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

67 comments

  1. Abigail

    Great post sweet – iv just opted for a darker/ extended root to combat the bleach but I think it’s a bit too dark for my normally super blonde look and – I’m getting old – it shows my greys!

    Looking fab lady xo

  2. Adele

    Thanks for the insights and I’ll be passing this on to my daughter who has been dying her naturally dark hair bright crimson for many yrs and stopped recently due to same concerns ! Your hair looks transformed – love it – it’s YOU so don’t stop !

  3. Laura Barrett

    I bleached my hair for years. It got to the point where I was terrified of all my hair falling out in the basin when the hairdresser washed it out!
    I opted to dye it a darker colour, but still something different (I wasn’t ready to settle for a plain, standard colour). This colour was red and now I’m struggling to get the red out (after a few more years, now I’m ready for a plain, standard colour!). I’ve stripped it twice, to no avail. I won’t bleach it again. I’m just too scared!
    I’ve ended up dying my roots the darkest brown until all the red grows out. It kind of looks like the ombré effect and I actually like it, for now!

  4. Carey galloway

    Rushing out to buy all! I trashed my hair recently with a dip dye before a 3 week trip to auz. Came back very worried about my wedding locks- err fried! Got a year till my wedding so time to get some serious repair in. Fanks ….. This might just save my wedding pics. X x x

  5. Carole Tish

    Before my current dark brown room cover do, I had gone from dyed black to a bright plummy red. Was asked by a hairdresser my secret as it was still in good condition…

    I only wash my hair twice a week! She agreed that was probably it’s saving!

  6. I’m about to have my very short dark brown hair bleached white so this information is brilliant, although its in good condition now and doesn’t need rescuing if I follow your suggestions from the start hopefully it’ll stand a fighting chance of staying in good condition! Thanks x

  7. Gaaahhhhh I’m in that EXACT place. I decided to go super bright red after lovely purple, and me thinking I know what’s best (oh my god I definitely didn’t) thought I could bleach OVER the top. Not my wisest move ever. All broken. Felt really sorry for myself. Saw your post a while back about the Redken Extreme and have been using that miracle medicine and now, going to just bite the bullet and cut a short style. It’ll grow back and my hair will thank me in the end.

    Awesome post. (Good to know I’m not alone in the oh damn I’ve ruined it bunch) Definitely trust the professionals. They are the hair gods and goddesses after all!

    Lx

  8. Hi Kat, thanks for this article. I have quite frazzled blonde hair but I have been taking much better care of it in the last year and it has come on wonders. I really really love Daddy-o from Lush it really softens the hair and keeps blonde hair from going brassy https://www.lush.co.uk/products/daddy-o – Anyhoo I am totally going to get the fish oil tablets! Also please can you recommend where to buy some clip in hair please? X

  9. Laura Bora

    I have recently stopped bleaching my hair, it’s naturally thin and i’m terrifed that it’s all going to fall out. I opted for brown low lights and a mix of caramel and a lighter blonde highlights at christmas (i’m rocking my natural brown roots right now!) i want to be a blonde bride because brown is not my colour at all but i’m just too scared to even get the highlights. I’m tempted to just leave any colour off until the wedding but blonding it up nearer the time might not make it blonde enough.

    I desperately want long better condition hair but it’s not happening and my hai r is usually greasy after one day so i have to wash it if i’m going to work/out so i lose hair most days. I do pop in some dry shampoo and leave it when i can but it still looks manky.
    I need a miracle to make it longer, healthier & less greasy all the time :/ xx

  10. Winona

    Wonderful advice!
    I’m a serial bleacher as well and although I stopped washing my hair more than once or twice a week years ago (in favor of fun up-do’s, bandanas and dry shampoo) this article is full of other great restorative advice that i will be adding to my routine.
    Thank you so much for sharing some of your great hair secrets!

  11. Post author

    Amy – I got my hair from Sally’s I think! They have plenty! And then Elbie just cut them for me to be the right length

  12. I’ve got waist length blonde hair I’ve been home bleaching for years and I keep it lovely and silky soft thanks to a tip I discovered online a few years ago – swap your routine around to conditioner THEN shampoo then a leave in serum (I just use pure argon oil). Honestly it has transformed my hair!

  13. Aah your hair is looking fab these days, girl! I’m sure you’ll remember the perils of me trying to go silver.

    I’m back to brunette now, and it’s taken just under a year to get my hair fighting fit again. As well as the products you’ve recommended, I’d also love to recommend Tangle Teezer hairbrushes – I got mine off eBay for less than a tenner, and it was really kind to my hair. The bristles are super gentle on straggly/brittle bits, and I found that I suffered less breakage from the moment I used it.

    I started off using Redken (on your recommendation, actually!) but when I couldn’t afford to restock it, I moved on to the Dove Intensive Repair/Damage Therapy range, which is SUPER cheap and absolutely beautiful.

    My hairdresser also told me that protein shampoos and conditioners tend to strip colour from the hair, which is a pain for us rainbow/unnatural colour types. I found a lovely shampoo by Matrix which was packed with protein for damaged hair, but it was also designed not to take any colour out. Win-win!

    These days, I tend to use LUSH haircare, because I’m wary of brands testing on animals. At the moment I’m using their “New” solid shampoo bar (which supposedly promotes healthy hair growth) and the H’Suan Wen Hua hair treatment. The latter is full of eggs, and avocado and banana oils, to pump loads of natural proteins and moisture back into the hair.

    Unfortunately, like you, my hair was ruined by impatient ‘professionals’. I had to get it all lopped off into a pixie cut and start again. But feeling how healthy my hair is now is way worth it!

    P.S. Never get rid of your pink, you’d be unrecognisable!

  14. Lc

    Homemade protein mask is on now! I am very dark but have nearly white bleached hair. Years ago mine broke from careless home bleaching. It grew back well and I returned to blonde a year ago have mine done professionally but really try to take good care of it. Some great tips here and there are also vegetarian alternative hair and nail suppliments.Thank you

  15. Post author

    Amy – I read something online about doing conditioner first then shampoo and thought it was just some stupid trash article (it was on the daily fail – ahem) but it really works?! REALLY!?

  16. Yep, honest bob! Especially on long hair because if I shampoo first then it gets all tangled and like a big wet hair ball and then takes me AGES to brush out.
    Love those latest pics btw.

  17. Amma // Beyond Beyond

    Lol I used to work at ‘phoney and pie’ *looks skywards and assumes memory face*

  18. Charlotte

    Really good advise, but just a word of warning about protein products.
    As I discovered, if you use it too much it actually makes your hair really dry and look worse in the long run.
    Don’t get me wrong… I still use it, but try to alternate with non-protien, sulfate free products and my hair is definitely a lot better for it.

  19. Thanks for this, it’s nice to know we’re not alone lol

    I’m mixed race and have struggled with my hair all my life trying out various chemicals. I became ill a while ago and my hair was in an even worse state so decided to let it grow naturally but it would never grow past my shoulders and I found it so hard to deal with. I then found that I could have it straight without chemicals by simply blow drying and straightening – I loved it long and straight!! However, now I have found I’ve damaged my hair yet again :( I’d love to put a colour on it but don’t dare. Instead I am about to try out Temporary Dreadlocks!!! So, excited! It means I don’t have to commit and can see if they suit me but also it’s a way I can leave my hair alone, to grow and repair, so fingers crossed. The bonus is I won’t have to waste my life away blow drying and straightening too lol I will definitely invest in the fish oil though, an excellent addition to my healthy eating :)

  20. Arianna

    You’ve made a good choice! ;) Also, I suggest you to introduce flax seeds in your diet: with just one tablespoon (or less, I don’t remember) you get the whole daily amount of omega3 you need, and you don’t have to take fish oil tablets. They’re extremely versatile, as they don’t have a strong taste: I put them in muesli, vegetable soups, smoothies, salads, vegetable side dishes…anywhere, actually!

  21. lauryn

    I went from chest length hair that had about 8 years of black dye on to peroxide blonde in less than a week, i ended up with a pageboy style cut as my hairdresser had to take off all the dead hair, mine was the same, like snot when wet (sorry) i died it back to black and left it for 2 years now, its grown so much and is in lovely condition, ive just started to go a cherry red colour, in Definately more careful with my hair nowadays, palmers products are also a god send, especially the coconut mask xxx

  22. Meh. Within the past 6 months I’ve gone from red to black to red to blonde to red to blonde to red again, and it’s still quite alright.
    Heat? It better be natural. Shampoo? Better be Wella professional, I don’t think eco-bio-whatever-load is any good on coloured hair – that’s quite the irony.
    Dark brown natural hair here, thin and limp, trying to reach waist length but currently past my scapulae.
    Secret? Do it all yourself unless you’ve found the one (hairdresser, of course.. right?)

  23. Boots

    I dye my hair blonde using john freida blonde colour. This will be the first time I bleach but I wouldnt try it without knowing my hair was strong enough. I have very dark hair, and my hair right now goes to the middle of my back. I wanted to go completly lilac but didn’t want pay the $400 to get it done at the salon. This article makes me more confident in trying it. I currently use WEN haircare by chaz dean. It is amazing!! Just a conditioner with no bad stuff! Makes my hair silky and full and soft! They have a whole treatment line I love it. Thanks for the article!!

  24. Estelle

    For bright hair colours, try Manic Panic, Special Effects, Directions or Fudge. Although they are only semi-permanent, as I do the roots every few weeks, that’s no problem. My hair has now built up the colour well, so it doesn’t fade much anyway.

    They are cheap, vegan, not tested on animals etc. and you can use them yourself at home.

    One downside is that they the do bleed colour when you wash your hair (old grouting might get stained….) and they will stain towels (and even bedding on the first night of dyeing) but it washes out easily. I find this slight hassle is made up by the fact they are easy to apply, far less chemicals and don’t cause my skin to break out, don’t damage my hair at all etc.

  25. Post author

    Estelle – i use mostly stargazer for my head. its pretty cheap and they have a great range of colours!

  26. Gema

    Hi,
    I used to bleach my hair, I hated the feel.
    So went back dark, I know dye the ends (dip dye).
    I also wash my hair once a week using Morroccan Argan oil shampoo and conditioner, then apply henna conditioner to my hair while in a hot bath.
    I only straighten my hair once a week.
    My hair has bounced back and is sooo soft!

  27. Samantha

    This honestly was exactly what I was looking for ! I recently went from black hair to pink hair literally over night it took so long and the ends were dead so I got a hair cut and I was super happy with my hair! The pink was my favourite of all the colours I’ve done and I wanted to make it a nicer shade. In doing so, I destroyed my hair exactly the way you described it. Stringy and breakable. It’s the worst I’ve ever seen I’ve lost about an inch just in breakage. I’m definitely going to need another haircut and take some of these tips thank you so much!

  28. I suffer from thick hair/bleached syndrome meaning it’s quite dry. I’ve recently discovered argon oil and I’m definitely going to hunt out some of the omega tablets and try the conditioning first trick. Great post, thank you very much! x

  29. Lydia

    What brands do you recommend for high protein hair care products when one is sensitive to laurly sulfate and laureth sulfate? Any suggestions anyone?

  30. I like the way you care your hair, Bleach does damage hair indefinitely. It makes hair very frizzy, but it can be repair by taking good and suitable treatment. Once a week, use deep- conditioning protein treatment. Shampoo alternate days. Use sunscreen spray even on your hair if you are planning a long out day. Use branded products like Jeval, Vivant, Indola, Nioxin etc.

  31. Wow Kat! Your hair is amazing! I totally love it! Not sure if I tried to do my hair the same it would work tho

  32. Alex

    I always thought using more product in my thin/overbleached hair was going to make it worse! I’ve avoided deep conditioners and the like because I thought it would just weigh down the already thin hair…so good to know! These are great suggestions!

  33. Desirea

    I was so happy to hear that you said your hair resembled chewing gum. Only because I’ve been trying to describe my hair as ‘gummy’ and no one understands it! Of course thanks for the tips. I need all the help I can get!

  34. hatsumi

    hi kat! your blog post was really informative!

    i had a bad diy home bleach job and my hair has been breaking off real badly. should i be combing off the breakage in my hair gently? or avoid combing until hair is healed, and leave any excess breakage in there as i do my treatment and etc (it falls off when i wash my hair or if i run my fingers through lightly out of the shower). would cutting my hair solve this problem? i’ve read i’m supposed to avoid heat and blow dryers, but how do i dry my hair when it stays wet for hours as if my hair is clinging on to moisture desperately?

    thanks for reading and eager to hear your advice!

  35. Post author

    hatsumi – you need to go see a really good hairdresser and ask their advice (everyone’s hair is different) but if i was me i’d avoid brushing it as much as possible and only use something really gentle like a Tangle Teaser. You also might just need to cut the broken bits off, it might be fried beyond repair.
    Moral of the story – avoid home bleach at all costs!!

  36. Beth

    What a brilliant article. Thank you :)
    I think the key to succesful colouring – especially drastic transformations, is time and patience.
    Also, if you want your hair to survive any colouriong involving bleach, you should always budget to spend atleast 3 times what you spend on the processing, on treatments / hair care products.
    Blonde is an expensive business!! But well worth it :)

    I had long, thick, chest length jet black hair with 3 years worth of semi perm colour build up; then last December I started going to a good salon, with a view to highlighting to break up the black…5 Months later, and having developed ‘Blonde-orexia’ I am now light blonde roots to mid-length and Golden / copper mid-legths to ends at the front and sides; so it’s far from right yet. However – I am leaving atleast 2 months between appointments, and now I am only having a handful of highlights done (maybe 8-12 foils – maximum) to slowly lift the darker ends only.

    I have so far had only needed 1.5 inches chopped off – however the fine hair is broken around my face / hairline so going to need a fine fringe cut in next time.
    I totally agree that Redken Extreme are great products, I use the anti-snap leave in conditioner and the strength buider conditioner, but you are so right – they must be used sparingly and with care because too much protein can cause brittleness and breakage.

    I rotate Redken extreme with Kerastase Resistance and Elixir Ultime products; the Elixir Ultime Oil with Imortal Moringa for damaged hair is a very effective, gentle treatment, as is the Masque, very nourishing and moisturising
    Xx

  37. Keelie

    Hi. Also a rainbow colour lover… I have been bleaching my hair like every 6-8 weeks for around 2 years now but a few months ago I lost literally half my length (now at chin length) as I washed the bleach out it just literally snapped off in clumps in my hands :'( … It’s been about 4 months since this happened so I just died it dark brown and left it until tonight and tried again but nope major breakage again even though the bleach was only on for long enough to cover half my hair so I panicked and washed it out before it set on fire so to speak lol! I really really REALLY want my hair bright red again it’s sooooo boring keepin it brown :(

  38. Well after my horrific accident, I went online did so much research, then I found your blog and it made me feel so much better. I touching up my hair from growth and didn’t realize my developer had gotten hot, so after about 5 minute in my hair started falling out, well let just say I have a very bad Mullet and I can’t even put my toner on because the hair I do have left I would like to keep. But after seeing your blog I do have a better outlook on my problem so Thanks for sharing.

  39. swenster

    Can you recommend how long to use the protein serum leave on conditioner before the build up causes damage and breakage? I bought the product you suggested, and my hair just soaks it up. I’ve been using it around 2-3 weeks now.

  40. julia

    hi,

    I have been highlighting the top portion of my head for 2 years now because I used sun-in on my naturally dirty blonde hair In attempt to make it brighter. it ended up turning my hair a coppery color so I ultimately decided to get highlights. The hairdresser applied the highlights and my scalp immedialty started to burn and scab over. After spraying much water on my head, the burning eventually subsided. I began to lose hair along my hairline and after continuing highlights for another year, have now lost an inch of my hairline and my hair has thinned in general. I also have experienced severe breakage in which the dyed part of my hair is half the length of the undyed hair. After my fifth or sixth highlighting expiereince, my scalp began to burn continuously and itch. I went to my dermatologist and after sixmonths of experimenting with topical steroids, have yet to find a solution. My scalp is no where near as agitated as it was, but still very itchy and still expiereince hairloss. At this point, the dermatologists believe that I should just wait until my hair grows out for these rashes and hair loss to go away. I am currently using coconut and argan oil on my scalp and hair as prescribed by my doctor and will get hair cuts to restore the damaged hair. This blog is a very helpful guidance as to what I should be doing to restore the hair that has been so horribly damaged. These issues have caused a complete lack of confidence in my own skin and have had such difficulties taking pictures w friends due to the hairloss I have expierenced. A very helpful and encouraging blog!

  41. James Stallman

    you know, im gonna keep going and fucking it up more, ill take some of your advice tho

    #YOLO

  42. Cheran Allsup

    Hello!!! I was wondering if you had any experiences of breakage at your crown?? I just screwed my hair at the crown and now I have little short pieces. Any tips on avoiding more breakage in the area?

  43. Post author

    Cheran, yes I actually still have short pieces at the top of my head. Just keep conditioning them (lots!) avoid using straighteners on them and get some clip in extensions to try and hide them. There’s nothing magical you can do to make them grow faster unf, it’ll just take time and treating them extra carefully!

  44. emily

    hey
    I currently have damaged bleached hair and its slimy when I wash it. My first wash after getting it done was really bad and ive only washed it once since. Not much hair has fallen out thank god for having thick hair but different articles I read scare me saying eventually all will fall and some give me hope I believe is false. My friend has cut off 4 inches already from most of the worst parts of my hair. Do you think ‘ALL’ my hair will keep falling out? I can’t personally afford extensions, hair masks and stuff to help but ive been using a keratin spray from vidal sassoon and applying moroccan oil to my hair day and night.

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