How I Salvaged My Hair After a Bleach Disaster
Don’t get me wrong—I love a great pixie cut. In fact, Michelle Williams’s 2011 chop still gives me goosebumps (that cut and that blonde—everything). But I’ll be honest when I say that in order to pull off a transformation of that calibre, one needs a certain type of bone structure and a certain type of confidence—both of which I will freely admit I lack. So though I frequently worship the likes of Miley and Ruby Rose from afar, I have always known that a drastic chop wasn’t in my future.
However, rewind to about two years and five months ago, when, as I sat in one of Minneapolis’s most touted salons, I disbelievingly watched my just-bleached strands quite literally fall from my burning scalp—without any instigation. Panic. Yes, the aftermath of what my friends and I refer to as “the bleach apocalypse of 2013” may have been a traumatising mess, but thanks to a trusted arsenal of products, rituals, hair goddesses, and, yes, a few healthy trims, my locks are back in tip-top shape. Keep reading for the full story and an in-depth look at the products and advice that brought my hair back from the dead!
Simply put, I’ve never much of a “hair girl,” probably because I don’t have that exceptional of hair to begin with and I have always been okay with styling my super-fine locks in the most basic and easy of styles. (Ponytails, topknots, and sleek blow-outs are my jam.) Aside from the fact that I’ve been getting highlights since middle school (to my dad’s total chagrin), I have been pretty easy on my hair, religiously applying deep conditioners, heat protectants, and shine sprays to my vulnerable blond strands. I’m also very aware of how damaging continual blond processing can be, and I try to keep my appointments to a minimum throughout the year, happily embracing the recent grown-out roots trend.
Though I was a platinum-blond youngster, my natural hue has gradually darkened to a rather mousy shade of dishwater. Though I’ve considered dabbling in shades of browns and brondes, I have always identified as a blonde, and I can’t really imagine myself sporting any other shade. Over the years, I have tried to stay relatively consistent with colorists, however, after my go-to gal left my well-known (and highly regarded) Minneapolis salon, I was referred to someone new, who, for efficiency’s sake, I’ll call “Ashley.”
Since all of my previous color at the salon had been recorded, and since Ashley seemed to be a very capable colorist (she had landed a job at this prestigious salon, after all, right??), the first few appointments went well, and I still got the signature bright and buttery blond color I was accustomed to. However, three or four appointments in, I noticed that the tone of the blond that I would leave the salon with had changed, the end result being much too ashy for my liking.
My hair looked grey-ish and dull, despite the fact that Ashley knew I wanted my typical bright-white blonde. (I had even been bringing in pictures of my old color to remind her of what I was looking for.) I missed the way my previous blond shade brightened my complexion, and was getting increasingly frustrated with the super-off color and wasted dollars. So when I returned to the salon for my next appointment, I was determined to communicate to Ashley exactly what I was looking for, and finally leave with the results that I wanted. Here’s what happened.
After conversing with Ashley and once again showing her my old pictures (think packed-in, platinum-bright highlights), I felt confident as she began foiling and painting my hair. Finally, I was going to get my old color back, sans any more wasted money or disappointing results. So three hours later, after being shampooed, toned, and returned to the chair, I was instantly frustrated. My hair looked dark. Yes, hair always looks darker when it’s wet, but I had been blond for long enough that I knew what I should be seeing, and the ashy wet brown color that was glaring back at me in the mirror definitely wasn’t it.
Praying for some kind of miracle, I bit my tongue, pursed my lips, and waited patiently as Ashley began drying my hair. Just as expected, however, the color didn’t change. I had the exact dull, pallid blond that I had gotten at my previous two appointments. Without saying much, I got up, paid, and went out to my car, where, without a moment’s hesitation, I began to cry. Realizing that yet again, I had paid an arm and a leg for a color I pretty much hated (and was far from what I asked for), my disappointment began to turn to anger. Fearing damage, I knew I wouldn’t be able to get my color redone for at least a couple of months, and I was at a complete loss about what to do. Finally, I decided to go back up to the salon and talk to Ashley. I knew that not much could be done color-wise, since I had just undergone a three-hour process, but at the very least, I felt I deserved my money back—or something.
Upon seeing me back, Ashley immediately looked nervous and took me into a back room to talk. I told her that I wasn’t happy with the color and that it was far from what I had asked for. Once again, I pulled out the pictures of my old hair and watched as Ashley studied them. After a few moments, I was bluntly informed that the only way she could get me that blond again would be by bleaching my entire head over all of the new highlights. When I asked if that would compromise the integrity of my hair, she reached out, grabbed a couple of strands in her hand, looked at them, and replied, “Your hair can handle it.”
So, against my better judgment, but in a completely desperate state, I agreed. Within the next half hour (yes, 30 minutes or less), Ashley applied a high-vol bleach over my entire head, sat me under the dryer, and rinsed me out. It wasn’t until I arrived back at her station that the panic and deep, deep regret began to slowly settle in. I stared at the dripping, tangled white rat’s nest on the top of my head and knew I had made a serious mistake. I held back tears as Ashley slowly began to try to comb out my hair, but to no avail. With even the slightest touch, chunks of bleached hair began to fall. Equally panicked, Ashley hurriedly instructed me to wait until my hair dried to finish brushing it out at home. I’m not kidding when I say that she quite literally pushed me out the door.
As I drove home, out of the corner of my eye, I could see my hair falling and breaking at an alarmingly fast rate. Crying and struggling to imagine what I would look like as the bald-headed girl I was inevitably soon to be come, I had no clue where to start. Ultimately, I made an appointment at another nearby salon for the next day. The comforting angel of a secretary was extremely reassuring, telling me there were a number of things the staff could do to try to salvage my hair. So, ever-so-carefully pulling my tangled hair into a scrunchie, I went to sleep hoping for a miracle.
When I arrived at the salon the next day, the owner and about 10 other stylists (no exaggeration—I’m now a legend and learning reference for new employees) surrounded me and my ratty hair. The owner’s concerned and frustrated expression didn’t do much to soothe my once-again rising panic, and after studying my hair for awhile, he told me my hair would take a long, long time to recover. It would need the right balance of protein and moisture, along with frequent trims and cuts to try to balance the breakage (which would create all sorts of funky layers on its own).
The first step? An intensive protein treatment applied in house, the purpose of which was to just stop the breakage that was happening. (Psst! Most salons have a multitude of hair treatments that range in strength and purpose. Even though my hair is currently in a much healthier state, I still alternate between moisture and protein-packed treatments every couple of months to help maintain my hair’s integrity. I recommend this for anyone who frequently styles with heat or gets regular color).
After the treatment, the stylist (with the owner’s careful supervision) slowly began to comb through my hair. I closed my eyes, but the fistfuls of hair I later saw on the floor, in the comb, and entangled in the stylist's hands still make me cringe. Then came the cut. I got about three or four inches taken off that day, leaving me with an extremely thinned-out shoulder-length style—a far cry from the razor job I had been dreadfully anticipating, but still an uncomfortable change. After lending some advice as far as products and procedure, the salon's staff had done all they could do and advised me to return within the next month for another consultation, treatment, and trim. They had done their part; now I had to do mine.
After visiting numerous other salons, doing hours and hours of research on the Internet, and consulting with staff members at places like Ulta and Sephora, I came up with the hair regimen that would ultimately get my hair back into shape.
Keep scrolling for my saving-grace products, and find out how I used them!
This pair by Alterna has the right ratio of protein and conditioners and is perfect for blondes (and any other fellow hair abusers). In fact, despite its protein content, the formula is gentle and balanced enough that it can be used daily (which is not the case for many protein-rich products). I used this shampoo and conditioner combo religiously for about a month and then began to alternate with an extremely moisturizing duo (see next slide). It truly helped rebuild and repair my strands, and I felt like my hair became stronger and more manageable after each and every use.
This duo by Bumble and Bumble is crazy rich and über-hydrating. Typically, this rather heavy pair wouldn’t work with my super-fine locks, but considering their dry and desperate state, these two worked complete and utter magic. Not only is the scent amazing (think Hawaii in a bottle), but no other shampoo and conditioner has ever delivered such shine and softness. A word to the wise, however… a little goes a long way.
I’m not kidding when I say that this stuff is magic in a tub. (Seriously, I have gotten everyone from my friends to my mom completely addicted.) Typically, every other wash, I would use this creamy mask in lieu of whichever conditioner I would have normally used that particular day. I would squeeze the excess water out of my hair, liberally slather it from end to root, whip a shower cap on, and proceed with all other shower duties before rinsing after about 10 minutes. I was so addicted to this mask’s dramatic results that about once a week, I would use it on dry hair as an overnight treatment—simply unbraiding and washing per usual in the morning. This mask may have been the single most game-changing product in my regimen. Simply put, if your hair needs help, this is your answer.
This product was another great way for me to add some extra protein into my hair. Too much protein can actually be counterproductive, but I found that using this once a week in the shower, in addition to the Alterna Caviar shampoo and conditioner, was the perfect balance. And, of course, since it’s Aveda, it smells ah-mazing.
Still a staple in my everyday hair routine, this product stops tangles (which blondes are extra prone to) in their tracks. I’ve used both the keratin-infused version and the original, both of which are great. Since I didn’t even touch a blowdryer or flat iron for about six months, I relied on this light leave-in product to deliver shine, manageability, and natural body to my hair. The name doesn’t lie, people.
So, have you ever had an epic hair disaster? Which products do you swear by? Comment below!