How I Rescued My Bleach Ravaged Hair

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I’ve been bleaching my hair on and off since I was 16. I started doing it myself at home, and then progressed to getting it done at a salon every six to eight weeks. Not really knowing any better, I was going to a well known chain (one that rhymes with ‘phoney and pie’… ahem) for around three years, and unwittingly allowing them to ravage my fuchsia tresses more and more with each visit!

I’m not really sure if it was just inexperience with unnatural colouring or what, but when I became friends with Elbie and decided to go to her for my hair preening instead, she informed me that my hair was… to put it bluntly… completely fucked.

Obviously we can’t know for sure, but she suggested that it looked like the bleach had been applied really carelessly. My hair is naturally very dark so perhaps it was just left on for too long, under too much heat. She said it also looked like the bleached areas had overlapped each time, again, most likely in an attempt to get it as light as possible.

When I started to see Elbie, my hair resembled chewing gum when it was wet (stretchy and thin!) and was like crunchy straw when it was dry. It was also THIN AS HELL. What a cacophony of delights!

You can see how awful it used to be in these photos. Look at the ends especially – frazzled! My hair also wouldn’t grow any longer than this, it would just snap off. Sad times…

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Still don’t believe how bad it was? How about an extreeeeeme close-up?!

bleach damaged hair

I’m not gonna lie, when I first had this realisation I cried. A lot. I was actually very near just chopping the whole lot off and starting again, or at least going back to my natural colour. Luckily my fairy hairmother pulled me back from the brink and promised that we could fix it. That was probably about two years ago, and now my hair has never looked better!

Here’s how we did it:

Lop off the straggly bits

The first thing we had to do was cut off the damaged bits. As you can see my hair was already pretty damn short so I managed to convince Elbie to just do a few millimetres at a time. If we’d taken all of the damaged bits off, I’d have been practically scalped!

When your hair is as destroyed as mine was, the ends are probably not salvageable. Rip that metaphorical plaster off and chop off as much off as you can bear!

Restore the protein

Hair is made of protein and chemical damage is essentially the degradation of those proteins that make up the outer cuticle layer. The cuticle is made up of keratin (protein) cells that fit together a bit like scales and create a waterproof and airtight barrier around the cortex. When you use bleach, the chemicals in it cause those cuticle scales to lift and separate, therefore exposing the cortex.

So the first thing you need to do is repair this outer layer by getting as much protein back into your mop as possible. When you use products with it in, you are effectively replacing the missing and damaged keratin from your hair. This will help to patch up the frayed cortex and smooth out the scales.

I started by using Redken Extreme shampoo, conditioner, treatments and their anti-snap heat protector lotion. Be sure you only use this stuff as long as you need it though (while your hair is still at that stringy when wet stage) because it has a LOT of protein in it. If you use them for too long it will cause a build up in your hair which can make it break even easier. Hair that breaks with very little effort is a sign of an over-abundance of protein, and a deficiency of moisture.

You can also use homemade hair masks about once or twice a week if you’d like too. Make them from anything high in protein – eggs, mayo, olive oil, banana, avocado, coconut or almond oil!

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Slather your head in moisture

As well as being protein deficient, your bleach mangled hair is most likely very, very thirsty. Healthy hair has the perfect balance of both protein and moisture in it, so you make sure you restore both. A lack of moisture is what makes your hair that awful straw-like consistently or causes it to snap off when it gets to a certain length. 

However, you need protein for the moisture to latch on to, which is why it’s important to crack on with your high protein hair diet first. 

For a moisture injection I am a massive fan of Moroccan Oil products. I use the Treatment Oil after every wash, before blow drying (it’s also great as a serum on dry hair, but only use a teeny tiny bit!) and their Intense Hydrating and Restorative Hair Masks are glorious. I rotate between the two every few weeks.

Also look out for anything containing Argan Oil. There are lots of conditioners, oils and treatments around with it in these days and it works wonders. It’s gained massive popularity in recent years due to it’s natural antioxidants and the fact that it’s packed with vitamins. I currently have this Lee Stafford Argan Oil Deep Nourishing Treatment in my bathroom and it’s delicious. I use it between my shampoo and conditioner and leave it in for around 10 minutes while I soak in the tub.

Take Fish oil tablets

I was recommended Xtendlife Omega 3 DHA Fish Oil tablets by a friend and they literally transformed my hair in about six months. I’m not really one of those people that believes in or ever takes supplements but I truly think these things are pure magic!

The purity of the oil in these babies is a lot higher than a lot of other omega 3 products on the market and there’s no nasties like mercury in the water that these fishes are bred in. Honestly, if you buy just one thing after reading this article, make it these tablets!

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Give your hair a break

I don’t mean you have to get rid of your beloved rainbow hair completely (I didn’t!) but just tread a little more gently. One of the things we did was to make my roots darker than the rest of my hair with either a darker pink (with the bottom of it staying pale so it was a nice ombre effect), or more recently with purple. If the roots of your hair are darker than the rest, you won’t need to bleach the regrowth as intensely, giving your new hair a fighting chance at staying healthy.

Wear clip in extensions

You can find some good natural hair extensions online and dye them to match your hair colour. I do have a few clipped in in the photos used to illustrate this article, but no-one can ever tell!

When we first started on my hair repair journey I would have to wear a full head of them, which is a right pain. However these days I just wear two single strips on either side, at the front, to add a bit more volume. It’s my little secret!

Don’t over-wash your hair!

I only wash my hair once or twice a week (ahh, the joys of working from home!) because the more you wash it, the more you will dry it out (hello, irony!) However if, unlike me, you can’t go a whole week with dirty hair, make sure you are using PLENTY of conditioner each time and, if at all possible, leaving it to dry naturally.

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Throw away your straighteners!

Damaged hair and heat are not friends. These days I very rarely get the straighteners out favouring the more gentle (and volumising!) technique of my Babyliss Big Hair Spinning Brush.

I love this contraption! It smooths the hair and adds volume to the roots without tugging, pulling or emitting the same intense and damaging heat that you get from straighteners. I love, love, love it! You can see Ruth from A Model Recommends’ demo of it here. I actually bought it after watching her video!

The thing that you need most of all when repairing chemically damaged hair is patience. None of these products or techniques are going to work overnight, especially if your hair is in as bad a shape as mine was. It may take a little while before you start to notice a difference, but I promise all is not lost.

Look, if I can get my hair back from this then I know you can certainly fix yours too! Good luck!

Supporting Cast

72 comments

  1. Melissa Jacobs

    Very informative. I havent reached this point of damage yet but Im going from blackest black to platinum . I have hair that comes to just below my arse and In going to do an ombre from pink to purple to blue and am trying to keep the long length for “wow” value. I have bleached it twice and im at the blonde as hell at the roots point, while the ends ar still drak brown. Im going to keep bleaching it until I have the platinum to acheive blod clors I want. So far my hair seems ok, but Im slatering it in coconut and argan oil. Im at the shade just below brassy orange..how many more bleaching will it take. bleachings got me to an almost natural ginger color? I dont use dryers, flat irons, or excessive products.How long do I have to wait and how many more bleaching to go before I hit platinum. Thanks for any advice, I must have this hair color :)

  2. April Gallicano

    THANK YOU!!!!! My hair is exactly as damaged as yours was and i haven’t dyed it in over 6 months because of the damage and it’s long and beautiful and I want to dye it so badly!! This is exactly what I’ve been looking for, advice wise that is :)

  3. Rosy

    I have really long hair and once died it black but knly 5% so next year i wanted it light and to remove black hair had to do stripping, my hair was very thick and now its damaged nd everyone keeps telling me its not but i know it is, what can i do chop it all pf ? I never had short hair ever

  4. Rea Caufield

    I just attempted to go from blue to pink, bleached the blue out and now my hair is falling out. The ends are extremely stringy, and when I run my finger through my hair it stretches then snaps right off and feels fake. Actually feels like when glue dries on your hand and you rub it off, yeah that’s what my ends feel like when it snaps off. :'( any ideas on how to stop this?? Before I bleached it I got a hair cut. The first haircut in 10 years, and the shortest its ever been (shoulder length) I’ve always worn my hair down to the top off my butt. Which was traumatizing and now its falling out and can’t stomach my hair getting any shorter!!!!
    Please help!!!

    P.s. your hair is amazing!!!! Love the colors

  5. I need this so badly!! I’ve been bleaching and dyeing my hair for two years and it’s finally starting to really show it. I love your hair and you’re the first place I looked for hair help.

  6. Kate

    Kerastase Nutritive Nutri-Thermique shampoo and conditioner are what saved my long beach-blond hair from looking like a dry old bag of shite. Two weeks of using it twice a week absolutely transformed it. I also use the conditioner on dry hair as a leave-in (just a tiny bit) and it makes a world of difference. Pricey but worth it (about £25 for the pair).

  7. Holly

    Hi,

    Thanks for posting this. Feel in desperate need for advice on what to do to save my hair! I used to have a natural grow out ombré effect and as my natural hair colour had grown out so much I felt pretty dark so had it coloured higher up by a hairdresser ‘friend’! It was a massive fail and ended up with uneven dye and hair calling out for help! I had to have brown pulled through it to break it up and condition it but it’s since fallen out a bit and thinned a lot! I’m on the brink of tears when I think about it too much and wish I’d never messed with my lovely locks! I’m going to have it cut and try theses tips straight away and with any luck my hair will start to feel and look more revived and recover and grow faster! Thanks again.

  8. Pamela

    Oh….how I wish I had read this a few days ago. After about years of blonde blindness (the pursuit of ever whiter hair) my hair gave up and turned into chewing gum when wet and wire wool when dry.
    My hairdresser (who had charged me £65 a month) to get this colour simply said “Be Brave” as she waved the gents clippers at me. She also said “A number 3 isnt that short” – IT IS!

    Still getting used to it and all the comments but on balance I wish I had not done it! Still whats done is done and I just have to own it now…

    Great Advice!

    Bit late for me….Story of my life !

  9. Yessie

    Thank you so much ! I haven’t found a good article about really damage hair and how to describe it but yours helped a lot I dyed my hair every month for like two years and when it dryes it gets poofy and other websites just tell you to but their brands not a lot of them help but your did to me so thanks :)

  10. Lisa

    You’re beautiful! I absolutely love the colour of your hair, I’ve been white blonde for the last 2 years (home bleaching) & it’s finally taking it’s toll! I hate going to the hairdressers as they always seem to do something completely different as to what I ask for, but I think I need to grin & bare it this once to get rid of the damage. Thanks for the advice! Xx

  11. JayJay

    My hair is that damaged , I hate it to the point where I started wearing wigs .
    I love changing my style a lot so figured why not switch to wigs instead of damaging my own hair , I won’t to grow it long again and as you mentioned it doesn’t grow .
    Thank you so so much for giving me hope.

  12. sharon

    I cannot believe how many of us there is out there with this problem. Thank you for sharing your experience and help. xxxx

  13. Shauna

    I hadn’t colored my hair in about 6 years when I decided to do an ombre purple. Ever since then, my hair has been tragically destroyed…after one bleaching! I’m not ready to go back to a pixie just yet, and my hair is so long right now! Hopefully I can fix it…thanks for the info!

  14. Jasmine

    This is exactly what I needed to read! going to get all my ends chopped off tonight to start anew, this has made me much more excited!

  15. Emma

    This has really helped me!!! In the past week, I have dyed my hair 3 times :/ ! I bleached it 3 times to go blonde from dark brown, then dyed it bright red! Then the day after I stripped the red out and went purple, but now my hair is midnight blue!! After dying it red, it started to go stringy and knotty, and was really hard to brush after washing it, my hair comes to the middle of my back, and I don’t think I could face having to cut it off! Ive never really had long hair, and now ive got it, ill do anything to keep it?! Just wondering if there are any natural remedies to revitalise my hair without further damage? HELP ME!!!!!!

  16. Post author

    Emma – coconut oil (slather it on and sleep in it the night before you wash your hair) and the fish oil tablets i recommended in the article. it will take a while to get back to it’s healthy state, but these were the two biggest factors in getting mine back in good condition.

  17. Hermione

    Great, inspiring advice and really practical too :-)- I need to repair my strawberry blonde hair from sun/chlorine damage. Now I know where to start! I love the pink/purple effects you chose for your hair, it’s so funky and fresh.

  18. angelie

    I know I was dumb, but I bleached the black out of my hair. Stripper wasn’t working. I did my roots once, and the rest five times!! So yeah, straw hair would’ve been a luxery at this point. I did repair it pretty well though. It’s soft shiny, and not breaking. Mix coconut oil and honey put it on your hair while showering. Instead of washing it out with shampoo, wash it out with conditioner. Do this daily, after a week if there is build up do a diluted acv rinse, and continue to wash it the same. When it’s healthy enough try just co wasging. Later shampoo roots only, condition ends each time. Seriously, I had thick course hair to begin with, and this worked great. After shower use organix moraccan oil, found your hair will at least feel and appear healthy.

  19. I am really happy my friend found this site for me! It has helped me so much and I have only tried one of the steps you suggested. The last two time I got my hair bleach I noticed that my hair dresser was going over the already bleached parts every time he retouched my regrowth. This created rings at the top of my head. They look awful and the second ring is pretty much white (I have light blond hair) and that’s where my hair is breaking off from. Your first step was to cut off the really damaged parts, but for me that would be from the top of my head! what do you suggest I do?

    Thank you!

  20. Elle

    If you’ve overbleached your hair condition it well as it grows out and have foil or cap highlights put in until it grows down, giving a sun kissed effect. GOLDEN RULE FOR BLEACHING always do a strand test first to check colour results and timing. If in doubt, stick to a colour nearer your own.

  21. Samantha

    I have been bleaching my hair for a few months now and have had started getting damage from my straightener. I have never thought of using a rotating styling brush. Will have to look into getting one. I love coconut oil. I have started saturating my hair in coconut oil a couple of hours before bleaching and then applying the bleach right onto the coconut oil. It penetrates through the oil without any issues. I find sulfate free shampoos are very helpful. Joico makes one that is tinted purple to help with the brassiness. Can be a bit pricey, but check Marshall’s or Winners. Picked it up there at a better price.

  22. Gina A

    I have dry and damaged hair after bleaching it so many times. A good product repairing it is SBS Divinity Effect. It is especially formulated for dry and damaged hair and the results are noticeable after the first treatment.

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