applied in-house, the purpose of which was to just stop the breakage that was happening. (FYI: Most salons have a multitude of hair treatments that range in strength and purpose. Even though my hair is currently in a much healthier state, I still alternate between moisture- and protein-packed treatments every couple of months to help maintain my hair’s integrity. I recommend this for anyone who frequently styles with heat or gets regular color).
After the treatment, the stylist (with the owner’s careful supervision) slowly began to comb through my hair. I closed my eyes, but the fistfuls of hair I later saw on the floor, in the comb, and tangled in the stylist’s hands still make me cringe. Then came the cut. I got about three or four inches taken off, leaving me with an extremely thinned-out shoulder-length style—a far cry from the razor job I had been dreadfully anticipating but still an uncomfortable change. After lending some advice as far as products and procedure, the salon’s staff had done all they could do and advised me to return within the next month for another consultation, treatment, and trim. They had done their part; now I had to do mine.
Keep Using Healthy Hair Products, Even Post-Damage
"Damaged hair is more fragile and vulnerable to dryness, brittleness and breakage," Kusero says. "It responds best to formulas that are nourishing, strengthening, repairing and extra gentle."
After visiting numerous other salons, doing hours and hours of research on the internet, and consulting staff members at places like Ulta and Sephora, I came up with the regimen that would ultimately get my hair back into shape.
Keep scrolling for my saving-grace products, and find out how I used them!
This pair by Alterna has the right ratio of protein and conditioners and is perfect for blondes (and any other fellow hair abusers). In fact, despite its protein content, the formula is gentle and balanced enough that it can be used daily. I used this shampoo and conditioner combo religiously for about a month and then began to alternate with an extremely moisturizing duo (see next slide). It truly helped rebuild and repair my strands, and I felt like my hair became stronger and more manageable after each and every use. Four years later, I still have these guys stashed in the bathroom for when my hair feels a little worse for the wear.
This duo by Bumble and Bumble is rich and deeply hydrating—exactly what dry, damaged strands crave. Typically, this heavy pair wouldn’t work with my super-fine texture, but considering their dry and desperate state, the combo worked utter magic. Not only is the scent amazing (think Hawaii in a bottle), but no other shampoo and conditioner has ever delivered such shine and softness. A word to the wise, however: A little goes a long way.
Simply put, if your hair needs help, this is your answer.
I’m not kidding when I say that this stuff is magic in a tub. (Side note: I have gotten everyone from my friends to my mom completely addicted.) Typically, every other wash, I would use this creamy mask in lieu of whichever conditioner I would have normally used that day. I would squeeze the excess water out of my hair, liberally slather it from end to root, whip a shower cap on, and proceed with all other shower duties before rinsing after about 10 minutes. I was so addicted to this mask’s dramatic results that about once a week, I would use it on dry hair as an overnight treatment—simply unbraiding and washing per usual in the morning. This mask may have been the single most game-changing product in my regimen. Simply put, if your hair needs help, this is your answer.
This product was another great way for me to incorporate an extra hit of protein into my hair routine. And since it’s Aveda, it smells amazing.
This product stops tangles (which blondes are extra prone to) in their tracks. I've used both the keratin-infused version and the original, both of which are great. Since I didn't even touch a blow dryer or flatiron for about six months, I relied on this light leave-in product to deliver shine, manageability, and natural body to my hair.