Hair and Back Again — Bleach Tips and Tricks

This weekend I took the peroxide plunge and went from brunette to blonde. I’ve had naturally dark brown hair all my life so this is rather a dramatic change. I’ll admit to fantasising about having Marilyn Monroe’s curls, but I never could picture myself as a blonde; curiosity is a strong motivator.

I decided to bleach my hair after it began to fall out from stress a little over a year ago, the rationale being that I might as well enjoy being blonde if full-time baldness awaits me. Bleaching my hair has taught me that however radical my transformation, and even if I lose my hair completely, I will always be able to adapt and thrive. Now that I’ve stopped being spooked by my reflection, I have gathered some wisdom for would-be bleachers. 

1. Don’t Try This at Home

Please, your hair is begging you. Bleach is incredibly damaging, and your lovely locks are one bad DIY-job away from looking like chewed orange. Unfortunately there isn’t a shortcut here, and unless you have a very generous hairdresser friend on hand your best option is to pay up. Ask your salon for a quote beforehand, and don’t be afraid to shop around – I talked to several different colourists before deciding on Lab Forte in Birmingham.
My total bill was £117.* In return, I got a full bleach and toner, several cups of tea, and a haircut by the creative director. I arrived at 10am, and I left (ravenously hungry) at 2.15pm.


An unflattering process, yet the longest period of time I’ve spent looking into a mirror. Bring a book.


2. Prepare to Compromise

By all means, bring a photo to the salon — it will give your colourist a good idea of what you’re going for — but everyone’s hair reacts to bleach differently. My naturally dark brown lengths initially became peach-hued, whereas my roots went white. I was hoping for a silvery colour, but after bleaching once more the result was a yellower, more natural-looking blonde.  

3. Care for Coloured Hair 

If, like me, you haven’t quite got your desired colour, an increasing range of toning products are available for at-home solutions. I have been using the Bleach London silver shampoo, which is great for reducing warm tones and keeping your blonde icy. 
Hair masks, oils, and conditioners are a must for bleached hair. It might be time to step away from the straighteners, too — heat can do serious damage to bleached hair. 

4. Rethink Your Beauty Essentials

My first thought when I studied myself in the hairdresser’s mirror? Draco Malfoy. My second? Gosh, my face is a strange colour. I’ve had to change up my make-up routine (read: create a make-up routine) since bleaching. I hadn’t worn foundation in two years, but have now reluctantly invested in a BB cream to even out my skin tone. My trusty brow pomade has been ditched in favour of a subtle gel. A more substantial mascara has replaced Glossier’s rather feeble offering (sorry, Glossier stans). Applying red lipstick remains a delight.

5. Look Out for Unexpected Perks
A change in hair colour will shed new light on your entire wardrobe. My various pairs of huge earrings are now being shown to their full advantage, and I feel like Legolas when I wear dark green. That said, I look somewhat sickly in white, and downright unsightly in yellow. 
There is also a wonderful sense of being in disguise — people have failed to recognise me even in my most outlandish coat. I’m sure I’ll get tired of this after I have to reintroduce myself for the third time, but I’m enjoying it for now.


Before & After


*A note on price transparency. Money is often the golden elephant in the room when discussing fashion and beauty. In the shiny world of Instagram, it is easy to forget that celebrities and influencers usually have the means to experiment with their look, or are sponsored to do so. We lowly folk have to pay our own way; this does not make us less creative, or less daring, or less beautiful. In case it wasn’t obvious, I have not been sponsored to write this.

Mary Hitchman is a writer living and working in Oxford. She is fond of direct prose, medieval hagiography, and irony.