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…
Still don’t believe how bad it was? How about an extreeeeeme close-up?!
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!
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!
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.
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!
- Photography: Made U Look Photography
- Photography #2: Chris Barber Photography