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!

Update and further reading: Solve these three common bleached hair problems FAST!

Supporting Cast

217 comments

  1. Stephanie

    Im from Washington Northwest America. U.S.A.. and I recently went from black hair to blonde, bleaching it with prismlights powdered bleach i did 3 applications of it allover and it FRIED my hair to $#!) lol!! I been a cosmetologist for 10 years. It was you name it!, Cutting 2 inches off allover including layers wise to get as much beyond repair off my head and now my hairs just on the shoulders with layers after chopping it. to me the main key is Condition condition condition. i know it says to shampoo your hair gently or once to twice a week. but Truthfully, I recommend to AVOID Shampoo like the plague! because it strips all the oils out of your hair that over bleached hair is Screaming for! and shampoo is basically your enemy other than heat objects as well. Anyway. I don’t want my hair any shorter than what it is now. and plus i am still not done with my hair yet. I got to tone the yellow out of it but i don’t want to put anymore chemicals on it till my hairs repaired somewhat. I have been buying deep conditioning masks and treatments along with Sally’s beauty supply Cholesterol. The best stuff ever! i apply on my hair dry and leave the masks and conditioners on my FRIED hair till the stuff is dried and crusted on my hair then rinse it out to give it as MUCH moisture as possable then let it dry natural, so far these methods help ALOT when you don’t want to cut it but want moisture seriously returned to your hair.

  2. whitney c

    I have dyed and bleached my hair to a pulp over the years and I am trying to regain my natural healthy hair. As it has taken years of abuse I realise this will not happen over night. The Pureology Conditioner does work a bit, but the Somaluxe Argan Oil is what made my hair looks like I am 20 years old again! I massaged it into my scalp and hair and have left overnight and washed out in the morning, my pillow wasn’t stained or greasy looking so thats a relief.

    You can feel the difference, my hair doesn’t feel as coarse and dried out. I blowdried it and it felt great, shiny and looked healthy and sleek. I do recommend the Somaluxe Argan Oil as a deep conditioning treatment once or twice a week to anyone who has dyed hair. The bottle isn’t very big but you don’t really need a lot, I would estimate this to last me atleast 3 months

  3. Rebecca

    I have struggled with my hair for a long time now. I am quickly approaching my 40s and I have bad hair quality. Recently, I have also noticed that my hair has stopped growing as it used to. A few years ago I went to the salon on a monthly basis. Now, it takes me almost two months before I even need to cut my hair! I am desperate and I really need help right now. Hair is one of the most important parts of a woman and I don’t want to give up on this one. I went to the doctors but they didn’t found anything wrong with me. The exams I took showed that I am healthy and there’s no reason for this to even happen to me. Please, I really need hair advice urgently!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. Julie

    Don’t give up on damage tresses, just give them some tender loving care. Alternate weekly with hot hair oil treatments and deep conditioners. Use sulfate free natural products for color treated hair even if you revert back to your natural color. Coconut oil and olive oil literally saved my hair and I gave up the blower and flat iron for a while. But you don’t have to just dont use these tools not so often, once or twice weekly is OK and don’t forget low heat with a silicone base protectant is best. Learn what your hair needs, trial and error is inevitable so be patient your hair will revert to healthy and happy.

  5. Julie

    Don’t give up on damage tresses, just give them some tender loving care. Alternate weekly with hot hair oil treatments and deep conditioners. Use sulfate free natural products for color treated hair even if you revert back to your natural color. Coconut oil and olive oil literally saved my hair and I gave up the blower and flat iron for a while. But you don’t have to just dont use these tools so often, once or twice weekly is OK and don’t forget low heat with a silicone base protectant is best. Learn what your hair needs, trial and error is inevitable so be patient your hair will revert to healthy and happy.

  6. jenny

    I have really been going through it when I had my hair which is dark brown bleached multiple times. I lost probably half of my hair and it was all elastic. It did recover but still is quite dry. I did all of the things that you said to do for about 4 months and just went last night to a salon. I still have the bleach blonde hair and obviously a couple of inches of dark almost black roots. She did lowlights of blonde at my roots 2 disguise the root problem a little bit and then died the whole thing Brown. She told me it would fade. The first time I got in the shower was today and a lot of the day with just washing down the drain. It also ruined my towels. So obviously this is going to wash out very quickly. Do you know if I have to just keep dying it brown until it takes or is this a matter of time that I have to wait for my hair to become less porous? Is there anything I can do about this that you know of? The blonde looks horrible and magnifies the damage and I really just want my brown hair back

  7. Autumn

    I’ have been bleaching my hair for 5 years and I gave it about a 9 month break and went back to my natural brown-black color and then bleached it again. I have always bleach my hair at home and I did it again and my hair came out spongy and very straw like worse than ever before so I did a coconut hair mask and left it in my hair over night 2 nights in a row and i noticed a great difference and I also used ‘super-strength HENNA N’ PLACENTA conditioning treatment’ and its a great conditioning treatment. I swear by it. ☺️😁💯

  8. Ashley

    How about for those of us who have thick, wavy manes? I need the straightener; what can I do for my hair?

  9. Tabetha

    I have very wavy/frizzy hair. I let my hair air dry and then I may straighten a few pieces around my face and the very ends of my hair but I use coconut oil to tame the frizz. Warm it up with your hands and then begin working it into your hair. I love being able to wear my hair 98% natural without the frizz and damaging it a bunch! Coconut oil is amazing! I also use it as face lotion (very little goes a long ways) and I don’t get very many pimples!

  10. Jenna

    I’m 19 and I’ve been coloring my hair since I was 13-14 years old. I went from bright red to yellow highlights and had to have a major makeover. Now, I have a beautiful ombre of my natural hair color, a dark blonde with a slight warmth to it, to a light blonde. For a couple months I used semi permanent dyes like manic panic and kept coloring my hair, but it stained so bad. I recently did a bleach bath and it worked beautifully, but left my ends a bit dried out. I condition like crazy, but my hair just keeps getting dried out. Right now I’m deep conditioning and hoping for the best. My hair naturally gets so oily and I end up having to shampoo every day because my hairs oil cuts through any dry shampoo or powder. I love coloring and I always wanna try fun hair but I agree, giving your hair a break is best.

  11. Kim

    Everyday I want to cry about my hair. Recently did a hi lift dye on my roots WOW big mistake. I have thick hair usually can take alot with out major damage I dye my hair blonde box dye 2 times month . This time hair fell out the top section is 4 inches and bottom is over 12 inch . I need to apply heat daily to look normal and need to get a dye heard about olaplex anyone suggest get in it done at a salon with a dyes job ? Also didn’t know if there is any type of keratin treatment or brazilian blowout type thing I could do to help not to have to straighten my main daily or would that just make it worse ? Well been deep conditioning and treating seems to be getting lil better . The product I want to recommend after going through many is CREME OF NATURE ARAGON OIL LEAVE IN CONDITIONER this is my favorite apply to wet hair literally saved it and only 8$ !

  12. Katherine

    Been bleaching my hair tons this past year and a half. It started off with highlights at home gone wrong, and from there I tried to correct it. I bleached my whole head of dark brown hair with box bleach. Just turned it dark orange, so I bleached and bleached and bleached until it was very light blonde. Since then, ive dyed my hair brown, red, black, blue,blonde and green, and ive been bleaching again to get the white blonde. My hair is so processed, if it was a cheese, itd be ez cheese from the can. It was gummy wet and crunchy like a cheetoh dry. My split ends had split ends. Commercial oil blends made my hair more fragile (I learned silicones trap in dry hair without moisturizing). But I found olive oil to help immensely. I left olive oil in my hair for a day and a half. When my hair dried, I chopped off the beyond repair ends. I’m going to continue with the olive oil until my hair is healthy enough to go back to natural.

  13. Virtue

    I bleached my hair a little over a year ago and left it on WAY too long. & ended up with ramen noodle like hair. I left it to go back to the natural color & got so much chopped off of it in March, about 6 months after I fried it. 6 months later, my hair still hasn’t grown at all. I tried the Redken Extreme shampoo & conditioner, deep conditioner, & nothing works! I just don’t know what to do.

  14. Kaara

    I’m only 17 and I’ve absolutely DESTROYED my hair over the last 2/3 years. Constantly bleaching it and dying it etc. I don’t straighten my hair because it’s straight as anything anyway!- but my hair is absolutely DEAD. I’ve been trying to grow it for the past 10 months and it hasn’t budged… Not even 1inch. And it’s currently been sitting about 2 inches above my shoulder. I HATE it. I’m young and just wish for long hair. My hair before used to be touching my stomach. If I new all this stupidness would have done this I wouldn’t of even taken a second look at hair dyes etc. I’ve started taking fish oil tablets and iron tablets. I never shampoo I only condition about 3 times a week. But over the past 10 months I’ve had nothing… And I’m starting to lose hope. About 3 months ago I was reliant on clip in extension, but with being a full time dancer they hurt and tugged on my hair… I have very thin hair and clumps are constantly falling out after washing… What do I do? I literally have no more hope

  15. Pammy 👸🏼

    Hi, I’m feeling really anxious and worried about my hair, I have professionally had my hair bleach blonde for 6 years and this last year I decided to start bleaching it myself and a few months back it decided to break where I accidentally overlapped the bleach, I’m using Aegean oil on it and coconut masks and even leaving baby oil in it over night, I’ve had a trim to get rid of any bad ends, I am now stuck with a mullet style hair as the top part of my hair has broken off 🙁 I don’t no what to do-can any one help?

  16. Olive

    i have a question. I really want to dye my hair for the first time but I just want to dye my ends. I have a dry scalp and oily hair. My hair is sorta straight fine and thin. My hair is black so I would have to bleach it. If I do bleach the bottoms of my hair will my hair still be damaged after i chop off the bleached ends? thank you contact me at silvergodess15@gmail.com

  17. Jenny

    I lost my hair loads off it from bleach blonde now I wanna fye it again red but scared off loosing my hair what will happen do u think it’s been bout 8 9 weeks now what do u think

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